Passage to Aruba

March 16th, Monday

After one last big shopping spree in Sam’s Club for boat provisions we sail to The Coffin Island (Caja de Muertos) 7 miles southeast of Ponce. Every weekend a boat unloads a mob of Puerto Rican weekenders with their beach umbrellas and beach creams to spend a few hours on the beach of this little island which is also a National Park. It is a small tourist attraction with a very interesting history. The legend has it, that a Portuguese pirate buried his beloved, along with half of his treasure, in a glass coffin on the island. Years later, the grave and the coffin were found, but to this day no one knows what happened to the treasure…

Caja de Muertos

Caja de Muertos

And among the sailors there is a superstition that if you want to have a safe passage, you better stop and visit the Coffin Island right after leaving Ponce. We do stop there for a night, but not entirely out of superstition. Rather, we want to start sailing early on the next day, before sunrise and without turning on the engines. In Ponce the wind dies at night because of the katabatic mountain effect until 8-9 a.m., when the sun’s heat cancels the effect, and even though this makes for an excellent night’s sleep, it is impossible to sail near the shores of Puerto Rico before 8 a.m.

March 17th, Tuesday

We set sail for Aruba around 6 a.m. It’s still dark. We have 380 nautical miles ahead, which is a big 3-day passage for us. In the Caribbean we have been sailing for just a few hours between the islands in the past year.

The weather forecast is perfect. East winds 15-20 knots, 1-2 meter waves every 5-6 seconds. We have been waiting for such mild tradewinds for a month now. But the weather forecast is not always exact and we don’t trust them 100%. Often the wind can be 5 knots more or less than predicted and there is always the danger of squalls. First a small innocent white cloud forms on the horizon. The cloud quickly grows tall, heavy and dark at the base. The wind dies for a minute or two- time to reef the sails. And then it starts squealing 30-40 knots, sometimes more, just for a few minutes. Such sudden squalls have ruined many boats.

Nothing extraordinary happens the first day of the passage. The wind is slower than predicted 8-12 knots. Fata Morgana is sailing calmly with 4-5 knots. We sleep, read, Maya plays the piano.

Maya and her piano

Maya and her piano

The dolphins find us again and stay to race with the boat for about two hours, which is unusually long. Usually, after a few minutes they get bored and leave to look for other boats to race. We always love to see them and we always talk to them and we admire their skillful fast movements through the water, how they swim, sometime on their backs, just for fun, how they exhale bubbles just before they come out for air, how they jump sometimes, how they enjoy the sea. We love them incredibly much and they know it.

Иво с делфини

Иво с делфини

Мая с делфини

Мая с делфини

March 18th, Wednesday

The night passes slowly, the wind remains calm, the sails are well adjusted and tight. We are 100 miles south of Puerto Rico and can still hear the US Coast Guard on the radio, and this is great comfort for us. We cross paths with a few big ships. Two of them even change course to avoid us. Celia, Harmen Oldendorff and tanker Lue Liang Wan on its way to Curacao.

No moon. Only billions of stars, so bright they illuminate tiny star-paths in all directions. Fata Morgana skims over the dark surface of the sea leaving a trail of white foam, like a veil, sprinkled with tiny photo luminescent glimmers- glowing jewels on lacework.

The morning arrives slowly. We are very tired and take turns on the helm, Ivo and I, every two hours. We keep sailing and everything is calm.

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In the morning Maya makes us omelets with feta cheese and reads another history lesson. There are no more ships around us, we are alone, 150 miles from the nearest land, in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Ivo is not happy with the fact that we still don’t have a fish on the hook. He goes below for a nap.

Добро утро!

Добро утро!

Not long after, I see, just a few meters away from the boat, a marlin jumping out of the water vertically, and splash – a flamboyant splash, like a whale. White belly and dark sleek back, long body and a pointy nose, like a spade. I can’t believe it! He jumps again. Suddenly, the hiss of the fishing pole. Ivo appears eyes wide open, takes the rod and we see the marlin again. He shoots up vertically, falls and snaps the cord. He takes off with the lure. A beauty. Gone.

The wind picks up 14-18 knots and we speed up to 6-7 knots. The sea gets more agitated too. The waves are now bigger but still gentle, coming slowly behind us at an angle and we surf comfortably down with 8-9 knots. At noon we doze off in the cockpit. We see seagulls. Thousands of seagulls, flying low over the water, some perched on the waves, rocking. What are seagulls doing hundreds of miles away from land in the middle of the sea? Fishing! Beneath us, a school of hundreds of tunas are feeding on smaller fish and the seagulls are waiting for the abundant pickings. We are passing right in the middle of the commotion with one lure all tangled with seaweed, but the other clean and completely available for the grabs. We catch a striped tuna. They are also called watermelons, as they do look like watermelons, all round, with red juicy meat. Extremely tasty with garlic butter just a few seconds on the frying pan. Ivo is happy.

