Monday, January 29, 2007

Since the last update, we've had a few days in Portsmouth, Dominica, and a terrific sail up to Guadeloupe -- all sails set, beam reach. Couldn't get any better if you screamed at it. Now, I'm sitting in the cockpit, smelling the bacon and onions that Randy's adding to fried rice -- rice leftover from a brilliant curry dinner cooked by Stewart last night. I'm just sitting here slivering a baguette into oblivion. All in all, rather a nice day. Sort of like yesterday and the day before. Etc.

Looking around the bay here at Les Saintes (a small group of islands that belong to Guadeloupe, just north of here), there's a couple dozen boats, including a huge motor yacht with five, count 'em, five satellite communication domes, local fishermen roaring around, and parked right in the middle of the bay is Picton Castle, out of Lunenburg. Small world.

It's beautiful here in Les Saintes. Terre en Haut is the largest island in the group and the little town is a combination of all the best bits of every beach town we've visited. There's a daily influx of visitors on the ferries from mainland Guadeloupe, and the occasional cruise ship disgorging tourists, but they don't detract from the charm of the streets, the houses, the hills and the beaches. There's scooters darting around everywhere (makes you a bit wary when you realize that a lot of the drivers are the day-trippers) and the main street is just for walking, strollers, and bicycles. The baguettes are great, the wine is inexpensive, and there's lots of little shops to explore.

My only problem is that it's also very French, and my French, is, how-you-say, "execrable"? ("Merde" would probably do.) There are many reasons why Randy is handy to have around, and his rudimentary language skills rate high. Tara and Stewart are here as well, and Tara's French gets really pretty good after she's had a few glasses of wine.

Stewart and Tara, Randy and I and Axel (a single-hander from Germany who took some of the best photos you'll see below) celebrated Tara's 40th birthday a few days ago with a lovely long restaurant lunch, champers, balloons, ti punch back at Nancy D, and, just to destroy the elegance and maturity of the situation, we played Black Peter. I was introduced to the game by my friend Alice, who then thoughtfully brought me a game from Ireland. Alice has added such richness to my life. :-) The game is juvenile and brutal, and I think we all used outrageous French accents during the game. It's just like Old Maid - whoever ends up with Black Peter is the big loser, and whoever sticks them with the BP gets to decorate the loser's face with a blackened cork. Usually it starts with a mustache, then deteriorates from there. Aptly, we used the cork from the lunchtime champers bottle. That cork had a big day -- when Stewart took the wire and foil off the bottle, the cork launched itself. It hit the restaurant ceiling, rocketed back down and smashed a champagne glass. Initial sheepish embarrassment, then hilarity ensued. Who has more fun than us?

Livelied up by our excursion to Victoria Falls in Dominica, we've been walking ourselves all over Terre en Haut, which is, thankfully, not too large, but big enough to walk off the pain au chocolats. The windward beach is an easy walk past the big cemetary, and it's at the end of the runway for the tiny airport. I couldn't bring myself to walk across the sand directly under the plane that was taking off overhead. Randy and I walked across to Marigot (how many "Marigots" are there in the Caribbean?) and we also went with Tara and Stewart on a loooong up and down (mostly up, both ways) trek over to a beach on the south side of the island. We saw lots of goats, beautiful views, flowers, banana quits and hummingbirds. A sign by the beach warned us that there was to be "no-bareness." There were a few other people on the beach, some partly bare ones, and a large family group with lots of kids who were setting up a big picnic in the woods behind the beach. It reminded me of family picnics when I was a kid -- blankets and bbqs set up beside the Volkswagen, the kids all splashing and screaming in the water. The best way to spend a summer Sunday afternoon. Even better when it's in January.

Chris Parker has promised that the wind will be kicking up again late in the week, so we're off to Deshaies tomorrow, maybe spend a day there, then off to Antigua to wait for Tom and Haley to arrive. Yay!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

We're back in beautiful Dominica after a couple of weeks of travelling. Yes, we moved the boat again. Dominica is unbelievably green and beautiful, and one of the most welcoming places we've ever been. The islanders are glad to see you, and glad that you're here to see the paradise that they enjoy every day. We say how glad we are to be here, and the response is, "It is our pleasure."

Nancy Dawson finally motored out of Bequia on January 7, and turned around and motored back in a few minutes later with the engine overheating. Maintenance has been slack lately, but with the filters cleaned and the antifreeze (a misnomer in these parts) topped up, we headed for St. Vincent. Turns out there's a leak in the water heater system. That's what you get for having all these mod cons.

