Monday, April 30, 2012

Cal Alumni Panel

I'll be one of the Alumni on the panel in Berkeley on Friday. If you'll be in Berkeley, please feel free to drop by! I won't be promoting books: the idea is we'll be answering questions about what you end up doing after you graduate. We'll have a startup guy, a big corporation guy, an indie game designer, and a college professor. It'll be diverse, and we'll have a lot of fun. I expect to be the least accomplished guy on the panel.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Google shows that Moore's Law can go backwards

I used to pay $5/year for 20GB of additional Google storage. With the launch of Google Drive, however, Google has changed the prices on storage, and it's dramatically higher. It's now $2.50/month for 25GB, or $30/year, 6 times more expensive.

Fortunately, as long as you keep renewing your current Google plan, your price will remain at $5/year. I don't know whether the old plans allocates storage for Google Drive (there's no easy way to find out), but be very careful if you wish to upgrade your storage plans for Google Drive.

Or use Skydrive instead. At $10/year for 20GB, it's a much better deal. Plus, it comes with more free storage.

I don't know what caused Google to try to pull this stunt, but I guess online storage is immune to Moore's law. (I could discuss the technical reasons for this, but they have to do with Google's internal infrastructure and nothing to do with what you should pay for online storage)

Excellent Customer Service from HP

I bought a HP ZR2740w late last year, and I'd been happily operating on it since then. Until yesterday noon, when the monitor suddenly turned itself off. Unplugging it and plugging it back in didn't work, and neither did pushing the power button repeatedly. It literally just died while on the job.

It took a while to navigate HP's web-site in order to get a phone # to call (and yes, it was past Amazon's return period, and I would have been tempted to return it otherwise), but I eventually got through and talked to a real person. After one transfer, I found myself talking to a competent technician who authorized a repair and told me that a new monitor would get to me in 2-3 business days.

My jaw dropped this morning when my doorbell rang and a replacement monitor showed up from HP. They cleverly just shipped the panel, so I can just reuse my base, cables, etc. This was total customer satisfaction: replacement sent and arrived in less than 24 hours, complete with a UPS return tag. In other words, HP footed the bill for the return both ways, and there was no need for me to ship them the old monitor first so they could verify that it was well and truly broken.

All in all, you should have as good a product as possible, but everybody makes mistakes, and what's important was that HP corrected theirs quickly and with no fuss, unlike my experience replacing a Mac. We will see how this replacement monitor lasts.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review: InterGalactic Medicine Show Awards Anthology, Vol. I

I picked up InterGalactic Medicine Show Awards Anthology, Vol. I when it was a giveaway on the Kindle store for free. The cover price is $5, which is about $1.50 more than an issue of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine. In terms of quality, the stories are very much hit and miss. For instance, Peter S. Beagle's opening story, Trinity County, is not one of his best. While it's an excellent exposition of a world in which genetic engineering has gone crazy, it does not have as much emotional impact as any of his other stories. The runner up, Sister Jasmine Brings the Pain, is a neat send-up of the Zombie genre, but feels a bit tired. The true gem in the book, The Ghost of a Girl Who Never Lived is beautifully written and explores cloning in a fresh way, however. Another one, The American is a great story about American hegemony in the future, which I found very readable and fun at the same time.

There were several other haunting stories in the volume, including one about traversing multiverses, one about sentient machines. Many other stories fall into the fantasy genre, and while I don't care about them as much, one of them turns The Little Mermaid on its head, which I enjoyed very much.

All in all, the collection of short stories is worth reading, and even at the full price of $5, is more value for money than the typical issue of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine. The short stories are short enough that you can read one per night and then when you get to the end you'll want more. Recommended.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Review: I am Legend

I picked up I am Legend during a Kindle sale after seeing the hugely positive reviews on Amazon. This is the risk with buying so called classics of the genre. When the book was first published in 1954, it was probably incredibly ground-breaking: someone's dissected the anatomy of vampires, and postulated a world in which the vampires have taken over and there's only one man left.

The story is not at all Hollywood: there's no happy ending, there's a consistent theme of despair and desperation with almost no redemption at all in the story. The protagonist is almost entirely clue-free throughout the book. If the book was any longer it would have been too painful to read.

Unfortunately, since 1954, there's been many good books with similar themes, and that are quite a bit more readable. Many of them are easy to find and enjoyable reading, Stephen Brust's Agyar being an obvious example.

While this book was so short it could hardly be a waste of time, it certainly does not live up to the reviews. Not recommended.

