Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Walk up Heartbreak Ridge

After getting anchored at scenic Prickly Bay, we decided to explore the main town of St. George's. This involves a dingy ride to a restaurant called de Big Fish, then a short walk past the Spice Island Boatyard and down to the roundabout where you pick up a local #1 bus which heads into town. Local buses are privately owned in Grenada and are very entrepreneurial. If you are walking anywhere near the road they will give you a shout out. If they are going the other way they will turn around. It’s a highly efficient system that works well in practice and costs only 93 cents.The only downside, the driver gets to chose the music, and the speakers are big and loud.

St. George's climbs up the hillside to several churches.

A wide variety of strange things can be bought at the market according to this little boy.

St. George's, the main city in Grenada, clings to a steep hillside and spills down to several small lagoons along the seaside. We visited on a Saturday, Market Day, so the streets were full of locals searching for bargains at the various stalls. We’re always amazed at the variety of goods offered for sale and the throngs of people filling the streets. Many Grenadian's get their clothes, shoes, food, and a plethora of other goods from street vendors.

Grenada Chocolate, the creation of the late Mott Green.

While walking along the waterfront we happened along a small shop selling the famous Grenada
chocolate. It’s an interesting story of an eclectic American student, Mott Green, who dropped out of Penn State in his senior year and became a squatter in Philadelphia.  He was well known for his ability to tap into the power grid to illegally power the squatter’s houses. He eventually ended up in Grenada where he organized the local farmers to process their cocoa. He wired the entire factory with solar (using his previous electrical skills) and slept in a small one room house even as the company gained international recognition for its chocolate. Sadly he recently died at age 47 from electrocution while doing some wiring.
Fort St. George's, made famous in the Clint Eastwood film "Heartbreak Ridge."

"Oh mon, God will tell you how much to donate for my fee."

We continued south along the waterfront and began climbing a steep hill up to Fort St. George, an ancient French fort that dominates the town. This is the fort made famous by the US invasion of Grenada in 1983 and later in the Clint Eastwood film, Heartbreak Ridge. As we labored up the hill under the burning sun a local guide approached us. “How much does a tour cost.” “Oh, mon, God will tell you how much to donate for my fee.” The tour was interesting and highlighted damage from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and more importantly, the location of the mass execution of the then Prime Minister of Grenada, Maurice Bishop and 12 members of his cabinet in 1979.

The short version was that after Grenada gained independence in 1974, a new Prime Minister, Eric Gary, attracted investment capital from around the world to begin a massive redevelopment (the result of unrepaired damage from Hurricane Janet in 1955). Gary had a very authoritarian style that wasn’t popular with the people and his administration was rife with corruption and nepotism. As a result he was overthrown by a popular lawyer, Maurice Bishop. Bishop, who was described to us by locals as a good guy, unfortunately surrounded himself with Cuban advisors who encouraged him to build the strategically important Salinas airport (with a huge, oversized fuel depot more suited to a military airport, thereby raising suspicions of the locals as to its real intent.) The Cubans brought in Russian advisors and Cuban troops began showing up on the island. A rumor was that 10,000 Soviet troops where scheduled to arrive. The Cubans and Soviets were strongly disliked by the locals, who rebelled and imprisoned Bishop and his cabinet. 
Passageway to cell that held cabinet ministers.

Cell in Fort St. George's where cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, spent their last days.

A brass plaque stands as remembrance at the site of the killings of the Grenadian cabinet and Prime Minister.

At one point locals took Bishop out of his cell, and along with his cabinet, lined them up along a wall of the Fort St. George and shot them. As you can imagine, the potential of Soviet troops and missile emplacements in the strategic Grenada area gave President Regan apoplexy, and in 1983, under the pretense of “rescuing the American medical students at St. George's Medical School,” (who didn’t need to be rescued), Regan sent in the Marines who routed the Cubans after a few days of fighting. The US then supported a more conservative government and as a result, Grenada seems to be one of the few foreign countries that welcomes Americans with open arms.

The Carenage, the fishing and commercial port of St. Georges.
After the tour of the fort, and in between sporadic rain showers, we continued walking along the waterfront. There are two lagoons in St. George's, the main fishing and commercial port called the Carenage and the swankier Port Louis Marina port.

The Port St. Louis Marina.

