Solar success

Fortunately, there’s a great weather window coming up for us on Monday!

Unfortunately, the solar panels stopped charging the batteries on Friday morning.

Fortunately, we were able to contact Midnite Solar and talk through the problem with their excellent tech support!

Unfortunately, they couldn’t solve the problem.

Fortunately, the company had a dealer in Jamaica!

Unfortunately, the dealer was in Kingston.

Fortunately, they had the part we needed. The exact part! From an obscure little solar company in the US!

Unfortunately, the part was in Ocho Rios.

Fortunately, they could send it courier via bus, that night!

No more “unfortunately.” We managed to purchase a replacement part for a very technical piece of our solar charging setup, in Jamaica, on a Friday afternoon, picking it up Saturday morning. By 2:00 Saturday afternoon, the solar was charging the batteries.

The idea of diagnosing and repairing a problem with our solar array in 24 hours, complete with obscure new part, would be laughable in the United States—never mind this charming small island nation we’ve been enjoying for the last month. We can’t believe our luck. It helps that Michu built our electrical system from the ground up, and understands every little switch. It helps that Midnite Solar has such great tech support. But holy cow, did the stars align to resolve our little electrical issue. We expected to be alternator-dependent for the next month, at least; instead, the solar cells are back to soaking up the juice.DSCF1626

Relax into it

Ocho Rios is the most hilarious shrine to American-style capitalism we’ve seen since Florida. Cruise ships pull up here (one’s expected tomorrow), and the streets are suddenly flooded by tourists cramming the duty-free shops, snatching up shot glasses with pot leaves on them, and filling bus after bus for guided tours of the area. When there’s no cruise ship, there are the hotels—at least three huge complexes lining the beach here in the harbor, with more around the bend from where we’re anchored. There are glass-bottomed boats. There’s a dolphinarium. We can see a Flow Rider near the hotel disco on the eastern shore. Coming in, we had to dodge one of those jet-pack water rocket things. It’s hilarious.

Two cruise ships in the tiny harbor; it's like waking up next to an apartment building that went up overnight.

Two cruise ships in the tiny harbor; it’s like waking up next to an apartment building that went up overnight.

Cruise ship approved!

Cruise ship approved!

Consequently, Ocho Rios gets a bad rep among the cruisers, with its noise and harbor traffic and plastic-vacation packaging. We are seeing things differently here on Milou.

We had a rough run from Port Antonio; the waves were bigger than we expected, and from a bad angle, so no one was feeling their best—especially after two weeks of sitting in the shelter of the Errol Flynn Marina. Even more exciting: a half hour after getting underway, we realized that our roller furler was quite, quite broken. That’s the device we use to wrap our big headsail around the forestay, and we were suddenly unable to stow the sail properly. Down it came, smoothly onto the foredeck (thanks 100% to the copious McLube we sprayed all over the place last time we put it up), and we were without a genoa for the nine-hour slog.

Frying up tofu on the gimbled stove: advanced cruising

Frying up tofu on the gimbled stove: advanced cruising

Fortunately, we had friends in the anchorage, guiding us to a safe spot in the crowded harbor. More fortunately, we have the time to address the problem without stressing out. We’d strongly considered making the hop from Jamaica to Cartagena this week, leaving during a beautiful weather window that actually predicts the winds north of Colombia laying down for a spell. In the end, though, we decided we weren’t done with Jamaica; we’d rather cruise the north coast for a bit, and wait for the next stretch of good weather to head south. Good decision, in retrospect; if we’d left, it would have been a stressful scramble to get ready, and we would have just ended up turning around with the furler issue.

We considered running to Montego Bay for repairs, but then we had to ask ourselves: why? We think we can make the repairs with what we have onboard. The next weather window won’t come along for two or three weeks, most likely. How long do we want to hang out in Montego Bay? Maybe not for the better part of a month.

Math students soldier on.

Math student soldiers on.

Ocho Rios has amazing grocery stores. We can all get ice cream cones. There’s a movie theater. We have catalogued restaurants serving Thai, Indian, and cheap Chinese food. These are unheard-of luxuries, and the beaches are pretty nice, too! We’ll restrain ourselves a bit, and at some point we’ll need to get to laundry and fill our water tanks, but it’s no hurry. Our theme for the week: Relax Into It.

