Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bequia to Carriacou for a Birthday Party!

June 23

We left Bequia for the long sail over to Petit Martinique where fuel was substantially cheaper than in Bequia. It was a boisterous day for sailing as we crossed below Mayreau, wove our way along the fringing reef at Clifton on Union Island, and finally transited the short channel to Petit St. Vincent.

We've learned that the best to avoid seasickness during rough passages to prepare the meals up in the cockpit.
 Given the strong wind, holding the boat off the large commercial fuel dock while taking on fuel was a challenge. We opted to motor a short ways over Petit St. Vincent where we anchored off a very exclusive resort where rooms are reputed to be over $1,700 a night.  We didn’t go in for drinks as we figured we couldn’t afford them anyway. We were treated to a beautiful sunset, however, with a local classic yacht tacking back and forth along the channel.

June 24

Departed at 7:30 for the short sail to Carriacou, the (almost) northern most island of Grenada and below the mythical 12 degrees 30 minutes latitude. Yea! Now if we get wiped out by a hurricane the insurance company will cover it.

Truant 3 and a number of other boats left at about the same time.  As expected we had a spirited sail in 20-knot winds and were glad to finally anchor in the safety of Tyrell Bay. As this was our third time to the bay we at least felt comfortable in the local environs, hoping to spot some boats we might know from our months in Grenada.

Shouldn't there be a lot more candles on that cake?
It was my birthday and Meryl managed to bake a beautiful little birthday cake (we should have had a gigantic cake for all the candles it would have to hold) and invited Janet and Jeff over for an impromptu birthday party. Some thing great about a chocolate cake on a boat; it’s not like we can just stop at QFC anytime we want to buy some cake.

Meryl also served her delicious sweet and sour chicken which Jeff raved about. I’ve heard it’s now one of his favorite dinners.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sainte Anne to Bequia

June 17

As difficult as it is to leave wonderful little Sainte Anne, we departed early in the morning for the 25-mile sail to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia. We averaged 5 knots with wind on the beam and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves during the five-hour sail. So nice to sail without huge waves bashing over the top of the dodger.

Rodney Bay has a huge outer bay that we anchored in with our yellow Q (quarantine) flag flying in the breeze. By now we just wanted to get to 12 degrees, 30 minutes south per the requirements of our insurance company for hurricane season, so we would just overnight at Rodney Bay and leave early the next morning.

June 18
Beautiful bay along St. Vincent where an episode of Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed.
Getting up at o’dark thirty, our usual departure time for an 80-mile passage, we sailed along the west coast of St. Lucia enjoying the spectacular view of The Pitons as we passed by. We originally had planned to sail along the east side of St. Vincent, but a strong current on our nose forced us down along the west side where we ended up motor sailing while  trying to maintain our speed, arriving in Admiralty Bay, Bequia, just as the sun was setting. It took us a while to find an adequate anchoring location amongst all the mooring balls. We ended up re-anchoring the next day trying to keep clear of all the surrounding boats.

Enjoying lunch at Sunshine Beach with new friends Jeff and Janet off Truant 3.

From the Magellan Net, our daily 9:00 am radio net, we knew a Canadian boat would be in Bequia when we arrived. We had heard Truant 3 on the radio many times, but never met them so we hailed them on VHF and made arrangements to meet in town to show them around the town.

Jeff and Janet sailed a Saber 38 all the way from Halifax, Nova Scotia to the Caribbean, taking two years off from their professions to experience the cruising lifestyle. On June 20th we hiked up over the steep hill to Sunshine Beach where we enjoyed a sack lunch on the beach. A long hike is a really good way to get to acquainted with new friends, even if they are in much better shape than you (I was panting fairly heavily during our conversation).

A not too raucous crowd watching the World Cup in Bequia.

This week was also the start of the World Cup, so I scurried in to a small local cafe to watch USA play Portugal to a 2-2 tie. Since the coverage was in French, I don’t have a clue who did what to whom.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Le Dame Blanche

Fair warning, this will most likely be the most boring blog we’ve written, with the exception of the story of Le Dame Blanche, which I will save for the end.