At one point we stopped to listen to a local guy in front of a bar playing a single steel pan drum, who was very good. We really want to find a festival or such to listen to steel pan bands, some of the best in the world are from Grenada and Trinidad.

After walking some more along the waterfront we finally gave in and caught one of the ubiquitous mini-buses back to our dingy at de Big Fish. It had been a long, hot day and we were ready for a nap.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

On the Way to Prickly Bay

We left Carriacou early in the morning for the long sail down the east coast of Grenada. We sailed on a close reach in about 15 knots of wind, a fair wind for this passage. We had debated about going down the leeward side of the island where the seas would be milder, but our previous experience was the lighter and variable winds in the lee of the island’s mountains made the winds erratic and sailing more difficult.

The 36-mile sail down the east coast of Grenada to Prickly Bay.

As we approached a the Les Tantes and Ronde Islands to starboard, we noticed the seas were getting steeper and the wave periods closer. Apparently a major ocean current rushes between these islands and the north tip of Grenada, making the area notorious for rough water. Escape Velocity was an hour behind us so we radio’d to them about the deteriorating sea conditions. They wisely opted to bear off and sail down the west side of Grenada in calmer waters.

Once we were past the northern tip of Grenada the sea conditions moderated and we enjoyed a brisk sail, moving along at about 6 to 7 knots in the fresh breeze. Since we weren’t that far offshore, we marveled at the spectacular views of the green mountainous terrain of Grenada, with the mountain tops peaking out from the clouds from time to time and the waves crashing up on the rocky shoreline.

At around 3:00 pm we rounded a headland and headed into Prickly Bay, one of the more popular anchorages on the southeast side of Grenada. The southeastern end of Grenada is blessed with a number of long, protected bays giving the cruiser a wide variety of anchorages. We found a good spot just off St. Georges Universities’ beach club in about 30 ft. of water. While there was some surge coming around the point, the anchorage was well protected. Approximately 100 boats filled every nook and cranny of the harbor, but it was a large enough area that we didn’t feel crowded.

Prickly Bay Marina.

Prickly Bay seems to attract many American boats, while the nearby Hog Island anchorage attracts boats with kids (given the active kid’s programs on the nearby beach) and Clarks Court Bay has a mix of European and South African boats. The advantages of Prickly Bay were two good restaurants, De Big Fish and Prickly Bay Marina, both of which are very cruiser friendly, and more important, a Budget Marine store right behind De Big Fish. We made many trips into Budget getting various parts and supplies; they have a good selection and the staff is very helpful. They also have a program so cruisers don’t have to pay the 17% value added tax (VAT) charged to locals.

Dry storage yard at Spice Island Marina.

There is a large boat yard, Spice Island Marina, where you can haul your boat out for long-term storage during the hurricane season. I’ve never seen a boatyard jam so many boats into such a limited space, but the more tightly packed the space the safer the boats are in hurricane force winds.

Historic hurricane routes. Grenada lies just south of most tracks.
Why are we in Grenada in the first place? Most insurance policies require that boats be south of 12º during hurricane season. Grenada is generally safe from the path of hurricanes, with the exception of Hurricane Ivan, which devastated the island in 2004. Most hurricanes are formed as lo’s off the coast of Africa near the Cape Verde Islands, and travel with the trade winds across the Atlantic. Generally, they begin to turn north to northwest before they hit the area of Grenada.

We had originally planned to leave the boat in a marina in Grenada for the month of July while we traveled back home to Seattle, but a neighbor boat convinced us we’d sleep better at night if we sailed 80 miles south to Trinidad and hauled the boat out.

Devastation from Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

We looked at photos of the boats in the Grenada marina, all of which were destroyed during Hurricane Ivan, and decided that even if the hurricane risk was minimal in Grenada, that we would sleep better at night with the boat in Trinidad which is rarely touched by hurricanes.

The salvage tug Flying Buzzard with the burnt hull of a 57-ft custom yacht in Prickly Bay.

There are always risks when you sail, but you try to minimize the ones you have control over. A stark reminder of that was the burned-out hull of a 57-ft. custom sailing yacht that was tied off to a salvage tug just behind us in the harbor. Apparently a week earlier the boat had caught fire in the middle of the night, and while the crew was lucky to get off as thick smoke filled the cabin, unfortunately, there were no boats with fire fighting capabilities so the boat burned to the gunnels. We later met some cruisers in Trinidad who were friends with the British couple who owned the boat and they told us more details of the incident. Apparently the occupants were very lucky to have gotten out alive. Many of the countries we cruise in simply don’t have the rescue/firefighting resources that the US and European countries have to ensure the safety of their citizens. This is why cruisers are so highly dependent on each other for safety and security.

