Bon Jour mes amis,

John and Paulette?  We met them at a Krogen Rendezvous in Solomon’s Maryland maybe six years ago, just after they had purchased their 58’ KK, “Seamantha.” We enjoyed the little time that we had together, and hoped that our wakes would cross in the future.  Fast forward to January, 2015.  When we arrived at Sunset Marina in Stuart, we found that we had just missed them.  In November, they had left with two other Krogens, “Anne Marie,”a 58’ and “Sylken Sea,” a 48’, bound for the Antilles.  Knowing that we would be heading south in the next year or two, our long-distance correspondence began.  For the past two years, we’ve been picking John and Paulette’s brains for places to stay, sights to see, and people to meet.  They’ve offered sage advice and friendly suggestions to us Caribbean wannabees, all the while planning to meet up and spend time together.

Back in Falmouth Harbor, we got down to the serious business of “getting caught up.”  We started by delivering a few (but who’s counting?) bottles of “Don Q,”John’s favorite rum, that we had picked up for him in Puerto Rico.  The rest of the evening flew by.  Ever the gracious hostess, and consummate organizer, Paulette had planned an Easter feast to be attended by Ken and Sylvianne (Sylken Sea), and James and Pam (Love Zur).  So…..on Easter Sunday afternoon, we all got together aboard Seamantha to celebrate the day.  Without exception, these crews are great cooks, and no one was to be outdone.  John and Paulette provided the main dishes (Veal, lamb, fresh veggies, salad, potatoes, homemade spanakopita, fresh-baked braided Greek bread, and etc.) while the other crews provided apps and deserts.  Foie gras, Mexican rolls, fish/cheese spread and assorted cured meats before, then Suzanne’s(Thank you Julia) Tequila Lime pie after.  All washed down with liberal amounts of French red wine, it was a chore to get back into our tenders to head home afterwards.  The next week and a half just flew by.  The classic yachts rolled in, ranging in age from over 100 years old, to those that were less than a decade, and in sizes from 30’ to well over 100’.  We watched the start of the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta races from our dinghies a couple of days, and from high up on the seaside cliffs a few others.  We hiked and shopped, went out for lunches and met aboard one boat or another for Sundowners.  One day, John, Paulette, Suz and I took the bus, number 17, to St. John, the largest city on Antigua for lunch and a lookaround.  From there, we transferred to the number 54 bus for a field trip to the Epicurean, definitely the nicest grocery store that we’ve seen in the past 6 months.  Another day, Suz and I explored Nelson’s Dockyard, a UNESCO heritage site, in nearby English Harbor.

Suz and I were starting to feel the pull of the sea, and the calendar was inexorably ticking down the days until Hurricane Season.  So, on the 27th of April, when a small weather window opened, we were off to Montserrat.  Seamantha needed a few more days for their guys to finish varnishing, and Sylken Sea was headed to dry dock, as our Canadian friends had to head home for 6 months (to maintain their health insurance), so it was just the Admiral and me.  Five hours later, we had the anchor down in Little Bay, on the north end of Montserrat.  The anchorage there is nothing more than a Bight, so you must go there in very settled weather.  This we expected for two days, so we were quite surprised when the surge was rolling in, and waves were crashing on the rocks.  Oh well, we were here, and this was as good as it was predicted to get in the next week or so.  You may recall that Montserrat, an overseas territory of Great Britain, was hit by a devastating volcanic eruption in 1997.  Actually, it was many eruptions spanning a few years, culminating in 1997, by which time, more than ¾ of the population had fled the island.  Prior to the volcano, Montserrat had been a veritable paradise.  With its’ fertile soil and abundant water supply, agriculture thrived.  Since the island was a bit “off the beaten path,” it was attractive to the rich and famous who didn’t want to be seen.  Sir George Martin (the fifth Beatle) built Air Studios here, recording some 70 albums by such notables as Paul McCartney, The Police, Sting, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Simply Red, James Taylor, Jimmie Buffet, Arrow (Hot, Hot, Hot), Dire straits, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Lou Reed, and many more.  The studio was mostly destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and never rebuilt.  Sir George’s family still maintains his home on the island since his death in 2016.  Now, post-volcano, the population of roughly 3,500 (down from 11,000), is forced to live on the northern 1/3 of the island, due to the fact that the southern section is now an “exclusion zone” where entry is forbidden due to the threat of continued pyroclastic activity.  Unfortunately, the northern section has very little arable land, and water is scarcer.  One has to wonder if the population will ever reach “critical mass,” to allow businesses to thrive, and life to return to “normal.”

So let me tell you about our tour of the island:  We met our guide, Sunny (no, not Sonny.  Sunny.) on the road outside the port security office at 09h00.  He was easy to spot.  As described by his wife to Suzanne: “A skinny white guy, around 5’11  Dishwater blonde hair.”  Conceived and born in Key West, FL, Sunny moved to Montserrat with his parents (a couple of hippies, disenchanted with the U.S.A.-my distillation of his description) when he was one year old.  Now thirty-nine, he has lived on Montserrat his whole life.  For the next eight hours, we toured the island in his little SUV.  He shared anecdotes about life on the island pre and post volcano.  His knowledge regarding the history of the island seemed boundless.  When we asked a question, he would rattle off dates and details as if he was reading from an almanac.  As we gazed out across a miles-long pyroclastic flow on the east side of the island from a high vantage point several miles away, it was hard to imagine the international airport buried thirty feet below the surface.  The top of the control tower was all that was visible.  When the volcano was more active, Sunny and his folks would come up to this vantage point to witness the incandescent flows on the side of the volcano, and watch the lightning storms which always accompanied an event.  Before heading to the exclusion zone (Sunny had obtained passes from the police to enter), we stopped at the Hilltop Café for lunch.  The Hilltop is a non-profit coffee shop run by Sunny’s parents, David and Clover.  The shop provides a gathering spot with free WiFi for locals and travelers alike.  In addition to coffee, tea, and an assortment of organic juices, there’s usually some type of healthy casserole in the oven.  Clover cut us each a piece of “Mexican Pie.”  The Hilltop is also the best museum on the island.  The place is packed with relics from the island, ranging from pre-Carib inhabitants, to furniture and mementos from Air Studio.  As we enjoyed lunch, Clover cued up a video entitled “Remembering Montserrat” for us.  The video, shot by Sunny’s Dad (he’s a professional photographer), with a soundtrack by Sunny and Clover (oh yeah, he’s a professional musician) highlighted scenes of Montserrat, and the capital, Plymouth, pre-volcano.  After lunch, we headed into the exclusion zone, an area encompassing most of the southern half of the island.  Entry is forbidden unless a special pass is obtained, due to the possibility of renewed pyroclastic activity.

Our experience there was profound on two levels:  the immensity of the geologic change, and the incredible toll on the people.  Sunny described the hikes that his family took when he was a kid, up to the highest peak on the island, gazing down to the lush valley below.  That valley has now grown into the highest peak on the island.  Driving down a dusty two-track, Sunny stops the car and tells us that there’s a two story house under us, and a truck that the electric company didn’t move fast enough over there.  The buildings on higher ground are untouched, they’ve just been vacant for 20 years.  Many are buried by vegetation, not ash.  The original owners still retain possession; they’re just not allowed to live there-very strange.  As we drive down the roads of Sunny’s old neighborhood, the scene reminds us of a post-apocalyptic movie set.  Hard to explain-ya gotta be there.  We got back to the boat by 18h00, spent the night, and were off to Guadaloupe early the next morning.

-Later

Bon Jour,

WARNING!  This may be a long one, it’s been three weeks since I talked at ya.  We got off the dock at Crown Bay Marina by 08h15, en route to North Sound, Virgin Gorda.  We had a beautiful, sunny day for our seven hour voyage.  Driving from the upper helm, we just enjoyed the breeze, rehashing the week with Jeremy, Jodi and Mikaela.  By 15h15, we were on a ball in our familiar haunt, Biras Creek.  On the 9th, by the light of the waxing gibbous moon (full on the 11th), we threaded our way out of the harbor at 03h55.  Gliding past Sir Richard Branson’s island, Necker, the bioluminescent critters set our bow wave aglow.  Lightning flickered below the distant horizon.  A gazillion stars overhead.  This is what it’s all about for us.  Accumulating patchy clouds obscured the sunrise, but as the sky lightened, the lines went in the water.  We struck out on the fishing program, and as we reached the shallows north of St. Maarten, we hauled the lines in and cleaned the reels.  We were beginning to get an appreciation for how good the fishing is in the Bahamas and the coast of Florida.  Okay……Here we go.  The Bahamian and Chinese governments are currently negotiating an “agriculture and fishing agreement.” For a little over a billion dollars, the Chinese will have the right to fish Bahamian waters, and farm the land.  Well, over the last 400 years we’ve gotten a pretty good idea about farming (or growing anything) in the Bahamas.  Wonder what the Chinese are after and wonder what the ocean will look like when they’re done.  Hopefully, the Bahamian politicians will break from their traditionally short-sighted habits and ask any South American country how their dealings with China has worked out for them.  By the way, the fishing boundary between the Bahamas and the U.S.A. has been in dispute for years-where do we fit into this mess?  Hopefully, I won’t break my leg jumping off this soapbox.  …..Aaah, there we go.

We missed the 17h00 bridge into the Lagoon at St. Maarten, so spent a rolly night anchored in Simpson Bay, utilizing the old, small flopperstoppers.  We made the 09h30 bridge the next morning, anchored in the Lagoon, and cleared Customs by 11h00.  We called Havin, our fabricator, and he said that the new, larger flopperstoppers were almost done, but that he needed to ask me a couple of questions about them in person.  We went in to his shop, got things straightened out, and agreed to pick the finished work up that afternoon.  Meanwhile, Budget Marine for line and some miscellaneous hardware, grocery store for produce, and the salon to make an appointment for the Admiral to get her hair cut.  Back at Havin’s, “no way I can get this done today.  How about you come back tomorrow around Noon?” Well, when we told him that we needed them by the 4th, we figured on a two week overage, so no stress.  The town was a bit quieter this time, with all of the Heineken Regatta folks gone, but still very vibrant.  We got our business taken care of, and went to pick up our flopperstopper “birds” and spinnaker pole at around 14h00 the next day.  The work was beautiful.  After grabbing one of the birds, I asked Havin where the other one was.  Blank look-bad sign.  He had only made one.  No wonder the job was such a good price.  We went back and looked at my drawings/specs, and sure enough, I had specified 2 birds.  Since he special-ordered the materials, he couldn’t have another one done for us until 4 days hence.  No good.  We had to be in Antigua by the 14th, and only had a teeny weather window to sneak through.  After exploring the ways that we could possibly get the goods down island, or whether we could come back later, we said “Uncle,” and took what was finished.  We left the Lagoon at the 08h30 bridge, and dropped anchor again in Simpson Bay.  While Suzanne took the tender back through the bridge into town to get her haircut, I cleaned “Alizann’s” bottom.  Two hours flew by, and when I surfaced, Suz was back, happily shorn, and we were on our way to Ile Forchue, off of St. Barth’s, to spend the night before heading down to Antigua.

