Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas in Paradise

Last year we got to spend Christmas with our daughter and her family in Hong Kong. Even though we were in a foreign country, Christa had gone all out to decorate the house and make it a special Christmas for her family. We had a wonderful time and thoroughly enjoyed the time with our grandchildren, Quinn and Conner.

This year Christmas was on the French island of Martinique. It just isn’t the same waking up Christmas morning without kids’ wide eyes in anticipation of all the presents under the tree. Also, the sunshine and 82-degree weather made it a little different.

None-the-less, Meryl fixed a wonderful Christmas breakfast that we ate out in the cockpit while watching the 100s of boats at anchor around us. Our friends, Marce and Jack, had invited us over for Christmas  dinner on their boat, Escape Velocity (EV). After negotiating some tricky reefs in the dingy, we saw Escape Velocity floating at anchor and were greeted with big “hello waves” from Marce and Jack. After some of Jack’s killer Dark and Stormy’s, we feasted on Marce’s traditional Philadelphia Sticky Rolls, vegetable curry, samosas, and chocolate cheesecake, followed by wonderful conversation with great friends. As this was one of our first Christmas' without family we appreciated EV's company all the more.  Overall, it was a quiet and reflective Christmas.  EV was going to sail straight to Puerto Rico and then on to the Panama Canal, so it was most likely the last time we’d see them for a very long time. Saying goodbye to cruising friends is one of the most difficult things about this lifestyle. We only hope we’ll cross paths once again somewhere.

These local racing boats, which weave in and out of the anchorage at high speeds, are sailed expertly by the locals.

The next few days on Flying Cloud were spent working on boat projects. We finally got an electrician (actually two by the time we were done) to come out and test the batteries. The prognosis was that our very expensive Lifeline AGM batteries were dead. We tried to get some warranty replacement batteries from the local Lifeline distributor, but ours are a weird tall and thin design and it would take them 6 to 8 weeks to ship them in. We finally made arrangements with Lifeline in California to ship new batteries to St. Martin for when we returned from our trip to Hong Kong in February.

Another project was chasing down an insidious leak that had been on the boat since the day we bought it. I had noticed salt deposits (not good) on the headliner above the port side master berth window. We should have tackled that when we were commissioning the boat in Florida, but it just got lost in the plethora of more immediate projects.

The stainless backing plate on the left of the photo was the one leaking. You can also see the new board for attaching the headliner to the deck.

This time we noticed water on the the teak under the window, and worse, water in the compartment directly underneath.  With no choice, we started the arduous task of taking down the headliner and backer board, which was discolored, and then trying to disassemble the port light, which proved too difficult to tackle at the time. The more I looked at the location of the discoloration on the headliner I realized the leak was probably not coming from the port light but from the thru bolts securing the aft port stanchion. As I started to undo the bolts a couple disintegrated in my hand, a sure sign of salt water intrusion. A horizontal piece of board that attached the headliner to the deck was also rotted out so that would have to be replaced.

The fix for the leak was simple: clean out the holes and reseal. I have lots of sealants on the boat, but every time I go to use one it seems to have dried up. As usual, this was a simple project becoming more complicated. I hopped in the dingy and went ashore walking from chandlery to chandlery to find a small tube of sealant. Apparently they don’t exist in Le Marin, so I bought the big tube and the handle apparatus to push it out the tube (for a small fortune). Had more luck with the board when I found a carpentry shop in the ship yard that had the right size marine plywood for the backing piece, and actually cut and shaped it in about 20 minutes. All this with me not speaking a word of French and them not speaking more than three words of English.

Went back to the boat about $100 poorer, but with everything I needed to finish the project. Everything went well with the caulking and the leak was sealed. Now the hard part, to reattach the extremely fragile headliner to the veneer board. I found a left over can of spray adhesive and sprayed the back of the headliner and the veneer. Then Meryl and I very carefully applied the old headliner to the veneer board. Next I grabbed my staple gun to staple the edges only to find I had exactly 10 staples left in the right size. Naturally there were no staples in Le Marin in 3/16” size, so we very carefully spaced the staples around the edges and hoped it would hold. Reassembling took a couple of hours but we were back in business. I should have fixed it years ago in Florida when it would have been a easy job.

