LIFE IN PARADISE: January 1 - February 1, 2005

We spent the entire month of January in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Beth was planning to fly out of St. Thomas at the end of January to visit family in Wisconsin so we decided to wait to continue "down island" until she came back.

Since we don't have any new travels to report, we thought we would tell you about life in Paradise.


Boats talk with each other over VHF radio. It's convenient and free, but it has the disadvantage that it's a party line. Anybody who wants to evesdrop can. Anyway, here's a conversation we happened to overhear in Charlotte Amalie.

"Volare, this is Touch Touch"

"Touch Touch, Volare"

"Dahlings, when you come over today, be sure to bring your bathing suits. We have a Jacuzzi full of bubbles here. The engineer just turned it on."

"Sounds nice. Did you say bathing suits or birthday suits?"

"Bathing suits, Dahling. This is a U.S. territory."

"Damned Americans!"

Mega yacht Touch Touch   "Touch Touch"

So that's what life is like out here.

On other boats.

Unfortunately, Eagle's Wings doesn't have a Jacuzzi. However the engine room makes a pretty good (if noisy), sauna when the genset is running. Ken has been getting lots of quality time in the sauna.

What do you do all day?

There's a song by Eileen Quinn, (whose CDs we highly, highly recommend to anyone interested in what it's like to cruise), in which cruisers try to answer their friends' question "what do you do all day?" The cruisers lie and talk about working on their tans and drinking margaritas -- rather than admitting that there're "busting my a--, slave to a hunk of fiberglass".

Well, nobody who reads this will ever have to ask us how we spend our time.

Since early November we have been totally self-sufficient, producing our own power and water. We have only docked for about two hours since leaving Newport -- briefly in Bermuda and in St. Thomas to take on fuel. The rest of the time we've been at anchor or on a mooring out in bay. Naturally all this self-sufficiency has surfaced a few technical issues.

Ken starting long day in engine room

Here's Ken working on his tan and sipping Margaritas in the sauna.

Note the great tan.


Here's the tanning salon/sauna. Engine room

Here's a partial list of January's repair projects:

Jan 2: Changed oil in the Kubota generator.

Torn kubota belt

Jan 4: The small dynamo on the Kubota generator split apart and ate the belt that drives it. We don't actually use the electricity from the dynamo, but we need it as a pully in the water belt system on the Kubota.


Jan 5: Replaced the dynamo with a used unit salvaged from the Titanic. (Rusted component in picture). It was the only one available in St. Thomas, and we needed to get the Kubota going. Ordered two brand new dynamos, but they'll take a week to get here. Put a new belt on the Kubota.

Rusted, replacement dynamo (on right)

Jan 6: Repaired the ignition system on the galley stove so that we didn't have to light it with a cigarette lighter. Also swapped out a failed fluorescent light ballast.

Jan 7: Changed Yanmar oil.

Broken water pump Jan 8: The pump that supplies our house water pressure literally broke in half from metal fatigue (see picture at left). No pump means no water, since we don't have a manual backup short of opening a valve under the floor boards.


But we had a whole spare water pump -- another "over the top" spare comes to the rescue. Replaced the pump and ordered a new one as a spare. (The picture at right shows spare water pump tucked away in the engine room next to the spare radar head.) Spare radar and water pump stowed in engine room

Jan 11 (morning): Changed the coolant in the Yanmar. Long, messy job.

Comparing worn belt (top) with new belt (bottom)

Jan 11 (afternoon): Replaced belt on Kubota. The Titanic's dynamo had eaten a brand new belt down to almost nothing in a week. (The thick belt in picture is new, the thin belt was new before the dynamo got hold of it.) Tightened belt to prevent the new one from slipping and getting eaten up, although the tension had seemed ok before.

Jan 11 (evening): The Titanic's dynamo blew a bearing, seized up and started smoking. If Beth hadn't smelled it we might have had our second fire. Guess that tightening the belt wasn't the answer.

We had to pour water on the dynamo to cool it down (picture at right). We now have to run the big Yanmar main engine for electricity, since the new dynamos aren't here yet and we've used up all the dynamos in St. Thomas. Very inefficient, since the 88 horse Yanmar uses 3 times as much fuel as the 10 horse Kubota. Cooling off dynamo

Jan 12: On a short trip out of Charlotte Amalie, the Yanmar started showing low oil pressure and slightly high temperature, despite full oil pan, lots of coolant, a clean sea strainer and what seemed like enough water flow. We headed right back to the harbor. Very scary - low oil pressure can wreck the engine. We now have no way to make electricity. If this keeps up we may have to (gasp!) tie up in a marina to get electricity.

