Friday, May 26, 2006

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Bonjour! Greetings from Marigot, St. Martin.

We're very glad to be here, and we are good and sick of beating to windward. Pity there's no other way to get here.

We departed lovely Virgin Gorda about 3:30 in the afternoon on Sunday, and headed right into the nasty confused chop outside. Course about 120 degrees, give or take, wind from about 120 degrees, give or take. So all night it was give or take a few degrees this way or that, trying to keep the mainsail from crashing about too much. Once it's dark, you can't really see which way the next big flap of water is coming from or how to best roll around it, so you might as well close your eyes and guess. Sometimes, you'd be congratulating yourself that ND was moving along well at about 5 knots or so under main and motor, then you'd get a big smack, a face full of spray, and you're back to 2.8. Long night, nobody barfed, it was warm (although we both wore our fouly jackets because of the endless spray), Randy ate a lot of chocolate, I drank a lot of water and ate chips, and we staggered our way across to St Martin, which is almost worth every bruise I got to get here.

By about 4 or 5 am, you get to feeling like the sheepdogs changing shifts in the Bugs Bunny cartoons: "Evening Ralph." "Evening Sam."

We had French toast to celebrate our arrival. With bananas soaked in rum. Checking in with customs was very casual. They stamped Randy's passport, but not mine. When he asked about mine, the gentleman just shrugged, and said, "Je le vu." So I didn't get a stamp, and feel rather miffed about it.

We decided on Marigot after the capt figured that the sea conditions would not be as great for anchoring on the Dutch side. Marigot Harbour is lovely -- we're anchored in about 8 feet of clear, clear water (saw a 4 foot barracuda slide by this morning, and there's a big starfish under the boat) and from shore, we can hear the hee-haw of the occasional police siren. They sound exactly like the police vehicles in Pink Panther movies. We both laughed the first time we heard it. From the boats around us, we hear Italian, Dutch, French, and there's lots of bare bodies on view. Nudity, and those teeny little bathing suits that are so flattering to the older male, are de riguer (I'm not checking the spelling on any of this, so go ahead and correct me as you read along).

There's a greater variety of boats here. Very few Americans. There's a purple boat --now that's a first. There's also one painted with fake wood planking and a mural of a mermaid and a whale on the bow. It's for sale, if anyone's interested.

We had lunch at Enoch's on the square across from Customs on the first day. On the menu: stewed goat, boiled fish, shrimp Creole, baked chicken, peas and rice, plantain and salad. We filled up for 13 bucks, including two beers. Had a walk around town, picked up a baguette and croissants for breakfast, and went back to the boat and slept for 11 hours. Next day we went back for more bread, and the bakery had burned down during the night. That would have accounted for the sirens in the night.

Ashore, there's lots of shopping to be done (please send money) if you've got lots of money. There are many many stores that look, at first blush, like a pharmacy of sorts, but are really purveyors of every kind of unguent or potion to perfect your skin and hair and nails and eyebrows and lips and butt and any other bit of you that could use perfecting. Who knew that Oil of Olay wasn't all I'd need? There's a digital scale somewhere in all of these stores (I weigh the same as I did when I left, Randy's lost another 5 lbs). The women are fairly fabulously elegant, the shops are either high end fashion and jewellery, or low end tat for tourists. There's an open air market -- lots of little booths selling tat, and some interesting local jewellery and spices and veg and fruit.

The grocery stores are to die for, if just to experience the cheese and wine selection. For the last two days, we've lunched on brie, blue cheese, goat cheese, confiture de cerise, pears, fresh pineapple and mango, brilliant baguettes and a lovely Bordeaux or two. Breakfast is croissants or pain aux chocolat, fresh fruit.

Since cruising is about balance in all things, we spent one entire afternoon pulling the head apart and fixing it. Lots of sweating and cursing. We had to haul it up on deck so we could see what was going on. It weighs a ton. A screw in the foot pedal lever had broken off, so no water could get in the intake. In order to get to the screw, we (Randy) had to dissassemble the workings of the head on deck, bore out the broken screw, tap new threads, find a screw that almost fit and hacksaw it down to the right size (there was one in the rebuild kit, as was noted after the ordeal was over), and then try to put it all back together. I passed the tools, rummaged for screws, and scoured the bits that he wasn't working on. The final challenge was a screw that held the gasket over the intake valves - stripped and chewed to bits. At this point, we got out the serious goop, packed the hole, jammed the screw in, lugged the head off the deck and back to the bathroom, and poured a drink.

