Day 494 – THE CARIBBEAN (DOMINICAN REPUBLIC): Well and truely on the road (sea?) again

Home. At least seven months and 10,000 miles of land and ocean stand between me and home.

I’ve been thinking about that more and more this last week. God knows I’ve had the time to think about it. 4 hour-long night watches on a small yacht in a big ocean ensure that. What will I do when I get home? A real job?

I’ve also been thinking a lot about Japan. I become more and more convniced that Japan is where I would like to be living. Dunno why…

Not feeling too flash off the coast of Puerto Rico

But for now, the immediate challenge that stands in my way between here and home is about five days more of sailing, before the challenge of 6,000 miles of skateboarding begins. I am crew aboard the delivery of Irish Jester II, a 38 foot French-made Kinnex sailing catamaran, from the US Virgin Islands to Alabama, USA. I will be getting off the boat in Key West at the southern-most tip of the state of Florida, USA. I will skate north through the Florida Keys, dodging aligators all the way up to Tampa, my first point of call in the US. In Tampa, I look forward to meeting up with Rick Smith, a good friend from my days as an Outdoor Educator in Switzerland. I also look forward to new cramic skateboarding bearings that have been kindly supplied by Bones Bearings.

The original plan was to try to get on a yacht from the British Virgin Islands to Nassau, in the Bahamas, so that I could go to the US Embassy there and apply for an extended US tourist visa. On a standard visa waiver, I can only be in the US for a maximum of 90 days. It will take more than that to skate across the US.

However, right now is not the season for yachts going north from the Virgin Islands to the US. So basically I had to take whatever came up. So the deal at the moment is that I have a 3 month stamp in my passport for the US. At some stage in my journey across the US, I will need to leave the US, and re-enter at some stage. This will most probably be somewhere like El Paso, in Texas. Pop over to Mexico for a couple of days and then re-enter for another stamp to finish the US leg off. At least I think that this is how it will all work. I’ll worry about the logistics of all that when the time comes.

Ocean World Marina, near Puerto Plato, Domincan Republic

Right now I am typing this on Captain Debbie’s laptop, aboard the Irish Jester II, in Ocean World Marina near Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. Yes, the marina where I lost my visa card about a month ago. I imagine that my next update will be from Florida. Until then, along with Captain Debbie and crew Connie, we will be fighting the strong northern Atlantic swell all the way to Key West. Send some flat-water-vibes my way!

14degrees Journey Update Video

Click for a short video update

Day 487 – THE CARIBBEAN (BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS): A reluctant farewell

Four weeks in the waiting, I am finally on my way. Through the wonderful assistance of John and Rich at The Moorings Yacht Brokerage in Road Town, Tortola, I have tracked down a captain taking a boat up north.

Captain Debbie is her name, and she is a delivery captain who does many deliveries for The Moorings. She is delivering a 38 foot mono-hull yacht from St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands to Alabama, USA. She is going via the Bahamas, so I am joining the crew to there. I am excited to be finally moving. The USA and 4 months of human-powered adventure await.

Across the USA by skateboard only. No vehicles. No backup vehicles. Solo and supported only by the kindness of strangers I meet along the way.

A massive thank you to all those people who have helped me while I have been in the British Virgin Islands: Horizon, Jo, The Moorings, Jeremy at the Trellis Bay Cybercafe, Aragorn and Fredrica, Dorothy, Silvia, Shamla, Megan, Jean, Todd, Lesely and Martin, Johnny, Alex and Laura, the Thursday night Peglegs volleyball crowd, BVI Yacht Charter Society, Chater Port, Southern Traders…and so many others.

Trellis Bay Cybercafe in Tortola, British Virgin Islands

Unfortunately I will be missing the much talked about Full Moon Party at Trellis Bay. Fireball sculptures, awesome music and entertaiment. If you’re there, take a look at the wood burning – I cut a large bunch of it up!

