All posts by Tom

There are many people who reach their conclusions about life like schoolboys; they cheat their master by copying the answer out of a book without having worked out the sum for themselves.

–Soren Kierkegaard

We were spending two days in St. Barths so we had time on the second day to go on a Catamaran snorkel expedition.  We left the ship at 8:30 am and headed for the dock where the catamaran was waiting.  The boat had to zigzag through all the anchored yachts in the harbor and eventually we got close to the Wind Spirit.   Here I am on the bow of the boat with the big ship in the background.

We had a bit of a sail before getting to the bay where we were to snorkel.   Along the way we saw more of the huge, fancy yachts.  We also had a brief rain shower which was not a problem except worry about cameras getting wet.  Finally we anchored and people got ready to get into the water.  Here I am in the water with the snorkel gear.

There were refreshments on the catamaran, from rum punch to water with several types of beer available too.  Here’s Jan enjoying a Heineken.

At the same time we were on the catamaran, other cruise passengers were taking an excursion on “The Yellow Submarine”  It’s sort of a glass bottomed boat except it has a very deep draft and the underwater parts are all glass.  Those who went really had a good time and,  unlike a true submarine, it was no problem for those who were claustrophobic.

We were due to stay in St Barths harbor until 10:30 pm that evening before sailing back to St. Martin.

Since we were supposed to be off the ship early Saturday morning we didn’t take part in much of the ‘last day at sea’ action that evening.  Also for the same reason we had decided to take bus a tour of St Martin once ashore.    The tour made a couple stops in shopping areas on the island.  In one place I found this teddy bear who sums up our feelings pretty well.

At another stop we had time to enjoy the beach one last time.  This was the place where many of the larger cruise ships come in and had lots of interesting shopping.  Though we didn’t go in I found this shop rather intriguing.   Here are a couple of pictures of the beach and area around the bay.  One is a para-saill up a long way off the water.

Finally, here is a shot of the beach area itself which seems to stretch along the shore for a mile or more with bars, shops and restaurants all along the way.

Finally we returned to our hotel, the same one we had stayed at before our cruise.  Fellow passenger Ginni was also staying at the hotel and flying out on the same flight that we were.  We decided to go out for a nice dinner down by the harbor and picked a place called La Tropicana.  We had a very pleasant dinner and retired early as we had to leave for the airport at 6:00 am.

The trip home went smoothly and it appeared that much of the deep snow from before we left was gone.   It was nice to be home again.

We arrived at St. Barths around 8:00 am and anchored out in the harbor.  St. Barths is a wealthy island and some of the most spectacular and expensive ships come here. Here is our sister ship, the Wind Surf which was also in the harbor.  Anchored a short distance from the Wind Spirit was, what is called the most expensive yacht in the world. It’s simply named Yacht A.

The island is also well known among aircraft pilots for it’s tricky and demanding airport.  Here are some Google Images of the airport – note that the end of the runway goes right into the sea!

That morning Jan, I and two new friends Romaine and Warren caught one of the first tenders to the dock so we could take a taxi tour of the island.  One striking thing was everything seemed clean and in good repair, a contrast to other islands.  The taxi ride was spectacular.  Here is a map showing where we went that day.

Here is one of the many beach resorts on the island.  All of them looked like they were a minimum of four stars.   Probably quite expensive too.

And here is one of the smaller villages with a great view of the surf and a neighboring island.

Off one of these beaches there was a windsurfer doing his thing.  It looks like fun but I doubt my old body could take it. After the tour Jan, Romaine and Warren all wanted to go shopping but I decided to return to the ship, get a beer by the pool and read.

This was the night when Jan and I had reservations  at ‘Candles’, for a meal on deck with just the two of us.  We were hoping for a romantic evening but the ambient light on the ship spoiled the effect somewhat.

The next day was to be our Catamaran/Snorkel excursion.

We left Jost van Dyke at 4:00 pm on Feb. 8th and sailed for St. Kitts.  This was going to be a rather long leg of the voyage.  After we got underway the seas became rather rough and, for the first time in my adult life, I started feeling the onset of motion sickness.  By dinner time I was feeling poor enough to elect to skip dinner and just hole up in our stateroom.

I spent a rather unpleasant night but by morning I was feeling good again and ready for breakfast and our day on St. Kitts.  We had visited this island a number of years ago and at that time we climbed the dormant volcano (Mt. Liamuiga, formerly Mt. Misery)  shown in this picture.  On this visit we had a more leisurely activity planned.

At 8:00 am we departed the ship and were bussed to the starting point for the St. Kitts Scenic Railway.  This narrow gauge railway originally was used to transport sugar cane from the plantations around the island.