Our rain catcher looks a little weird but I can guarantee it will supply us with lots of clean rainwater.
 Another long overdue project was also tackled, the water catcher. We had seen a really well-designed water catcher on a boat called Spirit of Argo. It held up in 30+ knot winds and did a great job of catching the near horizontal rain in the squalls.  We went over an talked with April and Cain on Spirit of Argo. They were from Brighton, England, and ironically knew our good friends Steve and Carol on Inamorata. Carol had worked for April when she had a marine canvas shop in Brighton. We found the fabric April recommended (Odyssey) in the canvas store at Le Phare Blue in Grenada, and got the additional fittings we needed at various chandleries around Le Marin.  It took Meryl about a week to finish the rain catcher, but we still don’t know how well it works since it hasn’t rained since we finished the project.

Caraibe Marine on the left is one of the better chanderlies in the West Indies.
 After all the projects were completed we decided to take Monday the 30th off and just wander the back streets of Le Marin. It’s mainly a large charter boat center with two huge marinas filled with charters. But once you get away from the waterfront road, it’s a very interesting town with a definite French influence.

Some people say this is graffiti, I say it's art.

We were especially impressed with the artistic graffiti on the walls that resembled Picasso more than typical graffiti. We discovered a church graveyard overlooking the harbor that was terraced down to the waterfront road. Most of the graves were in crypts above the ground and it was interesting to see photos of the departed on top of the graves; it made you wonder what their lives were like and the experiences they had on the island.

We enjoyed our stay in Le Marin, but now that Escape Velocity was gone and our projects completed we had little reason to hang around so we decided to motor out of the inner bay and over to the picturesque village of Sainte-Anne, about five miles away.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Grandpas in Speedos

Much of the Caribbean is stunningly beautiful, but many islands are essentially third-world countries due to their poor economies. Martinique, on the other hand, is like an oasis in the dessert. The French have successfully duplicated a lot of their culture in the country’s overseas directorates, Guadeloupe and Martinique. Great food, good shopping, fashionable clothes, and that famous Gallic attitude. Both countries are essentially “departments” of France and fully supported by the French government. That means good roads, excellent navigation aids, a functioning police department, and all the creature comforts of home. As a result, Martinique enjoys the highest standard of living in the Caribbean.

Le Marin is the equivalent of Fort Lauderdale in many respects. With two huge modern marinas, superyachts at anchor, and a beautiful setting dominated by green mountain peaks, it’s about all you could ask for in a Caribbean island. Le Marin is also the center for charter boats, with daily Air France flights disgorging hordes of French sailors and sailor-wannbes to the myriad of 40- to 50-ft catamarans that line the docks at Marina du Marin. The channel leading into the marina is like Interstate 5 at rush hour, with huge catamarans crawling with sunburned Frenchmen and women enjoying their last moments in the sun.

Speaking of Frenchmen, a blogger recently described Le Marin as “grandpas in Speedos.” First, that’s not me she’s are talking about, and second, some of the grandpas are in pretty good shape for their age. The Speedos, well, that’s a European thing I don’t fully understand. If women are allowed to show off their figures in bikinis maybe it’s the French male equivalent. Whatever.

Caribe Chanderly on the left is an excellent source of sailing gear while Mango's Restaurant is just a great place to hang out and do Internet.
Unfortunately our first task in Martinique, along with our boat buddies on Escape Velocity, was to take care of some boat maintenance issues. In our case, we needed to have our batteries tested to confirm they were OK (they weren’t). Luckily Le Marin has lots of excellent chanderlies, mechanics, electricians, and just about anything else you could ask for. Here’s the rub, they speak only French and we don’t.  We went to the major chanderly, Caraibe, where the owner Philipe speaks understandable English, compared to my incomprehendible  French.

Now here’s the second rub, it was Christmas time and the French love their holidays. And they have a lot of them.  We arranged for an electrician to come out to the boat on Christmas Eve Day, but I held out little hope it would happen (it didn’t).  Our friends Jack and Marce, trying to getting some rigging issues resolved, ran into similar problems. And then there is rub #3, everything in Martinique is priced “European,” which means we probably can’t afford it. We did stock up on lots of little odds and ends for the boat that were difficult to find at other ports.

What's not to like about a French grocery store that sells Heineken in the mini-keg size?

Those are all cookies, rows and rows of cookies.
With nothing to do but wait, we decided to make the best of the situation and immerse ourselves in the culture.  This meant going to the great grocery stores and marveling at 30 different types of French cheese, all excellent. Walking to the boulangerie where you can smell the fresh baguettes about a block away. And hanging out at the sidewalk restaurants, sipping a fine French wine or enjoying the local French beer, Lorraine.

Hanging out at the bar at Mango's.
I truly have to give the French credit; they make enjoying life an art form. While Americans work themselves to death the French seem to enjoy a two-hour lunch, long dinners, and the camaraderie of their friends. Fine food, a beautiful spoken language, and flair for fashion epitomize the French way. It is said the average French woman spends more on lingerie than American women spend on clothes. Worth some research I guess.