Иво с туна

Иво с туна

March 19th, Thursday

We are halfway there. The second night is as calm as the first, even more so with no ships around. Ivo decides to see how he would singlehandle the boat and orders me to go and sleep all night. He just lies in the cockpit and sleeps too, opening one eye every now and then to see if everything is normal. It is.

To imagine sailing at night you must imagine driving at night in complete darkness in a bumpy field, without headlights. Not any lights, no moon. Everything is black and you cannot see ahead. The only lights are the stars and the two screens- one is the GPS showing you on a map where the boat is and another indicating the wind speed and direction. The autopilot is keeping the course. You do nothing. Even if the tiny lights of a ship appear on the horizon (and you first see the ship on the GPS or the radar), it’s 2-3 hours at least before you get close to it.

The wind picks up in the morning 18 to 24 knots. The boat is going faster now 7-8 knots surfing with 9 down the waves. White caps form and it’s bumpier. But the distance to destination gets shorter a lot faster too.

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We catch a female dorado. She is a beautiful golden fish with an extravagant blue dorsal fin. Some fishermen will tell you that the dorados, also called mahi-mahis, get married and remain with their spouses for life, not like most people who divorce when they get fed up with each other. The couples love each other dearly, without questions, jalousies and complications. They swim together in oceans and seas, give birth to billions of babies, and die together at the end. When you catch one dorado, the other will desperately follow the boat without thinking, without a plan. It will just swim after the boat on which his beloved better half is, with a broken hearth and without hope till the end of the world.

Ivo gently unhooks Mrs. Dorado and puts some medical alcohol in her gills (anesthesia), and we watch her die. The shine in her gold skin fades away, she stops trembling and the terror in her eye freezes. Ivo puts the freed lure back in the water and carefully starts operating, like a skillful surgeon. First, he removes her guts, then he slices the filets on both sides of the middle bone, he peals the skin off, and he amputates the head.

Of course, after just a few minutes we hook Mr. Dorado, it’s inevitable. On the same lure. He comes out without a fight, he gives up, abandons himself, brokenhearted. The last thing he sees before he dies is the dismantled body of his wife. And Ivo leaning over him with a bottle of medical alcohol.

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We decide not to fish any more. One 15-pound tuna and a couple of dorados is enough food for a week. Like experienced shamans, satisfied, solemn and sad, we thank Neptune for the fish.

Sunset. It gets dark. We are approaching Aruba. In the night we first see a glow on the horizon, then the light from a lighthouse and then the many lights of buildings and cars and ships anchored. Hotels and restaurants, drunk people are singing somewhere on land. We drop anchor at midnight, after a 66-hour passage. Three sunrises, three sunsets, three fishes, not a single squall. Three people in a boat.

The next morning, March 20th, Friday, we go to the docks in Oranjestad, Aruba’s capital, where we clear in immigration and customs. It takes about 2 hours, mostly waiting for the officials to come to the boat and bring the paperwork, which we have to fill in and return, without ever leaving the boat. Passports are stamped, documents and exchanged, no one boards Fata Morgana, and the entire procedure is completely free and done on the pier. No fees whatsoever. What a pleasant surprise!

Фата Моргана на док в Аруба

Фата Моргана на док в Аруба

Welcome to Aruba!

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Fishing

A pious man explained to his followers: “It is evil to take lives and noble to save them. Each day I pledge to save a hundred lives. I drop my net in the lake and scoop a hundred fishes. I place the fishes on the bank, where they flop and twirl. ‘Don’t be scared,’ I tell those fishes. ‘I am saving you from drowning.’ Soon enough, the fishes grow calm and lie still. Yet, sad to say, I am always too late. The fishes expire. And because it is evil to waste anything, I take those dead fishes to market and I sell them for a good price. With the money I receive, I buy more nets so I can save more fishes.”

– Amy Tan, Saving Fish from Drowning

Lake Isabal, Guatemala Езерото Изабал, Гватемала

Lake Isabal, Guatemala
Езерото Изабал, Гватемала

Fishing- an ancient practice dating back to prehistoric times and still widely practiced today in small coastal communities throughout the world, is extremely important to us, aboard S/V Fata Morgana. It is a way to get precious proteins and fresh food while far away from the market, in the wild and off the grid. It’s a way to survive while at sea or near remote areas, where shopping for food is impossible.

