What Marine Insurance Companies Don’t Want You To Know

jvd dad and stacy-1

This is a long post, but I promise it contains some very important information that you probably didn’t know…

Let me begin with a little history. When we first purchased our boat back in 2013, we didn’t have a clue about what kind of insurance we needed, just that we needed it. We were not sailors. Peter and I both had over 10 years of boating experience, but not on the kind that had masts and keels jetting conspicuously straight up and straight down from the hull. Countless mishaps and horror stories were shared with us by each person we encountered, engraining the fear into us that we needed insurance, whatever the cost.

“You haven’t really sailed in Florida waters unless you’ve run aground at least once!” they would say…

You may be wondering, “do you really need insurance?” It’s a very personal choice. If you’re like us and just sold everything you own to sail away on a boat, then you’re probably leaning towards Hell Yes!  My go-to source of information over at CommuterCruiser.com has some excellent information about deciding on if you need insurance, and what types of insurance to consider. Everyone’s circumstances are different and the value of your boat may not be worth the annual premiums in the end. On the other hand, if you live on your boat in the Hurricane Belt, especially during hurricane season, it’s a pretty important investment. For those that do opt to get insurance, there are quite a few wrinkles to iron out first.

If you’ve ever tried to get insurance on a boat or a car for the first time, you know that pretty much no company wants to cover you. If you find a company that will actually give you a quote, they tack on an astronomical premium and require a bunch of other ‘stuff” to make it even more difficult for you to bind coverage. Since our boat is 35 years old, it made it even harder to find a company that would insure an ‘older’ boat. Some of the highly recommended companies wouldn’t offer us quotes at all simply due to the age of the boat.

I’m normally the one that takes care of all the paperwork but Peter wanted to take care of the research for our first insurance policy on the boat. Being as charismatic and handsome as he is, I don’t think he’s ever received this kind of rejection before! Albeit deflated, he found a policy with IMIS insured by Concept Special Risks that quoted us at about $3,000 for an annual premium. It was really our only option at the time. We had to have a licensed Captain be listed as an operator on our policy and that Captain had to sign a statement saying that Peter was capable of single-handing the boat.

Luckily, we knew just the guy to help us out. We hired Tom Crow (out of Burnt Store Marina on the West Coast of Florida) to come out sailing with us and we showed him we could safely operate the boat. Thanks Tom!! Granted, we were in the protected waters of Charlotte Harbor, but this was a piece of cake, we thought. Tom recommended we hang back for about a year (really?!)  to gain some experience on inland waters, but we had other plans…

After coughing up $3k for a policy we really didn’t understand, we set off on the beginning of our journey. In order to be covered, we thought we had to be below 12 degrees 40′ north latitude during hurricane season so we booked it through the Bahamas, DR, Virgin Islands and all the way down the Eastern Caribbean, barely scraping the surface of all the amazing places we wanted to visit. We arrived in Grenada for our first hurricane season sometime in June last year. August rolled around and we didn’t get new quotes in time to try to reduce our premium, but instead automatically renewed for something like $2,800. Again, we forked out the cash without fully understanding our policy. I tried reading the contract, but it just really didn’t make sense. Who really understands these contracts anyway?

This year, I decided to do my homework early and find some better quotes. I put feelers out in the many sailing groups on Facebook and started getting a few new agency names to contact. I also started researching some of the technical mumbo-jumbo that was in my first two policies in an attempt to actually understand what we are paying for.

While scouring the forums and Facebook comments about the topic at hand, I quickly learned I should be cautious of companies offering the lowest premium. As the old saying goes, “If it sounds too good to be true…” I even felt a little embarrassed to learn that there are some companies that are known for doing everything they can to NOT pay out on a claim. On the other hand, there are some companies with excellent reputations for swift claim handling and fair payouts. Needless to say, that amazingly low quote I found turned out to be from a company that was notorious for not paying on claims.

This wasn’t all I learned…

WHAT MARINE INSURANCE COMPANIES DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW 

In my research I happened to notice one gentleman who’s comment really stuck out to me. He said, “Be sure to ask if your policy has Consequential Damage. Consequent-what?! He mentioned busted through-hulls and sinking so I figured it was pretty important. Google led me to an article from BoatUS called Five Questions To Ask Your Boat’s Insurance Agent. It was written in 2011 but contains some very interesting things to consider.

After reading this article and getting down to business with some of the insurance agents I had received quotes from, here is what I learned about what Marine Insurance Companies Don’t Want You To Know :

Consequential Damage:

Catastrophic losses that include fire, explosion, sinking, demasting, collision or stranding are considered a “consequence.” For example, when your boat sinks due to a rusted, through-hull fitting breaking off, the sinking is a consequence of the broken thru-hull. This is a serious concern for older boats (like ours) where nearly every single part on the boat, down to every last hose clamp, has probably been replaced already or needs to be replaced soon.

“According to marine survey firms, leaks at through-hulls are estimated to be the cause in 18 percent of sinkings while under way. The numbers are worse at the dock, where failures of fittings below the waterline account for a full 50 percent of sinkings.”

 If a loss is caused by a clear-cut lack of maintenance, the company can deny a claim.  This is specifically referring to a total disregard of any type of maintenance such as leaving a boat unattended for months on end with bilge pumps not working due to dead batteries, or electrical wiring that is a clear fire hazard, or a boat anyone could look at and say “this is an accident waiting to happen”. The best thing to do is be extremely diligent and responsible with your regular maintenance and keep organized records. A reputable company that covers Consequential Damage will not try and deny a valid claim as they can be sued for bad faith.

