january 1 2007 : grenada
What does the New Year have in store for us? Since our arrival in Grenada that question has been posed to us a thousand times. The end of this sailing adventure is certainly near. And yet, Ali and I are still sort of winging it, always looking for a new adventure. We’ve had one in mind for the past couple of months. It really started to take hold of our imagination while we were in the Mediterranean and were busy sitting in marinas wishing we could jump in a car, drive around and not worry about the crappy weather. But we must admit we love having our own bed to come home to at the end of a hard day of traveling. So why not drive around in our home next time? After quickly ruling out a big RV, we decided on a vintage VW Bus. Something fun and funky that we can park on the beach or parallel park in the city.
With that decision made we just had to decide where. We wanted to spend the summer with our family, so we figured we’d just start from there and head south when the weather starts to turn cold (i.e. 65 degrees). So in the fall the new trip will take us from St. Paul, across Canada, down the West Coast of the U.S., through Mexico and the rest of Central America. Then on to Western South America where we plan to head as far south as the road will let us. While down there we are hoping to hop a ship to Antarctica before turning the VW northwards again and cruising up the Eastern half of South America.
But South America won’t be the end of the road trip. We are planning on turning this in to yet another circumnavigation. We don’t know how or where exactly but have grand plans of a Cape Town to Cairo trip, an all over Europe visit, and a cross continent adventure through Russia, the ‘Stans, and on to China. We’ll be figuring all of this out along the way.
That is the main plan for the next few years. But new ideas and opportunities are always presenting themselves and in the last couple of days we’ve added yet another adventure into the mix. This one actually started on Christmas Day when my Mom announced that she had a big present waiting for us back in Oregon. But I need to start from the beginning.
Back in 1974 I came home from the hospital in my Mom’s arms in a 1965 Porsche 356C. This of course was back in the days before anybody actually worried about a baby being held in his mother’s arms with no seat belts or baby seats. A year or so later my uncle purchased the car. He held on to it all these years, storing it in his garage, driving it a little bit, and basically taking very good care of it. Well you can see where this is going. My Mom bought the car back from him and has given it to us so that one day (and this may have been a thinly disguised hint) we could flaunt the law and bring our own baby home in it as well. So we are now the proud owners of a beautiful, champagne yellow, 42 year old Porsche that I first rode in 33 years ago. Pretty cool. That night I tossed and turned in bed trying to think of what we should do with the car first. In the morning I would figure it out.
I was on the internet researching the car and looking for pictures to show Ali when I suddenly stumbled across our next adventure. One of the Porsche links led me to something called The Great Race. It is a vintage auto race/rally across the United States. It’s not like the old days of Cannonball Run, unfortunately, but is more of a technical race in which the driver and navigator are given a specific set of instructions twenty minutes before the start every day and your goal is to match the “perfect” time that the organizers have determined for the route.
The race covers 4100 miles between South Carolina and California in 14 days and stops in 40 cities along the way. Check it out and see if your city is on the route. It should be a ton of fun, and once again we’ll get the chance to challenge ourselves with something that we’ve never done before, and until a week ago had never even thought about before. The organizers of the race are also holding an around the world race to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the original Great Race. Now that would be an amazing trip. If any of you feel like plunking down a $65,000 entry fee for that one in our name we’d be happy to accept.
So that is really it for a while. Ali is just shaking her head at me and wondering how we are going to have time to do all of this. We get to Florida in May, we of course don’t have a VW yet, we’re staying with her parents in Minnesota this summer, our Porsche is in Oregon, the race starts in North Carolina end of June and ends in California, I really should get back in and try to do a little work in Chicago at some point, and of course we also need to go to the dentist. Good thing Ali loves to make lists because we’re going to need a lot of them. I’ll spend the summer buried beneath a pile of yellow post-it notes. No, scratch that, she just informed me that we have to dig our big chalkboard out of storage for this. We’ll fit it all in somehow though, we always do. It’s going to be a great year.
Oh, by the way, if our family is reading this, sorry we haven’t mentioned the race to you yet. But hey, at least we gave you a heads up on the VW trip right? Well maybe not the part about going around the world, but at least the general idea.
january 2 2007 : grenada
For three days now we’ve told ourselves we were going to move over to another nearby bay, and for three days we’ve done nothing but lounge around on the boat doing nothing. It seems that for the first time in quite a while, we have absolutely nowhere to be and nothing to do. The plan is to be back in Florida in about four months. That’s hardly over a thousand miles, and is practically a joke by our now skewed standards. We really aren’t worrying much about anything right now, and it feels good.
