Wednesday, February 26, 2014

8 Tuff Miles

After a grueling couple weeks battling the sea, Dana and I made it to the tranquil and gorgeous Virgin Islands. We arrived just in time for the road race I’ve been dreaming about entering ever since we got married in St. John back in 2008. It was a homecoming of sorts to pick up a mooring just off Caneel Bay, where many of you joined us for our wedding five years ago. But more about St. John in a second. What happened since Boqueron, Puerto Rico?

Well, let me tell you. It’s been a whirlwind of adventure the past week-and-a-half. Boqueron was fun, filled with vacationers from Puerto Rico who come to the small beach town to blow off steam on the weekends, sort of like the Jersey Shore. We lounged on the beach, ate seafood at various street vendors, ran into some cruiser friends we first met back in Providenciales, and found a new and exciting alcoholic beverage. Gasolina, a.k.a., “party in a pouch,” is a premixed alcoholic beverage in a Capri Sun-like juice pouch. It even comes with a little straw. Needless to say, we bought a bunch for future consumption.

Ponce Yacht Club
Boqueron was the only spot until St. John we stayed more than one night. We were on a mission to make it to my race on time. From Boqueron, we motor sailed to Ponce, then Puerto Patillas. We quickly continued with a trip out sea to the Spanish Virgin Island, Vieques. From Vieques, it was another straight shot to St. John. We travelled at night when we could to take advantage of the calming effect of the land on the neighboring ocean. However, with almost 200 miles to sail, we inevitably had to sail during the turbulent middays as well. Let me tell you, not one of those sails was in “good” weather. Winds howled every day at 25 plus knots and seas were as big as 10 feet.

In my last post, I boasted that we no longer feared sailing in the dark. Well, I found something new to fear at night…squalls. Leaving Ponce at 10 pm, Dana and I planned to sail straight though to Vieques (close to 80 miles). Dana was sleeping down below after her first shift at the helm from 10 to midnight, and I was feeling pretty fresh, so I stayed at the helm from midnight until 5:30 am. At that point, I was about to wake Dana for her shift and take a nap. However, straight ahead was a dark and ominous cloud formation that I could see even in the moon and starlight. I decided to wait until the rain passed to wake Dana. It rained a couple times earlier over night, and hadn’t been that big of a deal. The wind picked up a bit and I got wet, so what?

What I didn’t know was that some of these rain showers are accompanied by 30-40 knot winds that can “lay you flat,” as described in one of our cruising guides. You can’t tell which of these storms will “lay you flat” from a distance. At about 6 am, we were “laid flat” by strong gusting winds and quickly forming 10 foot plus waves. I released the main sail so that we stopped heeling way over and just held on for dear life until the squall passed. I made sure I was leashed to the boat and Dana stayed down below, because even though she immediately woke up to help, there was no point in both of us getting soaked. When the squall passed, we decided to throw in the towel and stop early. We’d only made it about 35 miles toward Vieques in over 8 hours and were not even halfway.

Daytime squall in the distance
Although our other motor sails didn’t involve squalls, we were tormented by crappy conditions every day between Boqueron and St. John and relieved at the end of each. We wouldn’t have gone out on any of those days if it wasn’t for my race in St. John. We did not wait for weather windows because we didn’t have the luxury of time We’ve been warned repeatedly about making deadlines, but we don’t seem to learn :-)

Conditions were good enough, however, to do some fishing one morning. Most days were so rough, the thought of trying to reel in a fish and then fillet it in the cockpit seemed overwhelming. The morning of relative calm I caught a king mackerel. Not as good eating as the Mahi, but great when marinated. It also made some tasty fish tacos the next day.

King Mackerel
One night during this last journey was special. Vieques is home to a couple famous bioluminescent bays. These bays have a high concentration of phosphorescent creatures, similar to the ones that we see in our wake in the open ocean on dark nights. We tried to anchor in one bay (Mosquito Bay), but the conditions were just too rough. Instead, we pulled into Ferro Bay, about a mile up. Ferro Bay is surrounded by mangroves and very calm. We were the only people in the bay, probably because the ocean was so riled up. Upon anchoring, I promptly jumped into the water and was immersed in light. Every paddle or kick stirred up thousands of the little lights. I was even covered in light for a second or two when climbing up the swim ladder. We couldn’t get the camera to capture the scene, probably due to user error.

That night at Ferro Bay seemed almost like a fairy tale. We were on the hook in a completely calm anchorage surrounded by the angry sea. Bioluminescent creatures filled the dark water around us if any movement stirred them up. Also, after dark, fish started jumping in the water all around the boat. It was all very unusual. Once we laid down to sleep for a few hours (since we planned to leave well before light again), we started to hear a strange noise. There was a rubbing, scraping sound on the hull right near our bed on the bow of the boat. It went on for a while, so I grabbed the spot light and went out to investigate. I couldn’t see anything in the dark water. The crunching sound continued and moved all around the boat. The only thing we could figure was that some fish was scouring the bottom of our boat eating the growth that has accumulated there from being in the ocean for the past several months. We woke to our alarm and left that mysterious bay at four am, back out into the large rolling swells of the ocean.

After all that rough sailing, pelting rain, and sleepless nights, we arrived in St. John on Friday afternoon, the day before 8 Tuff Miles. We dinghied into the town at Cruz Bay and picked up my bib number. I was shocked to see how many people came in for this race. More than 1000 were registered! I ate some pasta for dinner and we got a nice calm night of sleep.