Relaxed. Also working on Spanish, but very relaxed.

Relaxed. Also working on Spanish, but very relaxed.

Overland Jamaica

When we shake our new iPad violently, Apple assumes we are angry and frustrated and sends a message asking us the nature of our problem. The reason we know this is because we have been traveling on the roads of Jamaica.

All corners are blind, and you're always turning a corner

All corners are blind, and you’re always turning a corner

Lush and beautiful

Lush and beautiful

After many days of rest and relaxation and laundry at Port Antonio, we decided to rent a car with friends and head out—first to Kingston for some provisioning (never just “grocery shopping,” which is something you can do with a backpack and a couple of totes; this was something more substantial), then to see some of the inland sights.

As the crow flies, Kingston is 25 or so miles from Port Antonio. By car, it took us almost three hours. The roads are narrow and potholed; they switchbacks almost turn circles through the mountains. There is no shoulder once you leave the coast. They’re shared by fast trucks, pedestrians, bikes and tourists who forget which side of the road to use (ahem).

In this photo, we're following the car on the right. On the left is what's considered a perfectly acceptable parking job in Jamaica. Keep in mind that this is a major highway, with, I'm sure, a blind corner just ahead.

In this photo, we’re following the car on the right. On the left is what’s considered a perfectly acceptable parking job in Jamaica. Keep in mind that this is a major highway, with, I’m sure, a blind corner just ahead.

Our biggest motivation for heading to Kingston was to find fuel for our stove. We love our Origo stove, but it is tricky to find denatured alcohol in the Carribean. We knew this heading out, but we’ve blown through our massive back stock, and are down to the dregs. No joy in Kingston, either; there’s plenty of paint thinner of various shades, but it all seem to have really toxic stuff added to it. After a little internet research, we’ve decided to switch our focus to isopropyl alcohol and begin ransacking the pharmacies. In the meantime, we visited an actual big-box style grocery store.

Break for jerk pork on the road to Kingston

Break for jerk pork on the road to Kingston

I didn’t take any pictures, because I assume a photo of a shelf full of cheese would just not have the impact on our readers that it had on us. We haven’t seen such bounty since Florida, and restraint was more than a little difficult. Of course, the best plan is to eat what the locals eat. Buy what’s in season. Stick to the fresh foods and the basics. But, you guys—peanut butter filled pretzels!! It was amazing. Even apples were like a gift, it had been so long since we’ve seen them. We invested heavily in cheese, pasta and snacks, and returned home exhausted but rich in food.

F tests the waters

F tests the waters

Day two of car rental saw us sticking closer to home. No one wanted to brave the mountain roads again, and the haze was promising dismal views, anyway, so we headed east along the coast to the Blue Lagoon. If it had been a sunny day, I’m sure the different shades of blue would have been amazing; but for us, it just seemed like yet another charming Caribbean bay—one without a very good beach, and surrounded by locals who insisted on us hiring them to take us on a boat ride. We were not their audience. Sorry, guys!

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

Onward to Reach Falls. There are many waterfalls in Jamaica—they don’t lack for rain or elevation around here—and we’d heard differing reports about these ones, mostly that it cost a lot of money to enter the park and see the falls. One cruising friend recommended hiring a local guide to take you in the back way, so we did.

Excellent choice.DSCF1565

Heading down to the river

Heading down to the river

The waterfall hike with Kaisley made up for our disappointment with the Blue Lagoon. We took a path that started well below the official falls, either wading/swimming in the river or scrambling along the rocks and path beside, gradually making our way up to bigger and bigger pools and falls. Kaisley said that in the summer, the lower part of the river was very popular with Jamaicans, who came to escape the heat. We never made it up to the government-approved official falls area, but we could see it from downriver, and we all felt like we got the better deal with our scrappy trail.

Kaisley told us that first we'd have to climb into this cage while he hauled us across. Thank god he was kidding; this is for coconut pickers to get around.

Kaisley told us that first we’d have to climb into this cage while he hauled us across. Thank god he was kidding; this is for moving the coconut and banana harvest.