Yesterday after we pulled up to the dock in our dinghy, a cruiser sitting nearby said, “Looks like a well choreographed maneuver.” It’s funny how second nature certain boat related things have become. Even seemingly simple things like pulling up to a dinghy dock. As we approach Ali stands up in front. I kill the engine and float us in, turning us right at the last moment as Ali steps off onto the dock, line in hand, a split second before the dinghy touches. Then there are the things that give new cruisers and charterers nightmares, like docking, anchoring, and picking up a mooring. Things we haven’t given even a passing thought to in the past couple of years as they have become so ingrained and automatic. Man, we might even be able to pass one of those Captain’s tests given at a local sailing school. Well, probably not. I’m getting carried away now.
New Year’s Eve we had fireworks in the bay here. Actually they launched them off of a floating dock which was about 100 feet in front of us. So when the fireworks started, instead of sitting back and enjoying the show, Ali and I found ourselves running around the boat picking up still burning pieces of cardboard and flinging them into the water. By the end of the five minute show the boat was covered in black soot. Might have been nice not to be downwind of the show. A two hour boat wash the next day and Bum was looking good again. Gotta love New Year’s.
“Darf ich bitte zur toilette gern?” the one sentence I remember from my two years of German in high school. It means, Can I go to the bathroom please? That should give you some idea of what kind of student I was. Despite that we somehow managed to get an article published in a German sailing magazine. Actually we didn’t write a word of it, just answered a couple questions and provided pictures. We answered in English, somehow my one German sentence just didn’t quite fit as an answer anywhere. We also had a blurb run in the German equivalent of the New York Times Sunday paper. Since we can’t understand a word of any of it we just get to remain blissfully ignorant and hope they are saying all nice things about us.
january 3 2007 : grenada
We finally got off our lazy butts yesterday and moved. The wind was howling, but as we were only going out one bay and into the next it was no big deal. In fact the entire move took us about twenty minutes. We’re not exactly covering a lot of ground at the moment.
We moved back over to Prickly Bay for two reasons. One, we needed to go to the chandlery located there. And two, we wanted to have a beer at the beach bar. Big goals. Over the course of a couple of days we’ve managed to complete them both. The chandlery took a little longer to get to than the beach bar. However, the chandlery was unlike anything we have seen since Fort Lauderdale and West Marine. The place was stocked with absolutely every item a person could possibly need on a boat.
We wandered around for at least an hour just looking at the shelves of things that we could have used over the past couple of years. Oh the time and hassle we could have saved ourselves with just a couple of these stores spaced out around the world. Though when it came down to it, we talked ourselves out of buying at least half a dozen small purchases with the simple argument that if we made it this long without them they really must not be very important.
Prickly Bay itself isn’t all that exciting. There are 80 boats anchored in here. When we first arrived we anchored way at the back of the pack but within a day we were surrounded as the boats just continue to file in. It’s got good protection and is a nice enough place but we’ll be moving on soon, we’ve got ants in our pants. I keep teasing Ali that what I need is a good long passage.
january 4 2007 : grenada
It appears that while we were sailing across the Atlantic Ocean the chat rooms were busy debating Bumfuzzle again, even going so far as to hold an online poll. We’re winning the poll quite handily I might add, much to the chagrin of the board moderator who is constantly trying to ban all mention of Bumfuzzle. Here are a few links to keep you occupied at the office. I think you’ll like this stuff. Oh and a Happy 33rd Birthday to me.
january 5 2007 : grenada
Yesterday we woke up with an itch to get moving again. We found out that we had more email friends anchored just over at Hog Island a mile or so away so we decided to head over there. The wind was still blowing over 20 knots however, and when we got outside the protection of the bay we found the swell was huge. Even for a quick one mile motor it was too rough. So we spun the boat around and headed downwind for St. George instead.
Along the way we missed a chance for a great picture as we sailed past the landing strip of the airport. A full size passenger airliner came in for a landing right then and standing on the boat looking up it looked as if it would clip the top of our mast. It was so close and so loud that our entire bodies rumbled as we sat there staring up at it. As soon as we became unfrozen we both said, “Man, we should have had the camera for that one.”