The policy wording may not specifically say consequential damage is covered, but the exclusions would therein not list fire, explosion, sinking, demasting, collision or stranding, grounding, lightening strike or hurricane damage in an “All Risk” policy. If a policy does not cover Consequential Damage, it would specifically exclude this type of loss. If ever you are unsure, ask your insurance agent!! It’s their job to explain this type of stuff much better than I ever can. I can almost guarantee they won’t tell you about this item though, unless you ask. Our last two policies with IMIS/Concept did NOT include Consequential Damage and we didn’t have the foggiest idea it even existed.

Ask For Discounts:

Some insurance companies offer discounts for endorsements such as Boater’s Safety Courses, Captain’s licenses, and other US Coastguard approved courses completed. Most will offer incentives for applicants with 10+ years of boating experience and zero losses. If you don’t ask about discounts, no one is going to offer them to you.

It’s also usually cheaper to pay your premium from your checking account instead of paying by credit card. Someone is stuck with the credit card fee in every transaction, whether its you or the business you are paying. If you prefer to pay by credit card, find out if you will be charged an additional fee.

Variations in Coverage Values:

During the process of obtaining quotes from various companies, I noticed that some of them quoted me twice. Once for just a little above the value of our boat, and once for just a little lower. The premium difference was substantial with all other coverages the same. Why? I don’t know. But it’s worth asking your agent to play around with the insured value of your boat.

If you don’t receive the exact coverages you want, ask for them to be re-quoted. Some agencies quoted me with their standard $5,000 medical coverage but it didn’t cost that much more to increase it to $10,000. Some quotes included towing for no cost, some didn’t include it unless you asked about it. Same goes for Uninsured Boaters. If this is a coverage you want in your policy, make sure it specifically says it in the quote.

The agent you are working with should help you build a policy that suits your individual needs and wants. If you’re not happy with a particular coverage, talk to your agent. If you received a better quote from a different company, ask if they can match the quote. It doesn’t hurt to ask!!!

Pay attention to your deductibles also. Usually, named storms require your deductible to be doubled. This is typical, but if your hull deductible is already high, damage to your boat during a named storm might cost you more than you think. In our case, the highest chance of damage occurring to our boat is during a named storm, so this deductible is particularly important.

Just remember, if it’s not listed on your quote, it won’t end up on your Certificate of Insurance, and it won’t be covered. Cross those t’s and dot those i’s!!

Actual Cash Value vs. Agreed Value (copied verbatim from here):

When comparing physical damage coverage, the most significant difference that can be found among boat or yacht insurance policies is whether the coverage is based upon “agreed value” or “actual cash value”  (ACV) loss settlement. Agreed value policies normally pay the amount shown on the policy if the boat is considered to be a total loss.  Under such a policy, damage resulting from a partial loss is generally paid for on a replacement cost (new for old) basis, less your deductible; that is, physical depreciation will not be factored into determining the value of the lost or damaged items. However, some items that are subject to higher amounts of normal wear and tear, such as canvas, sails, trailers and some machinery, may be subject to allowance for depreciation in the event of a covered loss.

An actual cash value policy provides less coverage than an agreed policy, but generally at a lower cost.  An ACV policy provides coverage up to the current market value of the vessel in the event of a total loss, taking into account depreciation and the condition of the boat at the time of the loss.  Payments made for partial losses are usually reduced based upon physical depreciation of the lost or damaged items, and the policy deductible is also applied.

Claim Handling:

As I mentioned above, I was a little embarrassed to learn that there are some companies that are known for doing everything they can to not pay out on a claim. On the other hand, there are some companies with excellent reputations for swift claim handling and fair payouts. Needless to say, that amazingly low quote I found turned out to be from a company that was notorious for not paying on claims.

An insurance company’s reputation for claim handling can really only be measured by talking to other policy holders with claim filing experience. Of course every situation is unique, but generally speaking, some companies are just plain better to work with than others.

Individual insurance companies are backed by larger umbrella-type insurance companies such as Lloyds of London. It’s important to find out who your policy is insured by, and who they are backed by in the event that they cannot pay out on your claim. Smaller companies may have cheaper annual premiums, but they may not have the financial ability to actually pay out on a large claim.

Inside The Box:

For the most part, we had no issues with IMIS (other than the somewhat-expensive premiums and high deductibles). Al Golden and his team have literally the best reputation I could find in my research, and they have an excellent reputation for claim handling and fast payouts; another reason we went with them in the first place. What frustrated me was that for the two years we were covered through IMIS, we didn’t know that they actually covered us ‘Inside The Box’. I’m still not clear if our premium would have gone up, or if our deductible would have been higher, but the fact is, I didn’t even know it was an option.

What is ‘The Box’?  Most insurance companies won’t insure you if your boat will be within the Caribbean geographical box of  23.5 degrees North (Tropic of Cancer, Florida Keys) down to 12.4 degrees North latitude (Grenadines) and from 55 to 87 degrees West in effect between June 1 and November 1.

I chalk this one up to the fact that I never took the time to ask the question the right way to get a clear answer. I’m not blaming IMIS for not giving me a clear understanding of my options for coverage with corresponding price differences, but I am kicking myself for not taking the time to ask in the first place. We assumed we were not covered inside the box and therefore declared on our application that we would be south of 12.4 degrees North during the specified Hurricane Season. It’s not a bad thing, but we did a lot of rushing our schedule to get outside the box to make sure we’d be covered by our insurance.