Still recovering from our encounter with Hippo Cup 2014, we were as bleary-eyed and sleep deprived as the Hippo Cuppers. Unfortunately for us, it was for lack of sleep, not for the ecstasy of partying all night long with 500 of our closest friends.

Since it’s now June 9th and Hurricane Season 2014 has officially begun, we’re on a tight schedule to get the boat below the magical latitude of 12 degrees, 30 seconds, essentially the northern tip of Grenada, which is considered the “hurricane safe zone.” But leaving the magical Iles des Saints and our friends Mark and Sue on Macushla was difficult. After not having seen them since the British Virgin Islands, it was great to get together and share sundowners and stories. They are highly experienced sailors, having lived on the boat for over eight years, and I always try to pick Mark’s brain for sailing tips. Sue is a great source of eclectic books from British authors I’ve never heard of.  They have a cautious approach to cruising wherein they patiently wait for the right weather so they don’t have to bash into the six- to eight-foot seas we’re intimately familiar with.  They also have that European approach to life with long walks, pre-lunch espressos, and longer lunches that lead into sun dowers and late dinners. The French, by the way, have perfected this lifestyle to it’s apogee.

Getting ready for our long walk into Terre de Haut with Mark and Sue.
This incredible hotel was completely empty the next day.
That's Flying Cloud out in the bay.
One day we walked two miles into town with Mark and Sue, browsed some French clothing stores, rested and had an expresso, then wandered around some more until we had a long lunch followed by a relaxing walk back to the boat. Sundowners and dinner and viola, the day was done. Our only variation to this day is a stop at the wonderful Glaces Pays (glaces is one of the first French words I learned) for the incredible French ice cream made by Paradis.

The key to happiness:  two French baguettes and an ice cream cone.
We realized that before we totally succumbed to the lifestyle, we had to skedaddle south as July was quickly approaching. We left Terre de Haut on June 11th and stayed high, exiting the island so we had a close reach for the all the way to Roseau on Dominique. The waves were only two to three feet in the lee of Dominique so we enjoyed a relaxing sail all the way down the leeward coast. I think I mentioned to Meryl “this is the way it’s supposed to be.”

Anchored just offshore at Roseau.
We were a little leery of staying in Roseau due to an incident a few months back so we hoisted the yellow quarantine flag (stated we hadn’t officially cleared into the country) and left very early the next morning for St. Pierre on Martinique. The waves were a little larger on this leg and the phenomena of the easterly winds curving around the points of the islands creating southerly winds put the wind right on our our nose — again.

I loved the colors of the buildings in St. Pierre.
I don't have a clue what this says but I thought it was beautiful.
It was great to be at another French Island, Martinique in this case, but it rudely reminded us of the Gallic disregard for schedules. Here’s the way it works on French islands:  Businesses are usually open from 9:00  am until 12:30 pm, and then (maybe) open from 3:30 to 5:30 pm.  Since some businesses are open on Saturday, it means that most businesses are closed on Monday.  I really want to emphasize the word “maybe” when referring to French business hours. Even though we arrived at the Customs Clearance office at 3:00 pm on a Thursday, it had closed at 1:00 pm for some unknown (to Ango Saxons) reason. That meant we couldn’t clear into the country. To hell with that we said and did some grocery shopping and roamed around the small town.

St. Pierre, nestled under the brooding clouds of Mt. Pele.
 St. Pierre, nestled under the brooding, cloud-veiled peak of active volcano Mt. Pele, was voted the number one picturesque port in the Caribbean.  We’d have to agree; there’s something about how the late afternoon sun hits the verdant green hills flowing down from the volcano that is enchanting.

Diamond Rock on the way to Sainte Anne.
Not ones to linger with hurricane season nipping at our heels, we continued south along the Martinique coast. Sailing by the dominating Diamond Rock, we then got blasted by another southerly which meant motor sailing the rest of the way to Sainte Anne.

If Iles des Saints is our favorite Caribbean port, Sainte Anne is second. A beautiful little French-styled village just outside the large bay of Le Marin, Sainte Anne has a quiet style all its own.  We had great aspirations of long hikes and longer dinners, etc. but quickly realized we were getting tired from all the early morning departures and 80-mile sails.