I was getting rather attached to the people of Trellis Bay, and I would like to be back one day…

Jeremy on his catamaran in Trellis Bay, British Virgin Islands

Trellis Bay Cybercafe owner Jeremy on his catamaran

Day 483 – THE CARIBBEAN (BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS): Mission: Accomplished

Aragorn Dick-Read is an artist with close links to his heritage as a Tortolan. For most of his adult life he has been cultivating the West Indian heritage of the people that live in the Caribbean. Today I had the privelage of helping him transport an important part of that heritage to his beach-side studio on Beef Island in the British Virgin Islands.

Saba with everything under control near Tortola, The British Virgin Islands Xantie driving the rib near Tortola, The British Virgin Islands

Along with Aragorn, his sons Xantie and Saba, Dominicans Johnny, Moses, and Greg, I tagged along to help relocate a small three man dugout canoe from near Trunk Bay in Tortola. We all piled on to Aragorn’s powerboat, with Xantie at the wheel. It was a short 20 minute blat to the seculded bay where the canoe was.

The approach to the bay was shallow rocky reef, so Aragorn, Greg, Xantie and I had to swim from the boat about 50m to the shore. “Just watch your feet. There are sea urchins around here,” Aragorn warned. Aragorn was born and raised in this area, so I assumed he knew what he was talking about.

We trod carefully across the reef to the sandy shore, and there it was. A colourful canoe covered in canvas to keep the water out.

We removed the canvas, and discovered something that Aragorn had forsawn before we even got to the canoe. Termites. Luckily the oars were the only things affected. “If we left it here for much longer, it would have been eaten up completely!” Xantie observed.

A whole nest of ants had made their home in the coil of rope that was attached to the anchor. ‘Tickling Ants’ Aragorn called them as they crawled all over our arms and chests as we heaved the heavy canoe off the beach and into the water. Johnny, manning the helm on the powerboat was waiting 100m off shore, away from the dangerous reef that would have grounded the powerboat. It was up to us four with the canoe to sail and paddle it out into the open water off the coast.

Our first few attempts at getting the canoe moving ended in it almost capsizing. Xantie and Aragorn bailed furiously to remove the water that had flowed into the open top canoe. Greg and I paddled to gain distance from the rocky shore.

Once we were out far enough, Aragorn began skillfully sheeting the sail in and out according to the wind, and we began making way, relatively balanced with the push of the wind in the sail.

We stopped for an hour or so, rafting the canoe up to the powerboat, in order to do some fishing. We caught a few, before Aragorn and the boys took over the canoe, steering it as we towed it in the powerboat.

Aragorn and his boys transporting a traditional West Indian canoe near Tortola, The British Virgin Islands

By the time we approached Trellis Bay on Beef Island, it was getting dark. Aragorn and the boys decided to sail the rest of the way back, and us powerboat boys dropped anchor and fished until well after dark, ending in a good haul of fish including Rock Hind, Dog Snapper, shark, and bar jack.

Aragorn and his boys transporting a traditional West Indian canoe near Tortola, The British Virgin Islands


I am stagnating.

I need to get out.

Need to get out of the British Virgin Islands.

That’s not to say that I don’t like the place. What a great place this is. I have spent the last week staying in Trellis Bay on Beef Island, at the western most point of Tortola. I have slept in Aragorn’s Studio Pottery Studio. Order a t-shirt. They are cool.

Ceramics studio in Aragorn's Studio, Trellis Bay, The British Virgin Islands

I am now however staying on a boat in Trellis Bay that is kind of owned by the owner of Trellis Bay Cyber Cafe, Jeremy Wright. Jeremy is a couch surfing host, and an all round great guy.

Aragorn's Studio beachside garden, Trellis Bay, The British Virgin Islands

There is much more to my story over the last few weeks, as would be expected. However those stories are for another time. All will be revealed in due time.

The story for now is that I have been here far too long, and it is time to move on. I have been trying to find a ride up to the US on a boat, however this is not the season for masses of boats heading up north to the US. Despite this, I have two good leads for boats going up north, those leads I came upon today.