Friday, April 20, 2012

My Next PC Will Be Home Built

My 3 year-old HP m9600t is now starting to be flakey. 3 years is about the usual amount of time it takes for a desktop to die, but the nice thing about owning a PC (versus a Mac), is that you can usually reuse components over time, provided you didn't buy a proprietary machine and build your own. Since the machine is still mostly working, I can leisurely pick over components, etc., and buy stuff as they come on sale. However, I'm happy to use my blog as a platform to shop for components. My suspicion is that I'll be able to keep my existing HDDs, and video card (Radeon 4850), though it would be nice if the machine gave me an upgrade path. Here are my priorities:
  1. Fast enough to handle lightroom and video editing.
  2. Quiet. This means large fans running at low speed.
  3. Power efficient. No more desktop PC behaving like a space heater.
Requirements:
  • Must have hot-swappable hard drive bays. I would like to have 4 hard drive bays, though I could live with just 2 if necessary.
  • Must be easy to work on. No more pinching my fingers to install memory or hard drives.
  • Plenty of USB slots (USB 3?).
  • Room for upgradability
  • Must drive my 27" monitor together with my 24" monitor.
  • Reliable. I'm not willing to put up with flakey BIOS and such.
Nice to haves:
  • Built in memory card readers for SD cards and CF.
  • High quality sound.
  • Blu-ray
Non goals: small. I'm ok with a big monster. Gaming is a lower priority than absolutely raw power needed to make Lightroom, Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, and Adobe Premiere Elements fly. I guess mostly what I'm looking for is motherboard, case, fans, power supply recommendations. It's easy for me to shop for CPUs, memories, and HDDs myself. I look forward to recommendations from my social network. (No recommendations for Apple products need apply)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review: Box.net

I'm an unabashed fan of Dropbox. In fact, when I wear my Dropbox sweat-shirt, I get random people walking up to me telling me how great Dropbox is. I haven't seen so many unsolicited declarations of love for a corporation's product since I started wearing Google shirts in 2003.

Nevertheless, once in a while I get chafed by the quota limits, and I have to check out the competition. I picked up a 50GB Box.net account a while back due to the Android promotion, and recently tried to use it to share videos that Steve shot on my GoPro camera during the trip.

Well, to cut things short, it's a big major fail. The UI sucks, mostly because it's tied to a web-browser. To be fair, Google made the same mistake in killing G-Drive and assuming that the web-browser was the future of all computer interactions. Dragging and dropping to the browser works, but using the browser to upload large files is stupid and senseless. Furthermore, there's a 2GB upload limit, which defeats the purpose of having a big quota.

Given how the interaction model completely misses the point of shared files, I predict that box.net will be unable to out-compete either Dropbox or Google. If they have an offer to buy the company, they should take it because they will not make it as an independent company.

Not recommended.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Long Term Review: Canon S100

It's been 4 months since I wrote my first impressions review of the Canon S100. Since then, the camera has been to Hawaii and the British Virgin Islands, and taken lots of pictures of my kid as well.

I'd say that the slimmer form factor has been a bigger deal than I expected. The camera slides into and out of pockets easily, and is far more accessible than any of my previous cameras. The GPS sensor is very nice, and as a result, more of my photos are geo-tagged than ever. Video quality is nothing short of amazing for such a small camera (see: my turtle video, for instance). I get a tingle of delight every time I see the output from this camera, though it still doesn't hold a candle to the 5D Mk 2.

My big complaints are: the charger instead of having 2 LEDs to indicate a full charge, now only has 1 LED that changes color. As a red-green color blind person, I find this very annoying: I have no way of telling whether the battery's charged without asking my wife! My second complaint is that the underwater housing is a little too snug. I no longer have any room to squeeze in a silica gel pack, and so as a result, over time in a humid area (e.g., the tropics), you'll get fog inside the camera housing, which renders your underwater or snorkeling photos worthless.

But seriously, those are nit-picks. This camera is awesome. I highly recommend it. I wouldn't waste my time with any other point and shoot.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Long Term Review: Battery Geek 222 Battery

As many of you know, I rely on a CPAP machine so I can breath at night. The Battery Geek C222 is sufficient to run the machine for 1.5 nights, which is enough on a sailboat since I can run the generator during the day, and Sunlinq 12W Solar Panel if the boat is stationary and I have good sun (which is all the time in the Caribbean). At the start, I was worried about the battery since it had been quite a few years since I bought it, and Li-Ion batteries are well known for deteriorating over time. The good news is that there's no sign of deterioration whatsoever. The battery still goes all night.

What's impressive is that it takes a charge very well from the Sunlinq solar panel. If I leave it in the sun most of the day, it seems to charge fully. If I plug it into the ship's power, the charger runs for at most an hour before it turns green, indicating a full charge indicator. The problem with the battery is that the charge indicator on the battery sucks, meaning that it lights up 5 bars no matter the state of the battery's discharge, so I have to rely on the charge indicator on the charger.

Battery Geek seems to have gone out of business, but you can bypass the middleman and buy direct from China from M&D. They only sell to whole-sellers, but if you say you want to buy a sample to test they'll accommodate you. Since I do have a retail license, I could also potentially place a bulk order and sell them, but since I have no idea what the size of the market is, if you think you would want one, leave me a note or send me e-mail.