It was another early morning departure from Ile Forchue, but at 03h00, under clear skies and lit by a full moon, we raised anchor, pointing The Girl southeast to Antigua.  Our plan was to hit the marina at Jolly Harbor so that we could get on a dock, as I had to install hardware on the side of the boat and up on the mast for the new flopperstopper.  After fishing from sunup, we finally had a strike in the early afternoon.  Before long, we had boated a nice little 18 pound Blackfin Tuna.  We got him bled and chilled down for a couple of hours, then filleted him, bagged him, and got most of him in the freezer, reserving some for “just now.” Well…Antigua Customs was a trip.  We came in around 10 minutes before they were to close, found no place to tie the boat, and figured that we’d just clear in the morning.  At Jolly Harbor Marina, the Dockmaster asked us if we had cleared.  “Nope.  We’ll do it in the morning.”  He wasn’t so sure about that.  He told us to follow him, as he roared away in his inflatable.  Down the harbor, he went in to the Customs office, then back out to our boat.  They wanted us to clear tonight before docking.  A space opened up at the wall, and we slid in.  An hour-and-a-half later, after waiting in line behind two other boats, we were cleared.  Our dock dude said that the reverse-osmosis dockside water was ten cents a gallon, so we put 200 gallons in the tanks.  In the morning, we were up at daybreak.  First, we gave The Girl a thorough desalting, scrubbing her from stem to stern.  Then, it was up the mast to tap a couple of holes for the padeye and block which was to hold the new F.S.  Now came the notsomuchfun part.  Drilling holes in the hull, one thing that you don’t want on a boat.  Well, it had to be done, so after measuring five times, I drilled once.  By 13h00, the deed was done, and we were ready to (not) roll.  I left the dock for literally the first time to go up to the office and pay the rent.  I nearly choked when I was presented with the bill.  Seven hundred and ninety-three dollars?  We were on the dock for all of twenty hours!  When I regained my composure, the nice lady informed me that that was EC$ (around 2.2:1USD).  Still seemed like a lot.  By the way, the water was $.10 USD/LITER, and we had used a little OVER 60kw of power.  Really?  On a bad day, we use around 20-25kw.  We did the two-step about the bill for around 20 minutes, and I just ended up aggravated, not placated.  All of a sudden, installing an electric meter on board doesn’t look like such an expensive proposition.  (Our ace troubleshooter, mechanic, friend and nautical Jedi Master, Scottie had warned us about the electric scam thing in the Caribbean.  We had decided that we needed to “stop the bleeding” on boat expenses at that time, so opted to forego the meter install).  Liveandlearn.  Their house, their meter, their rules, our $$$.  Outta there.

So, on the 14th of April, we entered Falmouth Harbor at around 15h00, where John and Paulette, from Seamantha, came out in their tender to meet us, and lead us to our mooring ball.  This is getting kinda long.  We’re only up to the 14th of April, and it’s the 3rd of May, so I’ll try not to wear out my welcome until

-Later

Top of the Morning

The week spent with Jeremy and his family went by waaayyyyy too quickly.  We did a whirlwind tour of some of the hot spots in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.  On the day of their arrival, March 30th, we did the tourist/shopping thing in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas.  We were off the dock by 08h30 the following morning to grab a mooring ball at Leinster Bay, where we toured the Ananberg sugar mill ruins.  After a morning snorkel, it was off to Great Harbour, on Jost Van Dyke, to clear Customs and have a snack and sip at “Foxy’s.” By 15h10, we had moved to a ball in Little Harbour, in anticipation of our dinner reservation at “Sydney’s Peace and Love.”  While the girls cleaned out the gift shop, Jeremy and I made drinks at the “honor bar.”  (You keep track of your drinks on a scratch pad, then tote them up at the end of the night to pay).  Later, we enjoyed our meals that we had pre-ordered on the VHF radio.  Being the end of the season, we were the only patrons in the place.  The night wasn’t quite as lively as the last time that Jeremy was here, at the peak of the season, but we had a nice quiet dinner prepared by the owner, Strawberry’s Mom.  07h30 the next morning, we were on our way to North Sound on Virgin Gorda, where we took a ball in Biras Creek.  The Bitter End Yacht Club, the Fat Virgin Café, and Saba Rock were our targets there.  We even had time for a little swim.  Wanting to catch a ball at the Baths, we left North Sound at 06h20, and got a ball by 07h35, just as they were beginning to fill up.  Getting to shore was a challenge, as the swell was up, and the waves were crashing.  To compound matters, the dinghy corrals that were there the last time that we visited a few years ago had been removed.  In their place was a roped off swim area that extended 100 yards or so from the beach.  We tied the dink to a buoy, and went hand-over-hand along a buoyed line to the beach.  We spent a couple of hours climbing in, around, and under the unusual rock formations and the sheltered pools that they create, availing ourselves of numerous photo-ops (A Sports Illustrated swim suit issue was shot here a few decades ago).  Next stop, Marina Cay, home of the Pusser’s Bar (home of the Painkiller). We had a couple before motoring to White Bay, on the South side of Peter Island.  While the rest of the gang caught their breath at anchor, Mikaela and I had a great snorkel.  We started out to just dive the anchor, but ended up being out over an hour.  Swimming over the Eel Grass on the way to the reef, I spotted “something” on the bottom which looked really weird.  It was a blood red and orange ball with blackish spiky, feathery appendages-kinda like a round featherduster, and a little bigger than a softball.  It was obviously some kind of critter, maybe an urchin, but it looked like an alien.  In all of our diving in several hemispheres, I’ve never seen anything like it.  When we got back to the boat, we brought the rest of our crew out for a look-see.  Digging out our critter books, we discovered that it was a Magnificent Urchin.  Strange thing is that they’re usually found at fairly great depths-I don’t know what this guy was doing in 15’ of water, but we were happy that he was there.  We slept in the next morning, and motored the 3 miles over to Benure Bay, on Norman Island.  Instead of hitting Pirate’s Bight, another beach bar, we voted for a “rest” day, just enjoying the scenery, snorkeling, and sunning before heading to Cruz Bay the following day to clear back in to the U.S.A.  After clearing Customs, we made the obligatory pilgrimage to “Woody’s” for cheeseburgers and fries before moving the Girl to Francis Bay on St. John’s for our final night together.  Early on the 6th, we departed Francis, moving over to Crown Bay Marina in St. Thomas, where the gang caught a taxi to the airport for their flight back home to Atlanta.  Whew!  Makes me tired just recounting the high points.  You know what comes next-BOATCHORES.  We rolled over and used a laundry service instead of doing it ourselves.  At a buck eighty-five a pound, the forty-two pounds was a bargain.  All we had to do was drop it off, bring it home and vacuum-bag it.  Two days later, with the oil changed and the Girl spiffed up, we were ready to bid “Adieu” to the Virgin’s, and get on South and East, back to St. Maarten.

-Later

 

Well………Change of plans.  We opted out of Great Harbour, and decided to head over to Sandy Spit, off the east end of Jost Van Dyke.  The surge was really rolling in, so we moved a little west, to Machioneel Bay.  The cruising guides told us that the anchoring was difficult due to the rocky bottom, but we looked for a sandy spot and buried the hook on the first try.  Score!  Our next bright idea was to take the “soccer Mom” chairs to Sandy Spit with a few sips and watch the sunset.  Great concept.  Execution?  Not so much.  The waves were wrapping around the spit, creating quite a surf.  I got the Admiral, chairs, and sips on to the beach, then tried to anchor the dinghy.  No way.  After some dinghyslammin’, and wavescrashin’ (over the side of the dinghy-nearly swamping it), the saltwater-infused drinks, Admiral, and chairs were safely on “White Star” and back to sea.  Back at the Girl, we exchanged our salty vodka tonics with fresh ones and did a quick recon over to Little Harbour, JVD to make sure that “Sydney’s Peace and Love” restaurant was still in bidness.  Check.  We’d be heading there next week when our son, Jeremy, and his family were with us.  Next morning, it was off to Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke, to check the status of “Foxy’s”  bar.  Check.  See ya in a week or so.  Next day, we were off to Soper’s Hole to get our despacho for clearing out of the B.V.I.’s.  Customs and Immigration was a zoo.  The 6’x 8’ room was packed with charter boat crews looking to clear their day charter passengers in…..lots of twenty-somethings making snarky comments about the process while the officers are sitting right there.  The head lady whispered “Next,” then pointed to Suzanne (who might’ve been last in line).  We were outta there (mooring, launch dinghy, retrieve dinghy, drop mooring) in less than an hour.  It pays to respect authoritay.  From Soper’s Hole, it was off to Cruz Bay, in the USVI, to do the Customs and Immigration Cha Cha there.  Always a treat (I’ll leave it at that).  It did, however, allow us to visit “Woody’s” our favorite hamburger (and fries) bar in Cruz.  Is this becoming a theme?  Hmmmh…..  The fresh produce was excellent at the grocery store, so we stocked up before returning to the Girl.

From the 15th through the 19th, we spent our time on a mooring in Francis Bay, on St. John in the USVI.  Besides beaching and snorkeling, we got together with “Vision Quest” and “Eagles Wings” (see St. Martin) for a lively game of dominoes.  The 19th and 20th, we moved around the corner to Leinster Bay, where we visited the ruins of Annaberg sugar mill and the Murphy house.  In a fit of stupidity, we hiked over the top of the island to Coral Bay, only around two-and-a-half miles, but up and down and up and down on trails covered with loose rock.  We got to “Skinny Legs,” our hiking for hamburgers destination, and our “Map my Walk” app said we had burned 256 calories.  We scoffed.  Half pound hamburgers, chips (no fryer), and about a half dozen Cokes each and we still felt calorie-depleted.  We explored the little enclave of Coral Bay and gave more than a second thought about finding a cab for a ride home.  Neither of us said “Uncle,” so it was back over the top.  On the way home, we saw a hand-painted sign that said “Google Maps is wrong.  This is not a road to Leinster or Maho Bay.  This is a foot trail”.  HeHee.

Thought it might be fun to circumnavigate St. John’s, so on the 21rst, we headed around the east end to Hurricane Hole on the south side, just adjacent to Coral Bay.  We took a “day ball” in Otter Cove there, and explored the bays by dinghy.  Of course, we ended up in Coral Bay, where we offloaded trash and hit the Dolphin Market for fresh produce.  We looked for a bar that we had visited some thirty-five years ago, meeting Suzanne’s doppelganger.  Long story, but we were sitting at a bar there, and a guy at the other end kept staring at us.  Finally, he came over and said something like “Suzanne, who’s this?”  We thought that he was going to hit us up for a drink or something.  The Admiral says “I don’t know you.”  He looks at her like she’s out of her mind.  Okay, so we talk a little bit more, with us wondering what his angle is.  He tells us that there’s a girl in town named Suzanne, that looks just like my Suzanne.  Right.  He goes back to his bar stool.  Within the half hour, he’s back at our end of the bar with a girl in tow.  Holy Crap!  The two could’ve been twins.  Even the Admiral said that it was like looking in a mirror.  Okay, that’s the story.  Present day-couldn’t find the place.  We did find “Skinny Legs” again for an encore.  If you like burgers, highly recommended.  I wanted to stay on the ball, but the boss said it was for day use only for a reason.  We motored over to Hansen Bay, and anchored in front of a little resort there.