Back at the boat we marveled in the French’s ability to anchor close to other boats, “in your cockpit with you” as the British say. But the more I thought about it most European anchorages are small compared to American harbors so anchoring close is just part of the game. We’ve learned to live with it and have even returned the favor on a few occasions.

On Christmas Eve Day, after waiting for the electrician who didn’t arrive, we decided do some laundry. The laundry facility in the marina was absolutely first rate, with six large commercial-style machines. The problem was they were controlled by a centralized computerized machine whose instructions were all in French (how come they are not bilingual like in Montreal?).  Ironically some Italian guys showed us how it worked and after that everything was great. Our clothes dried in about half the time as normal in the big machines.

We explored the small waterfront village of Le Marin, full of marine-related stores, clothing stores, and the occasional grocery store. I was amazed that even the walls of construction sites that would be covered by graffiti in the US had some excellent art work on them. There doesn’t seem to be the level of vandalism you see in the States; people seem to respect property to a higher degree. They also had an excellent garbage/recycling centers spaced about town. Usually facilities for getting rid of garbage are either non existent, expensive, or force us to employ a creative touch to accomplish our task (they say the easiest way to get rid of nuclear waste is to package it as radios and install them in BMW’s parked in New York City).

Meryl needed some instant pudding for her Christmas morning coffee cake recipe and the experience of trying to track that down in the grocery store was interesting. First, the French eschew anything “instant” related to food, second we couldn’t read any of the labels, and third, our technique of finding some teenagers who could speak English and help us translate didn’t work because very, very few French speak English. We got something that we think is used in making Flan but we’re still not sure if it will work.

Getting in the Christmas spirit is somewhat tough when it’s 82 degrees outside with the sun beaming down. With no evergreen aroma wafting from the Christmas tree, blinking Christmas lights outside, or Christmas carols on the radio, it just didn’t seem the same. Meryl rallied, however, and made an excellent Christmas Eve dinner consisting of ham, her special scalloped potatoes, salad, and wine.

Not bad for being on a boat floating in a harbor in a small Caribbean island! 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Via la Le Marin

When the wind and waves come all the way across the Atlantic and go between two islands what do they like to do?  Get stronger and higher.
Waking up and seeing Rodney Bay in the early morning light, we marveled at the sheer size of the bay. Around 300 yachts had come into Rodney Bay the week before as part of the ARC, the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, which goes from Europe to the Caribbean each fall. Most of these yachts were in the inner harbor docks but we did see the occasional ARC yacht (distinguished by their ARC number plates on the side of the boat) around the anchorage.

The huge open roadstead of Rodney Bay, St. Lucia.
With no rest for the weary, we departed Rodney Bay about 9:00 am and followed a huge catamaran out of the anchorage, around the aft end of the huge Club Med II sailing vessel, and out into the Martinique / St. Lucia channel. Again, we wanted to stay high and with the promise of more settled weather today we pointed as high as we could to avoid the west setting current. And as usual, the wind piped up to 20+ with even larger ocean waves that the day before, but with a little longer period which made life a little easier (that’s a relative term when sailing).  As a monohull we were the highest (eastward) of the boats crossing over to Martinique, but we still got set down a considerable amount as we sailed close-hauled across the channel. Luckily the distance today was only about 28 miles and the weather was beautiful. We were so battle hardened by now we just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

Soon we began to see the mountain peaks of Martinique and held on as long as we could while being set down and away from our destination, then finally throwing in the towel and motor sailing upwind the last two hours into Le Marin.

Le Marin has a huge inner bay that is protected by some nasty reefs, but luckily the channel is very well marked and maintained by the French. We passed St. Anne’s on the right and entered the inner harbor, marveling at the literally thousands of boats (Le Marin is the major charter boat center for the French in the Caribbean) both at anchor and in two massive marinas. I’ve never seen so many catamarans in my life.

We motored up to the fuel dock, which was amazingly easy (usually is a life- and marriage-threatening experience) and filled up on the most expensive diesel and water on earth. While Le Marin has almost everything you’d want, you are paying European prices for it all.

The French like to get "up close and personal" when anchoring.
We then started to head over to where our friends Jack and Marce on Escape Velocity had anchored, but immediately saw an open area near the marina that looked perfect. Knowing that Internet was going to be an issue, we wanted to stay as close in as possible. It was not until the next day that we discovered that the reason the area was so open is it was a No Anchor Zone marked by large yellow buoys. Looking at more and more French boats starting to anchor near us, we thought of the French indifference to authority and decided we’d “be French” and just wait until we got kicked out. We ended up staying there for over 11 days.