In any case, the battery and Sunlinq solar panel are highly recommended, especially for sailing cruisers in the Caribbean.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Conclusions and Thoughts

The BVIs had haunted me for years and this trip proved that it wasn't just nostalgia: it was every bit as good as I wanted it to be, and then some. By luck, we got there with a full moon during the trip, and I would recommend making that happen by hook or by crook. It brings a magical element to the cruise that you would not forget.

Everything about catamaran cruising is easier. It was easier to pilot the boat (having twin engines), it was easier to moor the boat, because the deck was lower, it was easier to anchor because the boat was lighter. The crew had an easier time sleeping, and as a result, we never had to stop in a slip, which saved a lot of money. Because of the better kitchen, we didn't eat out very much at all, which meant that we saved even more money. The boat also sailed very quickly: we saw the Rya Jen, a boat I had sailed on the previous trip, and it looked like it was standing still compared to our catamaran.

The best time of year to go is probably in November. We lucked out and didn't get much rain at all on this trip, but the mosquitoes were quite something. I'd rather get fewer mosquitoes and slightly cooler weather, plus the charters are cheaper in November. Nevertheless, I'm pretty happy about doing the trip in April as well.

The decision to skip the US Virgin Islands was the right one. It's not that they aren't interesting, it's that if you only have 7 days, you can't possibly squeeze them in and the custom crossings and still have adequate time. I would recommend having at least 14 days if you want to add the US Virgin Islands to your itinerary.

From Escape Catamaran 2012

The hardest working person on a boat is the first mate, and Arturo was no exception. He got up at 6:00am every morning, at the same time I did, and was always happy to do whatever it took to get the boat moving. When it came to mooring, Arturo was always on the ball. Even though it's the skipper's job to snorkel and dive to check the anchor, Arturo always did that whenever I did. In addition, he would pick dive sites, lead dives, and always did everything cheerfully and with full of energy. This trip would have been twice as hard without him. Thanks, Arturo!

By the way, if you do charter in high season, make sure your boat has at least 3 morning persons. That's because if you cannot get to the favor'd spots (such as the Indians or the Baths) early enough, your experience could be entirely different, turning a relaxing vacation into a stressful hunt for mooring balls or anchorages.

Shauna and XiaoQin split the kitchen duties, with Shauna doing a lot of the cooking and XiaoQin doing a lot of the cleaning. It was great.

I have mixed feelings about UBS Dive Center. On the one hand, I really liked Tony a lot, and he was very accommodating, getting our Wifi unit back to Horizon for us. Despite his own boat being burnt up, he managed to make good on his commitments to us. On the other hand, his equipment was frequently leaky, and the tanks he gave us sometimes looked like they were filled up without someone looking at the pressure gauge. There was also one time when he promised to pick us up and didn't. The lack of organization would be disturbing.

In any case, the next time I do a trip with substantial diving, I should probably get my own gear. It's a pain to deal with rental gear every time and learn to use the equipment each time, and redo all my buoyancy tests.

The WiFi unit Horizon rented us was a bust. It did not work most nights, and during the day it gave decent coverage but during the day we were always sailing, diving, or doing stuff, and only would have time to upload photos/post to blogs in the evenings. It's not worth what they charge for it, and I would not use the service again.

When you tell people that you're cruising the Caribbean, most people think of the giant cruise ships. That's not the right way to travel. Even if you're not a sailor, hiring a skipper doesn't cost very much ($150/day, which is $20/day split 8 ways), and in exchange you get the freedom of going where you want to go when you want to go. I can't imagine visiting the area any other way.

As for myself, one reason I eschew paying for a skipper is that it's a crutch. It's a completely different feeling when you're the one making the decisions: should we anchor here, or weigh anchor and move in search of a different anchorage? Should we go for a mooring ball, or look for anchorage instead? One more dive? Or do we have to start looking for a place to sleep. Are the swells big enough to warrant recalling the crew from a shore shower? These decisions are all part of learning good seamanship, and if you have a professional next to you, the temptation would always be to lean on his judgement instead. Having sailed with people who have a lot more experience, I would say that no only are those judgements sometimes suspect, ultimately, you need to develop your own leadership style, which is something you can do only when there isn't a "real captain" elsewhere on the boat. Ultimately, the personal development and satisfaction of picking the right place to drop anchor (for instance) is a good reason to bareboat, and if you were to do so, there's no better place than the British Virgin Islands.