Jan 13: Tried to diagnose the Yanmar. Replace the oil pressure sender to see if maybe the sender was plugged or the gauge was faulty. (No such luck.) Here Beth goes locker-diving under the forward bunk (see below) to dig out the spare sender.

Beth in locker looking for engine parts Beth emerging from locker

Jan 14: Cleaned the Yanmar's heat exchanger. Crud from the rain runoff in Charlotte Amalie had gotten through the sea water strainer, into the engine, and had clogged the water flow. That caused the engine to run hot, which made the oil less viscous and dropped the oil pressure. Ordered a new sea water strainer with a finer mesh so this can't happen again. Yanmar oil pressure now normal.

Jan 15: The new Kubota dynamos finally arrived. Installed one. Now the Kubota works again. Everything is working!

Jan 16: Installed a charcoal filter in the vent line for the forward holding tank, so that the whole boat doesn't get gassed every time we flush the toilet. The other cruisers around here seem to avoid this problem by not using holding tanks at all -- they just pump right overboard in the harbor. Euww. We aren't ready for that. We also don't swim much in the harbors.

Jan 20: Installed aft head vent filter and replaced the clogged filter line.

Jan 22: Yanmar overheating again. Cleaned heat exchanger again (a solid four hour job - lots of disassembly required). Need that new water strainer.

Shredded belts that drive big alternator on Kubota

Jan 23: The two belts that drive the big Balmer alternator on the Kubota both shredded. One belt left no piece longer than about five inches (see picture at left). (These belts are different than the water belt that pushes the dynamo, which is still ok.) The flailing belts also tore up some wiring in the engine room.

Jan 24: Replaced the shredded Kubota belts with spares and fixed the wiring. Carefully adjusted the belt tension. No sign of slipping or belt dust (yet). Talked to the belt manufacturor about our problems. Our belts (the very best available) have an operating temperature limit of 160F. Our alternator routinely hits 200F. We plan to carry a lot of spare belts. Also ordered a blower to help cool engine room.

Jan 26: Cleaned the Yanmar heat exchanger again. This is getting old. Installed a nylon insect screen inside the sea strainer to stop the crud from getting through while we wait for the new strainer.

Jan 27: Kubota stopped running. Seems like a fuel blockage. Replaced fuel filter and bled the lines. Kubota running again.

Jan 28: The Balmar alternator has been overheating for quite a while. Tech support at Balmar tells us that a 200 amp alternator can't really run at 200 amps (or even at 150 amps) for any length of time. The overheat causes the "smart" regulator to stop charging, so it takes a long time to charge the batteries. Also the heat eats the belts.

But we have to charge a 1000 amp hour battery bank, and feed a freezer that draws about 70 amps when it runs. So we're thinking about installing a 300 amp alternator and keeping the "small" one as a spare.

Jan 29: Installed engine room blower to blow outside air on the alternator. Outside air is about 78F. Engine room air is about 110F. The blower seems to help, as the alternator has mostly stopped overheating.

Spiritual help: The Kubota and Yanmar are Japanese. We are thinking that we may not be paying enough attention to their cultural heritage. Perhaps a Shinto shrine...?


Anyway, you get the idea. But actually we do get some time to do stuff besides fix the engine. You know, shopping, laundry, snorkeling, eating M&Ms...

Eating,Shopping, and Stocking

Our stocks were running a bit low and we reluctantly ate up the last delicious smoked salmon given to us by Marlon and Marlene before we left Waukegan last August, as well as the last piece of Kay Jenkin's incredible pound cake.

Ken eating last bites of Marlon's salmon and Kay's pound cake Ken finishes off the salmon and pound cake.


We had the following discussion about the above picture of Ken:

Ken: I look goofy in that picture.

Beth: Yes, and you're bald, too.


Then Beth got busy filling the freezer with lots of future meals. Here she's soaking vegetables in a diluted bleach solution to get rid of unwanted critters. Soaking vegetables in bleach


Pigs ears and chicken feet

St. Thomas has several large, well-stocked grocery stores. The Food Center had good quality meat, in addition to island specialities like pig's ears (top) and chicken feet (bottom).

We didn't buy those.


Beth with essential provisions

We also stocked up on essentials. (Don't know how the mayonnaise got into this picture, since it's not essential.)