It was about a two hour sail around the bottom of the island and up to the capital, St. George. St. George has two tiny little bays, one of these is apparently off limits to anchoring and the other is packed in like a Wal-Mart parking lot the day after Thanksgiving. We motored through, which in itself is not an easy thing to do, looking for a spot. We eventually found a space that looked just big enough and dropped the anchor. It dragged of course, and brought up a whole bunch of garbage with it. We knew then that this wasn’t the anchorage for us. Ali wouldn’t have slept a wink worrying about boats hitting and anchors dragging, so we turned around again and headed back outside the bay.
Just out around the corner is a wide area perfect for anchoring and we were able to pick a nice spot without another boat within 50 yards. After getting settled we dinghied in to the yacht club for dinner. The yacht club was a very nice spot, perched up a little hill overlooking the bay, and totally open air with the breeze blowing through. We ordered a couple of Caribs and dinner and kicked back. When our parents were here we couldn’t stop raving about how good everything we ate was. Now we’ve figured out that that was because we were ordering the $25 meals at the nice restaurants. Now that we are back to eating the cheap stuff at the cheap restaurants the food has become pretty mediocre. You definitely get what you pay for here.
Back at the boat for an evening swim and I was having a look at the bottom of the boat. I have to say that whatever those Turks put in their bottom paint it is doing an excellent job. Six months after painting we’ve got absolutely nothing attaching itself to our hulls.
january 7 2007 : carriacou, grenada
After a couple of days walking around town and hanging out with the yachties at the yacht club we decided to move on. Carriacou, an island of Grenada, was about 30 miles away. About half the sail was in the lee of the island which was nice, but as soon as we hit the open water we got hit with about 25 knots of wind from entirely the wrong direction. The forecast was for much lighter winds coming from a much more comfortable angle. So for the next three hours we bounced along unhappily until we finally got behind the islands again. Along the way we did have the chance to see one of the five biggest sailboats in the world under sail. It’s the first time we’ve ever seen any boat over 100 feet that actually had a sail up. He was charging right for us at one point, but had to tack off because we had the right of way. It felt like we were holding our ground against a cargo ship as the boat raced towards us.
We came around the corner of the island to Tyrrel Bay, where we found one hundred boats bobbing up and down at anchor. It’s become abundantly clear that we are going to have to change our attitude about busy anchorages if we are going to have any hope of enjoying ourselves in the Caribbean. I can count on one hand how many bays we’ve been in, over the course of this trip, that have been this busy, including places like Sydney Harbour. The constant movement of boats so close together has given us a new kind of anxiety that we aren’t used to dealing with. We may finally understand why cruisers drink so much red wine.
Fortunately with the steady winds the boats manage to stay in pretty good formation, and everybody seems to be having a good time. I’m sure we’ll adjust quickly. Speaking of adjusting, in our first afternoon here we saw one naked woman, one man peeing off his deck in our direction, and one set of binoculars pointed our way. There is no doubt about it, we are back in the land of the, I think I’m invisible cruiser.
After holding up so well in the cooler temperatures of the Med, it appears the dinghy is now rebelling against the heat of the sun. At least three new seams have opened up on her since our arrival here and sadly I have run out of Turbo Glue, the greatest bottle of super glue ever invented. I’m now going through my remaining stash of miscellaneous super glues at an alarming pace. It probably sounds a little silly, but I’m actually starting to take a perverse pride in the ridiculously disgusting appearance of our dinghy. It makes me laugh every time we return to the dinghy dock and see her floating there alongside all of her shiny white friends with their puny 4hp engines.
january 9 2007 : union island, saint vincent and the grenadines (svg)
We spent a couple of days in Tyrrel Bay eating pizza, drinking Caribs, and watching the hours tick by. Carriacou is a pretty slow paced place without a lot of distractions and we’ve found that we’re a little unsure what to do with ourselves while trying to slip back into the island rhythm.
From Tyrrel we moved over to the main town of Carriacou, Hillsborough. Even though Carriacou is an island of Grenada, it is a much different place. Hillsborough is a tiny one road town with a dozen tiny rum shops/bars, a few restaurants, and a couple of grocery stores. In Grenada when we went in the grocery store we could just as easily have been back home. There was so much food that we haven’t seen in years that we had to fight ourselves not to buy. It’s not like we’re actually going to cook when every bay is filled with restaurants. Here in Carriacou, 30 miles away, the grocery stores reminded us more of Africa. Shelves with a few dusty cans on them, and some five gallon pails in which you could scoop out your own chicken feet. Back outside at noon the shady parts of the streets were filled with people hanging out chatting with friends and the rum shops were doing a brisk business. We stopped in at a tiny shack of a restaurant and had the spiciest chicken roti we’ve ever tasted. They’ve got some wicked hot sauces here.