Then we waited with our legs crossed for the goop to set.

It felt very bohemian to pee over the rail after dark, but I was very glad to wake up in the morning to hear Randy bolting the head back to the deck. No cursing. So we're back in business. Other than that, and the fridge running almost constantly (it's been very hot - 85-90), the boat is good. The aft rail has been scraped down to bare wood all round, and when the inspiration strikes, the sandpaper will come into play, then I'll be cowering in a corner trying not to muck up the fresh varnish. I got in the water this afternoon with a safety harness and a tether connected to the jack lines, and worked my way around the boat scraping the green grass off the water line with our kitchen spatula.

Today is Ascension Day and everything will likely be shut up here. Good day for sanding and varnishing. Friday we'll likely take the bus ($2) to Philipsburg on the Dutch side for a look around, and then we're thinking St. Barts on the weekend if the weather's looking good. And I have to say, the weather has been pretty stunning. Pics to follow, I hope.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

And if you want to see some pictures of the boat sailing in the BVI - check Yachtshots at

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Back in the BVI.

It's an interesting feeling to be here on our own boat. We chartered boats in 1991 and '94, and in '97 with Ian, Anna and Tom. For the first time since we left Halifax, I'm revisiting places I've been before. In the olden days, we flew into Beef Island Airport, which has expanded greatly if the view from the water is to be believed. There's a snazzy two-story building, and the bridge to Tortola is modern, substantial and stable looking. Last time, it was a one-lane job, and traffic moved according to a system that involved carrying a stick across the bridge to the fella at the other side.

This time, we came in from Culebra. We might have been better off waiting a few days, but the forecast was for the thundershowers and squalls to move north of us as we moved south. We just didn't know that there would be such a bunch of squalls having to make that northerly movement. So we had a very wet day, punctuated with the thrill of spotting four major waterspouts. It's a very strange formation -- a long, very skinny tube reaches down from a big black cloud and as soon as it hits the water it's obvious that it's spinning at a great rate. The surface instantly churns up a whirlwind of water that sprays up and out in all directions. A hand blender gone bad. If you pass through it, it sure would clean off the decks. Probably get rid of dandruff, dust and bits of potato chip lurking on deck. Not to mention lines, gas cans, the bbq, and all your clothes. We dodged them all without incident.

Checked in at Soper's Hole on the west end of Tortola -- and we didn't have to pay all of the extra fees and taxes that charterers face. Just $19, plus 20 cents each to stamp our passports. There are so many things in life that I don't understand. Dinghied over to Pusser's to have a Painkiller. They're not as fabulous as I remember, but then many long winters in Halifax may have distorted my recall. Randy did some rapid calculations, and determined that a six-pack of Pussers Rum was a fabulous deal. We are now stocked. Stayed overnight on a mooring at Soper's Hole (too deep to anchor - 70 ft), and watched the goats roam around the hills, reminisced about earlier trips and bobbed around in the wakes from the many ferries running in and out dock just behind us.

The British Virgin Islands are particularly green right now after lots of rain, and the huge hills looked draped with green carpeting. The water isn't as clear as in the Bahamas, and snorkeling the past few days, I've noticed that there's not much live coral, just heads covered with silty-looking beige growth, but still lots of fish grinding away at it. We did an initial grocery and laundry run in Roadtown (aka Rolltown - a miserable anchorage to be avoided in just about any wind direction). As we get farther south, we're finding that the laundries want you to leave your stuff and have them do it, and the cost can be up to a dollar a pound. So this time, I said I wanted to do my own laundry, and it only cost about 13 dollars for 4 big loads to wash and dry. Sounds like a lot, but it's been much more expensive on dryer islands where water is at a premium. You'd think they'd be making some money in the process, but it sure doesn't look like it. Half the machines don't work, the defunct dryers are used for storing plastic bags and odd socks, and there were bags of dirty laundry everywhere. Looked like somebody's horrible basement with the detritus of a week at sailing camp. One bag was labelled "please wash twice." Randy went out and did some scouting for supplies and brought me back a mango/papaya/coconut smoothie, and I hung around and read a book and chatted with the laundry lady, and after a couple of hours, we had clean laundry, and my ankles were so covered with bug bites, I though they were on fire. Travel can be so interesting.