Again, we tried to clear into Martinique at Sainte Anne, only to find the business that housed the French government computer onto which you enter your clearance info, was closed for the next two weeks. Oh those pesky French and their frequent vacations.  This meant trying to find a way to get to Le Marin, about 10 miles away via dingy or bus.  Since it was super windy we opted for the bus.

Another particularity with the French is their persnickety attitude towards their language, which granted, is the most beautiful spoken language on earth.  Well, they’d like to keep it that way. I kept asking the few shopkeepers open on Saturday morning about “le bus” into Le Marin.  They all looked at me with a look usually reserved for people recently released from mental institutions. Finally I drew a picture of a bus. Roars went up in the shop, both the owner and customers, as the owner pronounced the word and his pronunciation had a slight inflection of more “boo-se” than “bus.” Now everyone knew what I was talking about.

So we waited and waited (remember that French lack of attention to schedules) for a “boo-se.”  We finally gave up and started hitchhiking when a “boo-se” went by. Eureka. The driver was nice and dropped us off in town so we could go to the marina and officially check in on their French government computer.

It’s interesting to note that only the French islands have this system where you type your boat and passport info into a computer and it prints out a paper that says “OK, you’re in.”  Every other island has elaborate bureaucracies (and commensurate charges) after filling out umpteen million forms in carbon triplicate and an examination of your passport like you’re Al Qaeda and trying to infiltrate the country.  Again, gotta love the French.

Naturally after checking in and having a nice lunch we discovered the “boo-se” doesn’t run after 1:00 pm on Saturdays, so we ended spending a small fortune for a cab driver (hard to find since the World Cup games had just begun) to drive us back to Sainte Anne.

Le Dame Blanche
OK, so now for the good part.  I wanted to watch some of the World Cup games and found a small bistro in Sainte Anne with a great large screen TV showing the Netherlands/Italy game.  Getting hungry I perused the (obviously French) menu and discovered my long lost dream:  Le Dame Blanche, “the white lady.”  Ignoring Meryl’s glare, I salivated as they placed a old style parfait cup filled with (in order from bottom to top) rich chocolate sauce, a scoop of incredible chocolate ice cream, followed by two scoops of French vanilla ice cream, all covered with rich whipping cream and topped with a little round cookie called “le cigarette.”  (I feel like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction describing a Royal.)

I know my wife and daughter think I eat these things every other day, but in truth this was the first in about two years. When you’re on a boat you dream about these types of foods. I slowly pushed the long-handled spoon deep into the depths of the parfait glass to search out the hot chocolate at the bottom, slowing retracting it with pieces of chocolate and French vanilla ice cream clinging to the spoon and a touch of whipped cream hanging by the sides. I have to say I died and went to heaven as I tasted that first bite. Unfortunately, when you are in the tropics and it’s 92 degrees inside, you can’t linger with a Le Dame Blanche. It got ugly as I raced the slowly softening ice cream and the inevitable intermingling of the chocolate and vanilla. Occasionally looking up at the TV as a cheer went up in the room, I savored each spoonful knowing it would be another two years until my next encounter with “the white lady.”

Oh, and I guess Italy decimated the Netherlands in the World Cup.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The French are Coming; The French are Coming

Our sail from Montserrat to Pigeon Island was actually that:  a sail!  We elected to motor east around the north side of Montserrat and when we eased off we found we could sail a close-hauled course all the way to Pigeon Island. The last time we were at Pigeon Island it was a quiet little cove with a handful of boats that take people out to the Jacques Cousteau National Park for some of the best diving on Guadeloupe.  As I looked through the binoculars I saw a forest of masts and large catamarans rafted up everywhere. Oh oh, I thought. Then I could feel the pulsating bass beat from some huge sound system resonating on our bodies; next we actually heard the music radiating throughout the anchorage.  Huge banners flew from the rigging of the cats and all were decorated in outrageous colors and designs. Reading one of the banners I saw the words Hippo Cup 2014; only later did I learn what that actually meant.

Since we got in late and were exhausted from the eight-hour sail, Meryl and I stuffed our ear plugs in and went to bed, oblivious to what was happening around us. With no Internet I couldn’t even research what the elusive Hippo Cup was. I felt it couldn’t be sailboat race since these types of cats have enough trouble getting out of the moorage.