In any case, I'm already dreaming of the next sailing trip to the Caribbean. If all this sounds like fun, send me e-mail and ask to be put on my mailing list. And as I write in my book reviews: Highly Recommended

Previous

Epilogue

Unfortunately, returning the boat left us with a surprise. Tony's racks were rusty and left rust stains on the deck. Amy scrubbed and scrubbed with ajax and broke a deck brush doing so, but to no avail. Arturo and I tried replicating Amy's feat but discovered that Amy must have arms and backs of steel, as neither of us could match her. Finally, someone at the dock brought rust remover over, which took care of the problem, but definitely left us more tired and spent than we should have been.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

The ferry back to St. Thomas was easy, and made it easily even after eating lunch. Upon getting back to the Island View hotel, Arturo and I took a swim in the swimming pool to get some sweat off, and quickly discovered that yes, it was quite difficult for us to float in fresh water after being used to salt water.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

The crew had dinner together, and then we went to sleep. Our flights the next day went well, with a minor delay due to strong winds in New York delaying our JetBlue flight to San Francisco. We're still suffering from itchy mosquito bites, and next time I'll remember to be better about putting on insect repellent.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

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April 8th: White Bay (Jost Van Dyke) to Nanny Cay Marina (Tortola)

From Screen Captures

We got up at 6:00am to find the moon still up. We had no real plans for the day, as everything depended on the winds and our patience, so we ate a relatively leisurely breakfast. Cindy and Arturo each got their own cabins last night, and were in a pretty good mood as a result.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

After we weighed anchor and motor'd out of White Bay, we kept motoring towards Tortola as there seemed to be little wind. Midway through the passage, though, we found some wind and decided to sail rather than visit Norman Island for one last snorkel. The wind died again as we approached Great Thatch, but as we crossed into Sopher's hole, the wind picked up to 7 knots and we could sail again.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

Once in the Sir Francis Drake Channel, Amy said she hadn't gotten a chance to helm the boat at all on the trip, so Arturo and I switched and gave her a chance to tack back and forth across the channel. Amy had a great feel for the helm and it wasn't long before she was issuing orders to come about like a pro.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and at 10:02, we noted that we were still 5km from Nanny Cay, so dropped the sails and steamed into the marina at maximum cruising speed at 10:35am. There were a couple of other boats fueling up, so we had to circle around until they were done before we docked the Escape and signaled Horizon for a skipper to drive us back to the slip. I got a hose into the water tanks, got off the Escape and turned on the tap to refill our water tanks. My job as the skipper was done.
From Escape Catamaran 2012


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Review: The End of Illness

To be honest, I don't know how I heard about The End of Illness, but somehow it made it to the top of my library queue, so I read it. This book is a bit of a mish-mash of various things.

The thesis of this book is that you need to take care of yourself. How? It turns out the answers aren't obvious. For instance, he says that studies have shown that taking multi-vitamins (and other kinds of vitamins) have been correlated with increased risk of cancer. He also points out that many times you'll read about some study in the press and then when you dive into the details, you'll realize that because of the demographics involved (say, all Caucasians, or all people living on the East Coast of America), the results don't apply to you!

He's a big fan of getting your vitamin D from sunlight (it goes to show that he lives in Southern California), getting your vitamins from fruits and vegetables (but not juices), getting fish oil by eating real fish instead of fish oil tablets, and exercise. What's surprising after all that previous stuff is that he's also a big advocate of baby asprins and statins, saying that even if you have decent cholesterol, you should take them as studies show that they have benefits even for people with normal levels. He prescribes getting on a regular schedule (sleep, eat, etc, should all be as regular as possible), and avoiding sitting (less than 3 hours a day if possible).

He does do a great job of debunking vitamins, though I'd have to listen to second opinions before abandoning vitamins altogether. He does make exceptions. For instance, if you're diagnosed with low vitamin D, you should definitely get onto vitamin D pills.

He advocates patients signing up to give data about themselves as much as possible, since that's the only way in the long run for medicine to make progress. I agree, but I'm probably one of the few who believes this.

All in all, the book was a good read, and comes with lots for you to think about, including a pre-annual physical questionnaire, and an explanation of what all the tests your doctor will order does. Unfortunately, as he mentions, there's a lot we don't know about human health, so everything he says should also be taken with a grain of salt.

Recommended.

April 7th: Kelly's Cove (Norman Island) to White Bay (Jost Van Dyke)

From Screen Captures

When I originally set up the trip, I thought that charters were for 7 days (April 1 to April 7th). It turned out that charters were for 7 nights/8 days, which meant that we had one extra day on the 8th. Shauna and Steve, unfortunately didn't get the message, and scheduled their flight for the 8th. Given when we were going to return the boat, I was pretty sure they wouldn't make the ferry from Tortola, so they opted to visit St. John and get dropped off a day early from Jost Van Dyke instead. Given the way things worked, it would have been closer to dropp them off at St. John, but of course, that would have required customs clearing on both ends twice, which would be very annoying and painful. As forecasted, the North swell had ended the night before, so going to Jobst Van Dyke would be an easy sail.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

Except that I'd lost track of where St. John was, and we sailed the wrong way for a bit before I realized my error and turned the boat around. In the narrows, we got to gybe often, but near Sopher's Hole a storm blew through, giving us 15 knot winds for a while and a thrilling sail as we made it right through the passages and the Thatch Island cut on the wings of a shower-storm that (unfortunately) produced no rainbows. This would be the only rain we saw for the entire trip.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