Come to find out, there are more companies than I thought that will cover you inside the box for no additional cost. It’s very important to specify on your policy whether you might be in this box or not, even if you’re not sure, and find out what the price difference is, if any. Insurance companies can deny your claim if you don’t have the true navigational limits of your vessel declared on your policy before an incident takes place.

Liveaboard Coverage:

Again, it really pays to ask the right questions. Some companies charge extra for liveaboards, some don’t charge anything, and some simply don’t allow it. If you don’t specify this on your policy or falsely declare your true status, the company may deny any claims that arise on your behalf later on.

When we first bought our boat we were told by many people that “whatever you do, do NOT say you are liveaboards!!” Well that was terrible advice! We didn’t fully understand the nature of the issue and obviously neither did they. It makes way more sense to be honest about your liveaboard status and make sure it’s covered by your insurance. Anyone who reads this blog can find out in about 2.5 seconds that we live aboard full time. Why would we ever try to hide this from our insurance company, especially if they may deny a claim from us should we ever need to file one?!

In the end, it comes down to doing your own homework and not just listening to the guy on the boat next to you. He may not know what he’s doing either 😉

THE BIG DECISION 

After factoring in all this new information, I had to really see it all on paper in front of me. I drew out a quick chart by hand and began listing all the differences in coverage provided by the various quotes I received and narrowed them down to the top 5 choices. (Click on the photo below to see the quote details I received after narrowing it down to the top five choices.)

Insurance Quotes 2015

Since I was now getting intimately familiar with all this insurance mumbo-jumbo, I decided to delve a little deeper with IMIS and ask about their renowned Jackline policy from Markel American. Two years ago I thought all IMIS policies were the Jackline policy, but that is far from the truth. Our agent, Heather, provided some very helpful information in understanding the difference between our Concept policy and the Jackline policy they also offered. Some of the most striking things I learned were the following:

  • Though neither policy covers losses while the vessel is being used illegally, in the Jackline policy there is no absolute requirement that the vessel be in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations whereas under the Concept policy coverage is void if you fail to comply with any applicable law or regulation.
  • With Jackline, additional living expenses incurred due to temporary loss of use of the vessel as a residence is covered.
  • Coverage of diving equipment is not restricted with Jackline as it is under the Concept policy.
  • Covered personal property includes money, jewelry, watches, furs, china, glass silverware, antiques, collectibles, computer software or valuable papers unlike the Concept policy which excludes such items from coverage.

The Jackline coverages were nice, but the price tag was not.

Renewing our policy with IMIS through Concept would have been easy but our deductible was substantially increased and Consequential Damage was not covered. A new, very important item to us.

Craig at Novamar (quoted through Seaworthy) provided a much lower quote than IMIS and did include Consequential Damage. Craig was very pleasant to work with and very helpful in providing answers to all of my new and tedious questions about marine insurance coverage. We were about to sign on with him until we found a different quote from Pegasus that offered coverage inside the box at no additional cost, whereas Novamar would have increased our premium by 20% for these navigational limits. If we didn’t plan to be inside the box during hurricane season next year we would have strongly considered Novamar.

I discussed all of our options with Peter and we both agreed that The Pegasus Group offered by far the best value. The policy was backed by Lloyds of London directly, cutting out the middleman insurance company, and has an excellent reputation and rating. The deductibles were much lower than our existing policy and all the other limits were comparable. In fact, the named storm deductible from Pegasus is lower than our regular deductible from IMIS!  Lloyds offers deductibles as low as any company will go, standard hull deductible of 2% and a hurricane deductible of 4%. Most importantly, Consequential Damage was covered, there was no additional charge for being liveaboards, and there was no additional premium hike for staying ‘inside the box’ during Hurricane Season!! As an added bonus, Pegasus accepts surveys done anywhere from 3-5 years ago, instead of the typical 2-year maximum for new customers applying to other marine insurance agencies/companies. This was a huge factor for us because our last survey was dated July 2013 and we didn’t plan to haul out again until 2016.

We were referred to Pegasus by our friends Skeeter and Amy. They live aboard Saltwhistle, another Whitby 42 that we’ve been traveling with during the last few months. Now, we also highly recommend Pegasus and if you’d like to contact Kent for a quote, please tell him we sent you!!

pegasusThe Pegasus Group
Kent Urbine
www.thepegasus-group.com
thepegasusgroup@outlook.com

New coverage was bound with Pegasus just in time for our last policy to lapse. We agreed on coverage with a day to spare and sent in payment soon after. Kent was extremely helpful and very fast. We are pleased to say the least.

Our story, however, doesn’t compare to our perfectly-timed referral, subsequent switch to Pegasus and thousands of dollars saved by our friends Brittany and Scott from Windtraveler. I had been chatting over facebook with Brittany one evening as Hurricane Danny was forecasted to be a direct hit on their boat, Asante. She briefly mentioned she was just dropped by her insurance company as they suddenly decided to discontinue coverage for liveaboards! With a hurricane on the horizon and no insurance on their boat, I immediately urged her to contact our new agent, Kent Urbine to see if he could help. She tells the incredible story best so click over and read it in her words to get the full effect 🙂

A little bit of advice directly from Kent:

ALL companies will deny claims if you give them a reason to. This is why it is important to go with an agency that specializes in marine insurance to make sure the coverage is set up right. The most frequent reason I see claims denied are for the following reasons:

  • People obtain a named operator policy and they let someone else operate the boat who is not approved.
  • They go outside their approved navigational limits/area. We get three or four calls a year from people who tell us “Well I’m back in Maryland after a safe trip from Tortola.” We then remind them that their policy only covered them while in the Caribbean.
  • We get many, many tender thefts. Tenders are covered for theft, however they have to be locked when not in use and they cannot be towed. They can be towed but they are not covered when towing.
  • We have a lot of people set up their policy for Pleasure and end up doing charters without changing to a commercial policy.