One was from the good people at The Moorings Yacht Brokerage – John and Richard. They are selling boats all the time here in the British Virgin Islands, and some are taken up to the US by their owners. There may be one going up next week that I may be able to get myself on.

Another possibility is a 68 foot powerboat heading to the Bahamas. Time will tell whether the skippers of these boats will need an extra hand for the trip.

In the mean time, I am biding my time here in Trellis Bay. My tourist visa is valid until the 28th of November, so I may need to leave the BVIs and head over to the US Virgin Islands by ferry, and carry on my boat searching there also. All a bit of a rigmarole, really.

And yes, I have considered flying, and have even been one click away from booking a flight to Miami, Florida. However I have so far been able to resist the urge to give up on the mission of sailing the rest of the way across water that is in my way on my way to New Zealand. How long that lasts depends on how much longer I can afford (dollar-wise) to hang around without working.

By the way, got in the paper again: They got a couple of details wrong (like skateboarding across 29 countries), but…

Went sailing again. This time with Todd and friends. Thank you Todd!

Mainsail on Todd's boat in the British Virgin Islands

Buddy the sailing dog on the way to The Baths, British Virgin Islands Todd's boat heading towards The Baths, The British Virgin Islands

Day 455 – THE CARIBBEAN (BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS): Getting there…slowly

I never dreamed that I would get this far around the world. I didn’t even know where the British Virgin Islands were until I was told that that was where we were going on the boat. But here I am. Stuck. But what a place to be stuck.

Sailing in the Virgin's Cup near Tortola, The British Virgin Islands

My VISA credit card has arrived thankfully – I had to get a replacement sent to me because I lost the old one. So now begins the search for a ride up to Florida on a yacht. The only catch is that this is “the wrong time of year” for boats going up to the US from the BVIs. So it looks as though I might be here for a little while. Which as I said, is no bad thing.

I hope to visit a few schools while I’m here, and look, I’m already in the news:

The highlight so far of being in the BVIs was the Virgin’s Cup Sailing Regatta. After hearing that some boats may be looking for crew for the race, I headed down to the Royal BVI Yacht Club and let people know that I wanted to be on a racing yacht. The sailing community here is very welcoming, and in the end Bill Bailey, a well known tactician and expert skipper agreed to take me on board. The Virgin’s Cup is a race where the person at the wheel of the boat – the helmsperson – has to be a woman.

Sailing in the Virgin's Cup near Tortola, The British Virgin Islands

The race was from Tortola to Norman Island, and took about 2 hours. I was a winch tailer for the race, which meant that it was my job to pull in the loose ropes from the front sail each time we tacked to change direction. It can be a tough job pulling in rope when the boat is suddenly pitching from one side to the other. Unlike three years ago, when Bill Bailey’s boat won the regatta, we didn’t manage to get a podium finish. I enjoyed it thorougly however, and I hope there is another race I can take part in before I head up to the US.

Sailing in the Virgin's Cup near Tortola, The British Virgin Islands


I do not know where the last few days have gone, but I know that they have been filled with many new developments…

Sopers Hole, The British Virgin Islands

We arrived in Sopers Hole bay in Tortola, the British Virgin Islands, very very early on the 5th of October. It was dark, of course, and we inched our way into the bay, and dropped anchor for the night. This is not where we were to drop the boat off, however it was the only close place to do our immigration matters come daylight.

Bright and early at 7am we were up and headed over to the immigration dock to go through the formalities. Steve and Ellie asked for three days on their stamp, and I got the 30 days I asked for. As usual, the immigration official was taken aback that I was ‘skateboarding half way around the world’. She asked the usual question I get asked in this part of the world. “How do you skate across the water?”. I still haven’t thought of a silly enough answer to such a silly question. Perhaps something along the line of “I had to sail because I couldn’t find the right sized inflatable wheels.”

Once checked into the country, we headed around to Nanny Cay marina – a short three miles. We were all very glad to arrive and be tied up to the dock. Time for sleep!

