Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Nancy Dawson dressed for Christmas - and more photos from the last couple of days...

Turkshead cactus on the hike to Shirley Heights

Serious bbq-ing at Shirley Heights

SB, Ann and Lorraine at the top of the hill

Daily rainbows after, or during every shower

Great view (and beer) at Shirley Heights

Winner: Best Use of a Dead Phonebooth

Ladies at the Dockyard xmas day champagne party

Big crowd at the party. Loud music, way too loud.

Our Christmas Day potluck on Pigeon Beach. I even went swimming.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas to all. I found something to do with all the murex shells I've been collecting.

I know that most of you are in the "shovelling" regions of the world, so we send our best wishes for picturesque and festive snow, rather than heavy, wet and treacherous snow. Down here, we get something called "the Christmas trades" meaning it just blows harder for a couple of weeks. In both places, travel plans are subject to change, and cancellation at the last minute. We're not going anywhere, so no problem.

But the forecast this morning is for light winds for the next couple of days, a few showers, mostly occurring at night, and a daytime temperature that we just don't need to worry about. Antigua Harbour Radio (06VHF) gives us the weather and announcements of local events, and we're looking forward to the champagne party in the Dockyard on Christmas Day. Starts around noon, see you there.

There are other holiday-type activities going on. Seems there's a bit of rivalry between some of the mega-yacht crews, and there's fun and games involved. Randy had to employ evasive manoeuvres in the dinghy to avoid being hit by water balloon missiles launched from a huge sling on the deck of "Leander." Just missed my head. Later that day, we watched a man dressed in red run across the deck of "Skat" and wrestle their inflatible Santa Clause from the forward rail and leap into the water with it. He was hotly pursued, but escaped to a tender waiting below which then zoomed off. There must be lots of this going on. Randy just got back from the chandlery (his daily trip) and reported that the huge "Alpha Nero" is sporting bright blue letters, 6 feet tall, on their starboard side that read "Alpha Zero - Skat 1."

I finally did some laundry, not very exciting. Just the usual, scrub in the bucket, wring, rinse, wring, hang on the lifelines. Place looks very disreputable for a few hours, but it dries quickly. Miss Mavis, ashore, did our sheets and towels, and the sheets come back IRONED. It's worth the $34EC per load just for the novelty of ironed sheets and pillowcases. Sorry that the laundry story isn't very exciting, but I do have another bra-buying tale! Went to town shopping with the folks from "Rasi" and "Lorriegray" and out at the Wood's Mall there's a store that sells a bit of everything, clothes mostly. Since I'd left three new bras hanging over the laundry tubs in my sister's basement in Toronto, I'm always on the lookout, and around here, the selection is pretty slim in my size range. So imagine my delight in finding a bright orange bra with green trim in my size! Once I found someone to retrieve it off the wall about seven feet up, I made my way to the fitting room. I'm just about to take my shirt off, and the young lad taps on the door and say, "Miss, Miss! You're not allowed to try it on!" I go back to the cash register. "Whaddaya mean I'm not allowed to try it on? How will I know if it fits?" The lady just sort of smirked at me and shrugged, so with my best look of incredulous irritation I tried to convey just how dopey she was and her stupid store too, dropped it on the counter and left. I know I don't look that dirty! I should have been tipped off by the sign in the dressing room that said "DO NOT TRY ON BLOUSES."

More holiday shenanigans, this time not so funny. Our neighbour in the anchorage runs a day charter business on his boat "Ivy" and the rest of the time he carouses. Night before last, at 4 am, we're both still awake after he'd zoomed under our bow with people in his dinghy a bit earlier. Randy gets up and is in the head, I'm lying awake and we hear him leap into his dinghy, fire up the motor, hit the throttle and zoom, BANG, he slams into Marjorie just off our stern and keeps on going. I hear Randy hollering obscenities, and we both dash on deck with flashlights, and sure enough he's hit the dinghy on the port quarter, and punched a good-sized hole. There was lots of water in the dinghy, and we couldn't decide whether it was leaking or not, so here we are, well before the crack of dawn, hoisting the dinghy on the davits. Buddy next door arrived back to his boat while this is going on, and didn't even slow down. We let him go, figuring there's no benefit trying to sort this out while he's drunk as a skunk.