Then we went to Savannah Bay and had a wonderful day swimming and snorkelling (me) and a bit of wading and shelling (us), and then we headed up to Virgin Gorda and had a fabulous interlude on a tiny beach, Isoletta Beach. Tiny tiny bit of paradise for a wee swim in the altogether. Even Randy.

The laughing gulls are out in full force by the time you get to the Virgins. They show up somewhere in Florida, but as you move south, they get more vocal, and more aggressive. We had lunch at Marina Cay yesterday, and as soon as a table was vacated, the gulls swooped into the open air restaurant and grabbed whatever they could grab. There seemed to be one employee in charge of shooing the birds away. So never feed a laughing gull. I'm sure that's where Hitchcock got the idea for "The Birds."

Cane Garden Bay is loaded with dozens of charter boats on moorings, and four cruising boats at anchor. The charter boats are uniformly white and equipped with gear to make life easy, if not in any way elegant. (And most of them seem to be flying pirate flags. Determined to let loose and be wild on this vacation?) Our boat really stands out, which is why Randy is again scraping old varnish, trying to be more worthy of the compliments. I've been trying to keep the decks tidy -- some days I look around and there's tshirts and towels draped on things, beer cans, several pairs of flip flops, hats, chip crumbs, etc. You'd think we were on vacation.

There's loads of cruise ship passengers on the beach, shipped over from Roadtown, they swim and fry to a lurid pink for a few hours, then back they go, and people go around rolling up umbrellas and folding up hundreds of deck chairs. That was when I dinghied in for a swim along the beach. Cane Garden also has grocery store, and we were pleased to see the big Scotiabank sign indicating an ATM attached to the store. Actually, it was just the concrete shell with no atm installed as of yet. Manana? That doesn't mean "tomorrow" in the Caribbean, it just means "not now." We tried to get a cab to Roadtown, and when we asked at the reception desk of one of the little hotels here in Cane Garden Bay, did the lady pick up the phone? She looked out the window, and said, did you look out there?

We've finally finished the mahi mahi. Time to go fishing again, which we'll do when we head St. Martin, probably on Sunday. In the meantime, more beach, more swimming, more scraping of varnish.
Funniest thing heard on the VHF lately: (woman's voice, agitated) "Okay everybody, stick together, this isn't a race you know."

Poor and intermittent connection here in Cane Garden Bay. I'll try to post pics too if I can get this up, but more likely photos will follow in the next day or so.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

See below for the update from Luperon to Isla de Vieques.
I've tried six times to come up with an opening sentence, but sleep deprivation has rendered me pretty much all blathery, so we'll just see what happens.

Left you last in lovely Luperon, where we checked out with the throngs of officiales before leaving on Wednesday. All okay with the immigration fella and harbour official, then dodge the goats and cows up the hill to say goodbye to the navy. Commandancia wouldn't stamp our despachio papers until Randy gave him $20 bucks, so it was back down the hill, back to town for more money, then back up the hill where the money went into the commandancia's pocket. On the way back to the boat, we were laughing over the "official" receipt he provided -- on request -- scribbled on a plain piece of paper, something about providing protection....The immigration fella heard us and called us over and wanted to look at it. He shook his head and said that was very bad. He'd warned some people earlier not to allow another official to ding them for any extra fees, but what do you do when the navy guy has a gun, and won't stamp your papers? You sure can't dazzle them with your stream of stinging invective, in English. You can, however, enjoy the terrific beauty of their island, take your first world Canadian sensibilities, and go back down the hill to your beautiful boat, and go somewhere else.