We’ll spend the next couple of weeks exploring Prickly Bay and St. George’s before heading south to Trinidad for our haul out. For now we’re just enjoying reaching our destination after a long, windward sail from Block Island, RI down the coast of the US, through the Bahamas and Exumas, and finally the Leeward and Windward Islands.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Simon Shows us Carriacou

Carriacou is a Carib word meaning "island surrounded by reefs" and today has managed to maintain its charm and character primarily due to being off the beaten tourist track.  It has lovely protected anchorages and fine beaches and has become very popular with cruisers.  We also learned it is easier to find a rum dealer than a fuel dock as they have a tradition of smuggling alcohol that goes way back in time.

Since we’ve been in Tyrell Bay we have explored the small town from one end to the other and discovered a number of good restaurants, a dive shop, rum shops everywhere, but had had little opportunity to see much of the small island.   Simon, a local guide, would come by in his boat and ask cruisers if they wanted to have an island tour.  We thought, why not and negotiated a tour for four at an unusually low price and asked EV if they would like to join us.  So we are all set and meet Simon in town at 9:00 am the next morning.  When he pulls up in his little two-door car we look at each other quizzically and see four-seats and wonder where the fifth person will sit?  Being the adventurous (and thrifty) travelers that we are we somehow managed to squeeze ourselves into the car.  Jack being over 6 ft. tall sat up front with Simon (who I might add is no light weight), Marce sat on my right and Walter on my left and my buns shared a tiny little space from each seat as I straddled the center hump and then off we went.

Marce & Meryl a little too cozy

Up and out of the car to see the view

We headed initially along the West side of the island through the busy town of Hillsborough. The car often strained on the way up hills but we managed to continue on toward the northern end of the island and over to the eastern coast to a beautiful lookout point.  We quickly got out of the car for a much needed stretch, and walked about taking in the scenery and asking questions about the island.  We could see Le Petite Martinique off in the distance and wondered if we might be visiting that island someday by boat.

Le Petite Martinique
Our guide Simon.
Photo op with Marce and Jack off Escape Velocity.
On the way back we stopped at a wonderful little shop called Fidels that operates out of a ship's container.  It has some of the most creative and artistic handicrafts we have seen in the Caribbean.  Local artists use natural objects like turtle shells, seashells, coconuts, etc. to make colorful and beautiful pieces of art.  They also hand paint and print great t-shirts.  I could have spent a fortune getting gifts for my grandkids and family.  I did buy a lovely bracelet for my daughter for her birthday -- not so easy to do with all the many choices.  We also learned that Fidels has a web site and another store in Grenada so we’ll have to visit that one too.  

Fidel's small shop in Carriacou.

Something for everyone.
Grenadian's call it a Flamboyant Tree (also known as Royal Poinsettia).
Fisherman cleaning his daily catch

We thanked Simon for the tour and decided to go to lunch at the other restaurant on the water called Slipway down by the marina.  We sat with Jack and Marce and enjoyed a lovely lunch as we shared adventures and got to know each other better.  

Marce and Jack at Slipways

Most of us had healthy fare of Pasta, bok choy, garlic, and beans

We are learning cruisers are a very interesting and diverse group of individuals.  With the wonderful common thread of sailing and living side by side, it doesn’t take long to make lasting friendships.  It was a great ending to a great day.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Another Big Birthday!

Today is a very special day we will celebrate for the 66th time!  It can be difficult when you are out cruising as you never know where you’ll be or who you might be with at any given time or special occasion.  It was nice to know we were among friends and had found a great little place to celebrate Walter’s Birthday in Carriacou.

Jack & Marce on Escape Velocity and Sara, Mark, Elizabeth, Michael & Beatrice on Field Trip all met up at The Lazy Turtle for pizza and some homemade cupcakes to help us celebrate Walter’s further steps toward old age!  After some drinks and pizza we sang “the birthday song” and toasted to Walter’s special day. 