We did have to dingy in to check in with Customs, but in true French fashion you just walked into the Captainerre’s office, sat at a computer terminal with it’s weird French keyboard and backward date structure and entered your boat data. No talking to anyone, no forms, no passports. Just pay your 5 Euros to the secretary and she handed you your clearance papers. Love the French for this practical approach to clearing in yachts.

Given the tough two days sailing we had, we just decided to veg out in the boat and relax for the rest of the day. We’re starting to get into the French mode of sailing and I have to say we like it a lot!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Bequia Bash

Got an early start for the crossing from Bequia to St. Vincent and on to St. Lucia. We had been dreading this passage since we’d heard horror stories about the wind and waves off the northwest point of St. Vincent.  Hans, a very experienced Caribbean sailor on the yacht Geode, said our best bet was to stay as high to the wind leaving Bequia and then hug the coast of St. Vincent and hope for the best when hitting the open channel between St. Vincent and St. Lucia.

Han’s advice was spot on and as soon as we left the protection of Bequia we got hit by 20 - 25 knot winds while sailing on a close reach. The waves were the worse about ⅓ of the way across, with some big rollers breaking over the decks and even some hitting the top of our dodger, giving us an impromptu bath. Luckily the water is 80+ degrees here.

Many people query as to why we always seem to be fixing the boat. Imagine that every other day your house was in a 7.0 earthquake. That's what it's like for the boat coming off the top of a 10-ft. wave and crashing to the bottom. Then do that for 8 hours straight. Things break.

After a couple of hours of bashing about we closed on the St. Vincent shoreline and motor sailed along the lee of St. Vincent in relatively moderate seas. St. Vincent as a reputation as being a dangerous place for cruisers (high crime rate) and we didn’t want to have the spent the night, but we did marvel at the beautiful lush mountainsides that seemed painted in a brilliant green.  Saw many fishermen along the coast but none seemed interested in us, which was good.

As we approached the dreaded southwest tip of St. Vincent we girded ourselves for the onslaught and true to form the wind got stronger and stronger as we rounded the point.  Since the ocean current flows east to west through the St. Vincent Channel, our strategy again was to sail as high as possible to avoid being set any further to the west than possible.  We were now in consistent 6 to 8 ft. seas with the occasional 9 to 10 ft. wave slapping us silly.  The decks were awash most of the three hours it took us to cross the channel and we very much looked forward to the lee of St. Lucia.

The Pitons on St. Lucia
Ironically the wind seemed to wrap around the west side of St. Lucia so we were still hard on the wind and motor sailing on and off as necessary. We passed the famous twin peaks of The Pitons, but about three miles offshore. Han’s advice was not to try and anchor in Soufriere, but to gut it out and continue on up to Rodney Bay.

With the wind still howling and an occasional squall adding to the misery, we finally closed on Rodney Bay about 7:00 pm in the evening. Even though it was dark then, the anchoring area is huge so we just motored up until we saw the first anchor lights of boats and dropped the hook. We hoisted the yellow quarantine flag even though we were not going to clear into St. Lucia. After a very long 14-hour sail in arduous conditions we were very happen to batten down the hatches and collapse in our aft berth.

A bomb could have gone off that night and we wouldn’t have known.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Turtles 'R Us

Back in Grenada in early June we took an amazing trip to visit the Leatherback Turtle Preserve up the coast to Levera Beach.  (See earlier post “Turtles, Turtles, Turtles”)  It was a magical evening as we saw huge Leatherback turtles instinctually return to the exact same beach where they were hatched to lay their eggs.  We watched in amazement as they laid up to 100 eggs in a single nest and when finished by methodically covering all the eggs with sand using their flippers. The whole process was exhausting for the turtle, and once completed, she slowly lumbered back to the water's edge and swam off into the ocean thus completing the circle of their lives. Oftentimes you get to see the little hatchlings leaving their nests and heading towards the water, but we did not see any that night.

Five-year-old Leatherback sea turtle.

Once we arrived at Bequia and learned of a turtle sanctuary on the island we had to go see the turtles and help support the preservation effort.  We caught a taxi-truck from the main center of town and meandered over a winding road to the other side of the island.  We enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the exposed beaches on the windward side of the island.  After a much longer ride than we anticipated we decided to have the driver wait and bring us back instead of walking back. It would have taken us hours to get back to town.