After a brief stop in Chateau Belair where we were the only boat, we decided to go back a mile to Wallilibou and brave the whole stern-anchor-to-the-shore ordeal and sit the night out in company with a bunch of other boats. The boat helpers in Wallilibou were great. Two small boys in a tiny bright red dugout rowed a long way out to meet us and were anxious to be in charge of our every need. By the time they actually doodled themselves back into the bay and got to our boat, Randolph had already hooked us up to a mooring and taken our 250' line ashore and tied it to a palm tree (a fairly strenuous exercise), I'd bought two necklaces from him, Randy had poured us drink and we were relaxing in the cockpit.

"Why you not wait for we?" they complained. Randy ended up buying some limes from them ("for a special price!") at least one of which turned out to be an orange.

Wallilibou boasts the remants of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie set, which is sort of neat, but not worth putting a dinghy in the water to investigate, so we enjoyed the view from the boat, and headed off very early in the morning. Randolph the boat fella showed up at 6:30 as requested to untie our line from the shore.

Rough passage to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia. In between the islands there's often a stretch of lousy confused chop, swell, current and honking wind. I may have mentioned this before. Repeatedly. I have learned to adjust the Stugeron to suit, but it's still pretty wearing. We anchored off Pigeon Island and then spent an unsettled night. Neither of us could forget that the last time we were anchored here a yacht at the other end of the bay was boarded and bad things happened. The men responsible were caught, but still, we closed the hatch, had flashlights and airhorn at hand, and neither of us slept well. Off again at first light.

Sailed into Le Marin, Martinique, full of anticipation. Drooling, actually. We weren't long getting ashore and hitting the hot spots: Leader Price, Annette Supermarket, and heading back to the boat with suicidal amounts of bread, croissant, pain au chocolat, cheese, meat, wine and pate. (Finally caught up to Randy last night - gout attack, right foot.) We stayed five days in Le Marin and one day we rented a car with Rick and Lucy (Flying Cloud, SC) and visited the Dubuc plantation ruins, the Trios Riviere distillery (which was mostly a collection of tourist gift shops) and we tasted the rum, which wasn't that good, and continued on our trek. We hit a gigantic mall and got a taste of long-forgotten gridlock. Martinique is full full full of little cars, and they were all in the same roundabouts that we travelled that day. Even on the outskirts of Fort de France (huge business park! run away! run away!) in the middle of the day it was mayhem on the roads. We did see some beautiful scenery and visit some interesting spots, but we were more than a bit overwhelmed at the end of the day. Glad Rick did the driving.

Motored round the corner to Ste Anne on January 14, and the next morning we made a quick baguette run ashore, then headed off to Grande Anse d'Arlet (lovely beach town), hoping to meet up with Tara and Stewart on Mange Tout. Yes, we see the boat, there they are, and the rest of the afternoon was given over to snorkeling and celebrating Stewie's 42nd birthday.

Next, a day or so in Fort de France, purchasing snazzy things for Deniece and DeNephew whose birthdays are fast approaching, then northward ho again to St Pierre. We wandered around town and found the little museum, which was very well done, and we heard the story of the 1902 eruption of Mt Pelee that killed the 30,000 residents of the city in about 3 minutes. There were smaller eruptions that killed people, and ample warning from the mountain that things were about to get much worse, but apparently there was an election coming up, and an evacuation order from the government would have messed things up for the ruling party. And so it goes. The young woman at the museum was wonderfully knowledgable and charming, and we had an interesting afternoon after we left her, walking among the ruins of the theatre and the prison. They were side by side. The prisoners would have been able to hear all the performances. Torture, or rehabilitation?

St Pierre to Dominica was a brilliant passage, full sail, gorgeous weather, passing boats, looking good. Stewart and Tara had arrived a couple of days earlier and arranged for an island tour with a fella called SeaCat. We were met in Rousseau by Roots (who works with SeaCat), who told us where Mange Tout was parked and set us up on a mooring near them and then ran Randy over to Customs (which isn't where it says it is in Chris Doyle's book anymore, and it's a long walk from the anchorage, so we were glad of the information and transportation).

Service from the boat helpers is great here, laid back and very friendly. Roots's son Kyle, who is about 5, calls himself "the Dockmaster" and races around to take your painter when you come ashore. He doesn't quite know what to do with it yet, but he wants to be helpful. He has his own steering wheel on his dad's fast boat. Not connected to anything, but it keeps him focused and in one spot while they're racing around.

So we're looking forward to the tour, and apparently there'll be a "bit of a hike" involved. "Bring your swimmers" says Stewie. We left in SeaCat's van about 9:30am, along with Felicity and Peter (from Nadezhda) and Peter's parents Mary and Alan, visiting from the UK.