Beatrice and Field Trip helping Walter celebrate

Elizabeth & Michael on Field Trip had created a beautiful hand painted card and wrote a very sweet poem for Walter.  Elizabeth stood up and read it out loud to us all and we thoroughly enjoyed the personal little details and the thoughtfulness that went into creating the card. 

Elizabeth & Michael's creative card

Walter, was so tickled he still has it in full view on the ledge by the settee onboard.  It is always the homemade gifts that really make us smile.   Thanks to all our “yachtie” friends for making it a very special birthday for Walter.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Trades Carry Us to Carriacou

Much as we were enjoying Dominica, we realized we needed to continue moving down the Caribbean island chain to our goal of Grenada before July 1st to keep our insurance folks happy. We decided to save Rosseau, the capital of Grenada and larger port city for next seasons visit.Escape Velocity had already left for Rosseau to explore further and Field Trip was ready to head south as well so we decided to leave together and sail down to Carriacou, part of the Grenadian Grenadines. The distance is approximately 180 miles requiring an overnight sail and passing Martinique, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent.

We hoisted anchor at 7:00 am with typical weather trades of 15-18 knots in the forecast. The most difficult issue from the start was the fact we were in the lee of the island and therefore in very light winds.Adding the high mountains of Dominica into the equation, we were further affected by light winds.

Early morning squalls off of Portsmouth on the way to Carriacou.

We started off trying to get far enough away from the island to get more wind and managed to keep moving along. Once we reached the southern tip of Dominica we had some stronger winds compressing and curving around the island jetting us along, commonly called the "cape affect".  Now we were really moving averaging well over seven knots.  We had more than enough wind and decided to pull in the genoa to a reef point where we were more balanced.  It was also easier on the autopilot trying to keep us on course in the stronger gusts and easier on us as we could relax a little more. We settled into our three hour watches as the evening approached.

Our buddy boat, Field Trip, sailing at a brisk pace.

We couldn’t have had a more beautiful night and as I gazed up at an idyllic moon lighting our path; it was a special moment of thanks to be where we were at that exact moment and have been so fortunate to experience these past years.

Moonlit path guiding us along our course
No lack wind for the rest of the trip as we sailed past Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and down past Bequia and the Grenadines until we finally reached Carriacou, Grenada. We had one of our best passages to date with no motoring required, the best of weather conditions, and in the end we were only about an hour behind Field Trip.Competition aside, catamarans can really get moving on a beam reach so it can be hard for monohulls to keep up. They can't touch us,  however, when we are close hulled and pointing into the wind. Only problem was that Customs was closing at 4:00 pm and we got to the harbor at 3:30 pm without enough time to get anchored and dinghy into port to clear.No worries as the Aussies say, we grabbed a mooring ball off of Sandy Island close by and called it a day.After 20.5 hours of sailing we were ready for a couple sundowners and a little feet up time.We relaxed and enjoyed the sunset and planned to clear customs in the morning and then head over to Tyrell Bay.

Another spectacular sunset.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Kicking Around Portsmouth

Some days you just want to kick back and explore, and Portsmouth was a good town for exploring. Dominica on the whole is one of the most beautiful and resource rich islands in the world, but it is still essentially undiscovered and as a result, is a very poor country in economic terms. It doesn’t enjoy the subsidies from other countries such as its French neighbors; it doesn’t have a burgeoning cruise ship business like the US Virgin Islands or charter yachts like the BVIs; and doesn’t have an industrial base like Trinidad. It just has some of the most beautiful forests, mountains, and beaches, and some of the most wonderful, friendly and industrious people of any of the islands we’ve visited. Progress is being made.

Denny the Magnificent.

We talked earlier about P.A.Y.S., the local guide association formed to help regulate the boat boys and set standards for service. Now, instead of being inundated by boat boys the minute you round the corner, you can establish a relationship with a local guide based on recommendations from other cruisers or ads placed in cruising guides. The Saturday night BBQ put on by P.A.Y.S. is a good place to mingle with the guides and meet fellow cruisers.

We were always amazed by the entrepreneurship of the locals on Dominica. Michael would paddle out on his paddle board to take our garbage into shore, Alexis handled our overland and boat tours, and the most industrious, Denny, became Meryl’s favorite when he returned time after time on his paddle board or a borrowed boat to bring her various fruits such as guavas, mangoes, and coconut.

