Monday, February 29, 2016

Tortola Dive #2 - The Wreck Of The RMS Rhone

Dive 2 of the day promised to be even better than the first. We were about to dive what has been ranked as one of the best dives in the Caribbean - the wreck of the RMS Rhone.

The RMS Rhone was an iron-hulled mail and passenger sail-steamer that sank off of Salt Island in a hurricane on 29 October 1867, killing 123 people. 310 feet long with both sails and a steam engine with an 18 foot diameter propeller, she was an impressive ship in her day. Carrying passengers across the Atlantic, to South America and the Caribbean. She's now broken into sections after striking the rock and cold sea water causing her boilers to explode, and was further broken up in 1950 as a hazard to navigation, leaving lots of wreck to explore and many artifacts.

Here's a shot of Black Rock Point, the rock upon which the Rhone was wrecked in the storm:

We descended down the line and met the Rhone.

The wreck is quite broken up, and the rivets of her hull construction are quite visible.

The wreck teems with fish and marine life.

The stern mast, after being taken down in the 1950s.

The gear box and gears that connected the propeller to the engines.

The ship's dance floor:

The Captain's silver spoon now lies embedded in the coral.

The lucky porthole, where legend has it a passenger escaped by slipping out its narrow opening which is most likely a myth. The lucky name is because the glass is mostly intact and divers rub it for luck, keeping it nice and shiny.

The huge propeller and rudder.

It's so big you can easily swim through that opening you see there, and we did.

The wreck of the Rhone is huge, after 45 minutes we had not fully explored all of it, only the stern section. It's a magnificent wreck to dive and explore.

After extensively touring the stern of the wreck of the RMS Rhone, I hung out for a safety stop and then ascended back to the surface.

We then headed back to the pier where the Disney Wonder was waiting.

It was a great dive.

Sunday, February 28, 2016


We arrived in Tortola nice and early in the morning of what was to be a beautiful day - sunny, warm and and with calm winds and waves.

After a quick breakfast before the rest of the family was even awake, I had packed my gear and headed to the meeting point on the ship for my port adventure.

It was dive time. The kids and Tash were heading out later to snorkel and explore Treasure Island by catamaran.

At the meeting area, there was a diver waiting and a few more came in as the time to depart grew nearer. I chatted with him and he was a very nice guy named Roberto from Panama and we talked about diving as we waited for more people to arrive.

Another diver arrived, his name was Ron and it turned out that not only was he from Toronto but he was also a private pilot (I was wearing my AOPA hat which got that conversation going. Very nice guys indeed and it promised to be quite a good group of divers going on the trip.

Disney had booked the port adventure with Sail Caribbean Divers and it was a most excellent choice. Sail Caribbean is probably the most professional and organized dive operation I've seen yet in the Caribbean. In no time we, along with a group that was doing a discover scuba diving adventure were checked in, issued gear and on our way. The DSD group was dropped of for instruction and we certified divers headed out to Dive 1.

Dive 1 was to be Thumb Rock, a reef that promised lots of fish.

While the water wasn't crystal clear, it offered a nice easy dive in t-shirt and swim trunks, which beats a wetsuit any day.

While the surface was a bit choppy and had a light current, making for a bit of work to swim from the back of the boat to the down line at the front, we then easily descended down to the reef.

There were fish there, including this big one that swam by that was as large as a person's head:

What's that over there hidding under a rock by the coral?

That's a lobster.

Actually there was a whole bunch of lobster hiding there. We counted ten all together and our divemasters noted that was the most they've seen together in one spot so that was a neat find. The divemasters were very good at pointing out marine life that we otherwise would have missed.

Here's Rob pointing out an item of interest on the reef.

It was a lionfish. These interlopers from the Pacific are aggressively expanding their presence in the Caribbean.

There were some interesting coral formations like this perfect bowl-shaped one.

There were also many very blue-colored fish swimming around.

There was also a small green eel that was popping vertically out of its hole and flashing its jaws and baring its teeth at us. Sadly the photo of it didn't turn out.

It was a very nice dive indeed with a lot of interesting fish to see.

Max depth 55 feet, 32 minutes and 79 degree water.

During our surface interval, after being carefully checked back in on board the dive boat and our dive profiles recorded, we headed off to pickup the DSD divers for their scuba diving experience and for Dive 2 for us. Dive 2 promised to be even better than the first.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Monkey Business

As we headed back to the pier to board the ship we passed by a man with a Green Velvet monkey.

Everyone loves Green Velvet monkeys, they're a cute non-face-eating type of monkey.

The kids each got to hold the monkey and have him perch on their heads while the monkey had a snack.

He was a cute and well behaved monkey and well worth the few bucks the experience cost and the kids loved it.

We then boarded the ship and said goodbye to St. Kitts.

Next Stop: Tortola.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Flying Lesson #42 - KHAI There Snow!