Please know that we are in no way sponsored by Pegasus, nor do we receive any compensation for referrals to The Pegasus Group. I’ve sifted through a lot of info while writing this post and the selection we made was based solely on our personal needs and circumstances. In my research I came across a lot of articles written by insurance companies that appeared to have a significant amount of bias and ulterior motives for making themselves sound good. Do your homework and consider the source.

If you’re shopping for boat insurance, I sincerely hope my research will help you make an educated decision before forking out that cash to pay your premium. I cannot stress enough that you should take the time to research the various insurance companies and insurance terminology to make sure you understand what you are paying for. If you don’t ask the questions, no one is going to tell you the truth!!

Check the forums, reach out on Facebook, and ask other boaters about their experiences. Ask detailed and thorough questions to your prospective insurance agents and don’t let them get away with vague answers. AllThingsBoat published an article about comparing boat insurance that you might find helpful while learning the terminology. The companies reviewed are not the only companies out there, but it’s a good starting point. The Pegasus Group also has a helpful explanation of most insurance jargon posted on their website.

Definitely do all you can to prevent disasters from happening, but also make sure you are protected – just in case!

If you have any helpful insight that I may have left out or if you simply want to share your experience, please leave a comment below!

Cruising BVI: Sandy Spit

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We couldn’t take Dad and Stacy to BVI without taking them to Sandy Spit just off of Jost Van Dyke.

This little spit of sand and reef has made numerous appearances in all the fancy in-flight and travel magazines. The aerial shot they use even looks like a heart. How romantic, right?

If you get here early enough you can beat the charter boat guests and take a leisurely stroll around the whole island in total privacy. With just a few lonely palm trees and some greenery in the center, the crystal clear water comes bubbling up on the white sand and you immediately feel like you’re in total paradise. The sand is littered with tiny pieces of white coral and a few little tiny shells. In the right light, the sand even appears a little pinkish in color.

The reefs don’t have very much sea life among them, but the water is warm, clear and so refreshing. True island bliss.

There’s so many gorgeous photos, I love them all!! Take a peek for yourself…

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Stacy even found a coconut lying on the beach!

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After enough fun on our own private island, we launched the dinghy and headed back to the boat for some lunch 🙂

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Want to see for yourself? Check back with us soon for some exciting news to learn how you can visit this very place!! 🙂

Hurricane Danny

AL0415W5_NLhttp://www.nhc.noaa.gov/cyclones/

Well folks, it’s that time of year. The hurricanes are upon us. This is our second season hunkering down in Grenada where we hope to be out of the path of most of the cyclonic activity. Why Grenada? Many other cruisers in the Caribbean choose to take their boats south of 12-degrees for four reasons.

  1. Many insurance companies will only cover you “outside the box” from June 1 to November 1.
  2. Everyone else does it.
  3. Grenada is very cruiser-friendly and it’s a fairly convenient place to spend a few months while hiding from hurricanes.
  4. It is statistically safer than anywhere else in the Eastern Caribbean. There is a really neat interactive tool on the NOAA website showing the tracks of all recorded hurricanes throughout history.

Atlantic_hurricane_tracks_1980-2005www.spaghettimodels.com

Though there have been some devastating direct hits on Grenada, such as Hurricane Ivan in 2004, we generally have ample time to head south to Trinidad before we would be in the path of something so evil. I wrote an article about Hurricanes on the Horizon the other day on TinyHouseBlog. It also includes some interesting info about Kick ‘Em Jenny, the underwater volcano that we sail dangerously close to on the way to Grenada. Yep, you read that right, underwater volcano! Not only to do we have to watch out for hurricanes, we have to make sure we don’t sail our boat over the top of an active volcano. Boats don’t float on gas bubbles 😉

kej_3http://www.uwiseismic.com/general.aspx?id=27

Not too long ago we saw a disturbance near the Cape Verde Islands off of Western Africa begin to grow. Along with everyone else in the Eastern Caribbean, our eyeballs were suctioned on to the screens of our laptop and iPhone as we watched it grow into a hurricane. This is the fourth named storm of the season, though the first that really had any danger of coming for us. Danny has been slow moving and very hard to predict. He is undoubtedly aimed at St. Martin, The Virgins and Puerto Rico now but forecasters think he will fizzle back down to a Tropical Storm by the time he makes landfall.

While Peter and I are relieved that we won’t feel any effects from Danny all the way down here in Grenada, our thoughts and prayers are with all of our friends that are up island in his path. Our good friend Genevieve on S/V Necesse gives a first-hand account of what it’s like to prepare and wait. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to ram your floating home up into the shallow, dark mud of the mangroves with your family and all your belongings; tie off to the roots like Spiderman; throw out every anchor and fender you have; remove every piece of canvas and projectile object from the exterior of your boat; hope that creepy crawlies like cockroaches, rats and other bugs don’t invade your boat; praying that the forces of Mother Nature take mercy on everyone around you.