The wind died mysteriously once at the Thatch Island Cut, however, and I was forced to turn on the motor. It being not even 9am, we made good time and I realized we had the time to visit Sandy Cay for some snorkeling and swimming, so we headed there to the beautiful beach which I had bypassed during my last visit and was determined not to miss this time. Eschewing the mooring buoys, I pulled up close to the beach in 6 feet of water and dropped anchor, putting the boat a short swim from shore.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

The water was cooler, being closer to the Atlantic, but the Cay was too beautiful to pass up. Even Cindy said, "I hadn't planned on getting into the water to day, but this is too good." I even saw a ray in the water, though again I wasn't quick enough on the draw to take a picture. Unfortunately, even eden has a snake. As far as Sandy Cay is concerned, it was midges: tiny no-seeum blood suckers that did not seem to pay attention to our insect repellent. Despite that, we spent an hour there, watching as a day-chartered catamaran, the DayDreamer pulled right up onto the beach, disgorged a full complement of tourists and then pulled away to pick them up later.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

By 10:45, it was time to leave, so we pulled up the anchor and motor'd over to White Bay, which was an anchorage with very badly marked entrances. Playing it self, we took the western entrance and motor'd to the mooring buoys and dropped anchor in about 8 feet of water, with the tail of the boat a short jump from shore. I was getting very confident of our anchoring skills, and placed the anchor with no problems whatsoever. After waiting for the boat to settle, we put Shauna and Steve's luggage into the dinghy and prepared to motor to Great Harbor where the ferry was. They had declined to go ashore at White Bay, even though I assured them that it was a perfectly fine place to hang out. John had developed a ear infection, so he and Amy were coming along to find the clinic. XiaoQin decided to come along just for the ride.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

With the dinghy so laden, we wallowed over to Great Harbor and dropped everyone off. The return, however, was fast: with just me and XiaoQin in the boat, the dinghy leapt between waves, and it was a much shorter (if much bumpier) ride back. Arturo, Cindy, XiaoQin and I then had a sandwich lunch on the boat while watching the Herons around us dive for fish.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

We had thought that we might have had to eat out tonight, but we had over-provisioned the boat and there would be room for an eclectic dinner for the night. Nevertheless, the day was warming up very nicely, so we took a swim to Ivan's Stress Free Bar for a drink and to enjoy the hammock. While lying in the hammock, a mega-yacht pulled up in the harbor, and 10 people with British accents, sat on a bench with various quantities of wine and water, and then pulled away in a large tender, saying "Farewell Caribbean."
From Escape Catamaran 2012

Amy and John arrived while Arturo was lying in the hammock, announcing that they had indeed found the clinic and gotten antibiotics for John's ear infection. While Arturo, XiaoQin, and I decided to swim over to the Soggy Dollar Bar, Amy and John decided to walk over, since they had walking shoes on.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

The contrast between the two bars was amazing. First of all, the beach was packed with motorboats, many with 1500hp worth of engines, enough to make it to Puerto Rico in very little time. The soggy dollar bar clearly attracted the "Spring Break" crowd. It was a noisy party with people ordering drinks left and right. I ordered some conch fritters since I wanted to know what conch tasted like, and we watched the crowd while waiting for our order, which showed up on island time. On the way back to the boat, I left my waterproof case containing cash and my dive cert, and only realized that after getting onto the Escape. I immediately put on fins and snorkeled and swam back out to the entry point, where I found 4 spring breakers who'd obviously picked up my wallet who asked me my name. When I gave it to them, they looked at my id and gave me my money back.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

Amy and John took out the kayak, and Cindy made a potpourri dish with what was left of our supplies. It wasn't a great meal, but it saved us from having to swim to shore for dinner and back. The sunset was gorgeous, and the nearly full moon, when it rose, gave us a gorgeous picture. I was a little sad from it being our last night in the BVIs, but I had made a number of enthusiastic cruising sailors on this trip, which made me feel quite good.

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April 6th: Deadman's Bay (Peter Island) to Kelly's Cove (Norman Island)

From Screen Captures

We started the morning bright and early and went to look for the mooring buoys at Coral Garden. Steve was pushing for the dive on the other side of dead chest, since he and Shauna had done Coral Garden twice as part of their certification dives. However, the south swells were still going strong as we neared Deadchest, so Arturo nix'd the idea in favor of Coral Gardens. To our dismay, the mooring buoy in the protected area was taken, and clearly taken by someone who had used it as an overnight stay illegally. The only other buoy was a yellow commercial dive boat operation buoy, but we snagged it anyway since it was early in the day and we would likely be gone before any commercial dive boats showed up.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

Coral Garden was a beautiful, if shallow dive. As the name described, it truly encompassed coral upon coral. The shallowness of the dive actually helped, as it meant we could stay down for almost a full hour on one tank of air.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

