Tuesday, April 25, 2017

BVI 2017: Day 2 - Norman Island to Cooper Island

We got up at 6:00am, made coffee, checked the engines, and headed out to the Indians, enjoying the sun rise and solitude as we were the first boat to arrive. The biggest problem with arriving at the BVIs during spring break is that the solitude is soon gone. By 7:30am, all the mooring buoys were taken, but we had the prime spot! Soon, we were in the water exploring the area.

In the past, we'd always opted to do 2 dives at the Indians, but the current warning from the chart briefing was to arrive at Cooper island before 12:00pm to be assured of getting a mooring ball, so we opted to do just one dive. Xiaoqin was still feeling ill, so I would get to dive and then take Bowen for a snorkel after the dive.

While many complain that the dives in the BVIs are shallow, I don't mind. In shallow waters you get better light, and that makes for better photography. The dive in the Indians for me felt like I'd never left diving. The BCD Arturo had rented for me felt perfect, with weight pockets so I didn't need a belt, and 8 pounds of weight felt very comfortable. The swim through was no problem, and holding a 15' depth for a 3 minute safety stop didn't result in me bobbing up and down.

Upon returning to the Kokomo III from the dive, we talked Bowen into a wet suit and got him into the water with his mask and snorkel on. As Arturo instructed the day before, I refused to give him any towing, and made him swim to the reefs by himself. As expected, he wasn't at all uncomfortable in the water, and in fact, swam all the way around the Indians navigating the shallows with ease and making it onto the swimming ladder by himself. In fact, he even took off his own fins and threw them onto the boat! He would improve from day to day at a dramatic rate for the rest of the trip.

We motor'd up wind to Cooper Island, arriving just half an hour short of the 12:00pm deadline. Sure enough, there were only one or two mooring balls left and we grabbed one directly from the dinghy dock for air tank refills. We had lunch, then dropped off an air tank refill for the Cooper Island dive center. After digestion, we loaded 3 dive sets onto the dinghy. John was filling sick and had started to throw up, indicating that he had contracted Boen's Nolo virus. Xiaoqin was similarly out of sorts, so it was just Arturo, me, and Mark diving Cistern point.

Cistern point was a great location for wildlife. We spotted a lobster (rare sighting during the day), and a turtle. It was a long enough dive that I started feeling cold towards the end, and we all ended the dive with well over 1000psi in the tanks, indicating the being cold was the limiting factor, not running out of air.

Upon the return, we delivered air tanks back to the dive center for another round of refills, and picked up the previously filled dive tanks. Bowen refused to do more snorkeling despite having seen the turtle, but agreed to go ashore with mommy for ice cream. Arturo started feeling a bit ill, so we checked the weather forecast to plan the next day. The original plan was to dive the wreck of the Rhone, but with everyone feelling so ill and North swell conditions being in effect, we decided it would be better to do the Baths the next day and then come back to Peter Island to do the Rhone the day after.

Sunset was pretty as usual. It was muted because so many folks were sick that we didn't really cook very much as not enough people felt like eating. We retired early to try to rest up for another 6:00am start the next day.


Monday, April 24, 2017

BVI 2017: Day 1 - Tortola to Kelly's Cove, Norman Island

Despite attempting to sleep in, I was too excited to stay asleep past 6:00am, a schedule I would maintain for the rest of the trip. It also didn't help that Boen, in the grips of the Nolo Virus, would complain all night and scream and shout, giving Arturo a hard time, since he had opted to sleep in the salon.

The night before, I observed that there was a Catamaran ahead of us, and that we wouldn't be let out until they were ready, but come 9:00am, our scuba gear was all delivered, and a second provisioning run had already been made. The boat  briefing came at 10:00am, and all was ready to go by 11:00! Conch charters upon being informed that we were ready, immediately motor'd the Catamaran ahead of us (who looked nowhere near ready), took us out of the slips, and gave us the thumbs up to go.

It was an exceptional experience.