But not too much sleep. I had on my mind my replacement visa card which was supposed to have been sent from NZ. I had on my mind working out a way of getting the rest of the way up to the Bahamas to get my US visa to get to Florida. I had on my mind my distinct lack of funds at this present time due to the lack of said visa card. I have US$100 to my name right at this present time. This needs to last me about two weeks. I figure that’s how long it will take to get my visa card.

I am sure things will sort themselves out in the end.

And indeed they do seem to be sorting themselves out. Today (the 7th of October), I was introduced to Steve and Ellie’s good friends who live on Tortola, Lesley and Sara. We visited a few bars on the island, and consequently met people who know people who know people who need crew. The yachting network is a tight one here in the BVIs. It looks as though it will work to my advantage, and just tonight I have stumbled upon a lead that may end up in me having an opportunity to assist with a couple sailing up to the Bahamas later this month. Nothing certain yet, but things are looking positive, whatever the outcome of this lead.

Day 439 and 440 – THE CARIBBEAN (PUERTO RICO): Cruising

Total distance sailed: 1060 NM
Midnight GPS position: N 18.05 W065.30
Wind: Variable Light
Sea state: Flat

Click the image above for a video of the latest trip;
The Bahmas to The British Virgin Islands by sailboat.

At long last, the sea has flattened off, and we are able to sail without the bone jarring motion of the last week and a half.

Near Puerto Rico

One day melds into the next as we sail past the Dominican Republic and then on to Puerto Rico.

Skipper Steve and First Mate Ellie near Puerto Rico

Day 438 – THE CARIBBEAN (DOMINICAN REPUBLIC): And it all goes pear shaped…

Total distance sailed: 768 NM
Midnight GPS position: N 19.31 W069.30
Wind: Variable and light
Sea state: Calm

I walked briskly towards the marina office, hopeful that everything would be sorted out concerning my visa card. Without it, not only would we have no money for extra fuel to get to Tortola, but I will have no way of withdrawing funds from my visa account – my only means of getting cash in my hand – or purchasing food.

The news was not good. “I talked to my friend at the bank just before you arrived, Sir. Unfortunately the ATM automatically destroys the card if it is left in the machine.”

My mind went into problem solving mode. No point in worrying about it. Something will come up to get us out of this pickle.

The pickle is that Steve lost his credit card before we even left Tenerife, on the other side of the Atlantic before we set out on out original trans-Atlantic delivery. Since then, we have been using my credit card to withdraw cash and make payments. All the cash I originally had on me (500 Euros) I also lent to Steve. Silly me, I hadn’t replaced the cash once we arrived in Tortola, even though Steve had regularly returned the lent money via direct bank transfer using internet banking.

So during this Caribbean devilery, we have also been using my credit card for cash advances and payments. Now that it is gone, we have bit of an issue. The first and foremost is how are we going to pay our customs fee in Tortola. Second, how and I going to survive once in Tortola?!

I wandered back to the boat slowly, mulling over my options. The first thing on the agenda is to contact my bank and arrange a new card to be sent to me in the British Virgin Islands…

The look on Steve and Ellie’s faces when I told them the bad news wasn’t very encouraging. A sudden quiet.

Finally Steve spoke. “Don’t worry Rob, it’s nothing that hasn’t happened before on a trip. We always work something out.”

Steve and Ellie’s minds turned to Ellie’s parents in the UK. If somehow we could get them to transfer some money to us. Western Union! “That is instant, isn’t it?” Steve asked out loud.

Thank goodness for Wi-Fi and Skype. In minutes we were connected to the dockside Wi-Fi signal, and Steve was explaining the situation to Ellie’s parents on Skype. He asked them to go down to the post office in Chingford (a suburb of London) and transfer 400 GPB via a Moneygram. Both Ellie’s parents got on board the situation and went together to the post office that instant. Half an hour later we got a call back from them telling us that the money had been transfered.

Now, the moment of truth. Time to go into Puerto Plato, find Western Union, and hope that the money has gone through properly.