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To fish while sailing Ivo uses the most popular and simple fishing technique- trolling- letting between 100 and 150 feet of line (depending on the weather and sea condition) baited with lures behind the boat, in an area clean of bubbles but close enough to the boat’s wake.

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Ivo has a bunch of different fishing rods and reels aboard but he usually uses the two biggest ones equipped with wire 1-2 feet leaders, which prevents the fish from cutting the line with their teeth. He has one 60lb line and one 80lb line connected to strong snap swivels, to allow a quick change of pre-rigged leaders.

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The hooks he usually uses are from 2/0 to 5/0 and he normally uses shallow or deep-diver plugs and spinners for lures- they imitate real fish. There are many ways to make your own lures out of all sorts of discarded materials like empty toothpaste containers and pieces of cloth or plastic etc. and they are as effective as the lures you get in the stores.

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Ivo attaches one fishing rod on each side of the boat in the two very convenient handles and he started tying them up with a line, after a huge barracuda took off with his best most expensive tackle one unlucky day.

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He usually catches fish when the speed of the boat is more than 3 and less than 7 knots.

Ivo caught a fish Иво хванал риба

Ivo caught a fish
Иво хванал риба

So far, Ivo has caught many tunies and bonitos, kingfish, mackerel, yellow fin tuna, mahi mahi (dorado), mahogany snapper and of course thousands of barracudas, which we no longer eat, even though they are tasty, because of ciguatera poisoning danger.

Ivo with a small Dorado Иво с дорадо

Ivo with a small Dorado
Иво с дорадо

 

The tunas, kingfish, mackerel, and dorado Ivo catches in deep waters away from shore, the snappers he catches in shallow 30-60 feet waters near the shore.

Ivo the fisherman Иво е голям рибач...

Ivo the fisherman
Иво е голям рибач…

Once he caught a shark and released it back in the water.

reef shark

reef shark

On many occasions sharks ate half or most of the fish hooked on Ivo’s hook before he could pull it out of the water.

Ivo with the huge King Mackerel half eaten by sharks.

Ivo with the huge King Mackerel half eaten by sharks.

The most fish Ivo caught around Mexico’s east coast.

Mira and her Birthday Gifts

Mira and her Birthday Gifts

Around Puerto Rico and Cuba he caught the most of our favorite mahogany snappers.

Mira also wanted a picture with the fish Мира също искаше да се снима с рибата...

Mira also wanted a picture with the fish
Мира също искаше да се снима с рибата…

When at anchor, Ivo likes to go spearfishing with his spear gun or Hawaiian sling and sometimes catches groupers, snappers and lobsters.

Иво лови лангусти с харпун

Иво лови лангусти с харпун

Then, it’s his job the clean the fish. Head, middle bone, tail, guts, skin- everything goes back in the water, only the fillets are left.

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Mira prepares the fish.

When we bring a big 30-pound tuna aboard, Mira needs to prepare it at least 10 times in variety of ways.

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With tunas and tuna-family fish (bonitos, tunies etc.) and other red and pink meat fish Mira makes sushi maki rolls. A friend named Krasi, who lives in Italy and is a professional sushi shef thought her how to make it.

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The maki rolls are easy to make and extremely tasty if you have the correct ingredients. You can also improvise and substitute ingredients, like Mira has done plenty of times (like using regular not special sushi rice), but the result will not be the same.

Продукти за суши

Продукти за суши

To make her best sushi recipe, Mira uses Sushi Rice, Sheets of Seaweed, 2 tbs Vinegar and a Sushi Rolling Mat. For the Filling: Raw Tuna, Avocado, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, and Roasted White Sesame Seeds.

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Another favorite tuna recipe is Curry Flavored Tuna, by another friend back in St Martin- Raphael. He though Mira how to cut stripes from the meat, roll them in curry powder and then very quickly sauté them in butter, so that the meat inside remains raw and only slightly cooked on the outside.

Туна с къри

Curry flavored tuna= Туна с къри

Yet another tasty tuna recipe is Baked Tuna in Tomato Sauce. Mira fries big chunks of the meat in butter and adds a can of tomato sauce, herbs and lots of garlic to simmer with the meat for 10-15 minutes. Great with white rice on the side.