You just can’t help yourself wanting to help these nearly extinct creatures and that is just what Orton King, a retired fisherman, decided to do when he established the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary on Bequia Island in 1995.  King takes the turtle eggs, primarily from endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtles and Atlantic Green Sea Turtles and rears the turtles until they are old enough to have a better chance of survival. 

Orton King tells visitors about his efforts to save the sea turtles.
King showed us around his impressive sanctuary and answered questions.  He had numerous pools with the tiny hatchlings, pools with a little older turtles, and a couple large pools with the 3-5 year old turtles.  They are fed fresh fish from a young age but I imagine they would instinctually know to also eat sea grass once out in their natural habitat.  The turtles are generally released around the age of 5 years to their beach of origin.  Since 2006 over 800 turtles have been returned to sea. That is a great outcome for all his efforts.

Baby sea turtles that have been rescued from their nests.

It would be a wonderful experience to be involved in helping to preserve the turtles' future for our children and their children.  We have been fortunate to visit a number of preserves and see the volunteers in action.  On Cumberland Island in Georgia we saw hundreds of protected Loggerhead Turtle nests along the coast being carefully watched and logged by volunteers.  At Grenada’s Turtle Preserve, we saw volunteers helping during the egg laying process by counting the number of eggs laid, and observing and recording other pertinent data.  And here in Bequia, Orton King dedicating 19 years toward preserving turtles in the Caribbean.

Meanwhile, we do our small part by buying our grandchildren books about turtles, t-shirts and other memorabilia with turtles, and swim with the turtles whenever given the chance. Maybe its just a stage I’m going through but I am truly fascinated by these turtles.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Bequia Wind Tunnel

Route from Mustique to Bequia.

As we rounded the southwest point of Bequia and were blasted by 20+ knots of wind right on the nose, we should have taken the hint. It was late in the day and rather than short tack for another hour we elected to motor sail directly into Admiralty Bay. It was shallow, around 12 ft., but we found a nice spot close to our friends on Escape Velocity and just off Princess Margaret Beach. With the anchor firmly set in a little patch of white sand we collapsed in the cockpit and enjoyed the beautiful view of the green hills of Port Elizabeth which surrounded the boat on all three sides.

We had originally decided not to come to Bequia based on reports of increasing crime in the area, but wanted to see it for ourselves.  Many times one cruiser tells you horror stories of a port while another says it’s his favorite place in all of the Caribbean. Whatever. In this case we’re super glad we decided to visit Bequia because we love the island and the people are wonderful. Not quite as friendly as the Grenadians but they warm up once you get to know them.

View from top of Fort Hamilton of Port Elizabeth on Admiralty Bay, Bequia. We are anchored on far right side of photo.

The next morning Jack and Marce from Escape Velocity picked us up in their dingy and we headed over to the Deck House Restaurant for a short hike up to Fort Hamilton. The fort was constructed in the late 1700s by the British to protect Port Elizabeth from attacks by the French and American privateers. It affords a 270 degree view of what must be one of the prettiest harbors in the Caribbean.

Meryl in fruit and vegetable heaven.

Freshly caught fish are available each morning at the fish market.

After drinks at the Deck House, owned by a handsome Brit and his wife, we headed into town to explore the environs of Port Elizabeth. Our friend Marce is the world expert on vegetables (she’s a vegan) and the ladies beelined it to the town vegetable market. Right behind is the fish market, where a guy blows the loudest conch shell I’ve ever heard to let the harbor know fish are now available. They will even clean and fillet the fish for you for a small gratuity.

Bequia is known for it’s local boat building industry and fast sailboats. Another specialty is handmade models of the local sailing craft, but at US $300 to $500 they were a little out of our budget. It was fun to look, however.

My new favorite soft drink.

On the opposite side of the bay from the fort is a waterfront area with lots of good restaurants. They’ve constructed a cement walkway along the waterfront making for a nice walk under the shade of giant Green Boley trees (called Almond Trees by the locals). At the Gingerbread House (next door is where Bob Dylan had his first sailboat built) we even scored some great local ice cream.

Not really sure how to interpret this image.
If you are living in 400 sq. ft. in a sailboat these villas look awfully inviting.
 On Wednesday we took a long walk over to the other side of the island to Friendship Bay. Taking a short cut through the woods we met lots of locals who were kind of surprised to see us there. The high-end Bequia Beach Hotel is on the east shore, where for a $100 day pass they let you have lunch and lounge by the pool. We just walked in and wandered around, finally eating our picnic lunch under a Boley tree along the beach. We are what are you would call a “cheap date.”