The race began at 7:15 am, so we were at the dinghy dock nice and early. Dana got a good spot for spectating and I did a warm up run. I was a little intimated by the competition. There were some serious runners lining up at the start. I later learned that many elite runners fly in just for this race. A Coast Guard helicopter did a fly by and the gun went off for the start.

The race itself was brutal. Although it’s billed as 8 tough miles (, the race is actually 8.38 miles. After the first half-mile, you start climbing up into the mountains of St. John, and it feels like you never stop. The course gains 1500 feet of elevation in the first 5 miles. Then, it’s a steep downhill to the finish. Torrential downpours also occurred on several occasions during the race, making the downhill asphalt treacherous. My times ranged from an 8:30 mile climbing up to a 6:10 mile flying down. My calves were burning so intensely I had to slow down a bit in the last mile or so. I was on pace to run under an hour through four miles, but settled for 1:01:23 (7:20 pace). I was happy with my performance given that I’ve been living on a sailboat for the past 4 months. I finished 26th out of 1100 finishers.

Well deserved Gasolina
Dana, meanwhile, learned while I was waiting at the start line, that the race finished on a different side of the island than it started. The main road across the island was closed for the race, so she was at a loss for how to get there to meet me. That’s when she met Tatyana. Tatyana’s husband Terry was running the race and she offered to share a cab with Dana to the finish. Tatyana and Terry live in St. Thomas, having moved there from the mainland about a year ago. Dana and Tatyana immediately hit it off. The four of us went out for brunch following the race and they invited us to their house for dinner. We dined with them last night and it was a very nice evening. Dana and I thoroughly enjoyed the laid back home cooked meal on their patio overlooking St. Thomas, the Atlantic Ocean, and all the adjacent U.S. and British Virgin Islands. It was great to meet them and we hope to catch up again in the future.

Brunch at Aqua Bistro with Tatyana and Terry
View from near Tatyana and Terry's house in St. Thomas

Between the post race brunch, and dinner in St. Thomas last night, Dana and I spent much of our time in St. John with the Cincy-Tucky All Stars. The Cincy-Tucky All Stars are part of a running club on the Ohio Kentucky border, and they’ve been organizing a group to come down to St. John for the 8 Tuff Miles for years. Everyone in the club also happens to be a bit crazy. But, I guess all us runners are loco to one extent or another. About five of their runners finished in the top 20 and they got 2nd place in the race. One runner, Derek won it several times in the past, but had to settle for a top 10 finish this year.

Following the awards ceremony, the Cincy-Tucky All Stars befriended the winner of the race, who was just presented with a $300 gift card to the bar close to the awards ceremony. Next thing you know, Dana, the winner, the Cincy-Tucky folks, and I were all enjoying complimentary drinks. We also shared some of our “party in a pouch” drinks, which everyone seemed to get a kick out of. We had a raucous night and planned to meet up with the group again the next day at the race-sponsored “recovery beach party.”

Cincy-Tucky and winner, Rick
Toby and Kate enjoying Gasolina
I needed some recovery, as my legs were incredibly sore. The beach party was a blast, and Dana and I even participated in a beer pong tournament. It was a little like college all over again. We lost in the first round, which was probably good for our livers. We had another raucous night out with the group, and retired to Eventyr.

Cincy-Tucky and "the boat people"
The next day was filled with chores: laundry, procuring a cell phone, going to the post office, etc. I was in rough shape due to the partying and racing, but tried to soldier through. We had a long dinghy ride to and from Eventyr each time we went into town at Cruz Bay. On the last trip back to the boat, the outboard was not sounding so healthy. I also noticed that it was dripping gasoline out the back…not a good sign. Our plan for the rest of the day was to lounge a little and then head into the Caneel Bay Resort to visit the spot where we got married and maybe do the hike we did on our wedding morning.

Caneel Bay Resort in the distance

The trip to Caneel Bay Resort did not happen. Upon trying to restart the outboard, it wouldn’t turn over. The gas tank was completely empty and when I refilled it, gas started pouring out a hose near the rear of the engine. I got out the engine manual, and tried to figure out the problem, but it was well beyond my mechanical skills. The outboard was our only way to get to and from the distant shore, so we were quite demoralized. Luckily, I had a cell phone, so we made some calls for a mechanic. The only available mechanic was in St. Thomas, a couple miles across the bay, so we had to pack up and do an impromptu move.

We’re now at the American Yacht Harbor Marina in Red Hook, St. Thomas and our pesky outboard is with a mechanic. We’ve used our time here to fully clean the boat from stem to stern. Dana also woke up soon after dawn and was out refinishing the teak that lines Eventyr. Later today I need to climb the mast the replace a radar reflector that broke off in high seas. We cleaned the bilge and reorganized the whole boat. It’s not all fun and relaxation on this trip, although it may seem that way :-)

Later today, our friend Hanna flies into St. Thomas. Hanna was on board Eventyr with Chris, her boyfriend, back in Ft. Lauderdale. They were the couple who were supposed to be with us on this adventure from the start. Hanna decided to take the plunge of taking time away from life to join us for this next leg of the adventure. Chris is still too busy with his company SoloShot, to join, and I’m sure he’s jealous. We start a whole new leg of the adventure this evening, with three on board instead of just two.

1 comment:

  1. I hope the roughest part of your adventure is behind least for a while!