This morning we left the country and headed over to the SVGs, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. After looking at the charts I told Ali it was a seven mile hop and she responded, “That’s pretty far.” Oh how quickly our perceptions change. Lately the winds have been consistently over twenty knots and out of the northeast, which has made all of these little passages a bit harder than they should be. Fortunately today’s was only across four miles of open sea, not leaving the waves much room to build as we stayed pretty well hidden behind Union Island the whole way over.
We motored around the bay for a while trying to find a decent spot to anchor and finally scored a pretty good one when another boat left. After I got us cleared in, which has been a simple process lately, Ali and I headed in to check out the town. There are a few nice little shops along the main street interspersed amongst the standard restaurants and bars. We poked around a little bit before grabbing a table overlooking the bay for dinner. I had what was easily the most disgusting fish burger I’ve ever seen or tasted in my life. It simply bore no resemblance to fish whatsoever. Of course I still ate it as I’m a glutton for punishment, but we’re learning some harsh food lessons lately, lessons we should have already learned long ago. One, the roti is always good, and cheap. Two, stick with pizza. Every restaurant has pizza, but apparently not every restaurant has fresh fish. Despite the fact that the ocean is ten feet away.
When heading back out to the boat we decided to check out Happy Island which we happened to be anchored directly in front of. Happy Island is a place that a local guy made by hand right out on the reef using old conch shells. He’s now got a full size bar perched out there in three feet of water accessible only by dinghy or by swimming. It’s a pretty unique spot to drink a beer while waves crash against the reef behind you and your boat sits at anchor in front of you.
After all of that we were suddenly struck by the desire to do boat work. I changed engine oil for the millionth time and Ali worked on some gelcoat issues in the cockpit while trying not to stare at all the naked people showering and lounging around on just about every boat around us. Keep in mind the average age, and weight, of the typical cruiser before getting all excited about naked people on boats.
january 12 2007 : tobago cays, svg
At four a.m. Ali woke as a storm had rolled in, shifting the wind out of the south and causing all sorts of problems in the anchorage. Deck lights popped on all over the bay. Boats that had anchored right up next to the reef were now hitting it, scrambling around frantically trying to get their anchor up. The eighty foot catamaran behind us was pressed up against his thirty foot monohull neighbor and putting out fenders as big as the boat to keep them apart. Meanwhile we were swinging seriously close to the charter boat that had come in and anchored five minutes before dark. Within an hour the storm passed, the typical winds returned, and the lights turned back off.
In the morning Ali and I climbed Fort Hill which overlooks the bay and the rest of the island. From the top we could see Grenada to the south and all of the Grenadines to the north. We could even scout out our next anchorage, all of four miles away, the Tobago Cays.
Here is something I’ve been meaning to ask for a long time. What is the deal with cruisers standing up in their dinghies? They attach a three foot piece of PVC tubing to the throttle of the outboard, then stand up holding that with one hand and a line attached to the front of the dinghy with the other. We saw this all the time in the Bahamas and just figured those cruisers must know something we don’t know. Then we didn’t see it anywhere else in the entire world. And now suddenly, in the Caribbean, we’ve found it again. Cruisers standing up in their dinghy looking for all the world like George Washington crossing the Potomac.
Yesterday we motored the four miles over to the Tobago Cays. These cays are like cruiser heaven. We’ve been hearing about this place for years now. Apparently cruisers consider it their last stronghold against developers in the Caribbean. There is a handful of “deserted” islands and lots of space to anchor in just a few feet of water behind the reef that rings the whole area. I say deserted because the beaches of these islands are completely covered with dinghies and big catamarans dumping day charter passengers from Union Island off for a couple of hours at a time. There are however no resorts or beach bars. Instead there are dozens of boat boys zipping between the yachts all day long trying to sell everything from fish, to bananas, to t-shirts. All of which are available on the islands one hour away that everybody just left. Despite it all though, it is a beautiful setting, the water is ridiculously clear, and we can’t remember anchoring in a place this shallow in years now.
january 14 2007 : canouan, svg
We had been seeing turtles surface around the boat so we jumped in the dinghy and went over to the edge of the reef to snorkel and try to find one of them. The coral was in about five feet of water and was in decent shape as far as coral goes. There was no color to it, but there were plenty of big coral fans and fish. We swam around for a while and were just about to give up on the turtles when Ali finally spotted one sitting on the bottom. He spotted us at the same time and got up to lazily swim away from us. He didn’t seem bothered by us and let us swim along behind him surfacing occasionally for a big breath of air.