Traveling on a sailboat in the BVIs is like nowhere else on Earth. There are few other places where you can sail out on any given day and see nothing but white sails on boats all over the horizon. The consistent winds and the beautiful scenery made it a crime to go anywhere on engine power, and we very quickly put up our own sails and turned off the engines. For our first night, I preferred Kelly's Cove on Norman Island. It's quiet, with moorings only for 4 boats, making it a challenge to capture a mooring.

It took 2 hours to sail there, and we discovered that nobody on board had binoculars, but  John had a monocular and some soon spotted a mooring buoy exactly where we wanted it, and we proceeded to execute a flawless mooring pick up and tie down. Unfortunately, after that we misplaced the monocular and couldn't find it for the rest of the trip. We eagerly dropped the dingy, put on sunscreen, and proceeded to dinghy out to the Caves for some snorkeling.

It was Bowen's first snorkeling trip since Florida, but he was clearly comfortable in the water, though I did hold his hands during this first trip. We explored the caves which unfortunately had too much surge for us to penetrate. Bowen got cold after just 20 minutes in the water, so I brought him back to the dinghy to wait for the others. When some of the other adults were done, I went back in for more snorkeling of my own. "Stop dragging him around next time," suggested Arturo. "That'll make him swim on his own and he'll not get cold so easily."
We returned for a classic sunset and barbeque for the evening. Unfortunately, Xiaoqin started throwing up, indicating that the virus Boen had was very contagious. We had tried to find hand sanitizer while provisioning but had come up empty, something that would haunt us throughout the trip. Nevertheless, the idea was to head for the Indians the next morning before making it over to Cooper Island.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

BVI Trip Index

During Spring break, 2017, we revisited the British Virgin Islands on a 46' sailboat, the Kokomo III. It was the first time we'd done a sailing trip since Bowen learned how to swim, and a welcome return to the lovely scenery, consistent trade winds, and warm waters of the Caribbean.


Day by Day Trip Index

Friday, April 21, 2017

BVI 2017: Prologue

Last year, after finally learning how to swim and snorkel, Bowen asked for a sailing trip back to the BVIs.  I was very proud of him, because that previous sailing trip included a trip to Disney World, but Bowen very much preferred the sailing. After much planning, we decided on Spring break this year. Joining us this time was Boen, Xiaoqin's mom, Arturo, Mark Brody, and John Gates.

We flew from San Francisco to San Juan, Puerto Rico, spent 2 nights there, and then onto Saint Thomas and then took the ferry to Road Town, Tortola, where we visited Conch charters for our first night sleep-aboard.

Ominously, Boen started throwing up at the docks, before we even took possession of the Kokomo III, a 9 year old 46 foot sailing Catamaran that was to be our home for the week. Arturo would later diagnose this as a case of the Norovirus, which would go on to infect every one of us except for Mark during the week.

After Arturo and Mark showed up, Conch charters finally gave us possession of the boat, and we moved in. Bowen immediately went for the V-berth in the forward port cabin, which he loved. He wouldn't even hear of Arturo stealing it from him.

Provisioning was a taxi trip over to town, where we bought a few days worth of supplies. We forgot that the shore power wasn't powerful enough to run all the ships systems, and could only run the salon AC. That got fixed in a hurry, but after that we were OK.

Boen was having a terrible time sleeping at night, but other than that, we looked forward to being able to sail the next day!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Long Term Review: Nikon AW130

In January, we took the AW130 on a trip to Florida that produced decent pictures, but didn't wow us. We've since had the camera on a major diving/snorkeling trip in the BVI, and have many more pictures to check against.

Overall the pictures are excellent, frequently producing images in good light that made me go "wow!" The fact that the camera is shock-proof and waterproof meant that we were willing to clip it onto the BCDs or even to the wrist band of my Vivoactive HR and take it snorkeling and diving in places where it might get knocked up a bit.
You have to set your expectations correctly with this camera. Give it poor or dim lighting, and it's going to provide muddy, brownish pictures that no amount of tweaking in lightroom will improve. To make things worse, it does not shoot RAW files, and so you're going to have a lot of trouble making even simple adjustments. Don't expect to do much more than the JPG that comes right out of the camera.
The videos are surprisingly good, with my video of a Stingray feeding providing great detail and relatively good sound, even when zoomed in.