After the dive was over, we went over to Sprat Bay on Peter Island in order to refill our dive tanks. We reasoned that it was unlikely that we would do more than one more dive in the trip, so we filled up just 6 tanks. Peter Island is way more expensive than every other tank refill place, charging us $10/tank. Cooper Island was $6/tank. The dive instructor tried to talk us into Angelfish Reef as our second dive, but we noted that there was no snorkeling there, so that wouldn't be fair to the non-divers in the group. Arturo noted that there was a BVI Dive Guide that had detailed descriptions of all the dive sites in the area, including dives that were in neither of the books we had brought with us. "Something to remember for next time."
From Escape Catamaran 2012

We settled on Rainbow Canyons as our second dive. We had abandoned it just a few days ago because of the race for mooring buoys on Cooper Island, but because it had both snorkeling and diving and was relatively close to the Bight, we made a beeline for it. We got to the other side of Pelican Island and found that all the buoys were taken. However, one of them was not taken by a sailboat, but rather, a motorboat with a swimming ladder. Swimmers were in the water with noodles, a swimming aid that indicated that the folks would probably not stay that long. So I used the opportunity to back and fill the catamaran. The waited lasted about 20 minutes and we were on the buoy. Right after we were moor'd, we received a hail over the VHF which sounded like someone calling the Escape, but when I returned the hail I did not receive any reply, so we proceeded with the dive. It being our last dive, there was a lot of fooling around and taking pictures.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

After the dive, I had my heart set on getting a moor or an anchor position at Kelly's Cove. I remembered the cove from my previous trip, but as we steamed into viewing distance of the cove I saw to my dismay that all the buoys were taken, and there wasn't very much space at all in which to anchor without the boat swinging into another one that's already on a moor. The mooring buoys were not there when I last saw Kelly's Cove, so no doubt it was a new addition.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

We had no choice but to enter the Bight and search for a mooring ball as far away from the Willy T's as we could get. There were plenty available, so we picked one and settled down for lunch. Arturo and I still wanted to snorkel Kelly's Cove, but nobody else did, so the two of us jumped into the dinghy with our equipment and then motor'd over to Kelly's Cove. When we got there, our jaws dropped: one of the buoys was available! Arturo quickly detailed a plan: he would drop me off back at the Escape, and immediately motor over to the moor to reserve it. "Give me 10 minutes, and if I'm not back, it means it's ours!"
From Escape Catamaran 2012

I was dropped off in a hurry, and when 10 minutes were up, we dropped the mooring buoy we were on and picked up an idyllic spot at Kelly's Cove. It was as beautiful as we had hoped, granting us clear views of the channel, but far away from the crowds. I could not believe our luck in happening on the buoy at just the right time with no one else competing for it. Arturo, Steve, and Amy wanted to do a night dive, but by the time they had taken tanks to the air refill it was closed. The tanks were checked and there was about 4 tanks that were usable with air ranging from 850psi to 1500psi, so Arturo, John, Amy, and Steve went for it. We snorkeled around the cove int he afternoon, and I found a notch where it looked like Escape was the only boat in the cove, and Arturo and I snapped pictures there.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

Our choice of location was further affirmed when the buoy collectors showed up: a Chinese couple from Hong Kong. They were thrilled to meet Mandarin and Cantonese speakers as they told us in their year of working here, they had not many anyone who spoke those languages. Even the Asian people were mostly born in America and didn't speak either languages. They gave us some basic statistics about the area: it had 70+ mooring balls, and nearly fills up every night during the high season. The ROI on those mooring balls must be amazing. They also told us (with a hint of secrecy), that we were on their favorite mooring ball location.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

Sure enough, the sunset was glorious that night. So much so that the garbage collecting vessel "Deliverance" parked right in front of us, also watching the sunset. One of the perks of this job is probably a large collection of sunsets every night. We watched the twilight turn pink, yellow, orange and finally a deep midnight blue. It was almost a chore getting food, as everyone was so fascinated by the deepening sky.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

The moon rose as the sun went down, but was hidden behind the cliffs near us until at 8:00pm, it popped out from behind the island and lit up our little cozy cove. We played music, but no one wanted to visit the Willy T, perhaps after being informed that it would be partying until 1:00am tonight.

Arturo, John, Steve, and Amy decided to go for a night dive. At 15 feet maximum depth in Kelly's Cove, it was more like a long safety stop than a dive, so despite the low tanks, folks came back after 30 minutes of diving with air in the tanks.

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April 5th: Leverick Bay (Virgin Gorda) to Deadman's Bay (Peter Island)

From Screen Captures

Our original plans for making it all the way up to Leverick Bay was to do some of the dives in the northern part of the British Virgin Islands, and maybe stay another night in the North Sound at the Bitter End Yacht Club or anchor near Marina Cay. The north swell crushed all of those plans. Many of the sites on the north end of the BVI become impossible to dive in these conditions. We scrapped all the plans in favor of heading back south into protected waters so we could do more diving and have a good night's sleep.


From Escape Catamaran 2012

The morning started with Arturo and I getting the boat ready to get to the fuel dock. The mooring lines were once again a little tangled, but this time we recovered it without having to get into the water. The swells were no worse than the night before, and the docking went relatively smoothly, especially after a gentleman from a nearby boat picked up a line and pulled us in.