The "bit of a hike" involved travelling up the river to Victoria Falls, the biggest falls on the island. SeaCat was going to call it off when he saw how much rain we'd had the day before, but he decided to give it a go. Apparently, we all looked up for it. We knew nothing.

It took about an hour and a half of hiking and wading to get to the falls, crossing the river five times in rushing water up to our waists at points. It was exhilarating. The rainforest is so wild and green and lush all around you, and the whole sensation of getting across the river, finding the right rocks with your feet, trying not to get swept away by the rushing water, climbing over boulders, under boulders, across slippery sections, through the rainforest, up and down and then across the river again... we were all so excited by the experience, nobody seemed to be afraid. At one point, Alan deadpans to his wife Mary (75 years old) about to leap to another slippery rock in a rushing gorge, "Go on Mary, you might as well do it now, you won't be able to do this when you're old." She never missed a beat. We were all grinning by the time we got to the falls, and we'll never forget swimming under that thundering water. SeaCat took great care of us and gave us all confidence. If you come here, get in touch with him and do this trip.

The water had receeded somewhat (down to about thigh level) on the way back, and we were weary, soaked, but still thrilled to pieces by the time we got back to the start of the trail. Moses has his home and beautiful garden there. It made me homesick for my garden, and he walked me through and named anything that I didn't recognized. I pulled weeds for him for a while. Then we sat around his table and ate the brilliant vegetable stew that he'd prepared while we were hiking. We ate from calabashes, using spoons made from slices of coconut shell, and we ate like starving people, then finished up with bananas picked off of his trees. It was ambrosia.

Meeting Moses was a wonderful addition to the day -- he's the perfect person to meet before you go to the falls, and then to feed you when you get back. He has such huge respect for the island and the bounty all round. Truly, everywhere you look there's something wonderful to eat hanging on a tree or poking out of the ground. He and Mary said goodbye Rasta-fashion, clenched fists pressed knuckles to knuckles, then hearts, saying "bone of my bones, heart of my heart."

Not finished yet, we headed back to the van. Mary took advantage of the lovely warm breeze and held her knickers out the window to dry them as we drove along. Intrepid traveller, that one. SeaCat took us to the Emerald Falls, an easy stroll through rainforest on groomed paths, and we'd missed the cruise ship crowds who came earlier in the day, so we were all alone in the wet and wild woods. Very, very pretty. In honour of their third wedding anniversary, Stewie and Tara stripped off again and had a dip in the Emerald Pool at the bottom of the falls. Very cold, pronounced Stewart. Randy and I got back to the van first and SeaCat pointed out an agouti crossing the road. It looked either like a fat-headed rotund black rat with no tail and very arthritic knees, or a slick black guinea pig wearing high heels. I'm still trying to decide.

One more stop to stuff sacks with fresh grapefruits right off the tree, then home to supper and to bed. Early.

An unforgettable day. See below for photos.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

RMS here. To follow up from Sue's last post, a few notes on gear that has worked well, not so well, or crap.

Our engine, a Yanmar 4JH3E, 56 HP, was installed new before we left. It has run without a hitch, and the only maintenance has been regular oil and filter changes. It has plenty of power and it's been easy to find parts all through the islands. We now have over 1100 hours on it (so much for beam reach trade wind sailing).
Batteries: 4 six volt golf cart providing 450 AH, charged by 90 amp alternator on main engine, require about 1 1/2 hours running per day. These have proven totally reliable and ample power for what we run. Engine start battery is a group 27 105 AH Surrette.

Our anchor windlass, a Lofrans Tigres 1200W electric horizontal, is indispensable. Life is so much easier when all you do is step on a foot switch and 150 feet of chain and 45 lb. of anchor come whizzing up. Susan does all the anchor work with no problems [actually, I do lift the anchor onto the bowsprit manually, and lift it off and hang it by muscle power...). We carry 300' of high test 3/8" chain and have a variety of anchors, including a 45 CQR, our work horse; 35 Delta, 50 Bruce type, and a FX-55 as a storm anchor. See "need to have" section for update.

Our dinghy is a 10' Achilles with 8 HP Suzuki outboard: love/hate relationship. Great for carrying big loads, but wet in a chop. Engine has generally been reliable but is prone to fits every once in a while. Watch for water in the gas down here, it's been the main source of problems. I now use my water separator filter every time I fill the tank. We also have the lapstrake 10' rowing dinghy we got in Carriacou, by far our favourite except in strong winds when rowing is difficult.