On the 22nd, we continued west and took a ball in Great Lameshur Bay, former home of the Tektite underwater habitat/research lab.  I won’t bore you with the details, but in the late 60’s, the Tektite habitat was built by General Electric.  Besides marine biology, the research conducted there included the use of rebreathing SCUBA devices, psychological effects of living in close quarters in a hostile environment for extended periods (NASA was all about this), and the new technique of saturation diving (where humans stayed underwater for extended periods, negating the need for multiple decompressions).  Google it if you’re interested-cool stuff, especially for my marine scientist spouse.  There were some good hiking trails, so we took the opportunity to get off the boat and do some walking.  We stayed in the bay for a couple of days, until the surge drove us out on the 24th.  While we were there, we met Zim and Kim, aboard their 54’ Jeanneau, “Someday,” as they readied their vessel for the “Around the World Rally” starting in May.  We shared drinks and stories a couple nights.  I’m sure that they’ll have a lot more after they complete their circumnavigation in a few years.

Back on the north side of St. John’s, the waves were kinder, and we spent a few nights snorkeling and hiking around various bays.  On the Admiral’s birthday, we got gussied up and dined at ZoZo’s at the old sugar mill in Caneel Bay Resort.

Off to Charlotte Amalie, on St. Thomas to get the Girl cleaned up in readiness for our son, Jeremy, and his family’s arrival.  Having not stayed in a marina for 6 weeks or so, we needed to fully charge and equalize boat batteries, do a thorough housecleaning, laundry, reprovision our fresh produce, and restock with duty-free alcohol.  We checked into the IGY Marina there, dwarfed by the many 150’+ boats in residence.  Not an economical stay at $4/ft., plus electricity, plus water, plus trash removal etc., but very convenient for the reception of guests flying in.  Being near the cruise ship port, all the amenities were nearby too.  We also discovered National Marine, a boat chandlery specializing in servicing the megayachts, but more than happy to order a part for little old us to fix our recalcitrant head.  The price that they quoted was only a bit more than we would have paid for the part in the States (including shipping).  Well, Jeremy, Jodi, and Mikaela are arriving on the 30th, so we’ll catch up with you

-Later

Hey ya,

Boy, de time she do pass quick-like.  After a couple of days experiencing 25+ kn winds, we could finally feel comfortable leaving the Girl.  It was also a pleasure to be able to take a ride in the dinghy without getting soaked to the skin.  We ran in to the Bitter End Yacht Club, and had lunch at the Pub.  The best thing that I can say about lunch was that the WiFi was fantastic-the best we have experienced since leaving the States.  Got lots of pictures up.  The food and the service?  They should have paid us.  We hiked the trail which loops from the north to south side of the resort, climbing up to around 200’, and affording a beautiful view of Gorda Sound, and Oil Nut Bay, off to the east.  We were a bit disappointed to see that the trail which cut across the old Biras Creek Resort property to the new Oil Nut development was posted “Private-No Trespassing”.  We had been excited to see the progress of the development, as we had chartered here several years ago when the sum total of the Oil Nut Property was a 12’x12’ sales office.  From a distance, it appeared that several homes were now completed, and dredges were hard at work in the marina.  On the way down the trail to the south side of the BEYC, we had a birds-eye view of the new marina tucked back into Biras Creek.  It appears to be catering to megayachts, but we were pleased to see that several mooring balls were still tucked up into the creek, and that our favorite little restaurant here, “The Fat Virgin”, was still in biz.

It was time to get moving west, so on the morning of the 9th, when the wind had subsided to 20-25 kn, we were anchor up by 08h30.  The seas were kind (2’-4’).  In the passage between Virgin Gorda and Tortola, the hydraulic system alarmed with a high temperature warning.  #$%@@!  We shut everything down, and I went below to investigate.  Yep, infrared pyrometer confirmed high oil temperature.  Pull the top off the sea strainer-no crap in the strainer, water flow good.  Easy, it must be the impeller.  Took the cap off the raw water pump, and behold!, the impeller was fine.  Hmmm….  Started the boat back up, within a minute or so, the temp was dropping.  Only thing that I could come up with was that we had sucked up a piece of trash (plastic bag, etc.) which blocked the water intake on the hull.  When we stopped, it must have floated free while we were rocking and rolling in the waves.  By 11h45 we were on a mooring ball in Great Harbour, on Peter Island.  Peter is a privately-owned island (Amway), but with the exception of the dozen gated palaces situated around the Cay, visitors are welcome.  We spent 2 days there.  The first evening we had sips at the restaurant patio, located at the exclusive resort here.  After checking out the dinner menu, we discovered just how proud they are of their food, and decided that we’d rather eat on the boat for a week, and still have some change in our pockets as opposed to enjoying the resorts’ hospitality.  The following morning, we took a hot, hilly walk out to the far end of the island, where a pair of wind turbines provide 2/3 of the islands’ energy needs.  They are supplemented by solar panels located on several of the residences, and a diesel generator located right on site.  The island is completely self-sufficient, making all of their water and electricity, and prides itself in being very “Green”.  Just to the east of the turbines, on the north side of the island, lies White Bay.  We didn’t hike down to the beach, as we were “all hilled out”, but from our vantage point up on the ridge, it looked like a nice, secluded anchorage with a beautiful white sand beach (note to self).  On the way home, we stopped at the resort’s beach bar/restaurant, and splurged for lunch.  Actually, the prices were quite reasonable compared to the dinner menu.

Next stop, Norman Island, still part of the British Virgin’s.  We remembered the Bight as being a very popular anchorage for the charter folks, with a floating schooner/bar, “The Willie T” anchored in the middle, and the Pirates Bight, a funky little beach shack bar on shore.  Several years before, while chartering, Suz and I had explored Benure Bay, a few coves west of the Bight, and thought that it’d be a cool spot to hang.  Apparently a few other folks did too.  When we arrived, there were several other boats already anchored there.  Nonetheless, we picked out a likely spot and dropped the hook.  One of these days we’re going to master this anchoring in traffic thing.  On the third try, we finally had the Girl laying in a spot where we wouldn’t be too close to other boats if the wind shifted.  We spent the afternoon snorkeling off the point on the east end of the anchorage.  Dinghying home, we passed by the sailing catamaran “Mauna Kai”, meeting Rick and Bobbi.  Sips and conversation followed, and by nightfall we had a dive trip planned around the west point of the bay for 09h30 the following morning.  They were quite a contrast with us, the lifetime planners and plodders, as far as choosing cruising life.  Two years ago, they chartered a boat with a captain.  Bobbi said “This is what I want to do”.  They retired, Rick went to Martinique to buy a boat, they sold all their stuff, moved aboard, took a sailing lesson, and here they are.  Really?  The morning’s dive turned out to be a very pleasant surprise (after Suzanne’s new dive computer fell off the stern into 20’ of water over a solid coral bottom).  By the time that I got my gear on, the boat had been swinging in an arc around it’s mooring, and I had no idea where to look.  Bobbi and Rick had been looking, but to no avail.  When I got into the water, it was pretty clear that this was going to be a losing proposition.  The bottom was a three-dimensional maze of nooks and crannies of rocks and corals.  After saying “Uncle,” I headed back to the ladder.  The sun came out, and I looked over the reef, admiring the scene in the glittering light.  There, 20’ away from me, doing a headstand atop a formation of pillar coral, was that 8” long computer.  Two inches laterally in any direction would have put it in a slot between the many pillars, never to be found.  We shot some great video of a ray, and saw plenty of lobsters on this dive which ranged from depths of 25’-62’ along the reef’s edge.

We brought the Girl back to the harbor, and Mauna Kai took off for Jost Van Dyke.  The day was young, so we hiked over the top of the island to get a look at The Bight.  Whoa!  Our funky little beach shack with all the boat cards and graffiti plastering the ceiling was gone.  In its place was a huge open-air restaurant, with gift shop and scuba store attached.  The harbor was filled with charter boats and mini-megayachts.  The smell of suntan lotion permeated the air, the Rolex’s and designer label clothes were in perfusion amongst the 100’s of entitled type A’s in attendance.  (Not judging here, just trying to paint a mental picture for you).  After finishing our $17 dollars’ worth of Cokes, we beat a hasty retreat, somewhat saddened that another funky little spot had succumbed to “progress.” Back over the top of the island, and back at our bay, never lacking for company, Nancy and Todd, aboard “Wild Daisy” invited us over for sips that evening.  Nancy had seen our hailing port, and being from Michigan as well, came over with the invite.  We had waaayy too much fun with this interesting couple, he an internist who all of a sudden said “to heck with it” about 2 decades ago, and never came back to the office, and she, the owner of a tool and die shop, who just retired.  Sounds like it worked out well for them.  He’s been sailing for 25 years, while she (who professes not to be a sailor), has been able to do what she loves.  She was a fountain of wit: “I’m getting a tee shirt made that has a picture of a sailboat on it that says “I’d rather be working” and “I love going to windward on a 747” are a few of my favorites.”

In the morning, we took Alizann out to “The Indians,” a popular snorkeling spot just outside The Bight.  We really thought that 08h00 would be early enough to snag a mooring ball, but they were already taken.  We circled back toward The Bight, and took a ball in Kelly Cove, just short of The Bight, then took “White Star” out to the Indians.  It was just “okay.” With so much tourist traffic, it’s very hard on the coral, and most of it was dead.  There was some good fish life there, though, especially for novice snorkelers, with some interesting rock formations.

After our snorkel, we were out of Kelly Cove, and on our way to Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke, where we’ll pick up.

-Later

Bonjour, then Hoodorning!!