Is there room for improvement for the Nikon AW130? Yes. The distortion could be corrected better. The camera could shoot RAW files. I'd be more comfortable diving with it if the depth rating was closer to 130 feet than 100 feet. But as it is, for a diving/snorkeling/cycle touring camera, it checks all the boxes. If you didn't plan to dive with it the Olympus TG-3 is probably better, but for now if you dive/snorkel/swim with the camera there's nothing else that comes close to the AW130 for the depth rating. For the price, the other cameras in this category cannot beat it either.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: Fintie Origami Cover for Kindle Paperwhite

Along with the paperwhite, we bought a Fintie Origami Cover for it. The official Amazon origami cover is only available for the Voyage and Oasis, but fortunately the free market has provided it to those who merely own the paperwhite.

The cover is surprisingly heavy, at 118g, which is much heavier than say, the 93g advertised weight of the Omotion cover, which is a non-origami cover.

The cover does fold nicely and becomes a reading stand, which I like a lot. You can orient it both horizontally and vertically, but since the paperwhite does not appear to have an accelerometer that lets it automatically detect when you're holding it in landscape or portrait mode, I do not expect to use it in landscape mode often.

The magnetic clasp is strong, and automatically turns on the the kindle when you open it. This is a convenient feature if you have an ad-free Kindle, but on a Kindle with ads you still have to swipe to unlock, which is an additional step. Given that you have to touch the screen all the time anyway, this additional swipe isn't a particular burden, but if it annoys my wife a lot I'll ask Amazon to turn it off.

All in all, a solid product with interesting features that may or may not get used often. I'm pleased with it, but will probably try the Omotion cover for our next Kindle. Recommended.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

First Impressions: Kindle Paperwhite

Amazon finally offered a too-good-to-pass-up deal for the Kindle Paperwhite in late March, just before our trip to the BVI. For prime members, they discounted the paperwhite by $30, and then threw in a $35 trade in bonus for our old Kindle 3rd generation. That brought the effective price down to about $70, so we jumped on it.

The other Kindles were also on discount, but the main reason for opting for the Paperwhite was the Waterfi Waterproofing process, which can only be applied to the Paperwhite. I'm a sincere believer that everything with a touch screen should be waterproof, if only so that you can wash it with detergent and clean up the oily fingerprints that inevitably accumulate on the screen. The Kindle arrived too late for us to send it into Waterfi in time for the trip, but immediately after the trip I sent the device in for waterproofing and will report on it for a future process.

The device is significantly heavier than the basic Kindle at 203g. (The basic kindle is 166) Against that is that the basic kindle requires a separate cover to provide a lighted reading experience, while the paperwhite has lighting built in. The lighting is much more even than my old Kindle basic lighted cover, but you can definitely see some light banding at the bottom of the screen, which does not impact the reading experience.

During the trip, we got to compare the 1st generation Paperwhite, my old Kindle basic, and a second generation Paperwhite with this 3rd generation device. Of course, compared to the old basic Kindle there's no contest. Surprisingly, there's a significant improvement from the 1st generation paperwhite, with the newer 300dpi display and brighter backlight making for a better experience.

What I dislike about the paperwhite is that the touch screen latency is pretty high: compared to the buttons on my old basic kindle it feels like it takes an extra 30ms before the touch screen gets picked up and then the device turns the page. The table of contents screen also feels very cluttered compared to the simple, text based screens of the older Kindles. I'm not sure that the new entry screen is worth the change.

Other than that, I flipped between the old basic Kindle and the new Paperwhite during the trip. At one point my wife grabbed the Paperwhite to read The Three Body Problem and I went all the way back to the basic Kindle. While it was a downgrade, it wasn't so much of a downgrade that I wouldn't trade in the older device except that the buttons on it are getting to be rather sticky and occasionally turns two pages instead of one, which is very annoying.

Because of the button wearing out issue, I paid the paperwhite the best compliment possible: I opened up a chat window with Amazon and negotiated the purchase of yet another Paperwhite to replace my old basic Kindle at a higher price than we paid for this first one. Between the potential for waterproofing and the improved screen, I found myself willing to give up my beloved page turn buttons.