Thursday, March 31, 2011

The passage from Sapodilla Bay to Mayaguana in the Bahamas was okay, we think. It was only last week, but neither of us can remember much. No fish. After many days of travel, things get blurry, but I always remember the fish.

Abrahams Bay is beautiful, but shallow and has lots of those black lumps in it, but visibility was good going in late in the afternoon, and okay going out the next day. Captains from four boats all went to check in, and I made banana bread (all the bananas ripen at the same time, so what can you do?).

Randy reported that checking in was lengthy, lots of forms, but the captains were warmly welcomed and it was pleasant, if protracted. Less pleasant was seeing a turtle being butchered on the dock.

Off to Betsey Bay that night. Pretty spot, crappy, crappy anchoring. We peered around for a sandy spot, and on the third try, sloooowly backing down, we seemed to park. No crowd, no wind to speak of, and none forecast, so we counted on the weight of the anchor and the chain to help us stay put. Charlie dove on his anchor, and reported that the bottom looked like the scraped, hard limestone roads in the Turks. They finally stuck when their anchor landed in a pothole.

We had several days of motor-sailing in light and variable winds and mild seas. Nice, but noisy and I suspect it scares the fish away. Only one strike in three days, and that one got away. We did see lots of pilot whales, dolphins, and to round out the wildlife news, we passed by the Plana Cays, the home of the Hutia! They look something like a fat, beavery squirrel, and are good eaten in a stew, unless they're the endangered kind. Now you know.

Atwood Harbour was a lovely spot for a few days rest, bread-baking (once you get going, it's hard to stop) and beach walking. From there to Landrail Point, and on to Clarencetown, which was an uneventful motorsail. I was changing fishing lures for excitement. Until we heard a faint drone - helicopter? plane? - and seconds later, two small stunt planes, one red and one blue, bracketed Nancy Dawson and zoomed by just about mast height and let loose blue and pink smoke trails. In seconds they caught up to Mi Amante, a mile or two ahead of us and buzzed them good too. It was wild! Thanks for the greeting, whoever you are. Made our day.

Clarencetown has a lovely harbour, mostly very friendly folk (and very helpful - the lady at the gas station only had huge bags of ice but she split one in two for us), good vegetables at the packing house by the government dock: green peppers, green bananas, green tomatoes, green plantain, and lovely rosy orange papayas. Down the road is Ansel's True Value grocery, and back around the corner to the basket shop and I bought a lovely woven tray. There's a Batelco office, but there's actually no Batelco office in the building, just the post boxes and the tiny courtroom. There are, however, pay phones with dial tones!

We went on down the road to the Flying Fish Marina, and later went back to do laundry. Which is when we had a chat with the owner, and while he was polite enough to Michelle and I (Michelle bought two new chart books, so he said we were okay, because at least we bought something), he described in no uncertain terms his intense dislike of sailboats and their crews. Apparently cruisers steal his toilet paper, come at night and use the showers and steal water, ram their boats into his docks, sit and use the internet all day, only buy small amounts of fuel, etc, etc. He was glad we weren't from a certain province in Canada, because "they're the worst."

At first, I was shocked that he'd had so many bad experiences, but then he told us that the people on the huge sportfishing boats in the marina had actually offered to pay him to tell sailboats that there were no berths available. Then I got creeped out and mightily pissed off. He was telling us because he wanted us to know nobody wants us.

We did need both fuel and water and got both the next day. He was barely civil, and wrote "Sailboat" at the top of our bill and charged us 30 cents a gallon for water, when he'd told Michelle and I the day before that water was 25 cents a gallon.

So I'm doing Mario at Flying Fish Marina a favour by telling all you cruisers to avoid the place. Pass it on. He doesn't know you, he doesn't like you, and he doesn't want your piddling bits of money. Perhaps if his business goes tits-up, he might find something else to do that he enjoys.

There, I feel better now.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Atwood Harbour (click on photos to make them bigger)

Fluorescent tubes are incredibly hardy. See them on beaches all the time. We also see the occasional stream of garbage while we're sailing, dumped from ships we assume. Would be great to catch them at it...

Frolicking! Cavorting!

Bird Rock lighthouse. The water goes from way over 600' deep to about 12' in about three boat lengths. The colour is almost shocking.

Photogenically dumped at the Clarencetown government dock.

Clarencetown activism

Norfolk pine up close

Ansel's store, and Ansel's sheep

Ansel and Horace, very nice fellas.

The sand road to the fruit and veg packing house.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sapodilla Bay, Turks and Caicos. We were through here on the way down, and nothing much seems to have changed except that just before we got here, the UK dismissed the elected government and taken over the show. There have been roads blocked and major protests from the islanders. As far as I can tell from the papers and the radio, it was concerns over escalating crime rates and government corruption that brought this on. Also issues where the defence lawyers may be suspects along with the criminals they are defending. Small place, you know.