The marina office arranged a van to pick us up for the 15 minute ride into town.

When the van arrived, we piled in and left the marina compound for the first time since we arrived last night. The security guard waved a friendly wave to the van driver as he lifted the barrier to let us through. The driver nodded in return. It was cool inside the van, the air vents balsting out cooled air from the airconditioning.

Every two hundred metres or so the van slowed to almost a stop as the driver courteously inched over the judder bars, as if he were carrying a load of fragile eggs. The Dominican Republic is quite a wealthy place, I thought as we drove past upmarket condos and resort-looking hotels. The odd sunburnt Western tourist appreared now and then through the palm trees.

And then the driver turned onto the main road.

The change was dramatic. The crooked yellow line apparently indicating the center of the road and dividing the two opposing traffic lanes didn’t seem to be doing anything. Or perhaps it was. If a driver wanted to overtake another, it appeared the accepted thing to do was to drive on the yellow line and overtake – regardless of whether there was oncoming traffic or not.

Motorcycles were everywhere. They were no doubt popular for their superior ability to dodge the potholes, of which there were many.

Motorcyclists in Puerto Plata, The Dominican Republic

People selling all manner of things from belts to bananas were milling about to the sides of the roads, doing their selling thing with anyone who would care to glance in their direction.

Motorcyclists in Puerto Plata, The Dominican Republic

Puerto Plato town center is a maze of gridded streets, most only wide enough for one car to drive down. Our driver carefully navigated his way to the Western Union office. A rush of moist hot air hit us as we jumped out of the van and headed into the Western Union office. First thing I notice are the two security officers. Both weilding pump-action shotguns. The officer to the right of the door has his finger on the trigger. I hope that he has the safety on.

The office is not airconditioned. On the wall facing the swinging wooden entrance doors is a bright red number dispenser. A large sign above the dispenser indicates that customers are to take number and wait. There are pictures on the sign. The rest is in Spanish. I notice the words Per Favour.

Thank you. That’s all I understand. We are number 56. The large digital readout behind the dark wooden counter shows number 45. We are in for a long wait.

An attractive young woman I guess to be about seventeen or eighteen saunters through the entrance behind her parents. She sits down for a few minutes before wandering outside to smoke. I can see her through the streaked glass in the swinging entrance door. Unknown stranger pulls up in a panel van. Looks like a salesman Motions to the young woman and says something out the window. He smiles. A look of disgust crosses her face. Drops her slim cigarette and stomps back into the office.

Rough town I think.

Number 56 shows on the digital readout. Steve jumps up and goes in for his money.

“Sorry Sir, you are in the wrong place,” the helpful female clerk says.

We have been waiting in line for about 30 minutes. Our driver has been waiting for 30 minutes. Our patience is wearing thin.

No matter, we are directed to the right bank, and after another 45 minutes in the line, Steve finally has his money. We drop by a supermarket on the way home, and by 4:30pm we are finally away from the marina, heading in the direction of Puerto Rico.

Leaving the Domincan Republic

The situation with my credit card is that I have arranged for a new one to be couriered to me in the British Virgin Islands. It will take between seven and ten working days to get to me. Until then I will have to just hang around. Not quite sure how I will feed myself, but I’m sure something will come up…

Day 437 – THE CARIBBEAN (DOMINICAN REPUBLIC): Ocean World maddness

I forgot about my credit card, and now the ATM has swallowed it.

“I’m sorry sir,” the phone said. “We cannot retrieve your card, because the machine automatically destroys it.”

We officially have no money. We handed over our very last Peso and dollars to the marina office to clear our bill, and now we have nothing.

There is one glimmer of hope however. According to one of the marina staff, there have been times when guests at the Ocean World Casino have had their credit cards swallowed. In these cases, a bank official has come out to the casino and retrieved the card from the casino ATM for them. The helpful marina staff have offered to give me a ride into town tomorrow morning to speak to the bank to see if they can help out. Fingers crossed!