That night we went to the well-known Frangipani Restaurant  for a “jump up,” a BBQ and steel pan dance night. We just had drinks but met an interesting couple from Newport, Jerome and Mary. He runs the 12-meter America’s Cup corporate challenge sailing program in Newport, RI. They have been coming down to Bequia during the same week for the last 15 years. Having traveled all over the Caribbean, they say that Bequia is the “last real Caribbean island” that isn’t overrun by mega hotels and sun-burnt Americans. They seemed to know all the locals and gave us a great run down on the best local restaurants.

On a more depressing subject, our genset issues continue (see very long blog post Three days ago I noticed white crystals forming on the exhaust stack. I took it off the engine (I’m getting good at this since it’s at least the forth time I’ve removed it), took off the asbestos wrap and examined the multitude of welds on the top. Everything looked OK. It was rebuilt to make a taller loop when we were in Trinidad last August, and instead of using a preformed 90-degree bend they cut straight tubing with 45-degree angles and welded it into a bend. Took it to my Ferrari/Ace Machinist buddy Robin in Bequia and he professionally commented: "It's a piece of shit."

Apparently all the welds on the loop were leaking. Robin, a recalcitrant Scotsman, luckily had a pre-formed piece of 1-inch stainless and welded it correctly (and at a Ferrari price). I reinstalled it and the genset ran like a champ.

After several days of fixing things, I finally thought that "Today will be a day of rest and relaxation" (which we all know is a kiss-of-death thought for any cruiser). Last night the genset overheated and shut down. I said "I'll deal with it in the morning" (thereby preserving my day of rest).

Troubleshooting it the next morning I found no coolant in the tank so I refilled and restarted it. Ran like a champ. Luckily I took a peek in the far side access door (other side of the genset) and saw coolant spurting out of the coolant temp sensor pipe on the bottom of the engine. Turned out the bronze nipple had broken off clean inside the fitting (well actually it was holding on by one thread until I touched it resulting in red-hot coolant (sounds like an oxymoron) pouring all over my hand. At one point it looked like I’d have to take the whole genset out of the boat to access the fitting, but luckily I found a way to get a mini pipe wrench in and slowly remove the fitting.

Back to Mr. Ferrari to get him to ream out the broken nipple inside the fitting. More amazingly, I found two 3/8" bronze nipples (what are the odds) at the nearby Grenadines Yacht Supply (I've been in there four times in four days looking for other stuff and they didn't have anything) to replace the broken nipples. Sometimes you just get lucky.

Remember I mentioned we should have taken the hint when we originally arrived in the harbor with the strong headwinds? Well, each day we’ve been here the wind seems to get stronger and stronger. The locals call these the “Christmas Winds” since they occur each year around Christmas time. Meteorologists call them “enhanced trade winds.” With our big 73-lb. Rocna anchor we weren’t too worried, but the boat was literaly leaning over in some of the stronger gusts. Admiralty Bay is very protected, however, so the waves never get a change to build which is what usually causes us the most discomfort.

On Saturday night Escape Velocity invited us over for mango/passion fruit ice cream on their boat, anchored about 100 yards to the north of us. As we were enjoying the incredible ice cream and great conversation a series of gusts started rocking their boat. We had been getting ready to go back to our boat, but wisely decided to wait until the gusts calmed down. We finally jumped in the dingy with the wind still whipping the water into a froth and told Jack, “Watch us all the way back to our boat because if this motor dies we’re on our way to Panama.”

When we got back to the boat the wind was a steady 25 to 30 with frequent gusts up to 40 knots (46 mph). Everyone was out checking their anchors and putting “anchor watch software” into their computers to tell if the boat is dragging backwards. Our boat would literally shutter every time a 40+ gust hit and even though the boat is super well insulated we could still hear the wind whistling in the rigging and the halyards (which were tightly secured) slapping on the mast.

This is what our boat track (in magenta) looks like after a fun night in 40-knot gusts.

The next morning the wind was down to  a mere 23 to 28 knots so I went up on the foredeck to check out our anchor. I was amazed to see my brand new anchor bridle (which I had just spent three days carefully constructing out of heavy ¾” three-strand rope) was literally shredded to pieces. It looked like a mop hanging off the anchor chain and only one of the six strands was actually holding the boat. The bridle consists of two lines going out to a hook that is attached to the anchor. You let out enough anchor chain until the rope bridle is taking all the stress. In theory the 3-strand nylon will stretch when a gust hits the boat and absorb the shock. In my case the anchor chain must have rubbed against both ropes and chafed them clean through. Time for a redesign.