Once we filled up with water, the dockmaster looked impatiently at us while the folks who hadn't had a land shower took one. We left at 8:30am and motor'd out for another look at Necker Island before heading down south, jibing one way or another to plot a course south. Our plan was to look for a southern anchoring spot, but as we approached salt island, we saw that we had swells coming from the south as well, so that nix'd that plan also. As we emerged into sheltered waters, I noticed a sailboat that looked familiar. As we drew closer, to my excitement I realized that it was the Rya Jen, the same boat I first sailed these waters in. We hailed the Rya Jen over the VHF but nobody replied. I would later find out from a fellow traveler that the folks who chartered that boat were not very good about monitoring the VHF. It struck me then just how fast catamarans were compared to monohull boats. The Rya Jen looked like it was standing still in the water, compared to us.

Coming around Salt Island, however, we noticed that the Rhone site seemed to have plenty of mooring buoys open, and the water wasn't bad. We picked up a mooring and discovered that there was a stiff current flowing against us from the Rhone Reef direction. The entry into the water and the first 15 minutes of swimming against the current was tough. There was always a feeling of not knowing whether we were going to make it to the dive site before we ran out of air.


From Escape Catamaran 2012

Once on the Reef itself, however, the current all but went away, and we were able to explore freely. Shauna had an equalization problem and had to return early with Steve, but Arturo was game to keep going, and had no problem finding all the locations the dive guides had shown us previously, including a good view of a shark that was apparently sleeping the day away.


From Escape Catamaran 2012

Though it was cloudy, occasionally the sun would come through and we would get beautiful views of the Reef, taking our breath away.


From Escape Catamaran 2012

After the dive, we did not have a lot of time left, and decided to start looking for a place to anchor. I made the decision to head towards Peter Island, where there were multiple harbors on the north side of the island which ought to be well protected. On the way there, however, we had a pleasant surprise: 4 dolphins had decided to come play with us, swimming ahead of our hulls!


From Escape Catamaran 2012

As we approached Peter Island the dolphins fell away but we swept into Deadman's Bay, which looked gorgeous and as we approached seemed to have an empty hole in the middle where we could drop anchor and not swing into other boats.


From Escape Catamaran 2012

The cruising guide describe Deadman's Bay as being a tricky anchorage, occasionally difficult to set anchor because of the grass mixed in with the sand. It took me two tries and re-reading the user manual on the boat to figure out how to do it. It turned out that I had always ramped up the engine to about 3000rpm to set the anchor. Well, a catamaran has two engines, so revving them to 1500rpm is what would do the trick. Do any more, and the anchor might not hold. Third time was the charm, but not trusting ourselves, Arturo and I snorkeled to the anchor just to check it out, and reassured ourselves by checking some nearby boats as well, seeing that they actually didn't do as good a job as we did. We spotted many star fish around at the bottom, but the snorkeling actually wasn't that good.


From Escape Catamaran 2012

After waiting for the boat to settle and making sure that the anchor didn't drift, XiaoQin, Arturo and I swam ashore to look at the beautiful beach and walk along it. Being a privately owned island (though as with the entire BVI, the beaches are always public), the beach was nearly deserted, with most guests in their rooms or at dinner. There was a dinner table set up outside, but we never saw guests show up.


From Escape Catamaran 2012

On the swim back, XiaoQin demonstrated how much a difference the fins made: try as we might, neither Arturo nor I could keep up with her or even come close. When I asked XiaoQin about it afterwards, she said she wasn't even kicking hard or at maximum speed. We settled back to eat dinner and watch the sun set in the gorgeous area that we had found ourselves in.


From Escape Catamaran 2012

After the glorious sunset, we were treated to an even more impressive show: the moon rose and the lights in Tortola went on, granting us an absolutely glorious, ethereal night. I didn't plan the trip this way, but today was nearly a full moon, and tomorrow would be a full moon. Until you've sat on a sailboat you've anchor'd under a full moon and the stars, listening to the waves lap and feeling the boat move beneath you, it would be difficult to understand how romantic sailing really is. There are no sounds you didn't make yourself, and there's a sense of satisfaction that's difficult to share as the moonlight permeates the landscape around you, giving everything a beautiful, mysterious glow. It was dream-like in its lucidity. We stayed up as late as we could, enchanted by the experience. But we had early morning the next day, so turned in and slept like logs.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

April 4th: Manchioneel Bay (Cooper Island) to Leverick Bay (Virgin Gorda)

From Screen Captures

The morning started with a conundrum. A couple of days ago, while swimming to the snorkel at cistern point, I had noticed that both lines to the mooring were tied to the buoy, rather than one line to the pennant and one to the buoy as recommended. I had mentioned it to Arturo, and asked why he made the choice, and the response was that it was easier to equalize the tension the way he did it. Well, after 2 nights on the buoy, we discovered that the lines had tangled around themselves, which made it pretty much impossible to untangle the lines from the boat. "Now I see why you can't do it this way," said Arturo. "The difference between sailboat lines and climbing lines is that sailboats move and climbers don't." He jumped into the water, untangled the lines, and then we were ready to go.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