Early the next morning we sailed south in the lee of Guadeloupe marveling at the kaleidoscope of greens as the sunlight broke through the clouds and illuminated the steep mountainside of the island. The last time we sailed along here we got blasted by 20 - to 30-knot gusts blasting down the mountain valleys. Today was no exception. As we rounded Pointe du Vieux Fort out into the open channel the waves and wind got stronger. We tried to motor sail a rhumb line but our speed dropped to 1.8 to 2.0 knots. Meryl suggested we foot off and put the staysail up to sail a bit and that got the speed back up to around four knots. The strategy worked as we approached the lee of Iles des Saints and the wave height dropped down so we could make better speed. The only disconcerting thing was when I looked back across the passage towards Pigeon Island and saw one mast, then two, then six . . . oh my God, the French are coming, the French are coming!

We hustled into Bourg des Saintes, the little anchorage at Iles des Saints and quickly got a mooring ball furthest upwind and closest to shore. Soon after the French armada arrived, banners flying, bikinied French women covering the decks, and the music starting to blast.  Soon their were over 50 large cats occupying every mooring buoy in the harbor.

We took a quick trip into town to clear customs and take a trip to the grocery store. Alas, the bin with baguettes was near empty with just one “no salt” baguette standing there. It took Meryl a long time to shop so I went next door and sat on a porch, where I was immediately befriended by a huge cat (I’m highly allergic to cats and they love me) who wanted to lay in my lap.  I looked down the street and could see a weathered old man pushing a bin of fresh baguettes to the grocery store. Dislodging the cat, I ran yelling “Stop Meryl, don’t buy that old no-salt baguette,” and thankfully got there just in time. Even as the man was entering the store women were grabbing the fresh baguettes out of his basket. They don’t last long here.

A short word about French baguettes. Unless you’ve had one in France or a French controlled country, you’ve never enjoyed a real baguette. Someone told me the ingredients and preparation are controlled by the French government, which leads to the amazing consistency of quality of baguettes as we travel. Similar to the appellation system used to control production of French wines, the French are very picky about their baguettes. When walking down the street about every tenth person has a couple of baguettes under his/her arms, and most likely the ends are broken off and already eaten. A true French baguette (not the ones you get at QFC or Safeway) are a food unto themselves. You really don’t need butter or other condiments, the richness and unique taste of the baguette causes the bread to simply melt in your mouth.  That’s why sailors love sailing in the French controlled islands, the food is really that good.
While these photos are courtesy of their website at www.hippocup.com, they do represent what we saw.
Now, back to our Frenchmen and the Hippo Cup.  The harbor is literally packed with large catamarans. After I dropped Meryl off at the boat I went in search of source of water for the boat, checking out nearby docks, etc.  One the way back I motored into a wall of pulsating sound. Mostly it is what I call Euro/Tech, the kind played in clubs all over Europe. Directly ahead of me was the “directors boat,” and on the bow were seven beautiful young French girls in brief bikinis all dancing to the beat. They waved, and seeing an older man with his mouth agape, they all turned and presented their posteriors (you’ll shortly understand why I’m using proper medical terms here) and wiggled them to the beat. Speechless, I just sat there and tried to remember the French word for “thank you,” Oh to be twenty again.

I needed to take Meryl back to the dock to pick up our laundry and as I waited I got to talk with some the guys off one of the big cats. Turns out the Hippo Cup is an annual “retreat” for young French doctors (500 in this group) usually after finishing their residency.  I guess after all the medical school you’ve earned your right to blow off a little steam. The Hippo comes from Hippocratic. My feeling is the Hippo Cup is heavily underwritten by various medical firms and drug companies, because its quite the production.