(A note about appearances: people have gone by and said "beautiful boat! You keep it so nice!" and this while I was sitting in the cockpit picking scabs of old varnish off the taffrails. I put it down to the fact that most mornings after a heavy dew, I wipe down the topsides to get rid of the salt spray. Heather on Sea Holly used to do it, and I used to watch while I drank my coffee. So if you want to impress the neighbourhood, wipe down the boat in the morning while they're all sitting on their butts drinking their coffee and watching you through the binoculars. Takes ten minutes, renders the topsides less slippery and salty, establishes your reputation, and they'll be totally blind to other shortcomings. Thanks, Heather.)

We sailed out of Luperon about suppertime, and into crappy swells. I hadn't been feeling so great after an interesting lunch ashore -- Paul's birthday lunch -- cold lasagna at the marina restaurant. Denise and I asked to get ours heated up, but as I ate the still lukewarm goop, I got thinking that meat lasagna ought not to be hanging around being warmish then coolish, then warmish again, should it?, so I ended up sick all night in the choppy swells. Lousy night, and sailed into Rio San Juan in the morning (translated, Saint John River. There are only about three dozen names for rivers in the whole world), where it was, again, rolly. I had another Gravol and slept the morning away, and awoke from a dream of drinking coke and eating chips to drink a coke and eat chips. Slept as much as we could during the day, and left about 9 pm from Rio San Juan with five other boats (Vixen, Sea Yeti, Southern Mist, Paradiso, Andante) and headed for Escondido, about 55 miles away.

Sailing that night was okay, nothing difficult other than not being asleep, and coming into Escondido early in the morning was stupendous (I must get a thesaurus). High mountains, green, green, green, a beautiful beach with high rock walls and caves and big palm trees. After we anchored, I saw a man on a horse going down the beach, and had to readjust the whole scale of the beach. These palms were huge, probably four or five times as big as I first thought. Paul, Denise and I swam ashore later and a young woman who introduced herself as Calista came down to meet us on the beach and walked us down to the cave and showed us the interesting features while we bantered away hopelessly in Spanglish. I think that she ran the beach bar and was luring us over to it, but we explained, with lots of pointing and stupid facial expressions, that we were in bathing suits and had no money with us and were sailing away at suppertime anyway. Being unilingual makes you feel totally dopey. The crews from Sea Yeti, Southern Mist, and Paradiso swam in later and got the same welcome, and they all opted to stay another day, so they did go in later and eat the fresh fish special.

Nancy D, Vixen and Andante (and Watermark 1 and Encantada) decided to push on. The weather window was just so benign for the Mona Passage, we didn't want to miss it, so we left beautiful Escondido that evening. We would have happily stayed for a few days to explore -- it's wild looking. If you want an idea of what it looks like, rent Jurassic Park again. They filmed it somewhere in the DR.

From Escondido we headed across to Puerto Rico, leaving about 6 pm. Not much swell, not much wind, but endless lightning. Alone in the cockpit, overcast, no moon, black as hell except for about a dozen times a minute the sky lights up all around you, and your head involuntary ducks into your neck and all your other bits flinch. It felt like some cosmically tedious little brother kept flicking on the overhead light and yelling BOO, or WHAAA!, every few seconds. I felt better after I realized that most of the lightning was over the land behind us. Then, of course, once I felt better about that, there was lightning over the land on the starboard side, and then, over the water on the port side. Well, I thought, at least it's not raining. Then it started raining. It stopped doing all of that by about midnight, and on my next watch, Randy brought me a cup of very strong coffee, and I spent the rest of the time sailing along in the dark singing old camp songs, car trip songs, Christmas carols, jazz, choir songs from grade three, anything I could remember. Between 3 and 4, there was another bout of lightning that lit up the back of a roundish cloud and looked almost exactly like the Bat Signal. Really. Flashed about ten times.
Night passages have worked okay with each of us doing about an hour driving and an hour in what we're still calling Tom's bunk (quarter berth aft). Any longer and I get too stupid (see Bat Signal comment above), particularly after about 3 or 4 am, and Randy doesn't crash effectively for long periods when I'm on deck singing On Top of Old Smokey. So it works, but after four nights of it, we're both really dopey, in any language.