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  A week in St. Martin ended up becoming two (or so).  Clearing Customs was quite interesting.  We headed in to Fort Louis Marina to use their computerized check in.  After we had entered all of our vitals into the work station, we presented ourselves to the lady at the desk for our printouts.  Besides the fees for Customs and Immigration, she wanted $15 for the use of the service.  No thanks!  I think that she was amazed when we thanked her and walked away.  We dinghied in to the lagoon, and printed out our forms for a donation of $2 to a local charity-check in done!  The lady at Island Waterworld (local chandlery) was incredulous that the marina was going to charge us so much.  Note to self-listen to fellow cruisers (who told us to check in at Island Waterworld).  Besides the day that the wind was out of the North, and we got the stuffing kicked out of us, the anchorage in Marigot Bay was wonderful.  We wandered about town, visited Fort Louis, high up on the hill overlooking the harbor, and enjoyed the City Market on Saturday.  Every morning at 0730, we listened to the cruisers net on our VHF, moderated by Mike at “Shrimpy’s.” That 45 minute+/- presentation gave us all the info that we needed to face the day-weather, arrivals and departures, general announcements, buy, sell and trade, and general information for cruisers.  Shrimpy’s itself, was another story-it really defies description, but I’ll try.  There’s a laundromat.  They’ll also take your laundry and clean it for you.  We tie “White Star” to the seawall and thread our way through the clutter of spare parts, old outboard engines, the communal refrigerator and microwave, and general mayhem that occupies the porch.  Inside Shrimpy’s central, a long clothes-folding table separates the rows of washers and dryers from the assortment of well-used tables and chairs occupying the rest of the room.  These are occupied by a dozen or so cruisingonabudget sailors hunched over their laptops, whose LED screens provide the only lighting in their half of the space.  Lining the walls are bins and shelves filled with used boat parts and assorted odds ‘n ends.  Manning the VHF in a corner is Mike, a man of indeterminate age, his ample belly displayed through his unbuttoned shirt.  (No aspersions intended-just trying to give you a visual.) As we exit out the back (or is it the front?) onto the alleyway, fetid with the odors of humanity in the tropics, it’s clear again that “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

We soon exhausted the sights on the French side, and found that we were dinghying through the lagoon to the Dutch side every day.  Suzanne found a nice salon where she got her hair cut, and there was a good (fresh produce) grocery store there.  Island Waterworld’s flagship store, and Budget Marine also had stores on the Dutch side, and we spent a good bit of time (and $$) at the 2 stores.  Sandwiched in between sat Lagoonie’s, which became a favorite lunch and Happy Hour stop.  On the way home one afternoon, we smelled gas coming from the outboard.  Within minutes, the motor was missing, and barely making any power.  After the fuel pump incident in Grand Bahama last year, we had a pretty good idea what was happening.  Sure enough, when we pulled the cowling off the motor, I could feel gas pouring out of the backside of the fuel pump reservoir.  As we contemplated the long paddle home, a young couple tooled up in their center console and asked us if we needed help.  The 2+ mile tow back to “Alizann” sure beat paddling.  Back at the ranch, I had the fuel pump off, the “O” ring inside replaced, and the engine running in 45 minutes.  The experience left me wondering if we should carry the tools and extra “O” rings onboard the tender.

We thought that St. Barth’s was a haven for megayachts-Hah!  The number and size of 100+ footers there paled in comparison to the fleet in St. Maarten.  There must have been thirty or forty boats over 100’, and scores in the 50’-100’ range.  One afternoon, while we sat on the deck at the St. Maarten Yacht Club sipping a cold beverage, watching the yachts coming through the drawbridge, we met a crazy sailing couple from (where else?) Canada.  Chris and Fran regaled us with stories about how much fun was to be had when the Heineken Regatta was in town.  Okay, long story short(er).  We decided to stay for the regatta, which was to be held the following week, and moved the Girl into the lagoon on the Dutch side.  Before we left, however, we let the French couple who had been delivering fresh baguettes and croissants to the boat every morning know where we were headed.  For the following week, we continued to enjoy the French bakeries’ wares, delivered fresh every morning.  (As an aside, there is a “French” bakery on the Dutch side, but we enjoyed the goodies from Sarafina’s a bit more)

On Fat Tuesday, we joined a gang of cruisers in a rented bus and headed out to Grand Case, a town on the French side, just north of Marigot for the Carnival parade and festivities.  It took forever to get there-I think that everyone on the island was out partying, and the road was jammed with vehicles and pedestrians.  Along the roadside were numerous little stands and tents where the barbeques flared, the cooks filling Styrofoam plate after plate with Caribbean treats.  We strolled the street in Grand Case, shoulder to shoulder with the throngs there.  Crafts and local products were on display in numerous tents and makeshift stalls along the road, which was pedestrians-only that evening, and all of the shops were open.  Food choices ranged from Lolo (local, low price sittinatapicnictable grub) to fine dining.  Suz and I opted for the latter, and had a very good dinner at “Oceans 82”, which featured seafood and noveau French cuisine.  We hadn’t done the fine dining thing for a while, and we enjoyed every minute of the experience, just barely finishing in time to catch our ride home. 

The Heineken Regatta was a real treat.  Nearly 200 sailboats participated in class racing, ranging from the big offshore ocean racers down to 30 footers.  Teams from all over the globe came in, and the town was rockin’.  The conditions for racing were ideal-20+kn winds, and 4’-6’ seas.  Every morning, Suz and I were out in the tender, taking photos of the boats as they jockeyed for position at the starts of their respective classes.  The wind and seas were a bit of a challenge in our 11’ Whaler, but it didn’t stop the Admiral from snapping around 500 pictures.  The next challenge is culling out the 10 or 20 best shots.  That brings us around to Saturday, the 4th of March.  With one more day of racing to go, and the UB40 concert to come on Sunday night, we were faced with a decision.  It looked like a short weather window for our passage to the British Virgin Islands would open on Sunday, after which it would slam shut for the rest of the week.  We decided to forego Sunday’s activities.  We had our trusty (and I do mean trusty, as several boats had dragged through the anchorage during this windy week) anchor up by 15h30, and made the last bridge opening at 16h00.  Anchoring in Simpson Bay for the night, we were rocked by the surge, in spite of having the flopperstoppers deployed.  We were underway by first light, and trailed lines for almost 12 hours, with nothing to show except one short strike, which resulted in the loss of a bait, and 2 sets of tangled lines.  The conditions weren’t ideal for fishing, with 4’-6’ seas on 6 second intervals, and winds from 14-18 knots.  We made North Sound on Virgin Gorda, some 80 miles from St. Martin, just before dark, and got the anchor down in the lee of Prickly Pear Island.

It's Tuesday now, and the wind has been howling for 2 days.  Early Sunday night, the wind subsided, and was swirling around the island, causing the anchored boats to twirl every which way, putting us perilously close to the boat next to us.  Since we were the last to arrive, it was our responsibility to move.  We’re anchored in 40’ of water, and are happy that we’re farther from the island.  We’ve watched as the vessels in front of us have not behaved themselves in the wind swirling around the land, while the Girl has enjoyed(?) pretty consistent wind.  Several of them have since moved.  The whole bay is experiencing a lot of surge, and the boats are rolling.  We’re very happy to have our flopperstoppers to control the roll.  Ohmygosh!  1500 words?  I’ll let you go.  Talk at ya

-Later

P.S.  We’ll get some pictures up when we get decent WIFI

 

 

Gooood Morning!

A couple of days on Buck Island morphed into a week.  We dropped our anchor in the little Bight on the west end of the island.  The long reef to our North kept out the waves from that direction, while a crescent-shaped, sandy beach sheltered us from the prevailing easterlies.  During our week there, snorkeling charters from St. Croix joined us daily, disgorging dozens of vacationers onto the beach for their “hour in the sun”.  By 16h00, we were usually alone for the night, or joined at most, by one or two other boats.  Facing West, the sunsets were beautiful, and the moon was full during the week.  We spent several days hiking, re-hiking, and re-hiking the solitary trail up and over the tiny isle.  The 300’ rise afforded us some great views and a bit of exercise too.  We spent another day circumnavigating the island on our kayaks, cleaning up flotsam on deserted beaches as we went, ending up with 4 large garbage bags of trash.  The first half of the trip was a workout, paddling against a 17kn. wind, and choppy 2 ½ footers.  After our lunch break on a small sandy beach, the rest of the trip was a breeze-literally.  It was downwind all the way home.  We foisted off some bags of trash on an obliging snorkel charter, and left the rest at the outhouse on the beach (after arranging for the Park rangers to pick them up the previous day.) On our last day there, we were cruising in the dinghy when we heard someone yelling “White Star!” Coming around, we found that it was Mark and Dave, from Palmas del Mar, PR on Mark’s boat, along with several ladies that they had met on St. Croix.  We enjoyed visiting with them, and had dinner together before they had to leave (no overnight permit.)

We left Buck Island at Midnight on the 13th, to time our arrival at St. Barthelemy before dusk.  Our cruising guides told us that we’d have several choices for anchoring/docking, and we wanted to be certain that we didn’t run out of daylight before making a decision.  As day broke, we got the lines in the water, and were rewarded with a small, but enough for several meals, Blackfin Tuna.  As we arrived at St. Barth’s, it was apparent that the anchorage outside Gustavia was really rolly, and the harbor was full.  We headed northwest to Anse du Colombier , several miles from town, and picked up a mooring ball, joining around 15-20 other boats anchored/moored there.  After clearing Customs in Gustavia the next morning, we spent the day window shopping (Hermes, Prada, Rolex, Vuitton, etc., etc.) and walking the seawall along “Ego Alley”, where MANY 100+ footers were Med-moored in a neat little row.  Actually, the mere 100 footers looked small as compared to their big sisters.  Lunch at “Shellona” on Shell beach was a treat, although pricey (over $100, no booze) rubbing shoulders with the “Beautiful People” there.  The visit to town confirmed that our decision on Anse du Colombier was the right one, for multiple reasons.  As our friend, Randy, is prone to say “The rich people are pushing the millionaires out.” Next day was spent hiking the trails from Anse du Colombier.  The first took us along the rocky North shore, skirting the edge of the cliffs which dropped some hundred feet down to the crashing surf.  After backtracking to the bay, a second trail took us to the top of the island, providing us with views of both the North and South sides (as well as cell coverage).  By the time we got to the top (177 meters) of this rocky, dry trail, we were both huffinandpuffin.  Our vantage point gave us a nice view of the house that David Rockefeller built in the late 60’s, which has been vacant, and decaying, since 1992.  It is spectacular, located atop a peak overlooking Colombier  on one side, and Gustavia (several miles away) on the other.  If you’re interested, it was featured in articles in Architectural Digest, and Variety magazines.  The architecture reminded us of the Rockefeller property located on Caneel Bay, St. John, USVI.  In the evening, the park ranger came by, and informed us that we were too big for the mooring.  We pulled off, and dropped anchor just outside the field.  The morning of the 17th, we went back into town, and cleared out with Customs after taking the opportunity to cover some of the back roads, and points of historical interest.

By 13h30, we were anchor up, and headed to Ile Fourchue, just 4 miles away, where we planned to spend the night in the bay on the south side of this uninhabited private island before heading over to St. Martin. Forty-five minutes later, the anchor was down, and we were enjoying the warm afternoon sun with the eight or ten boats on moorings there.  As the afternoon ebbed, most of the other boats departed.  By cocktail time, there were only 4 boats besides ourselves, and we looked forward to a peaceful night.  Right around dusk, another boat cruised in.  As they passed close by, one of the folks on board yelled in French, then English, “Did we have any lobsters for sale?” because we looked like a fishing boat.  (HaHaHaHa-he really thought that was funny.)  They proceeded to grab a mooring ball, and partied until 02h00, screaming, whistling, and playing French rap music, which reverberated off the cliff walls rimming the bay.  Very uncool.  I’m sure that two of the other boats there, which had small children on board were impressed.  When we left for St. Martin at 10h00, the revelers were all still asleep.  We had a sunny, breezy passage to St. Martin.  As we passed Phillipsburg on the South (Dutch) side of this divided island, we could see no less than 5 cruise ships docked in the bay.  Rounding the West end of the island, we turned up into Marigot Bay on the French side.  There is a large lagoon occupying the inside of the west end, which is accessible by passing through drawbridges on either the Dutch or French side.  Our initial plan was to stay in the lagoon, but in reading the cruiser’s net reports, we were concerned about: high crime against boaters, and the cleanliness of the water inside.  So……. here we are, anchored in Marigot Bay on the French side.

