12 September 2013

Rocky Mountain Sailing: Utah's Trial Lake

Trial Lake, Utah.  A Sailing Destination 10,000 feet in the air.
These waters beg to be sailed.  At 10,000 feet above sea level, the clouds skim across the top of your mast, filling the lake beneath you with cool, clear rain.  Eagles fill their wings with the wind that spills from your sails.  Deer wander curiously along the shore, drinking the water from under your keel.  Trout swim playfully in the tiny eddies trailing your rudder.  Nature is so big here that you can't become one with it, it's just too enormous
A large submerged rock near the shore serves as a makeshift dock.  (Either that, or I am actually walking on water.)
We come here once a year and spend a week camping along the lake.  There is no boat ramp here, so we wheel our little 14 foot Lido down to the water's edge and launch her by hand.  The Lido weighs 300 pounds, so I use a small trailer dolly that connects to the boat trailer's hitch to walk it around on shore and lower and retrieve it from the water.  

With no docks, we launch the boat by walking it out into the water until we find a submerged rock to serve as a makeshift dock for launching.  Everyone climbs on, and the last person aboard shoves us out into the lake, where we drift for a moment until the water is a little deeper.  Then we lower the keel, raise the sails, and GO!
Lido 14, Waiting impatiently on the shore of Trial Lake
 Although there are smaller, lighter day sailers out there, I prefer the Lido for these high mountain lakes.  It has a roomy cockpit that seats 6 kids if the winds are light, or fewer when the winds pick up.  The boat has enough freeboard to keep the water out, which is important when the water is only 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 Celsius)
"Abandon Ship!"  The crew jumps into Trial Lake
Of course, 45F (7C) water doesn't keep the kids from swimming.  The high mountain sun is so intense, an 80 F degree (27 Celsius) afternoon sun feels like 95 F degrees (35 C), and it isn't long after lunch before the kids are jumping from the boat and swimming along the shore.
Um, it's reflection of the sail in my hair that makes it look like I have a bald spot.
 When we're done sailing for the day, we raise the keel, swing the rudder up, and lash the sails to the boom.  We pull the Lido up on the beach, and walk over the to campfire for dinner and a fantastic display of stars under the blackest skies on earth.  Hearty pioneers built up the south end of Trial Lake to serve as a natural reservoir, which is still in use today.  During late summer, the lake is drained a couple inches each day, so each morning we find the boat a little higher on the beach than where we left it the night before.
The wind picks up in the late morning and runs until dusk, but it is shifty.  The fun in sailing these lakes is the challenge of attentive sail trim.  When the breeze is up, the boat will heel over and scoot a mile across the lake in a few minutes.  The Lido is perfect during the lighter winds too, its light weight can turn even the softest breezes into a great afternoon of sailing.  

The reason the most beautiful lakes are harder to reach is that someone wanted to keep them a little closer to heaven.  Lakes like these were meant to be sailed.  

29 March 2013

Splash 2013: First Sail of the Year

Sunrise over Utah Lake, from the docks in Pelican Bay
Finally ready to put the boat in!  We decided to put her in at the American Fork Boat Harbor, which is only a few miles from the house.  Usually we put in at the Provo Marina (where the slip is), but we were looking forward to starting the year with a fun sailing trip, and planned to sail from American Fork over to Pelican Bay for the night, and then sail down to Provo the following day.

The American Fork ramp has long been rumored to be a poor launching site for keelboats.  This is not true.  The ramp drops off steeply, and for the first time ever I was able to launch the boat from the trailer without having to use a strap to lower the trailer deeper in the water.  Much easier.  

It was a perfect first sail.  Northwest winds at 10mph let us heel nicely and sail all the way to Pelican Bay on a single tack.

Once in Pelican Bay, we tied up to the end of the docks and got serious about our favorite card game, BANG.  

For dinner, I called around to several restaurants in Saratoga Springs until I found one willing to deliver down to the marina.  Tenney's Pizza came though, and the pizza was fantastic!  Our favorite was their signature "Backyard Barbecue" pizza.  Great for dinner, and for breakfast the next morning!

14 January 2013

BVI Summer Sailing: Lessons Learned

Flying home, we talk about the lessons learned on this trip.  If you found this end of the trip blog, you should click here and start from the beginning of the BVI family sailing charter.

This is our first June charter in the BVI, so our conclusions must be remembered with a grain of salt.  But here are my thoughts.