We have now built our inventory to fifteen 14-ounce M&M bags, which should last more than a month.


In fact, we've moderated our nightly intake of M&M's -- 30 apiece.

Here Beth counts out the M&M ration.

Counting out nightly ration of M&Ms

Real R&R

In between working on boat projects, we did take some time for R&R. We took a refresher scuba class and went on a trip with a local dive center. We also found some great snorkeling spots and very much enjoyed the flexibility of hopping in the dinghy and going 100 feet to a nice snorkeling spot. Not quite as good as scuba, but lots less setup and expense.

We've seen sea turtles, eagle rays, sting rays, an octopus, squid, a spotted eel and probably fifty different types of colorful reef fish. So far no sharks, although we keep (hoping)?

Even though the water here is about 80F, we wear full wetsuits (including hoods and gloves) to keep warm. This gear also protects us from the sun and from those nasty stingers like the ones that got Ken in Bermuda. The suits provide a lot of buoyancy -- Beth likes floating on the surface, but Ken wears weights so he can dive down to converse with the fish at their own level.

Beth getting ready for snorkeling Ken in full wetsuit gear

Lessons Learned

Remember our fire at sea? A cookbook holder slid onto the burners from the shelf behind the stove.

Ken installed a guard to secure the shelf. The bungy cords unhook and pull out of the way for daily use.

Shelf straps to secure items above stove

Stealth Camera

In preparation for her trip to cold, cold, cold Wisconsin, Beth got a flu shot. While he waited in the clinic, Ken tried out his "stealth" camera (you can point the lens to the side so that people don't know your shooting their picture.)

Stealth picture -- this woman was waiting at the clinic with her children Woman watching baby


Mother showing son how to do it right She watched her son struggle with his handheld video game, then took it away and showed him how. Not sure he ever got it back.


A young father waiting with his children at the clinic. Man with small children at clinic


Waiting for dollar bus

This woman was waiting along with us for the dollar bus. If you know which bus to take, you can get a $1 fare to anywhere along their route.

We noticed that cruise ship tourists get herded toward "taxis" (which look just like the dollar buses) that charge $10/a head for the short trip from downtown to the cruise ship dock.


Street preachers at K-Mart

Not as pleasant a picture.

These folks were preaching racial hate to a small crowd. As we walked by they pointed at us and yelled "there they are, those are the ones!" We kept walking, but Ken later went back to risk his life taking stealth pictures.

The overwhelming majority of the West Indian population (islanders of African descent) are friendly and nice. No question that race relations are better in Bermuda, however.

Around and About St. Thomas

After spending so much time in the harbors of St. Thomas, we decided to take a real tour of the island.


When we tell people about our sailing trip they often ask us about pirates. Turns out the Caribbean is full of pirates. Pictures of pirates, statues of pirates, souvenir shops full of pirate flags and knick-knacks. Not to mention the pirates behind the cash registers.

Our first stop was "Blackbeard's Castle".

Ken and Beth with the pirate Blackbeard


Of course most of this is tourist hype -- there's no evidence that Blackbeard ever set foot in this "castle." But there's truth under the hype. Blackbeard undoubtedly did hang out in Charlotte Amalie from time to time, along with lots of other pirates. And the castle probably was built to keep watch against British navy ships.

And these pirates really were colorful. Blackbeard (Edward Teach) used to wear bandoliers of 10 or 12 pistols, and intimidated merchant crews by putting "slow matches" under his hat with the lit ends hanging out, so that his head was wreathed in smoke and flames. Shock and awe 18th century style.

Here's a little aside with some other weird but true pirate facts (taken from Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly, and Caribbean History by Don and Dene Dachner):

Pirate Wedding Vows

When the French got serious about settling Tortuga in 1665, they needed women to marry the tough buccaneers who formed much of the population. So Governor D'Ogeron brought a boatload of streetwalkers from Paris for a mass wedding. The wedding vows ran (in part) as follows :

"I take thee without knowing, or caring to know, who thou art. If anybody from whence thou comest would have had thee, thou wouldst not have come in quest of me. But no matter... Give me only thy word for the future; I acquit thee of the past."

Lest this get too mushy, the groom would then place his hand on his gun and say:

"This will revenge me of thy breach of faith; if thou shouldst prove false, this will surely be true to my aim."

(From Hazard, Santo Domingo, Past and Present, as quoted by the Dachners.)

Pirate Contracts

Pirates crews were actually some of the first true democracies. The captains were elected, and had absolute power when in sight of a hostile boat, but otherwise all decisions were subject to majority rule, and the captain could be recalled by majority vote.