-Adieu

Gooooooood Morning!

On Monday, we did the tourist thing.  Mark had a dive trip planned with a local operator, so we hitched a ride in to Christiansted with him.  We had a very tasty breakfast at “The Avocado Pit”, while we waited for Sweeny, who runs a local tour bus business.  Our tour took us to St. George Botanical Gardens, a must-see, after which we traveled to Fredericksted.  There, we toured the old Danish fort, and took lunch at “The Turtle Deli.” The sandwiches were HUGE.  Suzanne and I shared one while gazing out over the water from our picnic table in the shade of Sea Grape trees.  Sweeny rallied the troops, and it was off to the Cruzan Rum distillery, where we went on a guided tour, ending at their asmuchasyouwant tasting room.  Compared to our Bacardi visit, we agreed that this tour was by far the better.

As Mark and Judy were leaving Tuesday morning, they asked us if we wanted to ride along.  “Heck Yeah!”  We spent the day driving around, exploring.  After touring the restored Danish fort in Christiansted, we drove east to Udall Point, the scenic overlook on the easternmost end (and of the USA) of the island. On the way there, we visited the radiotelescope which is the east end of the V.L.B.A. (Very Long Baseline Array), a string of ten identical dishes extending from here to Mauna Kea in Hawaii.  We had lunch on the north coast at “Off the Wall,” on the beach at Cane Bay.  Mark loves getting off the beaten path, so we drove some pretty sketchy roads through the rain forest and along the coast, stopping for Sundowners at “Rainbow Beach Bar” outside Fredericksted.

Wednesday was a hangaroundthemarina day.  We arranged for a car rental (no mean feat-most were taken), and contacted “St. Croix Dive Experience” to secure two spots on their Friday morning dive boat.  Since we hadn’t been diving since the Bahamas a year ago, and we both had new regulators, we thought it’d be best to do a warm-up dive with a professional operator, for safety’s sake.

On Thursday morning, our rentacar was delivered at 09h00, and we were off.  Our first destination was Salt River, where the National Park Service has a visitor’s center overlooking the water. Salt River was the site of Columbus’ 1493 return to NA with 17 ships. This time the natives were not as friendly. The view was tremendous, and the talk by the volunteer ranger was very informative.  We also had a chance to check out Gold Coast Yachts, the boatbuilder where Larry (from Michigan) works.  Heading to the west, we visited Estate Whim, an old sugar plantation which had been restored by the local Historical Society.  Definitely worth the visit.  The awesome sandwiches at the Turtle Deli in Fredericksted were calling, so we had lunch on the beach there.  After our drivearound exploring the backroads of the island, we hit the Cruzan Rum distillery to replenish the ship’s stores.  Mexican Train dominoes provided the evening entertainment.

We were on our way to Christiansted before 08h00, and were at the dock loading our dive gear on the boat by 08h15.  We were fortunate to have the owner of the company, Michelle, as one of the crew.  She’s logged over 10,000 dives around St. Croix, and is a local legend.  Although the water was a bit stirred up from strong winds the previous couple of days, the visibility was still 100’ or so.  Our new SCUBA gear worked well.  Our old dive computers-not so much.  Although we had fired them up the day before, neither wanted to turn on.  Mine is 31 years old, and doesn’t owe me a nickel.  Suzanne’s is only 5 years old, so we were a bit disappointed.  No worries, the crew had a couple for us to use, and all was well.  Although the reef wasn’t very healthy, we saw a fair bit of marine life, highlighted by several Green turtles, Reef sharks, a Spotted Eagle Ray, and a big Stingray.  Of course, all of the smaller usual suspects were present as well.  After a quick shower, and lunch at the “The New Deep End Bar and Grill”, it was time to reprovision.  CostUless is the St. Croix version of Sam’s Club, and we found most of what we needed there.  Their produce looked like it had just come off the boat, so we were happy campers.  On the way home, we stopped at Seaside grocery for the couple of items that we were missing. 

Our friends on dirt often ask us “What do you do all day?” Imagining, I’m sure, that we sit around drinking cute little umbrella drinks while lounging in our hammocks.  Well, yesterday I screwed all day.  I literally crawled from one end of the boat to the other, armed with nutdrivers and screwdrivers, tightening every fastener that I could find.  Loose hose clamps may mean water on the wrong side of the hull, and loose electrical connections make for heat, corrosion, and possibly fire, none of which would be a good thing.  By the time I crawled out of the engine room at 17h30, I looked like I had just gotten out of the shower, and had lost 3 pounds.  Screwing all day takes a lot out of you.  Suz spent the day doing “Admiral stuff”, paying bills, working on our taxes, and etc.  In the evening, Chris (Captain from the Ocean Alexander) and Christina, his wife, picked us up and we all cruised into Christiansted for dinner at “Rumrunners Bar and Grill.” The seafood pasta special was delicious. St Croix is a beautiful, quiet island steeped in history and friendly people. Definitely worth a visit.

It’s Super Bowl Sunday.  Today, we’ll get the Girl ready to leave tomorrow morning.  The plan is to head out to Buck Island, a National Park marine preserve about 3 miles offshore.  You must get a permit from the Park Service (which we did upon our arrival here in St. Croix) to anchor there.  We’ll drop the hook on the lee side of the island there for a few nights and do some snorkeling/diving before heading to St. Bart’s (or St. Martin).  Probably won’t have interweb for awhile, so…..

-Later 

Hola!

Culebrita was a relaxing stop.  We were over from Culebra in around an hour, so arrived around 09h00.  There was only one mooring ball left there, and it looked to be in pretty bad shape, so we took some time to find a spot to anchor.  The bottom rises pretty dramatically from deep water to the shore, and many coral heads were visible in the shallow water.  After poking around a bit, we finally found a sandy patch in 15’ of water.  After letting out 75’ of chain, our stern was now in 30’, and blue water wasn’t far behind.  I was really being a weenie.  Even after swimming the anchor and finding it to be well-set, I was worried that if the Girl dragged, the anchor would be in deep water without a chance to reset itself.  It took about a half hour for me to be okay with leaving her for the day while we hiked onshore.  We dropped the dinghy, and anchored her, tying her stern to shore.  Our first goal was the Culebrita lighthouse, high atop the island.  A half hour walk got us there.  The original lighthouse is in a shambles, but we were able to explore both around and through the structure.  It was pretty typical of the other Spanish colonial buildings that we had seen throughout Puerto Rico, built out of coral blocks, trimmed in brick, with a stucco coating.  The aid to navigation is now provided by a light fixed upon a steel tower, fed by solar panels.  The concrete pad that the tower sat on provided a superb vantage point from which to look out over the ocean, and, behind us, back over the island.  We hiked the interior of the island, through dry forest, to a bay on the north side, to check out the anchorage there.  Since the swell had been running out of the North due to several Cold Front passages coming off the U.S., we had expected the anchorage to be untenable.  Before we were out of the woods, we could hear the surf beating on the shore ahead of us.  The beach was beautiful, but the few boats moored there were all rolling significantly.  We had a walk from end to end, and enjoyed our lunch in the shade of a palm tree just above the high water line.  After lunch, we hiked back to the other side of the island, hauled anchor, and motored back over to Culebra, where we anchored behind the reef in Bahia Almovodar(las Pelas to locals).  On the chart, this bay looks wide open to the sea, but in fact it is well-protected by a reef under one foot of water.  It’s rather stunning to see the sea, which was running around three feet, stop suddenly as the waves hit the shallow water, becoming transformed to three inch ripples.  We ended up staying for two nights, exploring the mangroves surrounding the bay by dinghy, and just enjoying the solitude (until just before dark on the second day, there was only one other boat in the bay, anchored ½ mile away).  The Girl also got prettied up below the waterline when I donned the SCUBA gear and armed myself with various scrapers to relieve her of the slimies and crusties that she had accumulated.

We were outta there on Saturday morning.  As predicted, the seas were running around 2-4’, winds 14kn.  As soon as we hit deep water a couple hours out, the lines were in.  After fishing for 5 hours, we had to ready the fenders and lines for our stay on St. Croix.  All we had to show for our pescadarian efforts were a couple of short strikes resulting in ruined baits.  No fish tonight.  The entry in to Green Cay Marina is pretty narrow, and very shoal on one side, but we entered without incident.  After beating into the wind for 7 hours, the Girl was pretty salt-encrusted, but an hour or so of attention from the crew brought her back to her spiffy self.  The marina here is attached to a hotel/resort property, and staying at the marina allowed us use of the entire grounds, including the pool, tennis courts, spa, paddle boards, and etc.  The next morning, we stopped by Rubicon, the Ocean Alexander that we had met in Ponce, Puerto Rico, to pay our respects to Chris (the guy who prevented our boat from smashing the dock there).  He wasn’t on the boat, but the owner was, and we had a nice conversation with her. Our exploratory walk didn’t last long before we were seated at an outdoor table overlooking the ocean enjoying omelets.  We spent the rest of day just hangin’ around the property.  Suz got some computer work done, while I did some troubleshooting on, and repairing a hinky battery charger.  Back over to the resort, under the shade of a palapa, I examined the inside of my eyelids while the tour director laid plans for our siege of the island in the coming week.  We had sips that evening with Larry, Mark, and Judy aboard “Alizann”.  Larry is a friend of a friend from Harbor Springs, MI, who lives on his boat here with his wife, Amy.  He is a boatbuilder by trade.  They sailed their home-built trimaran (a rocketship named “Morello”) down here three years ago.  He is a foreman for a custom boat builder here, while she is a nurse in the hospital.  Mark and Judy are our neighbors here on the dock, retired and hailing from Minnesota.

Getting kinda wordy, so we’ll start exploring St. Croix

-Later

Buenos Dias

Isla Chivas.  What can I say?  We threaded our way in through the reef at midmorning.  Warning buoys surrounded the Isla alerting to “unexploded ordinance”.  Having read previous posts, we knew that the warnings pertained to expeditions to shore, not for anchoring.  We coasted in to 12’ of water, and searched for a sandy patch to drop our hook.  Suz expertly put the Girl’s bow over a white area, and I dropped the anchor dead center.  Backing down, the anchor bit on the first try.  We didn’t bother to launch “White Star”, instead got the kayaks wet.  Our azure blue anchorage was ringed by white sand beaches-a postcard perfect setting.  Kayaked around the bay, then walked the beaches, searching for “treasures” most of the day.  We scored lots of beach glass, and some small urchins for our collection.  Suz found a nice Helmet shell, but it was inhabited, so we threw him back, not wanting to ruin his day.  Numerous signs on shore admonished us to follow the 3 R’s-Recognize, Retreat, and Report, concerning unexploded ordinance on shore.  We didn’t see nuthin’.  Returning to Alizann, we polished some of her stainless, giving her some much-needed love.  Late afternoon brought in two ultra-lights with floats landing in the bay, providing a show for us.  Dinner, Tuscan chicken in the Admiral’s new electric InstaPot, was taken over another sublime sunset.