Yesterday we woke up to dark skies and lots of rain. Around noon it let up a little bit and we decided to scoot on up to Canouan, just a few miles away. We negotiated the reefs out of Tobago and made the quick trip over to the island. Apparently somewhere on this island is a Raffle’s resort and a Donald Trump casino, but you’d never know it by walking through the main town. This was one sleepy place. We walked down a mud road from the anchorage to the main road where we found one tiny grocery store and a dozen locals standing by a bus stop. That was it. It doesn’t look like the high rollers hang out with the local riff raff on this island. By now it was pouring down rain again so we retreated back to the boat. The anchorage was a nice big one that was full of Moorings boats since this was a base of theirs. Aside from them though there really was no other cruising sailboats.
january 15 2007 : bequia, svg
After just one night in Canouan we headed for Bequia 20 miles to the north. We’re not sure what kind of place we’re looking for but told ourselves that we’d just keep moving until we found it. We had another sloppy wet passage beating to windward but by noon we had the anchor down in Admiralty Bay. The actual town is over half a mile farther into the bay from where we are anchored, but there are boats packed in all the way. We anchored way at the back of the pack right in front of a beautiful beach that doesn’t seem to get many visitors. We hung out on the boat swimming and enjoying the perfect weather before heading to town to find something to eat.
The town is great. We don’t really know what it is about the place, but it just has a certain kind of charm, and walking around we really liked the place with its little shops and restaurants. It was a Sunday however, so nothing was open except one little waterfront bar that had just stopped serving food and wouldn’t be starting up again for three hours. We had a liquid lunch and decided to come back later and try to catch the Bears playoff game at one of the bars. Later on we returned and found that all of the bars along the water were now packed and everybody had football on. We ate Philly Cheesesteaks and watched the NFL on big screen TVs. The only indication that we were on an island in the Caribbean and not at a pub in the States was the Carib beers we were drinking.
january 17 2007 : bequia
We’ve really enjoyed the last couple of days here in Bequia. The anchorage is huge and we’ve managed to be left relatively alone at the back of the pack while still being just a quick dinghy ride into town. Each day here we wake up and spend the morning on the boat before jumping on the dinghy and zipping over to the beach. There is a pretty big swell here and landing the dinghy on the beach is a little tricky so instead we just get close to shore where I jump in and stick the anchor in by hand. Then we just swim the last fifty feet to the beach holding a small cooler and a bag with a towel over our heads. After a few hours lounging around in the sun we go back to the boat to change and then head into town for lunner. All of the waterfront bars are pretty busy and they make a pretty good place to kick back and people watch for a couple of hours before wandering down the beach to Mac’s for a pizza and a rum punch. I could see this becoming a very strict routine for us if we hung around Bequia too long.
Something I’ve noticed here in the Caribbean so far is that I would really hate to be on a monohull. It seems like every anchorage we’ve been in so far has had a pretty big swell rolling through it. We just sit there flat as can be while we watch the monohulls swing violently from side to side every other second. I’d quickly go insane on one of those things.
The wind has really been whipping the last couple of weeks and it finally took its toll on the boat. I was sitting on the back chair yesterday when I noticed our beautiful gray MOB pole was leaning a little more than usual. Our U.S. flag at the top was really flapping and the pole was bent at a 30 degree angle. I popped it out of the holders and found that it had a big crack in it. After a quick brainstorming session with Ali over the merits of duct tape versus hose clamps, I opted for the hose clamp fix. It worked like a charm. Though there is some doubt now as to whether or not it will still float.
january 18 2007 : gros pitons, st. lucia
With a decent enough looking forecast, meaning winds finally under 20 knots, we decided to clear out yesterday. At 3 a.m. this morning we raised the anchor and headed out of the SVGs. We had a 52 mile passage to the Gros Pitons on St. Lucia and the cruising guide described it as one of the crappiest northbound passages in the Caribbean. They were right. Just a few hours in we were motorsailing up the coast of St. Vincent with full sails and 15 knots of wind just off the nose. Normally we should have easily been going over 5 knots, but here we were battling the current and struggling to make 2 knots. Eventually the current shifted and just pushed us west instead. The problem with sailing here in the southern Caribbean is that the islands head to the NE, which is the exact direction of the steady trade winds for weeks on end. Our goal for the day of St. Lucia would mean the end of the NE sailing though, and after that the islands curve off to the NW which should make things much easier.