Most pirate ships had formal, written agreements governing everything from sharing the spoils -- usually 5 or 6 shares to the captain, 2 or 3 to key officers and 1 share to everyone else -- to rules of conduct, often prohibiting gambling on board or bringing women on board, as both were sources of conflict.

The contracts also typically provided "workman's comp" to pirates injured in action, with fixed payments for different types of wounds -- for example 600 pieces of eight for loss of a right arm, 500 for a left arm, down to 100 for loss of a finger. Surprisingly, the loss of an eye brought only a 100 pieces of eight. (From Exquemelin's Buccaneers of America, as quoted in Cordingly.)

All members of a pirate crew had to sign the contracts -- captured merchant sailors were sometimes offered the choice of signing or death.

More on Blackbeard

Teach got so bold that he actually blockcaded Charleston, S.C., in 1718.

In the end, when a small British navy sloop cornered his ship behind Ocracoke Island in November 1718, Blackbeard fought mano a mano with the British captain, just like Hollywood. He kept fighting even after he was shot five times and cut more than twenty times. Finally a Scots Highlander who was part of the British crew jumped in and cut the pirate on the neck with his broadsword. Appreciating his style, Blackbeard said "well done lad," to which the Highlander replied "if it not be well done, I'll do it better." We think that translates roughly as "Hasta la vista, baby!" The Scot then cut Blackbeard's head off with one swing. Beware of Scotsmen with big swords.

According to the official navy report the fight stopped there, although legend says that Blackbeard's body kept fighting. In any event, the British sloop returned with Teach's head hanging under its bowsprit (presumably minus the slow matches).

Captain Kidd

Captain Kidd may be famous, but he made a pretty miserable pirate. He started out as a licensed British privateer, with financing from five wealthy British "Whig" members of Parliament, and official certification from the King of England, who was going to get 10 percent of the profits. (A pirate plunders ships. A privateer has a government license to plunder ships.) Kidd was chartered to attack pirates and enemies of Britain.

Unfortuantely, Kidd couldn't find any "pirates and enemies of Britain". He did, however, find lots of British ships. For a while he played it straight, but his crew (who worked under the "no loot, no pay" rule), got mutinous, and Kidd finally began taking British ships and ships of neutral countries to keep his crew from cutting his throat. And to get rich himself, of course.

(There's a lesson here about the possible consequencs of incentive pay. Too bad Enron's board didn't figure this out.)

Needless to say, Kidd's attacks on British ships attracted a lot of attention in Parliament (especially from the Tories, who were the Whig's opponents). Just replace "Whigs" and "Tories" with "Republicans" and "Democrats" and imagine how this would play out.

So, anyway, with the British navy hot on his butt, Kidd sailed into Charlotte Amalie (exactly where we are sitting right now), and asked the Danish Governor for protection. History doesn't record exactly what he offered in return, but he had lots of loot in his ship. The Governor declined, since he wasn't ready to go to war with Britain for Kidd's sake.

Kidd then sailed to Boston where he hoped to negotiate protection in return for loot. But the Governor there simply arrested him and took the loot (of which he got a large share as Governor). Kidd proclaimed his innocence and went on to a spectacular trial in Britain (think OJ Simpson meets Martha Stewart), and was hanged. (In chains, so that his body remained intact for as long as possible. Yuck).

And Now Back to Our Story

Beth with Jeanne, a fellow cruiser We met Jeanne, a fellow cruiser, while at Blackbeard's castle. Jeanne and her husband now live on St. Thomas and she gives tours during the day. She and her husband have sailed around the world.

The Blackbeard Castle is part of a complex of small museums. Ken was fascinated by a small WWI vintage machine gun (left below). Beth poses with the gun to give you an idea of the scale.

WWI vintage machine gun Beth with small WWI machine gun


In one of the museums, we met Gail Shulterbrandt-Rivera, a licensed nutrionist and resident historian on St. Thomas. She gave us reprints of her articles on Virgin Island culture along with a recipe for Kalaloo, a delicious West Indian stew. Beth made a modified version using smoked turkey parts and it was yummy. Beth and Gail and at museum

Anchoring Headaches

One afternoon, while we were anchored at Charlotte Amalie, a police boat pulled up and told us we had to move, as we (along with three or four other boats) were anchored in the "channel" (which looked exactly like the rest of the anchorage). We had an informal race with nearby boats to get one of the few remaining legal anchoring spots. We lost, because we always put lots of chain out, so it takes a long time to get it back in. We ended up in a pretty cramped spot.