туна с доматен сос и ориз

Tuna in tomato sauce-туна с доматен сос и ориз

The white fillet fish, like mahi mahi, mahogany snapper, even kingfish Mira would cut into steaks and throw on the BBQ with a bit of lemon-pepper salt for a quick roast- very quick!

Рибешки пържоли

Рибешки пържоли

Or bread them with egg-and-flower mixture. The breaded fish is Maya’s favorite fish recipe, because it tastes like chicken, and Maya doesn’t like fish much.

Панирано филе от снапър

Панирано филе от снапър

All you need for this is 2-3 eggs and a cup of flour with a bit of salt in it. Mira sometimes mixes the eggs and flower and makes a paste, then dips the fish steaks in it and fries them in butter or cooking oil until they become golden on the outside.

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The smaller fish Ivo brings speared from the reefs Mira fries with the skin and bones (only the scales and guts are removed). Lobsters she boils for a few minutes, not too long so they don’t get to hard and chewy.

Barracudas are said to be dangerous to eat, as they may use ciguatera poisoning. Yet, we have been eating the smaller barracudas in the Bahamas all the time without any problems.

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The only real danger of poisoning yourself is, if you eat any of the fish caught by Ivo and prepared by Mira without a cold beer on the side.

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Cheers!

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Biggest fish Ivo caught

Иво с риба тон

Иво с риба тон

ught- Tuna

 

Smallest fish came aboard and died in our kayak one night- Ballyhoo

Ballyhoo

Ballyhoo

Ugliest uneatable fish Ivo ever hooked- Remora

Remora

Remora

The most beautiful fish we ate (not tasty at all)- Angelfish

Иво с Angelfish

Иво с Angelfish

Our first big fish we caught and ate- shark

The shark we caught

The shark we caught

The smallest fishes we used to catch and eat a lot- grunts

Mira with fishes

Mira with fishes

The most dangerous fish we ate (very tasty)- Lionfish

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Lionfih-Риба Лъв

Facebook/ The Life Nomadik

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Neptune, Thank You For The Fish !

After three weeks in Fajardo the time came to sail west. We set sail for Ponce, only about 60 miles away. The east winds behind us at about 20 knots, Fata Morgana was doing 7-8 knots, sometimes even 9, surfing down the waves.

Slowly, a black cloud appeared behind us and started catching up on us. The wind died briefly before the squall hit- rain and wind over 30 knots. The sails were wing-on-wing and Ivo decided that we wouldn’t reef in advance. And just when the wind started whizzing, a fish took the lure. Ivo started bringing in the fish, so Maya an me had to reef the sails and to keep the boat close to the wind at about 2 knots speed. A bit of panic aboard, and screaming at each other, the normal stuff…

Ivo bringing in a fish. Иво вади риба.

Ivo bringing in a fish.
Иво вади риба.

The fish took out half the line and it took Ivo an eternity to bring it in. Heavy. This is a good sign. And even before it was close we could tell what kind of fish it was by the red fins and tail- Mahogany Snapper- our favorite- white juicy flesh.

Ivo the fisherman Иво е голям рибач...

Ivo the fisherman
Иво е голям рибач…

The squall passed, the rain stopped, only the sea continued to be nervous for a few more minutes, after the weather was calm again, yet Ivo was still busy with the fishing rod. Finally, he brought in the fish-exhausted, bloody, almost dead from the long battle (the fish, not Ivo). Maya brought the hook and the medical alcohol we use as anesthetic for the fish. The anesthetic we put in their gills, they calm down, fall asleep and never wake up…

Mira also wanted a picture with the fish Мира също искаше да се снима с рибата...

Mira also wanted a picture with the fish
Мира също искаше да се снима с рибата…

All this happened about 200 meters from Cayo Santiago, also known as Isla de los Monos (The MOnkey Island), where we decided to stop for a day or two. We cleared the reef, furled the sails and dropped the hook.

Ivo fileting the fish Иво филира рибока

Ivo fileting the fish
Иво филира рибока

It was almost noon. Time for lunch. We had a big fish to fry. Ivo took care of it. A lonely dolphin who greeted us in the anchorage and a flock of about 6 frigatebirds shared the skin, guts, head and bones. We only kept the juicy filets.

 A frigatebird Фрегата


A frigatebird
Фрегата

During the course of the past one year and a half we caught about 10-12 of these snappers around Cuba, Mexico, The Bahamas and Puerto Rico and we tried different recipes: we barbequed them, we baked them in the oven with tomatoes and onions, we fried them. But we found that the tastiest is when I bread it with eggs and flower, served with white rice or mashed potatoes and cold beer. Even Maya who is very pretentious for food and usually doesn’t eat fish likes it this way and eats quite a bit (without beer). It became a tradition- every time we catch snapper I bread it. The other types of fish I prepare differently.