Each boat has a theme costume that they wear to the nightly events.
Big Bird would go into heat if he saw this group strutting their stuff.
Now be honest, you haven't ever dressed in feathers and a bikini to attend a formal dinner?
They sail to seven different ports, with a somewhat relaxed race in-between ports. Once they arrive, the fun begins. Almost all boats had huge stereo systems blasting and girls/guys dancing up on the decks. One boat even had a laser light show light like a nightclub that projected up on his sail. After many hours of drinking, jumping off the boat, then drinking some more, each night they attend a huge hosted party ashore. It was like an armada of dingies loaded to the gunnels with colorful bodies. Most of the parties have themes, in that the crews of each boat are dressed in outrageous outfits:  leopard skin tights, police uniforms, tuxes and dinner dresses, S&M themed outfits . . . everything you can imagine and some you can’t imagine. It sounds like the parties get kind of wild. They have full sound systems, DJs, and lots and lots to drink. Now for the fun part.
The next time you have a health emergency in France, this is your medical team.

At about 4:00 am (yes, that’s in the early morning), the formal party shuts down and people retire (that’s really not the right word) to two large cats rafted together just across from us.  I awoke at 5:00 am not believing the music was still going only to see approximately 400 people crowded onto the two cats, so that you could only see the hulls of the boats deep in the water; no piece of deck was visible through all the bodies. It’s now 9:00 am in the morning and they are still dancing. Lots of ribald costumes, but (for the French) very little nudity (I guess if you’re a doctor you’ve seen it all anyway). So as Meryl and I have breakfast and start the day, Abba is blasting across the bay and the party continues.   I can’t imagine anything like this happening in the US. without fights breaking out, the police being called, etc.

You gotta love the French.

Why does no one believe me when I describe this stuff?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Under the Volcano

While expecting a nice leisurely sail from Nevis to Montserrat, we were met with a persistent south to southeasterly wind that put Montserrat right on the nose. That, coupled with the four- to six-foot seas made for a long and uncomfortable day of motor sailing. While only 38 miles, it took us all day with speeds as low as three knots while we fought the current that sweeps around both sides of Montserrat.

Meryl with the Kingdom of Redonda in the background.
One interesting note during the passage was Redonda Island, a mile-long towering rock located directly on the rhumb line between Nevis and Montserrat. Originally claimed by the British for its phosphate deposits (right before the Americans were about to claim it), the island once housed up to 100 people. When the phosphate deposits ran out, Antigua claimed the island by building a small post office, which only lasted a year before it was destroyed by a hurricane. Tough neighborhood.

Now it gets interesting. In 1865 an Irish-Montserrat merchant named Matthew Dowdy Shiell had a long-awaited son after eight daughters, and naturally wanted a kingdom for his son (what father doesn’t?). The family and friends took a day trip to the island and after a lot of libations, had the Bishop of Antigua crown his son King Filipe I of Redonda.  Returning to England the elder Shiell became a well-known writer of romance and science fiction and used his notoriety to lobby the British Crown to recognizing him as King of Redonda. After his death the title was passed down to a fellow writer, who tried to sell the it on several occasions, but eventually passed the title on to other eccentrics. The current holder, artist Robert Williamson, claimed he was on the “short list” for the title (as he was only  five-foot- two-inches tall), and named himself Robert the Bald. His royal yacht, used in the filming of The Pirates of the Caribbean, made an auspicious voyage to the island with 16 friends (with again copious amounts of alcohol), where Robert named many of his friends as nobles to the realm.

The irony is that with the exception of a few boobies (the kind that fly) the island is a virtual no-man’s-land with steep cliff faces on all sides, making landing a vessel extremely difficult. It does make for some interesting conversation for yachties during the long passage to Montserrat, however.

Ruth, an Onvi 44 nestled under the cliffs at Rendezvous Bay, Montserrat.
We had by-passed Montserrat the year before, but this time friends had stopped and loved the island. Since the wind was out of the southeast, it made anchoring in the lee of the island somewhat tenable (northwesterly winds send a large swell into the anchorage).  We arrived late in the day to see our new friends, Bertril and Claudia, anchored in Ruth, their sleek Onvi 44 sailboat. After we got anchored they dingied over and invited us to dinner.