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The "official" falls are at the top of the photo

The “official” falls are at the top of the photo

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There’s a hidden cave behind this waterfall…

DSCF1575DSCF1603DSCF1584DSCF1610So now, we are once again socked in with weather. (It’s a theme.) We’re paying $25 a night for a mooring ball here at the Errol Flynn, which is stressing us out a bit, as it looks like our total time here will approach two weeks; but when we think back to that miserable week and a half of wind and waves off Long Island, we’re pretty happy. The trades are howling; but we’ve comfortable, have access to everything, and are among friends.

Errol Flynn Marina. We could be here all day.

Errol Flynn Marina. We could be here a while.

Cost to Cruise: January and February

Boilerplate disclaimer: this is not what it will cost you to go cruising.

Pig roast. Free to us, and amazing!!

Pig roast. Free to us, and amazing!!

People’s constant advice, discussing cruising finances, always seems to be: It’ll cost what you have. We did not find this helpful in our planning, however true it may be. What we’re trying to show is the cost to us, more or less, for one month to go cruising. We’re going for monthly expenses, because they’re easier for us to track; so you won’t see the boat insurance amortized, you’ll just see that expense when we pay it. It won’t be what you’ll spend, but it was the kind of information that helped us out when we were trying to wrap our heads around that magical number for our cruising kitty.

We’re going for a combination situation, here. Divide by two.

Marinas: $787.8 
Grocery: $329.46 
Restaurant: $687.20
Hotel: $451.5
Boat Work: $55 
Supplies: $1129.81
Booze: $90.50
Ice Cream: $0 
Laundry: $8 
Transportation: $1263.10
Communications: $276 
Entertainment: $107
Pump Out: $0
Boat Parts: $169 
Fuel: $187.18 diesel; $0 stove fuel; $32.47 dinghy 
Immigration/Customs: $574.50
Water: $0
Garbage Disposal: $4
Bank Fees: $158
Grand Total: $6310.52

A couple of takeaways from the above:

  • While we always say that our experience is unique to us, it’s really true this month; you will not in any way be able to devise a budget based on the overland travel we did. We sometimes stayed with family; we had family pay for all kinds of stuff, especially meals and housing; this just isn’t an accurate representation of how much money was spent in the last couple of months. And yet, it’s still a lot of money!
  • We had some issues on the electronics front. We trashed an iPad, and replaced it with Christmas credit from family; that cost is not reflected in the above, since we reason it was a gift. We also had a heart-stopping few days of the laptop not working, and quickly ordered a backup, which was ferried to us by Michu’s sister. Of course, now our current laptop works fine, but we have a backup all ready to go. That accounts for pretty much all of the “supplies” category.
  • So. Much. Bucket. Laundry.
  • Bank fees is a whopper, huh? We included expenses for changing money, which were quite high. Unavoidable.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Welcome back! We’ve missed you, internet friends.

Sunrise on the way to Jamaica

Sunrise on the way to Jamaica

We especially want to give a shout out to our buddies from US Customs and Immigration in Lexington, Michigan. We had a Facebook message from one of them a couple of months ago, letting us know how much they enjoy following our blog. Apparently, our travels are discussed among the staff on the regular. Hi, guys!

And with that being said, we’ll be fast-forwarding to our current location–beautiful Port Antonio, Jamaica.DSC_2076

The very accommodating staff at the Errol Flynn Marina have made it easy for us to splurge on some full-on resort time. We’re at a dock! With water you can drink without getting sick! We can walk to a grocery store that actually has food! There’s a pool! Laundry! Showers with hot water! Red Stripe for $2!DSC_2083

Sorry for all the exclamation points, but holy cow, were we missing life’s finer things for a bit.

Workbench. Or dining room table, either way.

Workbench. Or dining room table, either way.

Around us, the trade winds are howling. We’re among Pacific-bound cruisers here, and folks are anxious to get through the Panama Canal and on their way, but no one wants to head out in sustained 30-knot winds. We’ve heard rumors that things aren’t expected to really settle down until the end of April (although we’ve also heard the end of March, which suits us just fine). As we look at the winds, we find ourselves considering skipping Cartagena–it just never seems to calm down north of there–but either way, we don’t plan to really head south for at least three if not six weeks.

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View from the bow.

Because Jamaica is lovely. Because we have no further obligations to meet up with anyone. Because once we go south, we’ll be staying south through hurricane season. Because this is not a bad spot to work on a few projects, resupply the boat, clean things up and bit and enjoy the wonders of internet. Because we are absolutely not in a hurry.