This morning was a beautiful day to fly, if you discount the tons of white stuff on the ground and on the airplane.

I was flying with Will for a cross country and he suggested a trip to Three Rivers Airport, KHAI.

First we had to dig out the plane and get a combination of snow and ice off the control surfaces. Ice on the wings is very bad, and needs to go before you can go.

Snow was about calf level in places from the 11 inches that fell plus the mounds from the plow, and I had to clear a path around the plane for the preflight. We got the vast majority of it off.

So we cleaned N73455 off as well as smoothed a path onto the taxiway.

At least the plane was fully fueled and my pre-flight showed no issues. We also briefed an aborted takeoff in case the remaining bits of ice posed an issue, but since it was quite small Will figured it would be ok. The plane started right up and we managed to get through the snow and onto the taxiway without any real problems.

So we were cleared to taxi, this time to Runway 27L, and we were cleared to take off.

Lined up on the runway, full power in and we took off as I carefully read airspeed, RPM and oil pressure to Will. We were at takeoff speed with no issues and I kept careful watch on the climb to ensure we had a positive rate of ascent and good airspeed, which we did. Good to brief the aborted takeoff, even better not to use it.

We then headed out to the west staying at 2,500 feet to keep plenty of separation from a cloud layer at 4,400 and so we could see things as we went on by passing Brighton and Jackson airports on our way. Past Jackson it began lightly snowing around the airplane which did not present any issues as we had no icing.

Then the sun came out, melted any remaining ice off the plane and it was a beautiful flight indeed.

We then got to KHAI and then headed back.

On reaching 12 miles outside of KPTK's I gave them a call and they wanted us to do an expedited left downwind for 27L as we had some faster traffic behind us (most traffic is faster than a 172, and a Piper Archer is quite a bit faster).

So we kept the speed up and only slowed down right abeam the touchdown point where I reduced the throttle, put the carb heat on and slowed down to get the first notch of flaps in. I did a nice landing with no issues.

That's a solid 2.5 hour cross country flight that was very nice indeed, and two more landings and a nice 218 nautical mile round trip.

The Gibraltar of The Caribbean - The Brimstone Fortress

After the unfortunate cannon deficit in San Juan, I was hoping to get some history in St. Kitts of a military and canonical nature and I was not disappointed.

Batik factory and a plantation house/hotel were very nice for my traveling companions, but there needed to be a fort and cannons on this tour, and there indeed was.

The Brimstone Fort is known as the Gibraltar of the Caribbean.

A dry moat separates the Citadel from the rest of the fort.

The first cannons were mounted on Brimstone Hill in 1690 as the English and French fought for control of the island, and the English kept on adding to the fortress after that and kept on upgrading and expanding it for a hundred years.

In 1782, a force of 8,000 French besieged the fortress with its 1,000 defenders from the Royal Scots and East Yorkshire regiments as well as local militia. The fortress held for a month before surrendering on February 12. The French, in recognition of the British force's gallantry allowed them to march out with all the honors of war. The fortress was ceded back to the British at the Treaty of Versailles and it was in use until abandoned in 1852.

The bastions had interlocking fields of fire for the fort to command the seas and ground near it.

The fort with its Citadel and multiple bastions has a commanding view of the town.

And views of the seas and neighboring islands.

Interestingly, the fort featured multiple shear drops in various locations, without any "watch your step signs" or safety railings, it was a rather different and healthy view on liability due to tourist stupidity should they fail to watch their step, I suppose.

Cannons were everywhere you looked, including a line of small ones to keep the parking lot and approaches under control.

Brimstone Fortress is a very impressive edifice at the top of a hills and a very nice restoration has been done by its historical society, making it a fantastic place to visit. The visitor center has an introductory film about the site and maps are provided for a walking tour of the entire fort, and I happily walked the grounds for as long as the time was allotted for the tour stop.

My cannon cravings sated, we headed back to the ship.

St. Kitts

On the morning of February 8, 2016, we followed a pilot boat and pulled into the harbor at St. Kitts.

On arrival, we had signed up for a tour of St. Kitts. The tour guide, who was also the bus driver, had a very thick island accent. He handled this by repeating everything twice, which helped immensely. What didn't help was the families with very unruly smaller kids that were noisy and not paying attention at all.

It began with a tour of the town of Basseterre then on to an old plantation house and now luxury hotel called Fairview.

The house/hotel has some awesome views.

There was also a pool where you could dip your toes in the water as you wandered around the property.

Then we headed to Caribelle Batik Studios where they make Batik fabric by hand and numeorus items from the fabric.

We were able to watch and learn how Batik fabric is made - the fabric is lowered into dyes with a pattern painted on in wax, and the process is repeated with more dyes until the final design is complete.

Very cool to see and Tash who likes to use Batiks in quilting really enjoyed the presentation and viewing all the various fabrics.

We wandered around the grounds and saw more Batik fabrics and some nice gardens and then got back on the bus to our next stop.