You wouldn't know there was a problem out here in Sapodilla Bay. Breezy, bright, blue. Bit of a chore getting here though. Checked out of Mayaquez in Puerto Rico on a Tuesday, and left the next morning early with faith in a forecast that said 10-12 knots, 4-6 foot swells with a long period.

Not. An hour or so in, we were honking along in 20-25 with bigger gusts, and seeing lots of 10-12 foot swells with a crappy wind chop to confuse everything. We reduced sail (and speed) and spent the first night hour-on, hour-off steering through all this slop.

Next day, we continued the routine of sleep-steer-sleep-steer. It was like the Wiley Coyote cartoons with the two sheepdogs: "Morning Ralph. Morning Sam," as one punched out at the time clock and the other punched in. No fishing. It was agreed that we didn't have any extra energy to deal with a fish should one show up. One had, overnight - a flying fish, very stiff on the side deck by the morning.

The second night I took over from Randy at about 3 a.m., wondering how to stay upright (peppermints, cookies, water, dates, all losing their punch, and it was too rough to consider tea). Randy takes precious moments from his sleep shift to tell me that a bird had landed on the boom earlier. Okay, good, it's gone. He goes below, and moments later, something comes flying, whizzing over the dodger, smacks into the cockpit at my bare feet and holy crap starts flapping and jumping all over the place. Flying fish. Figuring that I couldn't steer and try to grab it and pitch it, I hollered for Randy to come back up and get this thing out from underfoot. My hero.

I was grateful for the shot of adrenalin - it kept me awake for the next hour. Several days later we were still finding fish scales. Even on the end of the main boom.

But it was all over in 54 hours, whoo hoo, and while Randy checked in at South Caicos, I tried to tidy up the chaos and shower and sat sort of dazed in the cockpit. ND was caked in salt, and we'd shaken loose one shackle at the tack of the main that fortuitously landed on the sidedeck, but otherwise, unscathed. We did go through a lot of confusion in the next day or so trying to figure out what time it was. The time zone changed from PR to T&C, and then the next day, daylight saving time kicked in. We thought we'd never get it sorted. Somebody else called in to Chris Parker's weather forecast the next day, and said "I don't need the weather Chris, I just need to know what time it is."

We didn't eat much while it was rough, although the second night, we tucked into sb's homemade beef stew like it was really something special. So we lost a few pounds, which we've been doggedly pursuing since we hit the T&C. In a fit of craving, I dug out the bread recipe given to me by Jackie and Bill, and in the last week, I've made bread three times. Oh My Gawd, isn't it good. Thank you Jackie and Bill. I've made it plain, I've made it with roasted garlic and rosemary, another version with apricots and pistachios, I made the cheese loaf, and I made it for our friend Charlie's birthday present. So we seem to have rounded up the lost pounds.

One more salty romp across the banks to Provo and Sapodilla Bay. Again, supposed to be a good day, but we ended up booting it at high speed across very shallow water in very poor visibility. One of us steering, the other on the foredeck locating the nasty black coral heads. Very salty, very tense, windy work, but I have to say, ND just loves the 20-25 breezes, especially in this flat water. Under a partial jib and full main, she gets in the groove and just scoots.

Lovely heavy rain washed us off when we got here, and we've rented a car, been to town, bought fresh veg and fruit and the piece de resistance, Laundry! Giant industrial propane dryers are the bomb. They truly must disinfect everything cause when it's done, you can burn your hands on the clean sheets. Anything I own that has any spandex in it is laughably shot all to hell, but the sheets and towels are germ free. Maybe.

Weather permitting, we're leaving Wednesday for Mayaguana and the Bahamas.

See below for photos.

Another sort of pointless manatee photo. They just don't leap and cavort.

Bouganvilla in La Parguera

Waterfront fixer-upper in Boqueron

Sunday morning on the dock...someone decided to abandon this drink...probably a good idea.

The square by the dinghy dock in Boqueron. On Thursday nights, there's a very noisy tranvestite show, and most days the music is so loud it hurts. Nice on Sunday morning. Wifi!

Boqueron rain - filled our tanks.

Day 3, Puerto Rico to the Turks and Caicos.

Chalk Sound, T&C

The banks. Yes, this is colour one turns after many days in the wind and sun.

Happy St. Patrick's day - Guinness at the beach - very cool and damp.