The first couple of coconuts were not the drinking type, so he returned later in the day with a new batch. He jumped on our boat and proceeded to give us a lesson on how to properly open a coconut with a machete. I would have definitely cut off my hand if it tried that. It’s important to note that it’s about a ¾ mile paddle out to the boat in the pouring down rain.

Later that day, waiting until the rain abated, we took the dingy into the fisherman’s dock to explore the local surrounds. Portsmouth is not a yuppie town like Terre Haut in Ile des Saints; it’s a working class town with several small grocery stores, some millinery shops, a couple of non-descript restaurants, and one small hardware store.

As we walked from shop to shop the rain squalls would roll down off the mountain and everyone would duck into the next overhang and wait out the deluge. Some would pull out umbrella or even elephant plant leafs and hurry to their next destination.

We're still not sure what it was, maybe some ex-pat architect's drug-induced dream.
Getting away from Main Street we wandered down some back alleys and found the most amazing pink house. We’re still not sure what it was, maybe some ex-pat architect’s drug induced dream.

For some reason this strikes me as a great name for hip-hop group.
Other areas were just run down, a result of the lack of opportunity and jobs in what is essentially a third-world country. Slowly the Dominican’s are getting their act together. During the season a cruise ship visits the island; eco-lodges are being established in the mountains, and more goods and services are being made available. Like a championship football team that’s fallen on hard times, it’s a country that you want to root for and hope them the very best.

They deserve it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fort with a View

When people marvel at how green Washington State is, I'd have to remind them that "its because it rains all the time." Dominica is much the same. The mountain peaks were constantly shrouded with sullen rain clouds, ready to rush downslope at a minute's notice to drench cruisers and townspeople alike. After a while, you accept the fact that at any minute it could start raining, sometimes torrentially, and then you go about your normal, albeit somewhat wet, life.

One such rainy day we choose to visit Fort Shirley, located on a ridge overlooking Prince Rupert Bay where our boat was anchored. The fort is in Cabrits National Park, which includes a large marine park and wetlands (source of tenacious mosquitos that eventually got the capital of Dominica moved from Portsmouth to Roseau years ago). The park now has a large cruise ship dock, and in season is inundated by thousands of rampaging tourists straight off the boat.

The original stone road up to Fort Shirley.

We visited late in the day and virtually had the park to ourselves. For some reason we didn't expect much, we just wanted to get off the boat on a rainy day, but we were very pleasantly surprised. We walked up a long stone road, through the fort's main gates, and around the corner to a beautiful view of the fort with an expanse of green lawn sweeping down the hill. The purpose of the fort and it's long cannons was to protect the British ships anchored in Prince Rupert bay from the marauding French, Spanish, and various privateers. At its peak over 600 men were garrisoned at the fort.

Drawing depicting what Fort Shirley looked like in the early days.
The fort has a unique historical presence for on April 9, 1802, a mutiny of the all black 8th West India Regiment broke out at the fort. As a result of this mutiny, over 10,000 slave soldiers in the British Army were freed. It was the first act of mass emancipation in the British Empire.

We wandered around the various stone buildings, some of which were renovated in 2006 and now used for weddings, receptions and concerts. The view from the Officer's Headquarters and the gun emplacements was beautiful, encompassing the breadth of Prince Rupert Bay. There was also a lot of tropical flora on the site, including teak trees and a huge Silk Cotton Tree with branches at 90° angles.

Silk Cotton tree.

Aware of the lateness of the day, we walked down the stone road to a pathway climbing up an adjacent ridge housing the Captain's House and gun emplacements at the top. The Captains' House was a real treat; a once proud mansion nestled in an overgrown jungle setting now on verge of collapse. If they ever film Conrad's Heart of Darkness, this would make a good location.

The trail climbed up at a very gentle grade (remember they had to haul those large cannons up to the top using mules or horse trains. As it got darker and darker it got spookier and spookier. Every once in a while a lizard would startle us as it scooted through the dry leaves causing quite a racket.

Some of the cannons they towed via horse carriage up to the overlook of the bay.
Flying Cloud is in the bottom right corner.
At the top the ridge flattened out and we were treated to an expansive view of Port Rupert Bay and the town of Portsmouth. With darkness rapidly approaching we hurried down the trail hoping they hadn't locked the pier where we tied our boat. Luckily the night watchman was there cooking his dinner on a small gas stove and smiled at us as we walked by.