The Mona Passage held no terrors, even after a night of lightning. Pretty much dead calm, interesting currents here and there, mostly in our favour oddly enough, and sometimes enough breeze to assist the motoring. As soon as we'd had our coffee in the morning and Randy had listened to Chris Parker's weather forecast, I put out the fishing line and he hit the bunk for some more sleep. The line, with the attractive red squid lure attached, picked up some weed after about an hour, so I hauled it in and replaced it with the lucky "Yellow Bird," and I sang the song for further luck as I dropped the line astern again. Some time later, I check over my shoulder and the line is gone. Gone where? Gone at a 90 degree angle to the boat. Something is taking my yellow bird north north east. I cut the engine, grabbed the lucky gardening gloves, and started to haul in the line.

Randy wakes up when the engine noise changes, and sleepwalks on deck to stand by with the gaff. "What is it?" he asks, then we both spend the next two minutes saying "whoa! big fish! big dolphin! beautiful! shit! hang on! holy hannah! big fish! crap! there he goes! hang on! big fish!" etc. I finally drag the thrashing mahi mahi/dolphin/dorado alongside and as Randy tries to hook him with the gaff, the fish gives an almighty thrash that hauls the hook off the gaff. Randy is now standing by with a stick. I am NOT losing this fish, so the lucky gardening glove grabs the steel leader and over he goes into the cockpit. Thank god I was wearing my Wonder Woman belt.

Man, there's nothing like great lashings of adrenalin. I'm so totally hooked on this fishing stuff, I'm embarrassed. Beautiful fish, 48" long (which doesn't include the tail, which you're not suppose to include, but Paul does, so it skews our competitive tallies), which makes it more than 4 FEET long and Randy figured it was probably more than 30 pounds. We had fish for lunch, fish for dinner, and it will feed us for another week. [note: in a warehouse discount place in Ponce, frozen dorado was five bucks a pound]

We're now in Puerto Rico, motored in Saturday night after a long afternoon approach watching the huge cloud buildup over the land and preparing ourselves for another few hours of lightning and thunder. But the sun set, the huge clouds dissipated, and we motored into Boqueron and dropped the anchor about 10 pm. Drink of rum for the first time in days, and hit the bunk for the first time in three nights? four nights? We did Boqueron today (like a tiny unpleasant Latin version of Wasaga Beach, Daytona Beach, or Myrtle Beach, nearly naked people, too much traffic, bloody phones that don't bloody work). Heading to Mayaguez tomorrow to check in with Customs and Immigration. Now to bed.

I'd hoped to post this in Boqueron, but the single internet cafe in Boqueron is closed, every day. The place only lives on the weekend, and the rest of the time, everything is shut up tighter than a clam's ass at high water. Lots of phones, half of them work, but you can't get a call through for love or money, cause the government workers, including the phone fellers, are on strike. I did get an operator a couple of times, and when I started to speak in English, they just disconnected me. We are going to buy a modem and get sailmail as soon as we can. And I'm going to learn a few handy phrases and just one stream of invective in Spanish. We're now in Ponce (PONsay) and will be heading into town tomorrow for a look see at PR's second biggest city.

Here I am again, cause there's no joy with finding wifi in Ponce. Lovely place, and we had a blast wandering around like real tourists. Bought a lovely wrap skirt, a great papier mache mask, and an apron with an indecipherable recipe for fricasee de pollo printed thereon. The story behind the masks: pirates used to come and do the rape and pillage bit, so the locals made these masks, and their African slaves would wear them, along with billowing robes and scare the willy-jeebers out of the pirates, who thought they were devils. The pirates never came back, according to legend. Our mask is now on the bulkhead. We have onboard a Mexican mermaid, an Irish Neptune, and a St. Christopher medal. We're trying to cover all bases. Please send rabbit's foot.

We've moved on to the Spanish Virgin Islands - currently (Sunday, May 7) stopped at Isla de Vieques (Vee-ACHE-ees), and will hang around here for a day or two, then off to the BVI. Mother's Day! And where are the emails from my children?

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