I spent the rest of the day salvaging one leg of the bridle and trying to remember how to make an eye splice. It was both sad and comical with me looking at four different books, two animated “knot tying” programs on my iPad, and several prints outs of how to splice that were in my bosun’s bag. It took me FOUR HOURS to finally figure it out and get a decent splice in the rope. Once you understand it, it’s amazingly simple, but the instructions in the books were all different and extremely difficult to follow. To confirm I’m not the village idiot I talked to other cruisers who’ve had the same problem. The new design of a single line seems to be working well, time will tell if it’s the right way to go.

One of the advantages of spending the summer in Grenada is that you get to know a lot of cruisers through the various sports and social activities. While listening to the morning radio net in Bequia we heard Geode answer a call. Hans and Hazel, on the Amel 48 Geode, are friends of both us and Escape Velocity so we decided to all meet for lunch at the Port Hole. Hans and Hazel, who are from Duncan, British Columbia, have been cruising the Caribbean 10 years and are a great resource for local information.  Both EV and us pumped them for info on how to sail from Bequia to St. Lucia in this heavy weather and for good anchoring spots along the way.

Bequians celebrate the "Nine Nights of Christmas" with colored lights and singing/bands every night along the waterfront.

Hans and Hazel from Geode with Meryl at Fernando's Hideaway.

We ended up going out to dinner the next night with Geode to a place Jerome and Mary had recommend, Fernando’s Hideaway, down near the Lower Bay. We took a taxi from downtown and wound our way along the southern shoreline of the harbor then up a steep hill to a tree-house like setting. The restaurant is run by two sisters who offer three choices every night, a fish, chicken, or lamb dish. We had a great time getting to know Hans and Hazel better and thoroughly enjoyed the food and ambiance.

Marce and Jack had opted out since they were leaving early the next day. They are on a little tighter schedule than us and decided to brave the wind and waves and leave today (Thursday the 19th) to make the run from Bequia to St. Lucia, then on to Martinique. They stopped by last night before we went out to dinner and we wished them a safe journey. We’ll check in with them and see how the conditions were during their crossing our before making our decision when to leave. Hopefully we’ll be out of here by Friday or Saturday and be able to catch up with them in Le Marin, Martinique for Christmas.

Almost every evening there is some type of large sailing ship anchored behind us.
Interesting story to this ship, the Seaborn Spirit, which is anchored behind us. It was the first passenger ship attacked by Somali pirates. A chunk of an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) is still embedded in the superstructure.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mustique Still a Mystery

Great sailing from Tobago Cays to Mustique, except for the one long tack to gain some windward room.

After reading our guidebook we decided to head for Mustique, a small island just to the SE of Bequia. The island is privately owned, actually a corporation of all the property owners, and while they welcome cruisers you need to follow their rules.  We were attracted to the fact that much of the island has been left wild with lots of great trails and not much traffic. Also the off chance of seeing Raquel Welch or Mick Jagger hanging out at Basil's, the local bar & grill, enticed us.

As we entered the harbor we scooped out all the mooring buoys (no anchoring allowed here) looking for one that might be less rolly than another. The guidebook did mention it can be a little rolly on occasion.  With such clear water and sunshine we immediately jumped in the water for a little swim and a scrub around the water line.  When “Slick" the mooring man came around we paid our $75 US and signed up for 3 nights.  Its $75 for the first night and the next two are free … such a deal we think to ourselves.

Later, we head into shore to see the town and get some fresh fruit and vegetables.  Everything is clean and nicely done but it all struck me as a little too homogenous.  The local grocery was a treat with lots of difficult-to-find items and beautiful greens and fruits, priced accordingly.  It added up quickly but where else would you find such a nice selection.  We even found an ice cream shop and tried a scoop … pretty good but still looking for that perfect creamy blend.  The fish market was close by and we explored the fishing camp, which houses fishermen from Bequia and St. Vincent.  They fish the majority of the month supplying fish for the island and then head home for a period to see their families.

Our ice cream stop.
Meryl loaded with fresh groceries
The colorful local fishing boats built nearby.
A large pile of beautiful conch shells.
That night after dinner, the wind dropped (as it often does) and we were lying parallel to the waves and -- you guessed it -- we started rocking and rolling.  Not just a mild rock but a knock from side-to-side that was opening drawers, rocking my oven, and spilling our drinks off the table!  I had to hang on and stow items as if we were out at sea.  We lay in bed rolling into each other back and forth and knew it was going to be a very long night. We don’t like to take sleeping pills but decided if we don’t we will probably not get any sleep.  Finally, we both managed to drift off to sleep and come morning things had finally calmed down.  Looking at each other in the morning we decided we definitely did not want to spend another night on the mooring ball rolling all night.   We had emailed Escape Velocity and they said Bequia was calm in the anchorage.