04L_tracks_latestwww.tropicaltidbits.com

That’s the thing with a hurricane – you just never know what might happen. Danny may decide to veer North or fizzle out and all that may be felt is the normal trade winds of 20-30 knots of wind. The price we pay to live in paradise… At least with a hurricane we are semi-mobile on a boat. It’s a lot harder to run from a tornado or earthquake.

So we wait. While Danny makes up his mind about what he’s going to do, we are watching two new disturbances that are scrambling to catch up to big brother Danny. A perfect storm? Let’s hope not. They’ve got a pretty strong chance of cyclone formation within the next 5 days so we’ll be watching intently from our cozy boat.

two_atl_5d0www.nhc.noaa.gov

In the event that any named storms decide to put a bullseye on our bow, we’ll be referring back to some of our favorite resources on Commuter Cruiser and The Boat Galley here and here. Both Jan and Carolyn give some very helpful tips to keep in mind while preparing for a hurricane.

I have these posted on my Resources page, but if your curious what weather sites we like to check on a daily basis, here they are:

  • National Hurricane Center – Tropical weather advisories from NOAA/National Weather Service
  • Mike’s Weather Page – Up to date tropical computer models, graphics, links and storm discussions at www.spaghettimodels.com
  • Current Storm Info – Global Tropical Cyclone and Disturbance Info from Tropical Tidbits, including predicted intensity graphics
  • StormCarib Satellite Images – Particularly helpful to see the tropical waves and Saharan dust coming off Africa towards the Caribbean Islands
  • WunderMap – Interactive Weather Map and Radar from Weather Underground, with radar images for the Caribbean Islands
  • Weather Underground – Weather Forecasts and Reports
  • Windfinder – Wind and Waves
  • WindGuru – Wind and Waves

For the most current updates, click LIKE on our facebook page! That’s where we post all the daily happenings right now 🙂

Cruising BVI: The Baths (round 2)

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In December we took Dad and Stacy to visit The Baths on Virgin Gorda. It’s by far one of the most spectacular places to visit in the Virgin Islands. If the weather isn’t cooperating, however, it can be difficult to visit by boat. Dad and Stacy were in luck, the weather was just right to pick up a day-mooring and swim in.

Each time I visit The Baths it’s more breathtaking than the last. It could be that I’m always looking for a pretty picture and this place is plum-full of them! As if this weren’t photo-overload enough, check out the first post I did on The Baths for a totally different perspective.

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Stacy, Dad and I swam in and stashed our fins in the bushes. The inner-Tarzan in Dad made a swift and limber appearance as he scaled a nearby boulder to find the perfect spot. I stood back and laughed a little knowing full well I was NOT going to follow. That one was just a bit too steep for my short, stubby, little legs.

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In we go!

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Can you feel the magic? This place is incredible. I’m so glad we timed it just right. Well, we planned for the perfect timing but Island Time ended up working in our favor instead.

Let me backtrack a bit to several hours before.

Knowing full well we’d visit The Baths next, we left Norman Island in the afternoon and anchored off of the West side of Cooper Island. The plan was to pull up our anchor before daybreak for arrival at The Baths at first light. We wanted to make it extra special for Dad and Stacy and we wanted to make sure to get there plenty early enough. Early as in 6:45. We know it can get crazy in there once the cruise ship passengers and charter boat guests start to arrive between 8 and 10am. We wanted to make sure there was no one in front of us, and no one behind us as we explored this majestic place all by ourselves.

Well, lets just say things didn’t work out as smoothly as we’d like. I turned on the engine, then the chart plotter and radar. Peter made his way to the bow to pull in our anchor chain with the windlass. Dad and Stacy were just waking up and thought we were crazy for leaving in the dark, yet they were super excited for what was to come.

All of a sudden Peter stopped the windlass. Shit. The anchor was stuck. “Must be wrapped around a piece of coral,” Peter mumbled into the walkie-talkie.

He had me motor around in a few different directions to see if we could dislodge the chain. What seemed to be an eternity later, Peter decided he had to dive it. IN THE DARK. We were in about 50′ of water and the sun hadn’t even begun to come up yet. A little sharky? Yeah, I’d say so! Dad wasn’t too excited to jump in either. So, we waited another 30 minutes until there was a little daylight. Peter took his new super bright underwater flashlight and his spare-air, then asked Dad to assist. Peter planned to dive down and unwind the chain while Dad stayed on the surface with a mask to communicate with me if I needed to pop the engine forward a jib or do anything else at the helm.

Peter’s an excellent diver but he was not happy about this little hiccup. I wouldn’t want to be the one to do it either. We could have just waited it out until full daylight when it would have been much easier to see, but then we’d be visiting the baths with boatloads of other tourists and waiting in line to get from one area to another.

What a guy! It took some serious underwater skills to unwrap that chain from the huge underwater boulder we had somehow swung around at night, but he did it. We were a bit behind schedule, but we would still get there at about 9-am.

Okay, back to our amazing day at The Baths…

Thanks to Peter and Dad braving it out a few hours before, we managed to sneak into our destination without anyone in front of us and without anyone behind us!! SUCCESS!!