At one point during the days sail we came across a huge sea turtle. I’m not really up on my turtle identification but this guy was unlike any we’d seen before. He was humongous, easily six feet from head to tail. His shell looked like metal with a black matte finish and had a couple of big ridges running from front to back. As we sailed right past him he didn’t seem fazed, he just sat there with his gigantic head floating at the surface like a big mooring buoy.
A while later we were sitting outside when plastic BBs started to fall from the sky all around us. At first we didn’t know what it was but then figured it was probably the bearings from some rope wheelie thing, so we quickly dropped the main. When the main reached the bottom we found a section of the battcar track dangling there still attached to the cars themselves, which were where the bearings had been coming from. The track that the cars run on (the cars are attached to the mainsail and slide up the track attached to the mast) are screwed in every six inches all the way up the mast. Yet somehow the screws had sheared off and the metal track had been twisted until it snapped in half. Fortunately the track is attached in small sections so that all I should have to do is replace that one section. I’ve got spare bearings for the cars, but will have to source a piece of track.
In the meantime we should be able to use the mainsail, but only up to the first reef point, since it was just the very top section of track that broke. One thing I will not miss about boat ownership is the maintenance. No matter what you do, it seems everything on a boat breaks and needs to be replaced regularly. I am pretty sure that after I replace this I will have replaced every single item on the boat.
As if to make us feel better about having yet another pain in the butt boat project to work on, some dolphins appeared on the bow just as we were approaching the Gros Pitons which towered up in front of us.
We made it to the bay just before sunset and grabbed one of the many park moorings that you have to use. Just after dark the park rangers came speeding up and collected their $16 for our two night stay. Amazingly, despite being approached while we were still four miles out from the bay, no boat boys came up to us after we got settled in and we were left alone to just sit back and enjoy the view.
january 21 2007 : rodney bay, st. lucia
After a couple of great days moored underneath the Pitons, snorkeling, and hanging out on the boat, we motored up the coast to Rodney Bay. This is one of those made for cruiser type places, 100% tourist schtick. But hey, if you need spare parts, a sailmaker, rigging work, or just an order of fish and chips, then this is the place to go.
There is a big marina inside a lagoon area where there are also tons of boats squeezed in at anchor. We chose instead to anchor outside in the bay where there is plenty of space and a nice breeze. It was Saturday when we arrived so we didn’t accomplish much as far as the boat project list goes. We did however knock back a few Piton beers with those fish and chips. Sunday wasn’t a whole lot more productive. Our one project for the day was to do an interview for an internet sailing podcast which was pretty fun and should be aired in the next week or two. Aside from that it was a pretty lazy afternoon.
january 22 2007 : rodney bay
At four o’clock yesterday we settled in at the bar to enjoy the Bears game. We flipped through all the channels they had but instead of American football we were treated to that other football, you know, the one where they kick a little ball around and can’t use their hands. I know, I know, I hate soccer too, but the rest of the world simply hasn’t caught on yet. They’ll come around. We sat there a while as other Americans filed through, everybody looking for the game, and wondering why a game in which the score remains 0-0 for an hour would still be on television.
Eventually three guys, a couple of them Chicago natives, came in and decided they were going to search the island for football and asked if we wanted to join them. We all jumped in a taxi and started the search. We tried three bars and even a hotel, making sure they all used different satellite systems, and yet we still came up empty. We finally gave up and asked the driver for a dinner recommendation, nothing too fancy, we said. “Pizza Pizza,” came the reply, and I thought maybe the driver was a mind reader. But no, he was just a man with fine tastes. After pizza, a few drinks, and an internet update of the final score we all went home happy that the Bears are in the Super Bowl.
Early this morning we met up with the guys again for a little surf. Turns out that just on the other side of the bay from us, and across the street, is a decent surf break. Occasionally decent anyway. Today strong winds were beating it up, but we still gave it a go. I’d have to say it ranked as one of my least successful attempts ever, but after trying to paddle out through the chop all morning, I at least feel like I’ve got Arnold Schwarzenneger shoulder muscles this afternoon. Ali was kind enough to get one shot of me wiping out which was about as close as I came to actually surfing.