Large cruise ship anchored in mouth of harbor

But not this cramped.

Some of the larger cruise ships anchor right near the anchorage, and some cruisers ended up awfully close to these big mothers.

On another occasion we tried to anchor near the appropriately named Hassel Island. Because the water was deep and the channel was narrow, we anchored really close to shore, counting on the reliable east wind to keep us off the rocks. Well, the wind went light and fluky, and we woke up to find that we were uncomfortably close to going aground.

So we upped anchor and motored over to the main harbor. Then we had to find a new anchoring spot at 2 in the morning in a crowded harbor.

Radar image of anchorage Here's what the radar scope looked like as we tried to find a spot. The targets are all anchored boats.

This episode was a lesson. No more anchoring without proper swinging room unless we set a stern anchor. There's no such thing as a totally reliable wind, even out here.

Parking in St. Thomas

Last time we showed you some of the car traffic on St. Thomas. Well, parking your dinghy is no picnic either.

Trying to get out of this jammed up dinghy dock in Crown Bay Marina (near Charlotte Amalie) was quite a challenge. Crowded dinghy dock at Crown Bay

Local Wildlife

One of the bays we anchored in on St. Thomas, Nazareth Bay, is located in a wildlife refuge. We were thrilled when we saw a large number of egrets fly into some nearby trees to roost for the evening (below left). We also saw something we'd never seen before -- a pelican perched in a tree (below right)!

Egrets roosting in trees near Nazareth Bay Pelican perched in tree

Other Cruisers

We've met a few other cruisers in the Virgin Islands -- though not as many as we expected. We have a lot in common with the cruisers who are just passing through, whereas the people who have settled here on their boats have really stopped cruising, and are just using their boats as houses. A number of these liveaboards were once cruisers whose dreams were ended by divorce. We heard one startling story of a couple who pulled into the dock at Cruz Bay on St. John. As soon as they touched shore, the wife jumped off with her suitcase and was never seen again!

This lifestyle definitely poses challenges for a relationship. We're still feeling our way around this new life. Our old roles have turned topsy-turvey and carving out our own space is a work in progress. But we always have confidence that we can work it out.

Cruising boat "On Eagle's Wings" One morning, while anchored in Nazareth Bay on St. Thomas, we noticed a new neighbor on a boat named "On Eagle's Wings"! We dinghied over to say hello to Dean and Phyllis of Saratoga Springs, New York.

Dean and Phyllis are part owners of their boat (Dickerson 41 ketch), sharing time with 3 other couples. They served us delicious rum punches and when they came to our boat the next evening, Phyllis gave Beth lessons on the proper preparation of a rum punch. Even Beth, who is not a big fan of any drink stronger than fruit juice, was converted to the refreshing, delicious drink. We promptly went out and bought several different fruit concentrates (a key ingredient).

Dean told us that they are looking to sell out their share of the boat -- if you have any interest in checking it out, they have information at

Broken Boats

One of the more sobering sights was the large number of dilapidated or destroyed boats we saw in various harbors around St. John and St. Thomas, mostly "hurricane boats". You just don't see this sort of thing much in the midwest. Definitely makes us want to get out of here before June.

We'll take you on a tour of some of those boats. Each picture shows a different boat, and these are just a few of what we've seen.

Here are some "salvaged" boats that now serve as stationary homes.

Hurricane boat (1)   Hurricane boat (2)


Boat with new fiberglass work in Benner Bay   Boat with generator on floating platform in Benner Bay

Some boats were in the process of sinking:

Sinking power boat in Benner Bay   Owner retrieving belongings from sinking boat in Benner Bay

Other boats were hoplessly on the rocks. You've heard the term "washed up"? Here's the real thing.

Sailboat Koshari on rocks in Redhook   Sailboat on rocks in Redhook


Boat on rocks on Hassel Island   Trimaran on rocks on Hassel Island

Trip Home

While Ken continued to slave away on various boat projects, Beth flew back to the States to visit family in Wisconsin (and visit/talk with some friends). She reports that the cold was shocking, but after getting back into her long underwear, she survived. It sure was great to see people -- and it highlighted the downside of the trip -- missing family and friends.

Nevertheless, she was very happy to see Ken and be back on the boat --and she gained a new appreciation for the nice weather! Ken surprised her by having the boat all cleaned up.