Friday, March 04, 2011

We're anchored off, yes folks, Gilligan's Island. South coast of Puerto Rico still, and headed for Boqueron around the corner. Can't remember how long it's been since we left Vieques, two weeks?, early in the morning, with a lovely smell of flowers coming from the island, an easy beam reach to Puerto Patilla, and spent the evening there trying to get photos of the manatees. They surface, stick their mud-coloured snouts up for air, then dive giving a brief look at their mud-coloured, round tails. Very strange creatures. Part walrus, part elephant, part duck-billed platypus. Can't imagine mistaking one for a mermaid.

Ashore, clumps of Harleys fart-blatting and screaming their way through town. So manly! Mostly, Puerto Ricans have excellent weekends: the music is always danceable, the whole family goes out together, and they shut down well before dawn. Apart from the motorcycles, which do not follow a schedule.

We were ready for the glories of the grocery stores again. When fridge-scrape salad is on the menu, you know it's time. There's lots of organic chicken stock and teabags and sardines, but nothing to eat. The plan was to stop at Playa Salinas for a few days, stock up, rent a car and plan a road trip with Michelle and Charlie.

My 2002 copy of the Lonely Planet guide to Puerto Rico notes that "There is nothing for the traveler in this town except the stomach-churning scent of human misery." Damned with faint praise. Humpph. We thought Playa Salinas was a very tidy little community with some very friendly and helpful people. Some nice gardens, well-kept homes (we got lost several times over several days, so we had a pretty good tour), so either things have changed, or somebody's standards are way high. There are many very, very homely dogs with very short legs and none of them have had the Bob Barker treatment. Otherwise, a nice place.

The boaters there are also pretty nice. We were at the outside edge of the anchorage, and on the weekend, there was a steady stream of small motorboats and we only felt a wake once or twice. Very unusual.

Salinas is a couple of miles away, and we walked into town and had lunch at a local cafeteria. When we walked in, an elderly lady hollered, Ah, Americanos! and everyone looked at us and smiled. Randy said that we were Canadienses, and everyone was very nice, glad to see us, and we had beans and rice and ribs and beer for a couple of dollars.

Rented a car from Sidney (his number's on the bulletin board at the marina), and got a great car for a good rate. Sidney is charming and helpful with directions and suggestions. He knew we wanted to go to Wally World right away. Giant Walmart a few miles down the road, and we shopped until it became difficult to manoevre the cart to the checkout. It was gross. It took us 20 minutes to pack our stuff into the truck so there was enough room for Michelle and Charlie's groceries. It took two days to finally get the stuff stogged into the boat. (I just kept thinking about the Bahamas as I shopped, and remembered paying three or four dollars for a can of cream of mushroom soup and thinking Yum! Not this time around if I can help it.)

THEN, we drove to San Juan, stopped at El Yunque (the rainforest), and stayed overnight in Condado and spent the day wandering Old San Juan. A great gas, great food, fun shopping, hot showers! more hot showers! A bed! Mariachi bands! Totally exhausted by the time we fought traffic back to Playa Salinas. Traffic is hard, dangerous and unpleasant. I thought of Lake Annis, where we can look out the window, and announce "car!" at least half a dozen times a day.

On to Ponce via Isla Caja de Muertos. The Ponce Yacht Club is not interested in cruisers - they wanted 10 bucks each for a 24-hour pass so we could tie up the dinghy and walk to the grocery store. We chatted with a fella ashore (who drove us to the grocery store, thanks David) who told us that they were hurting for business, and he couldn't understand why they wouldn't welcome cruisers to the restaurant. The good news is that this guy has leased some of the waterfront on the west side of the bay and will offer a dinghy dock for cruisers, maybe next year. The club does have a good fuel dock though, and the accommodating fella turned off the water meter when we were washing the boat.

So here we are at Gilligan's Island (how embarrassing), full of water and fuel and food and contemplating upcoming weather. Now we start facing the long passages. We'd like to skip the DR altogether, which means at least a three-day weather window to the Turks and Caicos. That's a lot of sailing. Or motoring. Also fishing. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Finally, a good connection and I can catch up with photos. Here's the capt, bbqing romantically in the sunset.

a fixer-upper in Vieques, if anyone's interested. The sign notes the "Huge Potential."

Manatee nose - looks just like the end of a really big elephant's trunk. The colour of mud.

Vieques as we left in the morning for PR.

This is an ad in one of the PR tourist mags. Some sort of Christmas fantasy park? I want to do my next Christmas card photo there. Click on this, and check out the wise men and the guy on the left. I think he just woke up.

Just back from Walmart. He needs a beer, and he seems to have lots.

Where to put it all, and will we ever find it again.

Road trip. Terrifying traffic.


These snail shells are about 2 inches across, and they were everywhere.

Street meat, San Juan style.

Mariachi band


We arrived in San Juan on "class trip" day.

Road crew, San Juan style


More great music on the street in Condado. Look, I'm out after dark!

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