The railroad runs around the Atlantic side of the island and passes through some beautiful scenery.  Here is one of the black sand beaches visible along the way.  The tracks go through some rugged areas with ravines crossed by trestles.  If you click on this picture you can see one of the track maintenance cars crossing the trestle.

The train featured complementary refreshments, both alcoholic and non- and even had an a-cappella  choir singing both modern and traditional songs.  The second half of the tour was via bus through some of the towns on the Caribbean side of the island.

That evening there was a huge barbecue served poolside with music and dancing by the crew.  Later the passengers joined in the dancing too and everyone had a wonderful time.  We spent a long time that evening under the stars talking with our fellow passengers.  It was a very memorable night, unfortunately I had chosen not to carry my camera so I have no photos to show.

Our next destination was the French island of St. Barths where we were to spend two days.   We had a island taxi tour planned for the first day and a catamaran/snorkel excursion for the next.

More to come.

Jost van Dyle is a small island with about 140 residents and only got electricity in 1991 .  The locals say “The Main Street is the Beach.” We had visited there around 20 years ago and we were anxious to see how it had changed.  Here’s the Wind Spirit anchored in Great Bay.

We had no excursions scheduled for that day so Jan and I decided to hike up to one of the high points that overlooks a spectacular white sandy beach called White Bay.   As we started out we passed this interesting place.  Click on the thumbnail so you can read the sign.

We had started out fairly early but it became quite warm and the climb was strenuous.     When we got to the top we really could not see the Bay because of trees lining the road.  So we kept going…

Eventually we got to the bay and, more importantly, a beach bar called The Soggy Dollar. The name came about because the shallow water prevents direct landing of boats there and so the sailors would swim ashore to get a beer, getting their money wet in the process.  We had some much needed beer and then found a taxi to take us back to Great Bay where the ship was anchored.

We had the cab drop us off at Foxy’s Bar, which was one of the few places that was on Jost van Dyke when we had been there earlier.  There were a number of other people from the ship there already and we joined up with a group of them.  From left to right; standing Judy, Ginni and Jan; sitting Romaine, Warren and me.  This picture was taken with Romaine’s camera and used with her permission.

More to come.

The ship was scheduled to depart for Tortola at 6:00 pm but was delayed due to some late arriving passengers.  We used the time to unpack and relax by the pool.

We arrived at Road Town, Tortola around 8:00 am and, after breakfast Jan and I decided to go ashore and explore a little.  Since it was Sunday, few of the shops were open and there was not a lot happening other than the local church services.

We wandered around and saw a number of shops that might have been interesting, had they been open.  One place that caught our eye was this restaurant.

This was “SuperBowl Sunday” and the television reception onboard ship was poor at best. The captain had decided that he needed to change the cruise itinerary in order to get to a place where passengers could watch the game.    The ship would sail for Virgin Gorda and the Crawl Pub at Bitter End Yacht Club.  Due to the distance to cover, the ship would sail at 2:45 pm.

Here is the view of the harbor at Virgin Gorda as we came in around 5:00 pm.

Jan and I decided to not go ashore that evening and instead had dinner on board with some other passengers who were not football fans.

Our planned “Land-Sea Excursion” for the next day (Monday, 02/07/11) had been canceled because of rough seas so Jan and I decided to take advantage of some hiking trails near the Bitter End Yacht Club.  It was a fun hike but we had to turn around when the trail got too steep and rocky for Jan’s sandals.  Here is one view from the trail.

Following our hike we took the tender over to Prickly Pear Island for the beach barbecue being put on by the ship.  We staked out a shady spot and checked out the beach.  It was beautiful but I think we don’t enjoy sitting on the beach as much as we did when we were younger.

That evening we sailed for the island of Jost van Dyke at 4:00 pm.  After watching the sails go up  we had dinner with four fellow passengers and, as usual, we had a great meal and great conversation.

More to come.

Last year we had to cancel out ‘Big Trip‘ to Australia for medical reasons.  So we decided that this winter we would go on a simpler vacation to someplace warm as a sort of a test run to see how well I can manage traveling now.

We chose another WindStar cruise as we had enjoyed them in the past and knew they would do things right.  We chose the cruise on the Wind Spirit from St. Martin which visited  Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost van Dyke, St. Kitts, and St. Barths.