We were off the hook by 07h00.  The Admiral was crackin’ the whip for some fresh fish.  I rigged up some Ballyhoo baits, and we headed for deep water on the way to Culebra, our next Spanish Virgin Island destination.  All we got to show for our efforts was one Toothacuda, and 2 spoiled baits.  Our Christmas present from our son, a baby monitor, however, performed admirably.  When the fishing reel in the cockpit started spooling out, we heard it loud and clear, even over the music crankin’  in the pilothouse.  We love technology!  By 13h45 we had the hook set in the bay out of Dewey, (named for the Admiral) Culebra.  We planned to stay here for a couple of days while we explored the island.  After getting the boat squared away, we headed to shore in the dinghy on a quick reconnaissance mission.  It only took an hour to walk all of the streets of Dewey.  The little village was quite colorful, with gaily painted buildings, and many murals.  We found that the “Dinghy Dock” restaurant/bar had a happy hour(s) with Medalla beers for two-fifty, but more importantly, the fastest internet connection that we had seen in a long time.  Instead of taking 2-3 minutes (or more) to upload a picture, we could get one up in around 30 seconds.  Bonus!  Let’s have another beer.  We were feeling the need for some exercise, so the following morning, we loaded the backpacks with our beach togs, and headed to Flamenco Beach, (another) one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  It was a good three-mile haul, and we were rewarded with a truly beautiful beach, where we spent the day snoozin’, swimmin’, and strollin’.  At one end of the mile-long beach was an old U.S. Army tank, slowly being reclaimed by the sea.

That kinda brings us to the U.S. military presence on Vieques/Culebra.  During the 1940’s, the U.S. Navy purchased around 22,000 acres (or, about 2/3 of the island of Vieques) for military purposes.  The Eastern end of the island was used for live-fire exercises, including ship to shore, and air to ground bombing.  The Western end of the island was used as an ammunition depot.  In around 2003, the Navy ceased operations, and returned the island to the Puerto Rican government.  Since that time, the U.S. government has spent around $220 M to clean up contaminated lands on Vieques.  Given the terrain (jungle and heavy overgrowth), the cleanup is far from complete.  Thus, the numerous warning signs around certain areas of the island.  No political commentary-Just sayin’.

Today, the 25th, we rented a jeep and did the beach tour of Culebra.  We visited every beach on the map, sometimes traversing rocky two-tracks to get there.  Didn’t do much sunbathing, but we saw and walked them all.  The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were good, but didn’t stick to the ribs, so when we returned to town we headed to the “Dinghy Dock”.  The Grouper sandwich and the Ahi/Romaine salad hit the spot, washed down with some cold Cokes.  Before we headed back to the Girl, we strolled over to “Mamacita’s” for a couple of Bushwackers (as recommended by friends at Palmas).  Tomorrow, we’ll head over to Culebrita with the Girl, to do some SCUBA diving, after which we plan to anchor in Almodovar Bay, back on Culebra, for a couple of days before we head to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  I’m guessin’ no interweb for awhile, so…..

-Later

Pages

Captain's Log

HiYa,

I’m always torn when it comes to subject matter for these missives.  Do I do a travelogue, boating technical stuff, or what?  I guess we’ll just keep on layin’ it down as we have been for the past few years until a better idea comes along.

The diving in Bonaire is super easy.  The island is surrounded by a reef which begins 50-75 yards offshore at a depth of around 7-10 meters.  This opens up the sport to those without watertaxis, because nearly every dive site on Bonaire is accessible from shore entries. We probably dove 2 out of 3 days that we were here.  We did a couple of boat dives with Wannadive, the scuba operation next door, but mostly dove from our dinghy, ranging a couple of miles both north and south, with frequent trips to Klein (Little) Bonaire.  Four days after the full moon, we did a night dive to look for ostracods.  These little guys are crustaceans, some 20,000 species in all, averaging around 1mm in diameter.  After the full moon, this particular species bio luminesces(?) for about a half hour after night falls.  We laid on the sandy bottom waiting for the show to start.  True to form, shortly after nightfall, the lights came on.  We felt like we were in the middle of the Milky Way, surrounded by a galaxy of stars.  Very cool.  We fell into a nice rhythm with our diving.  Heading out around noon assured us of good lighting for photos and our choice of dive sites, as all of the dive boats were back at base for lunch.  There are mooring buoys at every site, so it makes for a secure feeling when leaving the boat while diving.  Drop in the water, do our dive, then back in the dinghy easily (thanks to our new ladder).  Stop at Wannadive, drop off our empty tanks and pick up the 2 that we had left the day before (now filled).  Sweeeeet!  Boy, what’s not to like?  

Suzanne felt like she had maxed out her photo quality with her waterproof Nikon, so she picked up an Olympus TG5 camera, a serious little point-and-shoot, and an underwater housing.  In my humble opinion, she’s taking some great shots-we’ll do an all-scuba gallery soon.  I’m still just doing video with our GoPro Hero whenever we see a good “action shot.”

So…….The Caribbean Journal just ran a piece on the fantastic dining choices in Bonaire.  I’m here to tell ya that we didn’t have a bad meal while on island.  Here we go:  “Bistro de Paris, Zazu Bar”-our marina restaurant.  Super fresh ceviche, good burgers (especially on burger night), Happy hour from 17h00-19h00 featuring 2 for 1 beers and wines.  A nice place to chill after a busy day.  “La Terrazza”-a 3-time favorite for us.  (2 wine tastings-4 courses with 2 wines for each course with audience participation, moderated by owner, Gabi).  “Foodies”-kind of out in the sticks south of Kralendijk on the other side of the salt pans.  We stopped there for an early dinner on our way home from a beach day at Lac Bai.  They had just opened, so we were the only diners there when we arrived.  Great service, cool setting.  “Cappricio”-Just like it sounds.  Fresh Italian cooking in an upscale modern venue with both in and outdoor seating.  “It Rains Fishes”-right on the shore road in Kralendijk.  Upscale outdoor dining featuring you guessed it.  “Posada Para Mira”-just outside Rincon.  This open-air thatched roofed restaurant features local cuisine-goat stew and iguana soup being just 2 of the features.  The commanding view and steady breeze contribute to the ambience.  “Mezze” for Mediterranean.  “Sebastian’s” for oceanside seafood with an Italian bent.  “Captain Don’s,” an all-inclusive dive resort just north of our marina boasts a multi-level outdoor dining area abutting the ocean.  Very cool vibe.  The menu is typical of North American tastes.  “Between Two Buns” was our go-to for a savory lunch-great salads, specialty sandwiches.  “Donna and Giorgio’s”-Italian in a funky setting.  “La Creperie”-a favorite morning hangout for cruisers.  Their savory crepes are super tasty.  And…….let’s not forget the “Street Food” genre.  Lisa had a stall in the market featuring Indonesian food.  After buying finger-food from her several times, we got her to cook a traditional Indonesian meal for us, which we carried home.  Yhanni has a little palapa on Coco beach where she makes killer Arepas.  After a couple of post-dive lunches with her, she shared her secrets and recipes with Suzanne, who now makes these incredible Venezuelan treats.  

“Dash” food truck is only open on weekends, but their fried chicken on homemade biscuits with spicy slaw are worth the wait.  Their donuts look incredible too. 

 It’s amazing that I got out of Bonaire not a pound over a buck ninety-five.  Guess I can thank the diving for that.

“Jason,” our super-ratty, but trusty Toyota Hilux pickup truck took us on adventures all over the island.  From the salt pans in the south to the sunset hike up Mount Brandaris, he kept on keepin’ on.  We off-roaded the windward side of the island, hiking down into every boca (little inlets in the rocky coast, often with a small pebbly beach).  I don’t think that we saw 3 other vehicles all day.  Along the way, we visited a cave with pre-columbian drawings on the ceiling.  Massive wind generators dotted the shore on the northern end of our trek.  We returned to the road(?) at the gate to the National Park.  The park was an adventure for another day.  When we returned the following morning, it was an all-day hoot.  You are not allowed in the park unless you have a four wheel drive vehicle or truck.  Yep, 2 mile-an-hour roads (ummmhhhh….make that washed-out ruts).  We visited every boca, beach, dive site and vantage point in the park, enjoying a picnic lunch along the way.  After lurching and bouncing along all day, 600mg of “Vitamin I”, then happy hour soothed our aching backs.

Well, let’s pick up more of Bonaire…

-Later

Hola, mi Amigos

Here we are in Bonaire.  Alizann was really jammin’ on the way here from Grenada.  Following seas and a half to full knot current pushing us along, we shaved around 5 hours off our ETA.  That was the good news.  The bad news was that we arrived around midnight.  New harbor (for us), no entrance lights, narrow entrance, and the night was darker than the inside of a pocket.  Had a slip number, but had no idea where it was.  Another boating “DON’T,” but here we were.  Well…. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.  We “What’s Apped” John on Seamantha.  He knew the marina, and told us where our slip was.  The radar and chartplotter were spot on, and the water depth here is in the hundreds of feet up pretty close to shore-all good.  We crept up within spotlight range and spied the opening, glided in.  We backed the Girl in between a finger pier and a 62-foot sailboat, and it was time for sips before turning in.

So….I’ve been pretty mum on the fish wars.  That’s because the score was edible fish 4, Alizann 0.  Not anything that I wanted to brag about.  We lost around 4 or 500 yards of line and 4 of our best lures.  ‘Nuff said.

Visits to Customs and Immigration were on the docket for Friday.  The mile-and-a-quarter walk should have taken 15 minutes, but morphed into a 2-hour ordeal as we fought the elements, walking in the steady rain, then dodging for cover as the squalls sporting 25+knot winds rolled through.  Three quarters of the way there, we said “The heck with it” and took cover in Julian’s Café for a late lunch.  We were soaked to the bone by then, so sat in the covered patio as the rain misted in-just a couple of loco touristas.  But…we did help them save their patio umbrellas which were turning inside out in the near-gale force wind.  No English speakers here, but their thank you’s were easily translated.  I had forgotten that even though this is a Dutch island, there is a preponderance of Spanish speakers here-shoulda brushed up on ours.  Actually, many of the folks here speak 4 languages-Dutch, Spanish, Papiamentu and English.  We got the job done with the authorities late in the afternoon.  No fees or taxes and super easy.  On the way home, we dodged ankle-deep puddles and scoped out some shops along the main drag.  Pretty evident that the local economy is tourist-based.  Shops catering to cruise ship passengers, and a dive shop on every corner, as well as restaurants of every ilk lined the downtown streets.

Sheeiit! How can you get a month behind in two weeks (or so it seems)?  1. Writing is super painful for me. (as a science geek) 2.  Time flies when you’re having fun.

So… Here’s the short version:

                Already went through Customs.  Super easy, with gracious officers who actually seemed happy that we were here-Check.