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It’s hard to see, but this stairway leads into a little pool of water brought in by the tide…

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A view of Mary Christine with the mizzen sail up for stability on a mooring ball just outside The Baths:

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I had showed them the secret area that not everyone gets to see, but now they had to come back out…

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We made a new friend. This little guy followed us along the trails all the way to Devil’s Bay Beach. He didn’t seem to belong to anyone but acted like he’d been here a thousand times.

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I almost caught a photo of this little dog leaping off the rock into the water! Dad was ready to get the photo too, though he didn’t make a second leap.

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Cool creatures everywhere.

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All in all, we had an amazing morning!

Don’t forget to see all the photos from my first time through: The Baths

What is ONE word you would use to describe this place?

Celebrating Island-Style

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This past December, Stacy got to celebrate her birthday Island Style! We did a quick tour of the British Virgin Islands and Norman Island is where we took her for a nice birthday dinner.

If you’ve been on a boat in BVI but have never visited The Pirate’s Bight restaurant, you’re missing out. It’s a bit pricey but not more than any other local restaurant in the popular anchorages and well worth the splurge. I wish I took more photos of this place but we were to busy enjoying the scenery.

The food is incredible, the atmosphere is beachy and ever-s0-charming, and they even had a Christmas tree decorated in the lobby! Even the dinghy dock is impressive. The white sandy beach is clean and inviting and far enough away from the craziness over at Willy-T’s. We definitely prefer the relaxed beachy feel 😉

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Before leaving Norman Island we took Dad and Stacy to The Caves and did a bit of snorkeling nearby. Gunner and Betsy even got to share nap-time with Grandpa! 😉

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It was a fun stop on the whirlwind tour but little did they know, Dad and Stacy still had some pretty amazing places to see before we sailed back to St. Thomas.

Stay tuned for some gorgeous photos of Dad and Stacy’s adventures in Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke! (I’m currently catching up on old posts from the anchorage here inTyrell Bay, Carriacou. We leave for Grenada in the morning!

Adventures With Dad & Stacy

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When Dad and Stacy came to visit last December they had a blast learning to use the hookah dive system, playing with the underwater metal detector that they brought for us, fishing and hunting for lobster. They had a pretty cool vacation in the Caribbean if you ask me 😉

Take a look at some of the underwater fun we had…

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We’re currently in Carriacou, making our way down to Mt. Hartman Bay in Grenada this week. We’ll be catching up on publishing a LOT of photos over the next two months… stay tuned for more!!

Time To Head South

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Well boys and girls, the time has come for us to begin our journey South again. Where has the time gone?! We are two months into “H” season and before August is upon us we want to get down to the Windward Islands where statistically fewer named storms travel through.

If a ‘big one’ comes, we can race down to Trinidad with a few hundred other cruisers who will be watching the weather with us several times a day. The forecast for this H season is very light so we’re not too worried, though we are always cautious.

A favorable weather window has opened beginning this Friday 6.17.15. We’ll leave cozy Christmas Cove and sail up to Virgin Gorda, then point toward Guadeloupe and beyond!

Last year we made this journey at the end of June. You may recall how our first time through the OH-MY-GOD-A (Anegada) Passage went, but if you’re new to our blog, be sure to take a few minutes and read it here —> http://wp.me/p41bpr-IO

We definitely hope for a less eventful and more restful passage this time around.

If all goes to plan, our buddy-boat Necesse will be traveling with us. Eben will be returning this Thursday from a wild and crazy sailing adventure off the coast of Tanzania so he may want to wait until the next weather window before they follow in our wake. Either way, we look forward to many new adventures down island with them!

Only another week or two and we’ll be back at our FAVORITE place in the Caribbean, The Tobago Cays!

The Honest Kitchen: A better pet food

During a massive uproar about the class-action lawsuit against Purina/Beneful a few months back, our good friends on S/V Mirador had just lost their little dog Vanilla to complications that were potentially linked to feeding her Beneful, while devastatingly unaware of the concerns. The cruising lifestyle combined with being down in the islands makes quality pet food hard to find and even harder to afford. In a panic, I began researching the issue knowing we were (at the time) feeding our dogs the same thing. Beneful had seemed like the best option of dry dog food in stock on all the islands we had visited, and yet remained within a reasonable-to-high price range.

I’ve shared my home with dogs nearly all my life, though I never understood or even questioned the true importance of “quality dog food” until now. A few online discussions caught my attention and Peter and I both began spending countless hours researching safe dog foods and countless more hours finding out which ones were actually attainable in the US Virgin Islands.

Reviews and Recommendations:

We began noticing some trends in all the reviews. Grain-Free seemed to be the key in avoiding some common illnesses caused by many dry dog foods on the market. Overwhelmingly, I kept coming back to The Honest Kitchen. Though they do offer grain-free and gluten-free options, it’s not that important to select a grain-free formula from THK unless your pet has allergy issues. If selecting a regular dry food kibble on the other hand, your best bet for avoiding illness is choosing a grain-free formula.

Every review I found had only positive things to say about THK. Within hours of posting about our experience with Beneful, blog followers @wavetothewind (who contacted us on Twitter and even wrote a post about the food >>here<<) as well as S/V Irie on Facebook both gave us strong recommendations to give The Honest Kitchen a try.

Just recently, Reviews.com did an interesting study about the quality of ingredients in dog food. After reviewing all 2,219 formulas, they ended up with 119 dog food formulas — manufactured by 25 brands — that they confidently recommend.

The Honest Kitchen is one of those 25 brands.