The next morning, he's up around 7:30 to ferry two young women back to the dock, and on his way back, we wave him over. He waves, and keeps going. Nuh, uh. I wave again and yell for him to come over. He shakes his head, but finally drives over. He's still drunk. Doesn't quite remember hitting anything (I suggested DRINK might have had something to do with it, and he said, yeah, they do work on that), but given that his red bottom paint is all over the rail of my dinghy, he says he'll get his friend Ollie to come and look at fixing it for us. In the meantime, we've tried to get quotes for the repairs: the gunwhale is cracked off, separated from the stern, the top plank is broken about two feet from the stern, and the plank below it is plain gone, about two feet of it. The next plank is split about another two feet further along, the quarter knee has broken and the frame is broken. All the boat builders and woodworkers are flat-out busy, and haven't even got time to do a quote until after Christmas. We did find out that buddy's friend Ollie is an excellent boatbuilder, so if he comes through, we should be okay. Randy could do the work himself, except there's nowhere to do it but the foredeck, and no power tools. And I want the damned perp to take care of the repairs. He stopped by yesterday morning and was rather more polite and contrite, but we haven't seen Ollie yet. Stay tuned. I hope this isn't going to turn into a stupid saga. In the meantime, I can't row. The good news is that our neighbour has quit roaring around at high speed at night.

We're tidying up the rest of the boat for Christmas - I'm on for rubbing the salty marks off the hull, and polishing the chrome and brass this afternoon. It's the nautical equivalent of trimming the tree - we'll put up our "Merry Christmaz" flags on Monday. Everyone have a great Christmas - and don't drink and drive!

See below for recent photos.

Two square riggers - Tenacious and Maltese Falcon

The sandcastle competition on Pigeon Beach

A great view on the hike between Pigeon Beach and English Harbour

My poor boat.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

More photos from Ilet a Cabrit

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More photos to come, see below for update.

Countdown to Christmas. Only there's nothing that feels Christmassy, and without family around, there's no incentive! All the cultural and climate clues that lead up to Christmas and the shopping, feeling the need to load up on gravy with everything, eggnog with everything ... just not as compelling when you're warm and not in need of a week off work, and there's not much to buy anyway. When the kids were small, in deference to Tom, we'd always wait until after his birthday on December 15th to start to get ready for Christmas. So happy birthday on Saturday TOM! My baby will be 20 years old! (Sorry, old boy, just had to get that in.)

We've had a busy week here in our neighbourhood, which keeps changing. We had an uneventful sail to Guadeloupe last week, departing from Jolly Harbour and anchoring that night in Deshaies on the northwest coast of Guadeloupe. Next day, we checked in, bought baguettes, a whole roasted chicken, tangerines, wine, cheese, pain au chocolat and croissants. Croissant shards make tiny greasy spots all over the teaks decks if you're not careful.

We sailed down the lee of the island, for the most part a quiet sail with the main and the jenny up. First part of the day was a light breeze from the land, then in the early afternoon, the onshore breeze comes on, and one tack, same course, off you go again. Toward the southern end of the island, still in the lee, it started to honk up to 25, gusting 30, and between there and Les Saintes, the group of islands a few miles south of Guadeloupe, we battled short, nasty swells and chop and squalls and a steady 25 knots of wind. Boring and tiring and tedious, but it only took an hour to get across the channel. We blew into the Bourg in a big squall of rain, anchored and spent a rolly, bobby night.