Unfortunately, we never did get a chance to see the island because we needed to get water before heading to Bequia. As usual, that turned out to be a major operation.  Normally we have a great system for getting our water by filling a 30-gallon bladder in the dinghy. We can then pump the water from the bladder up to the water tank with a water pump Walter bought.  First problem, the water at the Mustique harbor was available to large boats with a fire hose type nossle. So after finding the water guy and checking with the captain of the nearby ship they came up with an adaptor but we were concerned about the pressure typically set to fill a huge freighter. After some adjustments we got it set so it wouldn't knock anyone down. We finally we got our bladder full and told them we would be back for a second load.  The second load went fine, but right as we started pumping it up to our boat the little transfer pump failed.  We had a problem, 30 gallons of water (weighing 265 pounds) and no way to get it in the tanks.  With water so dear, we tried a number of solutions and finally opted to haul the dinghy up on the davits and siphon the water with a a short hose into our 5-gallon cubes and then pour them in the boat's water tank one at a time.  A process that normally takes us 30 minutes took us a couple hours! All the time we were doing this the swell started coming in again and we were holding on to our lives as the boat rolled back and forth. We were running our of time to make the passage to Bequia so we had to hustle and get the boat ready. No time for exploring the mysterious Mustique and searching for the elusive Mick or Raquel. 

We finally raised our sails and sailed on a wonderful beam reach across to Bequia,  about 2 hours away.  The conditions were optimal and we relaxed and enjoyed the Bequia coastline. It was fun seeing the knot meter hitting 7.5 to 8 knots on the way over. The boat was feeling her cups. We noticed a ship aground  between two  rocks as we rounded the point heading into Admiralty Bay.  Apparently, the skipper was in a hurry and was cutting corners?  We have learned you just don't want to be in a hurry around here; it doesn't buy you a thing.

Ship aground just outside Admiralty Harbor, Bequia.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Hanging Out at the Cays

Everyday there would be a new cruise ship anchored in the deep water area. Today it's the 5-masted Royal Clipper from London.
One of the true joys of the cruising lifestyle is the people you meet and the friends you make. After leaving the social whirl of Grenada we enjoyed several days on our own but found ourselves missing our friends. We were so happy to hear Escape Velocity on the VHF radio the day before announcing they were about an hour out from Tobago Cays.

Following my debacle with burning out the ring fitting on my primary alternator lead, I was overwhelmed by the response from fellow cruisers when I asked on the VHF radio if anyone had a somewhat rare #4 gauge terminal fitting. Our friends on EV had a #6 which I could use in a pinch, but several other boats came back and said they would search their boats for the right fitting. A neighbor boat, Darling Blue, had a #4 that was very close in stud size and would work until we got the exact size. That’s the joy of cruising, having so many people around you who are willing to help out no matter what the situation.

Another thing that amazes us is how quickly the weather can change out here. One minute you are basking in the the 82 degree sunshine and the next minute it's "batten down the hatches" as some nasty little squall blows through. Meryl and I call it the "hatch dance," where she runs forward and I run to the aft of the boat to get the hatches closed before the deluge of rain hits.

Who wouldn't want to go boating with these two beautiful women?
The indomitable Jack, captain and master of the dingy Catnip.
Escape Velocity suggested a tour of the surrounding islands so we all piled into Jack’s faithful dingy, Catnip, and headed over to Petite Bateau for a look/see. With the constant easterly trade winds blowing, it was a rough and wet ride most of the way. Going through the narrow channel we were surprised to see several boats anchored. When originally viewing the chart I had been reluctant to motor through there, but it looked wide open from the dingy. We explored onshore and walked across the island to the south side beach where we watched some French kite surfers do their thing. What an amazing sport, I’d love to try it sometime.

Hike up to the top of Petite Bateau overlooking Tobago Cays.

Just chillin' along the beach at Petite Bateau with Marce and Jack.
We took a short hike up to what we thought we thought would be a spectacular overview of the harbor but found the trail petered out at the top with just underbrush and sticker trees. Back down on the beach a local woman had arts and crafts for sale but we took the opportunity to sit at her picnic table and just enjoyed the view.

Living proof that a domineering, micro-managing, Type A captain can live in harmony with a sweet Type B crew.
Later that night we had Jack and Marce over for Bahamian mac and cheese and just sat around and talked about life (and most likely fixing things that break on sailboats).