I've chartered down here in winter, spring, and summer.  I don't know whether I prefer Winter or Spring more.  April is probably my favorite time in the BVI because it's less crowded, the water is warm, and the evenings are warm.  Not that the temperature differs much between seasons here, it is only a difference of 5 degrees in the water and maybe 10 degrees on land.  In winter, it is nice to have a light jacket for evenings ashore, and when the sun goes down we usually stop snorkeling.  The water is warmest in June, and you wouldn't mind snorkeling all night if you could.  The days get a little hot, and it's nice to have an air conditioner on the boat.

In June, the trade winds aren't as strong, and have a lot more variability.  We had a sizable low pressure system go by south of the BVI for the first 4 days which meant constant rain and cloudy skies.  Also, the humidity is much higher. No that it's bad down here in June.

Bottom Line
Bottom line is, I wouldn't pass up a chance to sail down here ANY time of year.  If you are planning a trip, I'd recommend Winter or Spring, but don't be surprised if you see me posting again about a summer trip here either.

One of the advantages of summer is that the anchorages are for the most part less crowded, the water is never more than 4 feet away if you want to go for a swim and cool off, and the rain is rather refreshing.  But I guess that's why it's the low/shoulder season.

This June BVI sailing charter was fantastic.  Read about our sailing charter here in January with some good friends, or about our first sailboat charter experience in the British Virgin Islands here.

13 January 2013

Fallen Jerusalem and Great Harbor, Sailing Day 10/10

This morning we refilled water at Marina Cay ($20 for 100 gallons), then raised sails and headed over to Fallen Jerusalem's North Lee Bay. 

We spent several hours exploring along the shore and snorkeling just off it.  The younger kids invented pirate games along the beach as they switched from snorkels to sand castles to rock climbing and back again.  The older kids went further afield, snorkeling far out along the bay, exploring all the coves, reefs, and caverns between the rocks.

We found one area with a pile of  expired and broken conch shells, numbering easily into the hundreds.  I don't know how they all ended up in this place hidden back up in the rocks along the shore, I assume it is the result of the water currents in the bay.  The place almost feels sacred, with such a treasure tucked away by mother nature.

I should point out here that the collecting of shells is different today than when it was years ago.  Now, many shells (including conch shells) are protected by law and common sense.  You can read about current regulations in the online BVI Marine Guide.  But really, just use common sense:  "Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, and kill nothing but time."  The beauty of the BVI is its pristine nature, which we need to preserve for our children to enjoy.  

After several hours' exploring, we took some family pictures, and then headed back to the boat.  The kids are more interested in snorkeling back and forth to the boat by the end of the trip.  We take the dinghy to carry the camera and younger kids, but the older kids like to spend a good hour working their way from shore to ship.  

As we we left, another boat was arriving, and a local tour boat pulled into the next bay to the west and dropped anchor for snorkelers and scuba divers to get out and explore.

This is such an incredible family vacation.  No interruptions, no cell phones, no internet.  Just our family rediscovering the power of being a family.  I'm full of gratitude for each of my kids, and try not to think about the fact that we're leaving tomorrow as we raise sails and slip quietly down Francis Drake Passage.  We're heading to Great Harbor on Peter island where we picked up a mooring at the Oceans 7 Beach Club and the kids played on an inflatable trampoline and floating climbing wall in the water.

Tonight we barbecue steaks and play our favorite card game, BANG, until everyone was too tired to stay awake.

12 January 2013

The Caves, Cooper Island, and Marina Cay, Day 9/10

My son Zack and I got up early this morning, so he helped free us from the mooring and we sailed around to the Caves on Treasure Island (Norman Island) to pick up one of the moorings and wait for the family to wake up.  Privateer Bay, just a little further than the caves, looked like a great mooring field with about 5 mooring balls and a long secluded beach. The snorkeling would be great there, although better suited to a catamaran due to the anchorage's openness.

Moored outside The Caves on Treasure Island
We sat on the nets and talked for an hour before the sun finally climbed over the hill and shone onto the boat.  We ate breakfast, taking our time while the sun slowly illuminated the water near the dark caves.  

While waiting, the kids stretched out on the nets and watched the fish swimming beneath the boat.  Their "OOooohs!"  and "AAaaahhs" sounded like spectators at a fireworks show.  When finally a large turtle went gliding along under the boat, they could hold back no more and went diving overboard to catch the turtle.  Luckily, turtles swim faster than kids, otherwise we would have had to have the "Sea turtles don't make good house pets" talk.