Across the bay there's a pretty little island, Ilet a Cabrit, with a sheltered anchorage on the south coast, in reach of "town" via dinghy, so we shifted over there and spent the next few days enjoying the snorkeling, and walked up the hill to see the great views. Randy amused himself by giving the occasional hermit crab a tap with his sandal just to watch it go rolling down the hill. There's the usual abandoned fort on the top of the hill, an abandoned group of concrete holiday cottages (they looked like little square cells, very unappealling), and a concrete road that could be 50 or 250 years old. There's no people living on the island, although we could see a hammock hanging in one of the buildings by the shore, and there's a display of masks for sale (but no one there to give your money to), and there's many goats and hermit crabs by the thousands. At night from the deck of the boat we watched fireflies and listened to the screams of feral cats. I found a bunch of pottery shards on the beach that probably washed down from the fort - they looked really old - no mention of "Corelle" on the markings.

Chris Parker woke us up on Monday with weather news that made it look like we should get back to Antigua right away, or be stuck in Les Saintes for at least another week with no guarantee of better weather after that. We wanted to be back for Christmas, so we decided to pack up, check out, get a couple more baguettes and head north. No problem going up the coast with a weird southwest breeze at our backs, but it meant for a very rolly night in Deshaies, which is open to the southwest. Neither of us felt like cooking, so we ate nuts and peanut butter sandwiches and watched the stars go swinging back and forth until Randy spotted a comet. We watched it for about an hour, moving northwards until it disappeared behind the cliff. If anyone knows what it was, let me know please. I've got an email in to one of my physics dept. buddies, so we'll find out if the Sherman-Brown Comet is going to be our claim to fame or what. Or maybe it's aliens come to retrieve all of those people you just know aren't from here originally.

Next day, Tuesday, was mostly crap, another on the "Never Again" list. Building swells, building wind, and mid-morning a huge wet squall that lasted an enternity with us in the middle of it - breaking seas with swells 10-15 and higher, winds 30-35 and regularly gusting over 40 - fit to flatten Nancy. I was predictably sick as a dog, even medicated. Randy got us through. It was gross, but it's over. A few bruises and contusions. Randy lost his hat. We've decided to reinstall the jacklines for any crossings, and never, never to bother to go anywhere if the forecast is for anything close to 20 knots of wind and over 6 foot swells. There's nowhere this old boat needs to go that badly.

It took a while to put the boat in order (my regular chance to reshelve all the books in the forward cabin), and get checked in in English Harbour, but then we cooked and ate an enormous pot of stew last night, gravy all over everything mopped up with baguette, hit the bunk at 8 pm, had a big breakfast this morning, and outside of the bruises, we're feeling fine. I'm pretty sure we need to do laundry.

Photos to follow.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I've been feeling a bit lonesome as Christmas looms, and after dinner to cheer myself I said to Randy, "I just love winter in Antigua." He replied, "Yup, there's no SHow to SNovel." There's nere a sniff of show to snovel in Barbuba either, which is where we spent the last couple of days. Lots and lots of sand though.

Time again to try somewhere new, so we hauled out the charts for Barbuda - about 30 miles north of Antigua - gassed up and filled the water tanks in Jolly Harbour on Friday, and got ready to go. I was driving the boat out of the inner harbour while Randy sorted out other sailory things, and I felt compelled to say, "there's something wrong, I'm feeling a whumping vibration up through my feet."

"Ah, that's nothing," says he, taking the wheel. Then he says, "There's something wrong, I'm getting a bad vibration," and sure enough, it was steadily increasing to a bizarre upward whump-whump-whump. A big pile of junk on the prop, or maybe the prop had lost a blade? It felt nasty, big time. Randy spun the wheel and we headed back to the dock.

Just as Randy's spinning the wheel, someone ashore comes on the VHF and barks "did you feel that? that was an earthquake!" We were so relieved. Nothing wrong with the boat! Just an earthquake!! Randy spun the boat around again, and we headed out directly toward the active volcano on Monserrat before we made the right turn toward Barbuda. The earthquake - a 7.4 on the old Richter - was centred underwater north-north-east of Martinique, did shake the volcano up a bit (see, but so far, the volcano hasn't done anything spectacular (recently), and everyone in the area is hoping that it stays that way.