Things we don't have and haven't really missed are a watermaker (the rain catching awning that does just fine and otherwise finding fresh water is no problem), television, pets, and socks.

Things on our list to purchase include an autopilot, alternate energy source (solar panels, wind generator or portable gas generator), larger main anchor (probably a 55lb Delta), satellite phone, and maybe a stuffed parrot or a peg leg. (ARRRGHHH)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

First update of 2007. Happy new year.

I had a bunch of emails from faithful blog followers. Much appreciated. We got one from another couple at our yacht club who are planning their own departure from work and home, and they were interested in hearing about what's working well for us, and what we would change. So here's Sue's handy hints.

First, make sure that you install the washer and dryer somewhere in the boat before you leave, and a watermaker big enough to fill the washer and the hot tub. Ha. Ha. Ha. Next, make sure you both have your own rooms, and enough drugs to render everyone pleasant and agreeable 24/7. Again, just joking. But if you need couples therapy or marriage counselling or something along those lines, get it before you go. If he asks me one more time where his glasses are, I'm going to leap overboard.

No, really, everything's fine. But here's some bits and pieces, stuff for the boat or the stuff of life, that have occasioned either minor irritation, serious trouble, or smug delight over the last 16 months or so.

Get dark sheets and towels. The idea of crisp white sheets, cool and inviting, is lovely, but they get right some gray and limp looking after a few months. Bring dishes you like, not plastic, and proper wine glasses. The whole camping feel gets tired quick, and you'll be washing all these dishes by hand, so make sure they're pleasant to behold. Pressure cooker. Really good knives. Your favourite cookbooks. They're worth the space they take up.

Get decent sunglasses, and spares, and get an eyeglass repair kit. Reading glasses and spares. Good tweezers, and a magnifying mirror, or else spring for laser or years of electrolysis unless you want to grow your own bushy eyebrows and beard. That's probably more information that you want to hear, but I'm telling you what you need to know. You should also decide how you're going to deal with the hair on your head while you're away. Seriously consider a change if you need to dye it every four weeks. And will he tolerate you buzzing his head with a do-it-yourself KTel special? Make sure you have a lot of your prescription drugs. I ran out of migraine medication about two headaches ago.

Make sure you both have a couple of hats that don't make you want to run away from each other laughing maniacally. Ditto for bathing suits. Have several, you'll wear them a lot.
Good flashlights are nice.

You know how you can press a button on your phone and the handset will trill out and let you hunt it down quickly and easily? Whatever this device is, get 20 of them and attach them to your tools. And glasses.

Check that your propane tanks are legal in the states (OPD, I think you need), and get padlocks or combination locks that you can open and close in the dark in the rain when you've had several rum punches.

Get duplicate bank cards, and make sure that you've got cards that work everywhere. We've had occasion to rethink the wisdom of banking with Credit Union Atlantic. Great while we're home, not so good at the bank machine in Bequia. Make sure that you can move your money around, and email it, from your computer.

Have a phone. Since we don't have one, I don't know what you should have, but you should have one. You need an iPod, not a TV, and a good digital camera.

Look at your dinghy and your motor. Do you love them? Do you get warm all over when you think of their remarkable reliability and the safety and security they are sure to provide you with whenever you need it? Get a dozen extra shear pins and find a way to affix them inside the motor's hood. I don't want to say any more about this, but you get my drift. Make sure you have good oars.

Our new canvas water catcher has been fab-o. We just filled up with water this morning, and only took 100 gallons after a month. More canvas stuff you'll need in the tropics: a good cover for the entire cockpit, and the entire cabin if you can get or design one and have it made. Fans in all the cabins, and one for the cook.

Get the biggest anchors you can handle. We've had great service from our CQR, but we've switched to the Delta, and now we're going to switch over and try the Bruce. Bequia harbour is a great place to test your anchor if you don't mind a few sleepless nights. We're on the lookout for a giant Delta.

Bring as many good books as you have space for, including reference books on plants, trees, fish, coral, the works. You need a dictionary. Books meant for beach reading get very boring, so bring good books. If you could learn to speak Spanish, you'll be way ahead.

So that's my not-so-short list. Next update, I'll try to get the Captain to deal with the more technical details, but don't hold your breath. He's just fixed a minor saltwater leak in the head, and he's taking the next week off.

Now that you're bored to bits, or totally discouraged or disgusted, see below for some photos of our trip to the Moonhole Houses on Bequia, some Christmas and New Year's get-togethers, some food, and some beautiful Bequia scenery.

Off to St. Vincent, then q-flaggin it through St. Lucia, and on to Le Marin (Martinique) for food!

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