Surprisingly, some of the brands many of my friends use back home didn’t make the cut because of ingredients:

  • Cesar
  • Chicken Soup
  • Eukanuba
  • Hill’s Prescription Diet
  • Hill’s Science Diet
  • Iams Veterinary Formula
  • Nutro
  • Nutro Ultra
  • Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets
  • Royal Canin
  • Nutro Natural

Dog Food Advisor states The Honest Kitchen Grain Free Dehydrated Food is “enthusiastically recommended as a superior dog food.”

The Honest Kitchen: Zeal made the shortlist of 22 Best Dry Dog Foods at PetFoodRatings.org

More about THK:

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If you visit The Honest Kitchen’s website, you’ll quickly learn they provide all natural human grade dog food and cat food products using dehydrated whole foods. Everything is produced in the USA from non-GMO produce, hormone-free meats and some organic, fair trade ingredients – all carefully sourced from around the world (and NEVER contain any ingredients from China).

They make dog food, cat food, treats and supplements with multiple options for grain free, gluten free and various life stages.

A rare approval by the FDA was given to THK certifying that their food is in fact human grade which means it is technically fit for human consumption. Standard pet food is made with ‘feed-grade’ ingredients by ‘feed-grade’ production methods and is unfit for human consumption. I was appalled to learn that ‘feed-grade ingredients’ can include by-products, chemicals, fillers and parts from ‘4D’ meats (animals which are dying, diseased, disabled or deceased)! We would never eat something like that so why should our pets have to?

Strict regulations are demanded of their suppliers and quality control testing is in place to ensure all THK products are safe.

So, why is it dehydrated?

THK explains all the benefits of dehydrating in comparison to processing kibble, canned, raw and homemade foods >>here<<. The actual process is described >>here<<.

We learned just how intricately connected pet food choices are to digestion issues, urinary tract and kidney issues, skin and coat problems, ear infections, body weight, energy levels and the overall health and longevity of our pets.

While the pricing for this food may seem steep, keep in mind a 10-lb box of THK dehydrated food is equivalent to a 40-lb bag of dry kibble food. We did the math and the numbers are very comparable, if not cheaper than other pet food products that have passed the same scrutinizing reviews shown above. To help ease the cost, there are several loyalty programs that give you free products based on the volume you purchase on a regular basis.

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Sustainability:

It has become increasingly important for companies and individuals to ‘go green’ and reduce our carbon footprint on our planet. THK is no exception. They have succeeded in many ways to do their part to reduce their pawprint!

They pride themselves on green production, green ingredients, green business and even green packaging that is 100% biodegradable and BPA-free.

allies-hero2THK Team and their four-legged helpers that share their office everyday

The ultimate pet food for living on a boat:

Not only do we believe The Honest Kitchen provides a better pet food than all the rest, it happens to only come in a convenient, space-saving size, perfect for living on a boat!

I’ve written before about how we store dog food in our tiny floating home, but we’re still limited on just how much we can store at one time. Now that we are committed to only feeding our dogs high quality food, we stock up with enough food to sustain Betsy and Gunner when we know we will be traveling.  For example, when we travel South to Grenada for Hurricane Season (July through November), there is absolutely ZERO quality pet foods available in the rest of the Caribbean. The Honest Kitchen food is long-life, shelf-stabile for up to 12 months at room temperature so stocking up for long periods of time won’t compromise the quality of the food. Storing SIX 10-lb boxes of THK food sure is easier than storing SIX 40-lb bags of dry kibble 🙂

Try it out FOR FREE!

I’m incredibly excited to share with you that I was accepted into the Ambassador Program for The Honest Kitchen!

As an Ambassador, I am able to provide a personalized link which will automatically apply a promo code to your online cart for a FREE sample pack (within the U.S.). Only a small shipping charge of $1 applies. All sample packs will also include an $8-off coupon for a future purchase!

1. Click through to my personalized link: http://bit.ly/1TnVAz0

2. You’ll see a pop-up message telling you the code has been successfully applied. Select the option from the drop-down menu that is best for your pet(s). The DOG pack contains two grain-free options, good for dogs of any age. Definitely try these if your pup has allergies or other sensitivities. The CAT pack contains one of each of the two cat foods available, both of which are grain-free.

3. After adding one of the sample packs to your cart, the promo will be automatically applied (if you use this special link). The cost of the sample pack will be zero and shipping will only be $1(within the US). All sample packs will include an $8-off coupon for future purchases! If you’d like to add additional sample packs to your order, a small fee will apply. Please let me know if you do not receive a confirmation email and I will send you a coupon code for the free sample instead.

Using this link gives you a no-strings-attached, risk-free opportunity to try THK, and using this link will also award my account with points which I can redeem for dog food for Betsy and Gunner! As a result, hopefully you’ll come to see the value in this awesome company and decide to make the switch for your own furry children as well as educating others about THK in the future.

Don’t forget to check the individual product page online to find out ‘how much to feed’ of each formula!

Though I don’t receive points for any future purchases made, I strongly endorse THK and hope you’ll continue to order from them when your sample is gone, as well as helping educate as many people as possible about the importance of healthy pet food. Please share this article with anyone else that may be interested!!

Shipping Info:

At this time, shipping is only offered to US addresses only. For orders to AK/HI/PR/USVI: A shipping charge between $2.50 and $5.00 will apply for the sample packs. The price of the sample is still free with the code for new customers though the shipping fee is required to these locations. For sample packs or product purchase orders to AK HI and PR, transactions can be made online. Orders for USVI must be placed over the phone by calling the Customer Service line at 619-544-0018.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. If you’ve tried THK before, leave a comment and tell us about your experience!