On we go to Barbuda. Barbuda is just a bit smaller than Antigua, but part of the same country. The Antigua bit has most of the people, houses, cars, development, money, hotels, etc, etc., and the Barbuda bit has a lot of quiet, empty, natural beauty, the largest frigate bird colony anywhere, and an 11-mile pink beach that actually goes on a lot further than that if you keep going around the corners.

We anchored off the beach in Low Bay. There's one building on the shore, which will likely disappear during the next hurricane. The strip of beach and land between the Caribbean and the giant lagoon inside is narrow enough to throw a rock across at some points. Those would be the points that turned into impromptu channels during hurricanes Luis and Donna. One channel cleared to a depth of 21 feet. Not a good area to build a hotel.
Outside of that building, it was just us, the frigate birds and a few pelicans. We decided it was a clothing-optional beach. At night, we lay on deck and marvelled at the stars. The glories of the night sky make we wish I was more spiritual, but mostly we tried to identify constellations, and then I got thinking about all the crazy cosmology papers we used to get when I worked for the Can.J.Phys, and how too much pondering on the stars makes you crazy. We generally go to bed early. Best not to mess with that stuff.

On Sunday, we met up with George Jeffery who took us to the north of the island to see the frigate bird colony. Thousands of birds hanging about in the mangroves, the males very visible with incredible scarlet balloons that they blow up and whack with their bills to make a drumming sound to attract the females wheeling overhead. Looks and sounds like it would smart! Incongruous, prehistoric looking birds: like shags, their feathers get wet, so they don't ever land in the water. Bad thing for a water bird, eh? George says that the islanders eat them, but not that often.

What do they taste like? "Fishy," says George, "but they have nice breasts."

One of the stops on the tour was to have a look at a huge bell buoy, hard aground in the lagoon. George tells the story that some fishermen found it floating outside, and they dragged in into the lagoon, salvaged the solar panels and other bits, and there it sits. Randy's scratching his head, AM52, he thinks, AM52, I know this buoy. Sure enough, George tells us that it's the buoy from Grampus Rock, off Betty Island on the south shore of Nova Scotia. We promised to send him a copy of the chart, so he'll know just how far AM52 had come. Maybe via Spain and the big circle around the Atlantic. It's now sitting happily in about 4 feet of water, and George brings the tourists around and tells them the tale of the wandering buoy. He's a lovely man, George, and if you come to Barbuda, give him a call. He knows everything about the place. He has 8 kids, 6 of whom have gone to university. One of his daughters has 7 boys, so she's excused. He's a happy man, fishing and being a guide for people like us, living on a clean beautiful island where there's no private ownership of property. We had a great day with him.

Wind kicked up, and after a rolly night we headed back to Antigua, and ran into Brits Graham and Ann on "Rasi" in Jolly Harbour. We'd met them in Grenada last year, and we had a drink together before we headed out again. We felt connected to normal cruising people again! Great stuff.

Weather window was good, and we'll do anything to avoid going back to immigration for another extension, so we headed for Guadeloupe this morning (Wednesday, Dec 5). Lovely sail, 8 hours, saw a whale spouting for about 15 minutes, a porpoise surfaced beside the boat and got me all excited for a few seconds, and I spent the rest of the time staring purposefully at my fishing lure dragging behind the boat. I devised this clever plan that involved Randy having sardines for lunch and then soaking my cedar plug lure in sardine oil before throwing it to its fate. Smelly, but unsuccessful (we had no other bait, but I'm sure that if Randy had stapled a couple of sardines to the cedar, wrapped it all in bacon and trussed it up with dental floss, then for sure we'd be having fish for dinner tonight instead of so-so steak. That's all I'm saying).

Two weeks in French territory coming up. Laundry stories will be postponed in favour of food, glorious food, but maybe not fish. Stay tuned.

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