The sun came up as we motor'd towards Virgin Gorda, making for a beautiful sight. Arturo and I experimented with paper plotting and the result was very satisfying: we made it to the Baths (named after Batholiths) on Virgin Gorda at around 7:15am or so, and were about the third or fourth boat on the scene.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

I had made it to the Baths years ago at sunset, from a boat tied to a slip at the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor, but doing it the nautical way was much more satisfying. We would tie up the boat to a mooring buoy, drop down the dinghy, load everyone up to it, and then motor to the dinghy moorings after dropping XiaoQin and Cindy off so they wouldn't have as long a swim to shore. The rest of us would then swim from the mooring buoys.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

John begged off from doing the Devil's Bay trail because of his hurt hand. I remember the hike from before, and I did not think that his hand was so injured as to make it worth passing up, but it was his decision to make. The trail leads through tunnels, climbs up several rocks (though always with a rope to aid), goes up and down stairs, and in general, gives you a feeling of exploration of adventure while not actually putting you in any real danger or even chance of real discomfort. In other words, one could think that it's almost designed by the Imagineers at Walt Disney. Nevertheless, the area so beautiful and unique that I cannot help but recommend it to everyone who visits the area. After a while, we emerged on op of some rocks and found to our surprise that the only sailboat visible from the spot was the Escape. We could not pass up getting a photo of everyone together with the Escape.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

By and by, we got to Devil's Bay, with clear water and beautiful snorkeling. We donned our mask and fins and immediately got to snorkeling amongst the boulders.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

The variety of things to see in the area is amazing. You get to swim between boulders, under them, through swim-throughs, next to waves crashing about you. The water was a little cooler than the day before, but it was still a lot of fun. While Steve, Amy, Shauna, Arturo and I were more than capable of swimming back to the start of the trail, Cindy seemed intimidated by the water, not daring to stray very far from the beach. Arturo and I agreed to let the others swim back while he, XiaoQin and I would hike back with Cindy.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

The return hike illustrated why you are often told to show up at the Baths early. While our hike to Devil's Bay from the entry point led us to having the Baths all to ourselves, but on the return, the middle sized crowd (from more sailboats arriving) led us to having to line up at choke points for one side to pass and then cross over to the other side, ruining the experience. My guess was that when a real cruise ship crowd arrives, there would be a line all the way along the beach and up the stairs from the road.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

Once we returned to the entrance, we did a little bit more snorkeling. Arturo said he saw a Manta Ray but I didn't find it. John, because of his hand problem, would swim all the way to the Escape while the rest of us would swim to the dinghy. After having taken the dinghy back to the Escape, we discovered that there was already several sailboats waiting to take our mooring buoy as soon as we left! I toyed with the idea of perversely having breakfast on our mooring buoy instead, but decided to do the friendly thing and start sailing for Leverick Bay. We were running low on water, and would need to replenish our water. While Amy had wanted to see the Bitter End Yacht Club, I had called ahead several days ago and they were completely full from some event, and I did not relish the idea of more crowds. Leverick Bay offered a free 100 gallons of water to folks who moor'd overnight at their mooring line, and so it was towards Leverick Bay that we sailed, heading north on the Sir Francis Drake Channel.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

Since it was an easy sail, Arturo and I took the opportunity to teach folks how to sail the Escape. We toy'd with detouring to visit Richard Branson's Necker Island, but the memories of racing for a mooring buoy from 2 days before was still haunting me, so we aimed straight for Leverick Bay, sailing through the channel instead of motoring, and turning on the engines only at the last minute to moor at one of the many mooring buoys in Leverick Bay.
From Escape Catamaran 2012

Once Moor'd, we put together laundry and a shopping list, and prepared to go ashore to do things that crew ashore needed to do: provisioning, laundry, land showers (which were free!) and hanging out at the bar. At the bar, a conch was passed around, and I took a try at blowing one. It's trickier than it looks: you can't just blow into it, you need to purse your lips and blow.

Amy & Shauna went for the full spa treatment, and the rest of us hung out at the bar. When Amy came back, she discovered that there was a conch blowing contest. "I'm from Hawaii, I'm going to win." So she entered the contest and indeed won a bottle of rum!
From Escape Catamaran 2012

We were going to let Amy, Steve and Shauna stick around for shore showers after the event, but by the time I'd gotten the rest of the crew to the Escape I had realized that the seas had gone rough and swells were in! While it was possible that the North sound, being very sheltered had gotten as rough as it was going to get, I still had memories in Canouan of watching a skipper turn-turtle a dinghy, ejecting me several feet and trapping several others underneath it, and decided I would rather be a wuss than risk a night time dinghy docking when the seas were swelling with a small craft advisory, so I recalled everyone and hoped that the swells were already as bad as they would get.

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