(All photos published with permission, compliments of The Honest Kitchen, available at www.thehonestkitchen.com)

Dad Comes To Visit

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In December, Dad and Stacy finally came down to visit us! Although they had never seen the boat in person, they were so excited to take a vacation and come visit us that they booked a whole three weeks!

Stacy was able to use timeshare credits for a smokin’ deal at The Elysian Hotel which is directly across from where our boat was in Christmas Cove. They spent the first three days of their trip with a view from shore. Palm trees, a sandy beach, good food, and iguanas! What more could you ask for?

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They spent a bit of time exploring on land after making friends with our favorite taxi driver, Yisrael, who moonlights as a jumbie dancer at Iggie’s.

Eventually it came time for them to move aboard and join us in Christmas Cove.

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We spent a day or two enjoying the clear blue water and took them on some snorkeling expeditions. Check out this tiny little fish that lives inside a hole in the coral… can you see him?

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Peter and I shared the beauty and peacefulness of the evenings with Dad and Stacy. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but photos still just don’t do this lifestyle justice. You’ve got to see it in person to really take it all in.

It was just the beginning of their trip but they had already seen so many beautiful moments. I can only hope this helps them understand a bit more about why I’m down here in the Caribbean instead of back in rainy Seattle where they came from.

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We sailed away from Christmas Cove toward the South side of St. John.

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“Sure doesn’t look like the daily commute you’re used to, does it Dad?”

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In the quiet little anchorage we settled in, we spotted deer swimming across the bay! They scattered up over the rocky shore and up into the hillside.

We spent the next couple of days enjoying the solitude of the South side and Dad was quick to pick up the nearest power tool to help Peter with a few urgent boat projects. Together they reengineered the brackets for our two new 155-watt Kyocera solar panels which would replace the two 80-watt panels that were on either side of our lifelines. The 80’s got moved up to the bow and rewired in series to add a little boost to our solar array, though they aren’t as efficient as they used to be.

The reason for the urgency to add more solar panels is because our two 105-watt Aurinco panels had both just failed. They are still both under warranty but the manufacturer is refusing to honor the 2-year 100% warranty and it has turned into a huge mess. We depend on solar power to run our systems on a daily basis and to have our two strongest panels both simultaneously fail after less than a years time, we couldn’t waste any time in replacing them with panels we could trust. It got to a point where we couldn’t run our 12-volt watermaker without having the generator on. Disappointing to say the least. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on all the details of this nasty mess and why we strongly discourage anyone from purchasing semi-flexible Aurinco Solar Panels.

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We took plenty of time to play around in the water and show Dad and Stacy how we like to spend our afternoons 🙂

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Gunner and Betsy got to go to shore and run around!

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Gunner usually needs a little convincing before he will swim around.

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And of course, Peter and Dad went fishing every chance they could 🙂 I don’t think I’ve met anyone that loves to fish more than these two.

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Stay tuned for more adventures from when Dad and Stacy visited back in December!

We’re currently back in Christmas Cove where I am working at Pizza Pi. We are preparing to head back down island to Grenada in just a few weeks. My oh my how the time flies…

Denali: More Than Just A Viral Video

This morning I woke up to make coffee, then sat down to check my messages on the computer. I kept seeing this video called ‘Denali’ appear in my feed. Normally I don’t stream videos because of the bandwidth it takes to watch them, however I had a feeling this would be worth the data. It’s about this surfer/photographer, Ben Moon, who (together with a director and cinematographer) made a gorgeous video dedicated to his dog, Denali. (The article on littlethings.com gives a little more perspective and background on the video, as well as why it is is narrated by the point of view of Denali. Check it out HERE.)

I hit play and waited for the video to load. Sure enough, within the first two minutes my eyes were welling up. With tears streaming down my face, I clicked to share this post with you.
It’s more than just a viral video that will make you cry too. It’s more than incredible photography and cinematography. It’s more than a love story between a man and his dog.
This is a video that hits home for me with impeccable timing. Take a few moments to watch the video and come back to read why I shared this.

Though Gunner was 12 when we first brought him to the boat, we knew the day would come, eventually, when he would need to say goodbye. Over the last few months it’s become apparent to Peter and I that Gunner’s days are numbered. 

He’s been my sweet boy since the summer of my senior year in high school. He went off to college with me and guarded our home when I went off to work. He’s been on many adventures with me and I never considered even for a second that he was too old or too big to come with us when we made the decision to move onto a sailboat and sail away.

I’m not gonna lie… It’s not easy having a 75 lb Weimaraner on a sailboat, let alone a senior dog who is having trouble with his hips and his bowels. He can still hold his bladder well but he’s quickly losing the ability to know when he needs to go #2. We’re keeping him on a tight routine for trips outside to go potty on deck and it’s still mostly manageable but we know the situation isn’t going to get any better. Accidents happen when we’re least prepared, like when we are sleeping, or when we are trying to anchor, or even when guests are coming to visit.

I’ve been struggling how to write about this for awhile now. How do you know when it’s time? How do you know how much pain they are in? HOW DO YOU KNOW?!!?

I’ve never been through this with an old dog before. I’ve never been the one to have to make the decision. I can only pray that Gunner will make it for me and let me know, as Denali did for Ben Moon.

Until then, we show him as much love as we can each and every day.