With half the kids in the water, we decided to head for the caves.  So everyone donned gear and jumped in for the swim over to the caves.  The caves aren't too deep, but it is helpful to have an underwater flashlight when going inside.  The younger kids found the experience a little spooky, and didn't mind focusing their snorkeling around the mouth of the cave.  We searched and searched, but found no pieces of eight.

Doubloonless, we returned to the boat and readied for a sail up the pirates' Gangway, heading for my favorite island, Fallen Jerusalem.  I've found it easier to raise the main before leaving the mooring.  The sail snags less in the lazy jacks, and having the sail ready for service is probably a good fail safe against some unexpected engine problem while navigating our of an anchorage, as long as the captain considers the wind and point of sail in choosing the path out of the anchorage.

Once clear of the island, we sailed all the way to Beef Island without tacking. I found the catamaran (a Privelege 435) would sail to within about 30 degrees of the wind before forward progress slowed. I've also found that adjusting the main on the catamaran is best done with the traveler, not the main sheet.

From Beef Island, I could see two boats moored over in North Lee Bay of Fallen Jerusalem, which was very disappointing because I've never seen anyone else there. So we sailed back to Cooper Island and picked up a mooring ball there next to shore. Cooper Island Beach Club is very beautiful with landscaped plants, carefully manicured walkways, and a screensaver-worthy beach.

The older kids and I went out to snorkel Cistern Point.  Swells were fairly heavy out of the south but we still snorkeled all the way around.  Snorkeling in swells is more tiring than in calm water.  The biggest challenge is that the swells push you back and forth - the bigger the swell the farther the push.  So to hover over a spot, you have to work harder, and keep an eye on nearby reef and rock to make sure you don't get pushed into something you'd rather not.  By the time we made it all the way around Cistern Point, we were pretty tired.  Rather than swim all the way back around to the dinghy, we chose between going ashore and walking around on the land, or trying to navigate shallow reef between the beach and Cistern Point.  We chose the reef, which was quite challenging in the swells.  I look forward to trying that again without the swells.  It was one of the more exciting snorkeling trips of our vacation.

Back at the boat, we discovered we were down to 8 gallons of water in the tanks, so rather than stay at Cooper Island, we decided to head for Marina Cay for the night where we could resupply water.

The Marina Cay the fuel dock was closed, so we picked up a mooring and planned to load water first thing in the morning.  We grilled dolphin steaks on the barbecue for dinner, then went ashore for the best dessert in the BVI: the "Crazy Coconut."  We discovered this with friends on an earlier charter, it's a chocolate shell shaped like a coconut, covered in toasted coconut flakes and filled with vanilla ice cream.

11 January 2013

Sopers Hole and Treasure Island, Sailing Day 8/10

After a leisurely start to the day, we set sail under a beautiful blue, sunlit sky and steady trade winds over to Sopers Hole.  We picked up a mooring near the main docks and enjoyed lunch aboard while the Caribbean-colored waterfront stretching peacefully before our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Then, into the dinghy and off to explore the Caribbean-colored shops along the waterfront.  

While walking along the dock, we happened to look over and see a dorsal fin swimming alongside the tethered dinghies.  This wouldn't have worried my six year old, but the 5 foot long shark swimming under the dorsal fin did.  I was worried she would be afraid to go snorkeling after seeing a predator bigger than her, but she seemed to buy my explanation that the shark was obviously leaving the BVI at the time we saw him, because sharks do not like the warm water and don't want to be around all the snorkelers.  (Note to my daughter: Princess, in a few years when you're old enough to read this and realize that I wasn't being completely forthcoming about the predators I made you swim with, please realize that your Mom put me up to it.)

Sopers Hole is a great place to resupply.  We deposited trash at the docks and picked up 10 lbs of ice, some ice cream sandwiches, and 8 more gallons of water.  Now that the storm system has passed and the sun is out each day, the eight of us are drinking about two gallons of water a day between us, along with a large bottle of juice at every meal.

We sailed out of Sopers Hole, around the end of St John in the US Virgin Islands, and on to Treasure Island (Norman Island), the setting of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.  Entering the island's largest anchorage, The Bight, we found a mooring in Kelly's Cove, a remote spot with space for only 5 boats.  The cove was completely empty, so we picked a mooring closest to shore so the kids could snorkel safely and easily in the water between the boat and the rocky shoreline.  In just 15 feet of water, they were over the side and snorkeling before the propeller stopped spinning. 

Beneath Kelly's Cove is a rock-strewn biological wonderland to explore.  In addition to all the usual fish, the kids chased octopus and several other creatures to our list of sighted marine life. My oldest kids spent about 4 hours in the water snorkeling along the shore, and the little kids all spent an hour snorkeling before they retired to the galley for a long series of uno card games together.