Snapper filets Филе от снапър

Snapper filets
Филе от снапър

Thus, we never know what will be the menu aboard Fata Morgana. Maybe breaded snapper, or sashimi, or mahi-mahi on the BBQ..? Whatever the Crazy One would spare. And we are always grateful to Him, provided it is NOT an ugly barracuda.

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Ivo enjoying the gifts of the sea

Neptune, thank you for the fish!

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Tobago

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Tobago is the smaller of the two main islands that make up the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. It is located in the southern Caribbean, northeast of the island of Trinidad and southeast of Grenada, outside the hurricane belt. Tobago has a land area of 300 km² and is approximately 40 km long and 10 km wide.

 

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Sailing to Tobago from Trinidad proves slower than we expected, heading northeast, very close to wind. We have calculated that if we leave on Thursday in the afternoon from Chacachacare and sail all night we should arrive in time on Friday and check-in before 4 p.m., as we thought there will be an overtime charge for late checking-in if we arrive after 4 p.m. or on the weekend. We are not sure if the overtime charge is 100 $US per boat, or per person, but it is an amount of money we would rather avoid paying. But we are sailing too slow and it looks like we will be late.

Maya aboard Fata Morgana

Maya aboard Fata Morgana

Our friends on S/V Passages, Mel and Caryn, who have been with us every day for the past 4 months and sailing about a mile behind us, agree on the VHF radio that we don’t have many options. We have to motor-sail the last 16 miles if we want to make it on time. The fuel will cost not more than 5$. Yet, Ivo doesn’t like the idea of motoring. A dark cloud of shame and misery envelopes him. Finally he tells me: “Do what you want…” Like an old dictator defeated by circumstances, yet proud, he cannot make the shameful decision and give the order. He wants me to do it. I turn on the engines. He sits alone on the bow of the boat, the farthest point away from the unbearable sound of the propellers, bursting from inside.It has been over one year now since we motored for so long, and it was because of a storm.

We get in the anchorage at Store Bay around 3 p.m., but we need to take a taxi and literally run to the Customs and then to Immigration in order to make it before 4. We do all this running like a small heard on the streets of Scarborough together with Mel and Caryn for the sheer amazement of the locals, only to realize at the end, that there isn’t any overtime fee when sailing between Trinidad and Tobago…The fee is when you are arriving from another country… Anyway…

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We spend only a few days in Tobago, a small island invaded by bamboo trees and vary loud annoying birds called Cocrico, Tobago’s national bird, which serenade us in the mornings. The first time we heard them we thought some weird construction machines are invading the shores.

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Here we found the most beautiful beach, not far from the anchorage at Store Bay- Pigeon Point. Pink sand and palm trees leaning over delicious blue water.

Ivo chilling on a palm tree

Ivo chilling on a palm tree

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We also share a car with our friends Mel and Caryn and tour the entire island, stopping here and there, visiting many fishermen villages, beaches and bays, a small waterfall, enjoying a nice day on the road, even though it is raining most of the time.

 

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Mel, Caryn, Mira, Maya and Ivo , Tobago waterfall

Mel, Caryn, Mira, Maya and Ivo , Tobago waterfall

Many fishermen in Tobago still use traditional long bamboo fishing poles, one hung from each side of their boats. They show us how to clean fish. We learn something every day…

 

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In Tobago, like in Trinidad, the bamboo imported from Asia during the colonial period, has invaded the entire island. Beautiful bamboo forests are everywhere and people use the tree for construction, art, and to make fishing poles and all sorts of other useful things.

Bamboo in Tobago

Bamboo in Tobago

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The economy of Tobago is heavily dependent on Trinidad’s booming natural gas and oil economy. Locally, tourism and fishing are most important.

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Tobago is a much smaller much quieter island than Trinidad and we appreciated its authentic Caribbean atmosphere and tranquility, friendly people, and beautiful nature.

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Our journey in Tobago ended with a nice dinner in the small beach restaurant near the anchorage, where Mel and Caryn invited us for dinner. They had too many of the local Trinidad and Tobago dollars left, and needed to liquidate them before leaving the country and heading to Barbados. We were happy to help with the liquidation of Mel and Caryn’s TT$ and enjoyed some local fish and beers. Thank you guys!

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