Of course it was winter in the mid-west and the weather did its best to spoil our plans.  We were scheduled to fly out on February 4 and a huge storm hit on Wednesday, the 2nd!  Our route was through Chicago O’Hare which was shut down by 2 feet of snow and high winds.  We looked for alternatives and kept hoping that things would be back to normal by Friday.  The short version–our plane left Cedar Rapids two hours late on Friday and we just made our connection in Chicago.  In Miami we had another tight connection but managed to get on the plane to St. Martin with some time to spare.  After we were in the air we both sighed with relief and had a couple glasses of wine.

It was late when we arrived on St. Martin so we did not see much of the island that night.  We were not scheduled to board the ship until after noon on the next day so we had time that morning to explore the area around our hotel – The Hotel Beach Plaza.  It was a beautiful area and the hotel appeared very nice.  Unfortunately it was, in our opinion, rather poorly run with poor service and no information about the services available.

Around 1:00 pm we were picked up from the hotel and taken to the ship.  Check in on board went smoothly and we soon settled in by the pool for the buffet while waiting for other passengers to arrive.

More to follow.

This is a more-or-less straightforward list of software I use on Windows and, briefly, why.  From this list you can see I generally find something that I like and keep using it.  I’m also a big fan of free software.

  1. Firefox web browser.  I like it because it’s not IE, because it is free, and because it is customizable with a large number of plugins to do nearly anything you want.  For example, I use a plug-in called Style Sheet Chooser Plus.  That allows me to revert to simple formatting when some web designer does something ‘artistic’ and unreadable on their page.
  2. Forte Agent for e-mail and newsgroups.  It’s simple and above all, supports plain text email which is frugal of bandwidth and much safer than HTML email.  I must say that I use an older version as this program has suffered from creeping elegance in later versions.
  3. Media Player Classic for playing video and some types of streaming audio.  Again it is simple and it is free.  Not bloated like Windows Media Player is now.
  4. Open Office For word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and everything else that MicroSoft Office does, only it is free and open source. It can read most Office file formats and can produce files that are compatible with Office.  No need to pay the Micro$oft tax to do normal office work. Continue Reading

New Truck

When I retired in 1998 I bought a new Nissan pickup truck.  It’s been a faithful machine and done a lot of jobs for both Jan and myself.  But 12 years is a long time for a truck that is subject to Iowa winters with road salt and grime not to mention the wear and tear that comes from living on a gravel road.

So, we decided to replace the old truck, but it had served us so well that we decided to get something as close to it as possible.  It turns out that, like many things, motor vehicles are subject to “creeping elegance.”   Larger engines, more bells and whistles and overall gentrification.  What we finally settled on was another Nissan Frontier king cab 4×4 with manual transmission (I don’t drive automatic transmissions, but that is another post.)

The differences between the old and the new were fairly significant.  The new has a 6cyl engine while the old one was a 4 and as a consequence the gas mileage will be slightly lower.  The old one had a 5-speed transmission while the new one is a 6-speed.  The old one had manual hubs while the new has automatic hubs.  Overall the new truck is a little bigger and a little roomier that the old.

Below is the old truck:

While here is the new one:

Not that big of a difference from the outside, other than lacking the decals (which I never liked).  Inside there are more changes.  One of them that will cause me a little extra work is that there are fewer good places to mount my radios in the new truck.  I think I have that figured out but, until I actually do it, I am not certain.

I’ll add a follow-up when I’ve installed the radios and gotten a little more used to the new truck.

QSL Cards

In this post I try to explain another aspect of Amateur Radio for my non-ham readers.  One interesting part of Amateur Radio is the practice of exchanging QSL cards to verify an over the air communication.  QSL cards are postcards containing the details of the contact such as date, time (UTC), signal strength (RST) and call letters.  Some cards are extremely ornate while other hams (like me) opt for plainer and less expensive cards.  Here is what my personal card looks like.

One of the reasons the practice of sending QSL cards thrives is that many radio awards require proof that the applicant has actually contacted the station they claim to have communicated with.   There are numerous ways to exchange QSL cards.  The most common ways are by direct mail to the address of the station worked or to a QSL manager for that station.  Clearly this could get rather expensive in terms of outgoing and return postage.   To help with this cost there are QSL Bureaus where a ham can send cards in bulk to a central outgoing bureau in their home country.  That bureau then collects and sends them on to the corresponding incoming bureau in the destination country.  There they are then distributed to the individual ham operators.  This process can save considerably on postage costs but the downside is that the whole process can take a year or more before receiving the desired card back.

Here is an example of some of the QSL cards I have received from various places. (Click on the thumbnail to see a larger version).  Over the years I have collected thousands of cards from all over the world.  In fact filing and storage gets to be a bit of a problem.   I often enter radio contests and I can get a large number of incoming cards a few months after the contest.