We grilled chicken on the barbecue, and then opened the coconut Scott found yesterday on Sandy Cay. The kids were fascinated by the process of opening the coconut. We swam it in to shore where we found a large, sharp rock.  We smashed the coconut on the sharp edge to pierce the husk.  Then, pulling on the husk, ripped it apart and pulled the coconut out of the center.  We brought the coconut and a fist-sized flat rock back to the boat so we could smack open the coconut at the dinner table. Once opened, the kids spent half an hour picking the coconut meat out for dessert.  We all agreed that if necessary, we could live off coconuts here for some time.

10 January 2013

Sandy Cay, BVI Bareboat Charter Day 7/10

Very light wind forecast for today.  1-6 knots.  This means adventure is to be found on land today, not under sail.  Perfect conditions for exploring Sandy Cay.

Early this morning, before breakfast, we headed over to Sandy Cay.  Despite our early departure, we barely picked up one of the last moorings.  We ate breakfast aboard while I finished worrying about our distance to the boats on neighboring mooring balls. With no wind, the boats were free to drift in any direction they wanted, so I put out fenders as a precaution.  I didn't dare leave the boat until the wind picked up.  With a little wind running, all the boats will swing in the same direction with no chance of collision.

While we waited for wind, the kids dove for sand dollars in about 15 feet of water, and managed to find the biggest starfish I've ever seen. It was bright orange, and had to be over a foot in diameter.  We had to have the "Starfish would make poor pets back at home" speech.

Later in the morning, we went ashore and explored Sandy Cay.  With so much wildlife scampering, fluttering, and slithering about, a walk through Sandy Cay's lush interior is half spooky and half edenic.   The little kids stayed close as we walked through the tree-covered tunnels on the interior of the island.  I can only imagine what the first Europeans thought as they explored these islands in such a pristine state.

The kids had a great time chasing hermit crabs, lizards, and exploring the tunnels through the island.  On the far side of the island, the island rises above black cliffs that overlook the sea, where you catch a glimpse of Tortola's north side, and all the way out to Anegada.

After our exploration, we returned the sandy beaches to play and snorkel along the shore.  The kids gathered several coconuts, which the older boys found to be excellent tropical footballs.

Hours later, swam back out to the boat for lunch, and then sailed over to Manchioneel Bay, by Foxy's Taboo where we hiked over to Bubbly Pool.  Normally, Bubbly Pool lives up to its name and is quite a bubbly pool.  But in the calm after the storm of the last several days, the swells were down, and bubbly pool wasn't very bubbly.  Unflagged, the kids played for half an hour there - the younger kids playing in the pool and the older kids hiking through the rocks.  Finally,  a somewhat bigger set of waves came in and turned the water to its churning, broiling, namesake.

Walking back to the boat, we decided to wade across the shallow isthmus that separates Little Jost Van Dyke from its bigger brother. The water was waist deep, and about half way across I was bitten by a sand flea on my ankle, so we spent less time wading and more time hurrying back to shore. 

My oldest son was more interested in the breaking surf further out, and went for a few body surfing runs.  With a shallow, coral-strewn floor beneath, he had to be careful not to be ground into the bottom.

Back at the boat, the younger kids returned to jumping off the bow and swimming to the back of the boat, a feat they repeated so many times I believe they may have permanently altered the ocean currents that year.

The older boys and I went in to snorkel along the shore. We found sand dollars, sea urchin shells, and several beautiful conch shells. The conch shells were smaller, but perfectly formed and very pretty. They appeared to be uninhabited, so we each loaded two into the baggy cargo pockets on our swimming suits for more careful examination back on the boat. As we set the conch shells on the catamaran's stern swim platform, we were all surprised as legs extended from each conch shell and they scrambled over the side back into the water.  Apparently we weren't the only ones interested in the shells.

It was a beautiful quiet night in the cove.  We sat and watched the towering clouds above Tortola while we grilled shishkabobs under an unfolding blanket of millions of stars.

At bedtime, we discovered that a few of the crew had been a little sunburned in places. We'll see how things look in the morning and decide how that affects the schedule. If they need a day of recovery, we'll spend a longer time sailing and less time in the water during the direct sun times of the day.

The saloon in the Privilege 435 catamaran is perfect for our family of 8.  The only challenge is that the people sitting in the back of the round table are committed to stay there for the whole meal, or card game.  But we're already together as a family in the BVI, so where would a person want to go?!