Bertril showing us the spacious interior of the Onvi 44.
 The Onvi, a radically-designed French sailboat, was on my short list of boats when we began our search for bluewater cruisers. Made famous by circumnavigator Jimmy Cornell, Onvi’s are made of strong aluminum with hard chines and carry their wide beam all the way back to the stern. The interior is very efficiently designed with the galley running along the starboard side, giving the salon a very spacious feel. The sleeping area is forward (where it should be on a tropical boat) with huge overhead hatches to funnel the wind through the cabin. An stylish arch on the transom serves as both the dingy davits and mounts for the solar cells and antennas. It’s a very well-designed boat, and weighing about one-third less than our boat, is very fast off the wind.

We had met Bertril and Claudia when we were tying up our dinghies at the Nevis dock and shared a bus ride up to the Golden Rock Inn.  Both are recently separated, and ironically met when they were with their previous spouses five years ago buying identical Onvi’s at the factory in France. One thing led to another and now they are sailing half the year and splitting the rest of their time between Bertil’s home in Sweden and Claudia’s in Switzerland.

Bertril from Sweden and Claudia from Switzerland.
 Claudia, a fireball of a woman, has been sailing since she was a little girl, cruising on her parent’s boats on the Swiss lakes and abroad. She has extensive experience in racing dingies and was the H-Class champion of Switzerland. Her bubbly personality is a perfect match for Bertril’s dry and understated sense of humor. They both share an infectious love of each other and of sailing. A very fun couple to be around.  We made plans to do a tour of Montserrat the next day using a cab driver recommended by a Jamaican bartender on the island.

We met Jimmy, the cab driver, the next morning and began our tour of the island. Montserrat, originally inhabited by Irish who were run out of St. Kitts in 1649, had an economy based on sugar cane. Slaves were imported to the island to work the sugar cane fields, but eventually the crop ran its course. The island offers a stark contrast between the lush, verdant greenery of the north end to the monochromatic ash grey of the southern end, the result of years of eruptions from the Soufriere Hills volcano.

The Soufriere Hills volcano from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.
Jimmy drove us to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) about one-half way down the island. The Soufriere Hills volcano, after 400 years of inactivity, sprang to life in July 1995 with a modest eruption. The island then had a population of around 11,000 who were involved in fishing, farming and tourist activities. In 1997 a major eruption sent pyroclastic material (searing hot gases and rock) flowing down to the capital city of Plymouth. About two-thirds of the population had to resettle in other areas. In 2003, when the volcano dome collapsed, the government allowed residents to repopulate certain areas in Plymouth and surrounds. But in 2006 the dome began rebuilding and there were several eruptions over the following years, culminating in a major eruption on February 11, 2010 that resulted in the the town being cordoned off again.  One property, the Vue Point Hotel, had been renovated three different times, only to be closed again until further notice.

The ash-filled swimming pool at The Montserrat Villa hotel.
The hotel offices. Note the two large safes in the background.
The Daily Report from the hotel dated 1996.
We had an opportunity to explore another property on the outskirts of Plymouth, the Montserrat Springs Hotel, to see the extent of the damage. It was amazing to walk through the hotel offices and find papers strewn everywhere, as if people just got up and left immediately. The dining hall was full of ash, and the swimming pool had over ten feet of ash filling it to near the brim. Jimmy had been living nearby during the eruption and described the wall of ash tumbling down the mountain.  He said 11 people died that day, despite warnings from  government officials, mainly farmers who had ventured up the hills to check on their animals.

Jimmy points out the pyroclastic flow that buried the town of Plymouth.
From the hotel you can look over to the ghost town of Plymouth (it’s prohibited to enter the town area) and see bombed-out looking houses and even the remains of a large American medical school. The houses on the ridges remained, but those in the valley floor where buried ten to twenty feet deep in the ash flow. 

The volcano is now in a somewhat dominant state, and some residents of bordering areas have moved back into their homes, but large arrays of loudspeakers dot the countryside to warn people of any impending eruptions.  Ironically one of the booming businesses is the mining of the volcanic sand (which is everywhere) to sell to other Caribbean islands for beach rebuilding and construction projects.

Riding back to Little Harbor, Jimmy pointed out the newly built Cultural Center that was partially funded by island resident Sir George Martin, famous as the sound engineer/manager for The Beatles. He built a sound studio on Montserrat that was frequented by a who’s who of rock and roll in the years before the major eruption.

We ended the day with a delicious lunch at JJ's Cafe about Little Bay.