Dive shops.  One on every corner.  I think that CVS and Rite Aid took their business model from these guys-if you leave your door unlocked, there’ll be a dive shop up and running in your space the next morning when you get up.  This island is set up for below the water activities.  If you need the toys, you can find them here.  Also-kudos to the internet.  Prices of equipment are very competitive, in fact, many shops will honor or beat an internet price for the same doodad.  We’re looking for an underwater camera and housing for the Admiral, and finding prices very competitive-especially when you figure in shipping costs. -Check

Food.  Grocery shopping is a real pleasure-even better if you can decipher Dutch (thank you, Google Translate!!)  Instead of going shopping and setting our menu based on what was available in the store, we’re back to creating menus, then shopping for what we need.  Reminds us of Martinique.  Better than Martinique, every Tuesday and Friday, there’s a free bus to VanDenTweel, the “Gucci” supermarket for your provisioning pleasure.  Eating out is also a pleasure, with multiple, not wrong choices.  In the 3 weeks that we’ve been here, we’ve eaten at everyplace from local holes in-the-wall to food trucks and kiosks, to fine dining.  So much for losing weight!  I’m loathe to recommend particular venues-ask around to decide what sounds good for your tastes.  You already know that we like fine dining as well as the funky stuff, so iguana soup, goat stew, and tripe casserole may not float your boat.

Diving.  What superlatives are left to be said?  The reefs have certainly changed from our last visit, around 30 years ago, and not for the better.  At that time, the dive guide listed 14 dive sites.  Now, the newest edition lists over 100.  That being said, the diving is still superb.  After two weeks for me to shake off the “Grenada Cough,” we have been diving nearly every day from our tender, “White Star,” who recently received a dive ladder, courtesy of “Yours Truly’s” monkey work, under the tutelage of the Admiral.  Oh…..diving.  We participated in a dive “cleanup” of the harbor after the Bonaire Sailing Regatta, which left plenty of human-made trash (translation-bottles, paper cups, and assorted crap on the bottom.)  100 divers pulled up around half a dumpster of crap off the bottom.  There, we met Marije and Bart, a young Dutch couple taking time off from life to backpack around the world.  The post-dive appreciation barbeque at Hamlet Oasis, hosted by “Dive Friends”, was an enjoyable evening.  The next afternoon, drinks on Alizann with Marije and Bart proved to be very enjoyable.

The Girl.  Well, she has certainly become a “Marina Queen.”  After anchoring out almost exclusively for the first 3 years, we have kinda settled into the “tie up, plug in, drop off the bikes, rentacar, and keep our lives cushy routine.  The whole setup here in Bonaire kinda pushed us in that direction anyway:

  1.  You can’t anchor anywhere on Bonaire (reef protection) There are a finite number of moorings here (less than 40) You need to “know somebody” to get one, as they’re “first come, first serve”, and when a boat is leaving, they have already been in contact with someone who will slip onto the mooring the second that they’re off.
  2. We have internet coverage here in the marina.  Good for streaming American football, Skyping our kids, and downloading Netflix.
  3. It’s easy to put our bikes on land.
  4. The rental car’s right here.
  5. Maybe we’re getting older, and like to step off the boat onto land without schlepping in on the dinghy

Touring.  We started with an all-day “Island Tour” with our driver, Therese, so that we could get our bearings and see the high spots.  Subsequently, we rented a Toyota HiLux pickup for a couple of weeks.  “Jason” our truck, has a high ground clearance, super-torquey gear ratio, the ability to jump boulders in a single bound, and a propensity for conquering deep water has served us well, and so far, has taken us over 8 hours of off-road touring through and over some of the most uninhabited regions of the island.  Tho’ the trails are “lower back and vehicle undercarriage challenges,” they  are well marked.  The extreme diversity of geologic (?) features is mind-blowing.  Every two minutes, it’s an “Oh, my God, or This is incredible!”  The Cadushy Distillery in Rincon makes several liqueurs and a vodka, based on the distillation of the local Kadushi cactus.  It’s worth a visit, with expectations kept in check.

Fellow cruisers:  Well…….the Dutch are wonderful people.  The rub…..they take a long time to warm up.  We’ve been next to a Dutch couple for three weeks now, and in spite of us asking them at every juncture if we can help with their boat chores, pick them up something at the grocery store, lend tools, or whatever…we’re still just neighbors.  There aren’t a lot of North Americans here in the marina, so last night, we went to one of the “all inclusive” scuba resorts, and met some friendly Americans.  Only trouble is, that they’ll be gone in a week.  Oh well, the Admiral will just have to put up with my company exclusively ☹.

-Later

All Rightey Then.

We ran to Martinique through acres and acres of Sargasso weed.  Didn’t get hung up once.  Seamantha followed us 10 hours later with no problems either.  In Martinique, we rented a car, got provisioned up, and looked forward to staying a week or so.  There were a few attractions that we had missed on our last visits, so we planned a trip to St. Pierre and Mt. Pelee, and one to hike the Jesuit Trail.  The hike was also on John and Paulette’s radar, so we took two cars up the mountain, and spotted one at each end of the hike, as we weren’t sure that we were up for a round-tripper.  Rated at a “7” on a scale of 1 to 10, with an elevation change of a little over 2,000 feet through steaming rain forest seemed rather daunting.  The hike was a bit challenging, but very doable.  It didn’t hurt that the day was cloudy and a little less hot that usual.  At the lowest point, we crossed the Lorraine River on a rope suspension bridge and stopped for a snack before climbing out through the dripping trees in the tropical rain forest.

Another day found Suzanne and I driving up to the North, for a visit to Mt. Pelee, and the town of St. Pierre.  Mt. Pelee is a quiescent volcano which last erupted in 1902.  In May of that year, it was responsible for the instant incineration of around 30,000 people and the total destruction of the village of St. Pierre.  The pyroclastic flow, reaching temperatures in excess of 1,900 degrees F, and charging along at a speed of over of 400 MPH left absolutely no chance for survival, the exceptions being 2 individuals.  One, Louis-Auguste Cyparis, was a prisoner, housed in a tiny stone hut with a door measuring about a foot or two on a side that was situated in the lee of a stone wall.  The other being Leone Campere -Leandre who lived on the outskirts of town.  The Volcano Museum in St. Pierre was worth the visit, with video and static displays. 

More hikes were on the itinerary, but Ahhhh ”The plans of mice and men.” We got a call from back in the States.  Marty’s Dad was very sick, and we felt that we needed to get there as soon as possible.  We called Port Louis Marina in Grenada.  “Yes.  They could squeeze us in earlier.” Changed our flight to Michigan.  Did a “touch and go” in St. Lucia for duty-free fuel, and were tied up in Grenada 2 days later.  Four days to get the Girl “Hurricane ready” and we were off to Michigan.

We got back home to the boat on September 20th.  We didn’t have our bags on board yet, when an old friend reminded us that it was “Chicken Dinner Night” at Whisper Cove.  “Are you guys in?”  Hey, why not?  Quick shower, into our boating uniforms (for me-Carhartt shorts and a Tee shirt), and we were off.

The next week was a blur.  Reacquainting with old pals, going out to dinner, provisioning our larders, routine maintenance and repairs filled our days and evenings.  Unfortunately, one of our fridges had quit while we were gone.  Usually, that’s not a problem, as we empty them before we leave.  However….you may remember that we visited Martinique before flying back to the States.  Needless to say, all of the French goodies that we left had coalesced to form a rather odiferous goo in the bottom of the unit.  Oh, how I love FedEx.  3 days later, I had a new compressor control module in my hand.  That, coupled with a new cooling fan (which I already had on board), made cold work of the old fridge.  It was only…Mmmmh.. a “four expletive” job.  While we were at it, we pulled the other, functional unit and gave it the good vacuuming that it deserved.  So…let’s talk about the defunct WIFI antenna up on the mast.  That was about a “fifty-two expletive” job.  It only took two days and multiple trips up the mast (you know me and heights) to finally give up on the cable that was there, and replace it with a new one which we had brought back from the States.  The router is in the safety of the pilothouse, so the mast, ceiling panels, wire chases all had to be opened up to route the cable from the top of the mast down.  Good times.  It did, however allow us to clean the route along the way.  The Admiral standing by and giving directions while sipping on a pastel, umbrella decorated drink?  Surely you jest.  She was on a “seventy-seven expletive” course of her own, updating charts on 3 computers, then reconfiguring cables so that they would talk to “Otto,”our autopilot.  That stuff is waaaay beyond my pay grade, but I still don’t understand why you can’t just install the upgrades and carry on.  Job security for the Geek Squad, I presume.  Anyhoo…  The impellers and fuel filters are changed (oil and filters changed before we left the Girl).  The watermaker has been re-commissioned.  Everything SEEMED to be working 4x4.

The plan was to head over to Bonaire and do some diving and touring as soon as possible.  Our hurricane insurance be damned.  They want us to stay below twelve-and-a-half degrees North Latitude until November, but Bonaire hasn’t had a hurricane since the early 1800’s.  As beautiful as Grenada is, and as comfortable as we are in the marina with all our Pals, we were feeling the urge to move.  A weather window appeared to be opening starting in the evening of the 2nd, closing on Friday the 5th.  That forecast didn’t change for a week, and several models agreed, so we’re comfortable with its’ accuracy.  Right now, we’re 45 hours out of Grenada, having maintained a course of 271 degrees, True for 44.5 hrs.  Lines are out.  We hooked what looked to be a 50+” Wahoo yesterday, but after taking nearly all of my line, he swam back up under the boat, tangling the line so hopelessly that I had to cut it.  We’ve caught and released a couple of Skipjacks, and a VERY small Tuna.  We had our hearts set on some fish for the freezer, but now we’re not so sure.  Just heard a puff and went out to the bow.  A pod of around twelve dolphins treated us to a good show getting pushed along by our bow wave, all under sunny skies and an 84 degree temperature.  How’d we get so lucky?

-Later

 

Really??  5 months without even a “Hello”?  Okay.  It’s been a busy 5 months.  It’s painful for me to sit and write.  Four of the months were spent back on dirt, and I don’t want to bother you with that mundane stuff.   And……. sometimes I wonder if anyone reads it (even though Google says that we’ve had 700K hits.)

I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast yesterday.  But I’ll try to recap our last few months.

When we left you last, it was upon our arrival in Barbados.  When I dove the boat, there were no remnants of whatever we had been dragging through the night.  Our new bottom paint was a bit the worse for wear, but everything looked good.  Guess that we’ll never know what our uninvited passenger was.  Topsides, we got the Girl scrubbed up after her salty trip.  Retrieval of our cleaning supplies from the lazarette (the storage space under the back deck) revealed that we had taken on a bit of water during our trip over.  Although the laz was dry (it has its’ own bilge pump), there was a salt ring about 8-10” off the sole, and everything stored had a fine salt water mist on it.  Needless to say, everything out, everything rinsed, then everything restowed in the now dry, immaculate lazarette.  All I can say is that there must have been a heckuva lot of water in the cockpit for there to be that much down below.  That is…………if it hadn’t backed up the drains around the hatch…Hmmmmh.  By the way, we discovered that our WIFI amplifier had taken a hike as well.  It was still up on the mast (on its’ apocalypse-proof) mount, just no longer on speaking terms with his router friend down in the pilothouse.   Grrrrr.  Checked the simple stuff.  Up and down the mast a few times and etc.  “This project will wait until we’re back in Grenada for the Summer.”  The dockmaster was nice enough to let me hardwire our spare wireless router into his cable, so we were all set in that regard.

Now the fun stuff.  Port St. Charles marina is very small by anybody’s standards.  It’s set up for mega yachts, with around ten looong docks.  Alizann and Seamantha looked lost side-tied to 100 foot fixed concrete piers.  Barbados is a beautiful island, but doesn’t receive many cruisers, as it’s so hard to get to, being upwind from the Antilles chain.  The marina sits inside a gated community, much like the one that we stayed in at Las Palmas, in Puerto Rico, albeit on a much smaller scale.  Swimming pools and snorkeling in the ocean just a short swim from the boat made it a great base for exploration.

Now, for the adventures, in no particular order.

Suz and I rented a car, as the public transportation is spotty at best, and totally indecipherable to an outsider at worst.  Barbados, although independent, was a British colony, and the only (I believe) Caribbean island that has flown only one flag, as no other European nation was able to wrest it from the Brits.  It also happens to be the only foreign nation that George Washington ever visited, living here for several years in his late teens

We made several excursions to Bridgetown, Barbados’ capital.  There, we toured the garrison and explored some underground tunnels there.  Next, a guided walking tour of the town was in order before visiting Washington House for another guided tour.  Another day was spent watching the thoroughbred races for the first Jewel of the Barbados Triple Crown-run on a grass track.

Being formed by subduction of two tectonic plates, Barbados was pushed up from the ocean floor, creating a limestone, not volcanic, island.  There are many caves.  After taking a trolley tour through Harrison cave, Suz and I decided to return for a personal walking, crawling, swimming scrambling experience with a guide.  Before heading into the depths, we were outfitted with knee and elbow pads as well as hardhats, then asked to army-crawl a few hundred feet to make sure that we were fit enough for the experience.  The tour was incredible, and I would strongly recommend it if you come for a visit.

Another day was devoted to visiting beaches (of which there are many), shoreside caves, and not a few rhum shops and restaurants.  Driving overland between the shores, we took a walking tour of the Portvale Sugar Refinery, the only one on the island.

Nicholas Abbey, a restored sugar plantation is a must-see, with the manor house, cane grinding building, and numerous out buildings available for exploration.  On the way home, we visited Lewis sugar mill, a restored, wind-powered mill.

Suz and I took a tour of Banks Brewery to see the local beer being created.  As it turned out, we were the only two people on the tour, so we got the up close and personal version-very cool.

Remember the Concorde?  Well…during its’ short lifespan, these supersonic passenger jets had scheduled flights to only four airports: Heathrow, Paris, JFK and?  Barbados!  Of course, we had to visit the one on static display at the airport.  With a hangar built around this sleek airship, you are able to walk in, around and under her, while there are numerous interactive displays around the periphery of the building.

Almost forgot this one.  I have Suz, John and Paulette in our rental car on our way to Bridgetown one morning.  Forgot to get gas the night before, so we wheel in to a busy gas station/convenience store joint, wait in line, then fillerup.  I’m walking out of the store after paying, and I’m watching this guy in an old pickup truck backing out of the parking space directly in front of our car.  Surely, he’s going to turn the wheel and head out the driveway.  Nope, he keeps backing up until the truck is stopped by our car as I watch the scenario develop in slow motion.  Are you kidding?  Our rental only has 3,000 miles on it.  Long story short.  In Barbados you gotta wait for the police to arrive before moving the involved vehicles.  Soooo….we’re blocking 2 pumps at this very busy station.  The cop finally arrives and takes both of our statements.  Good to go, right?  Nope.  Can’t leave until both vehicle’s insurance guy comes and takes 18 glossy, full color photos, measures the scene, takes statements, and etc.  Our insurance’s guy was at the other end of the island, so needless to say, we had a wonderful time people watching.

This short synopsis doesn’t do justice to our visit to this beautiful Caribbean nation.  We hiked and drove much of the island, ate local food, and experienced the warm graciousness of her people.  If hurricane season had not been just around the corner, we would have passed our “weather window” and spent much more time here.

But……the wine cellar is empty, and it’s a quick 14-hour cruise to Martinique, where we’ll remedy that problem before heading down island to Alizann’s Summer home in Grenada.

Hopefully, we’ll get back on track with the blogs not too much

-Later

 

Morning, Morning,

We were back in the water on Monday, as promised.  Our pal at Crew’s Inn, Meleena, found room at the Inn for us, and we were in our berth by late afternoon.  The relaunch was not without a little drama, however.  The boys that we had hired to remove/replace the stabilizer wings and bow thruster props didn’t show until 14h00, when we were scheduled to splash at 15h00.  They showed up without the proper tools, but the good news was that we had ‘em.  15h05, and the Travelift was ready.  They picked us up at 15h15, and we were splashed shortly thereafter.  Really?

After we went back in the water, we were basically looking for a weather window for our passage up to Barbados.  We took a tour to Pitch Lake with one of Jesse’s guys.  Pitch Lake is the largest of three asphalt lakes on the planet, the others being in Venezuela and California.  The lake is 75 meters deep and is said to contain over 100 million tons of asphalt.  Asphalt has been mined here for a few hundred years and was used in paving roads in much of the northeast of the United States.  Asphalt is still strip-mined here today and exported overseas.  The machinery doing the mining must be kept in constant motion, or it will sink and be trapped.  Sections of the lake are mined in succession, to approximately two meters of depth.  It takes less than 2 weeks for the asphalt to rise back up.  Meanwhile, other sections of the lake are mined.  We hired a guide to walk us out onto the lake.  It felt spongy underfoot, and if you stood in one place too long, you could feel yourself sinking slightly.  There are spots on the lake that are more liquid, and our guide was careful to route us around these, lest we be trapped in the tar.  The houses in the village surrounding the lake are in constant motion, moving inexorably toward the lake, gardens and paths circumvent pools of pitch which has bubbled to the surface.  On the way home, we visited two Hindu shrines: The Temple in the Sea, and the Dattatreya yoga center.  The Temple in the Sea was built by an indentured immigrant from India.  As the British colonials would not permit the building of temples on land, he spent many years hand-carrying bricks and cement out onto the mudflats of the Gulf of Paria to create an island for the Temple.  Restored in 1994, the temple is the anchor for a park on shore.  When we were visiting, a cremation was taking place at the park.  The Hindus here still do it the old-fashioned way:  The body is placed on a pyre, the fire is lit, and the ashes are raked up afterward.  We saw a couple of these ceremonies in locations that we passed on our road trip that day.  The Dattatreya Yoga center boasts the tallest statue of Hanuman (the Hindu monkey god) outside India, standing at 85 feet.

The rest of out days were spent wheeling and waxing the Girl, as well as other minor boat chores.  Afternoons found us gathering at the swimming pool with other cruisers.  Of course, Saturday mornings were Market Days in Port of Spain, and Saturday nights were “Bake and Shark” nights, when we joined with other cruisers at the local watering hole.  We usually had a table of 10-15.  Conversation was lively and the beer was ice cold.  Bake and Shark?  It isn’t actually baked at all.  We’re talkin’ a fried dough bread pocket filled with fried shark and other ingredients-maybe coleslaw, tomatoes, peppers, topped with garlic sauce, Chadon Beni (kinda like cilantro) sauce, and a little Peppah sauce.  Deeeelicious Trini street food.  Thursday evenings, Crew’s Inn supplied the charcoal, grill, tables and chairs for the cruiser’s potluck.  Everyone brought a dish to pass, and a meat, or fish, or ?? to grill. 

Our projected couple day stay morphed into nearly 13 as we waited for the wind to quit howling.  Finally, the 22nd of April looked less bad, so, itching to leave, we settled for a forecast of 5’-8’ seas on a 10 second interval with 15-20 knot winds, which would be on our nose for half the trip, and our beam for the other half of our 190 mile passage, which we thought should take us around 24 hours.  We figured that we could take advantage of the North Equatorial Current, which had hampered our progress on the way to Tobago earlier in the Spring.  We were off the dock at 06h05 on the 22nd.  Our course was laid in to keep us around 10-12 miles off the coast of Tobago, to keep us out of the opposing current which always runs along its shore.  Just north of the eastern tip of Tobago, we would veer north to take advantage of the Equatorial Current.  The first leg of the trip was beautiful, as we cruised into 3’-5’ seas, under sunny skies.  The lines were wet, but no bites.  As we passed out of the lee of Tobago around 19h00, the seas increased to 4’-6’, darkness had fallen, we turned north with the seas now on our beam.  The Girl was rolling, but comfortably, thanks to her stabilizers.  Overhead, the wind had increased to 17kn with gusts to 23.  Suz had settled into bed around 20h00, and I was on the first watch.  All of a sudden, I felt a shudder, and an odd vibration.  The engine work load meter jumped to 65% from its normal 42%.  The engine temperature rose 10 degrees, and the fuel consumption went up 1.5 gallons per hour.  This all happened within about a minute or so.  The Admiral bounced out of bed and I cut the throttle.  “Sh#@! t, we must have picked up a net or something” Okay, we knew this drill.  Throw the prop into reverse, back up and whatever you have picked up will dislodge and you’re on your way.  Well, when you slow down, the stabilizers don’t work, and now the seas were running 5’-7’.  Stopping the Girl and wallowing in the troughs between waves in reverse was a cupboard-rearranging affair.  We rolled from beam to beam, and the cockpit was awash.  “Okay, that should do it.”  On our way again, I went below to check on the bilges.  Lifting the hatches, I could hear an ominous “Bang, bang, bang” against the hull.  Okay, repeat the backing up maneuver, this time at a higher speed, and for longer.  The wallowing between waves was magnified.  It was necessary to hold on with both hands to stay upright.  On our way again, the banging had stopped, and all seemed well.  Wrong!  Throughout the night at various intervals ranging from 45 minutes to 2 hours, we kept experiencing the same scenario, minus the banging.  The engine temperature would slowly rise, along with our fuel consumption and engine work load until we did the back-up maneuver again.  At every juncture, we acted more aggressively in the hopes of shaking our passenger.  We could see large patches of Sargasso weed with our spotlight, and we figured that we were dragging a net.  When it accumulated enough weed, the symptoms would become critical.  Going overboard with dive gear was out of the question, as Alizann was rolling from rail to rail.  We thought about heading due west to Grenada or the Grenadines, putting the wind and seas on our stern, but in the end, decided to push on to Barbados as we were really in no danger.  Worst case, if we lost propulsion, the wind and seas would carry us west to the Windwards somewhere.  We were 70 miles from any land. Needless to say, it was a long night.  At 08h00 on the 23rd, we ducked out of the current, changing our course to the northwest for Barbados.  It was now daylight, but we still couldn’t see what we were dragging.  At 11h00, we reversed for what would be the last time.  The surface of the sea was now covered with Sargasso weed in ¼ mile long patches.  We passed through effortlessly.  Whatever we had picked up was gone!!  I was almost disappointed, as I wanted to see what it was.  In the lee of the island, I was even able to wash some of the salt from our trusty little ship sailing into 1’-3’ seas.  We arrived at Port St. Charles, Barbados at 16h35, 34 hours after departing Trinidad.  John and Paulette, who had been there for two weeks aboard Seamantha were standing on the seawall waving when we arrived.  Paulette, true to form, had remembered that it was my birthday and had us over for her (in)famous rhum punch and munchies.  We went home early, fell into bed and slept like the dead.

Barbados travelogue to follow:

-Later

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