This afternoon we hit the chandlery to spend another hundred bucks on more boat junk. Then we checked out of the country, ate lunch, mailed off our Great Race application, and even bought a few groceries. The store here has a wider selection than they even had in the States back when we left, and this was just a small store. With all of these great things to chose from we just couldn’t make up our minds so we bought hot dogs and Doritos just in case we ever end up somewhere without a beachfront restaurant again. Unlikely, but we should be prepared for anything out here. The only other thing on the list now is to get the mainsail working again. We’ve been trying to track down the rigger all day but so far without success. We’ll get things working one way or another though.
january 23 2007 : st. pierre, martinique
Today was a great day for sailing with the screecher. Fourteen knots of wind on the beam, it would have even been good with the mainsail. Unfortunately our boat is not currently equipped with either of these two sails. Our search for spare battcar parts at the riggers yesterday was fruitless. We came away equally empty handed from the chandlery, and after a search of the boat for spares I found the bag I was looking for but it didn’t have the part that I thought it did. So, for now, the main is out of commission, though Ali and I do have one idea and are going to try the short term fix tomorrow.
We did have a very nice motorsail however, and by late afternoon we were pulling in to St. Pierre, Martinique. This is the home of Mt. Pelée and her famous explosion back in 1902. For about a month the volcano had rumbled and even had some minor explosions that killed some local farmers, but the mayor was reluctant to evacuate the city. He even went so far as to bring his own family to the city to ensure the residents that everything was fine. That’s why when it finally blew the entire city of 30,000 was wiped out. The only survivor was a guy who had been locked up in solitary confinement at the jail.
The volcano is beautiful and today it was rising up with just a scattering of big white clouds around it. The anchorage itself was not nearly as nice though. When we came in the wind was sort of inconsistent and boats were swinging and pointing in every direction. To make matters worse there is hardly any room to anchor in front of the town. The sea floor comes up really sharply and just a couple of hundred feet from shore the bottom is still hundreds of feet deep. So to anchor you have to tuck in really close to shore.
We circled around for a while looking for a decent spot, but there were close to fifty boats packed into a thirty boat area, and it was a mess. Ali took a closer look at the charts, and didn’t see any reason why we couldn’t anchor anywhere along the coast. This anchorage, right in front of town, is the only one listed in the Doyle cruising guide which every single boat down here carries onboard. And is why nobody had anchored anywhere else.
We left the pack and motored about five hundred yards farther along the island. It wasn’t looking good at first as the water was still over two hundred feet deep right up close to shore, but then the bottom suddenly shot up and leveled out at just thirty feet. We circled around and found that the area was large enough for a couple of boats but we had it all to ourselves. Pure genius. As we watched more and more boats pack themselves into the other anchorage, we couldn’t wait for the sun to go down before somebody spotted us.
january 24 2007 : st. pierre
Our second day in St. Pierre we spent exploring the town. We searched halfheartedly for the customs office, but when we didn’t see it we didn’t exactly go out of our way to track it down. The Caribbean islands have been so relaxed in their attitude towards customs and immigration that we weren’t overly concerned about actually checking in since we were only planning on spending a couple of days. The fact that we have yet to see a country who actually has a boat to patrol the water, combined with the sheer number of cruising sailboats, makes the threat of being caught seem pretty slim. I’d have to imagine that there are a few boats who have been sailing these waters for years without visiting a customs office.
The town is a scenic little place essentially consisting of two roads with a few businesses and bars and a couple of leftover ruins from the volcano. They don’t seem to care much about creating a tourist industry which made it feel much more real than many places here in the Caribbean. We visited the remains of the theatre in town and the famous jail cell next door that you could climb right inside. After that we visited the museum which housed a few artifacts found lying about the town, things like boxes of nails that had melted together, and also a whole bunch of photographs of the town both before and right after the explosion. For those of us with limited attention spans this was the perfect museum, just one nicely laid out room. One thing I noticed is that nothing I’ve read has mentioned what the guy who survived was in jail for in the first place.
Back at the boat we spent the afternoon working on The List. We had a handful of small projects to work on, as well as the big one, getting the mainsail functional again. Once I was sure I had everything I needed Ali raised me up the main to go to work. As I was about to reattach the car I realized I had inserted the loader upside down. So down I went to reload the car with the ball bearings the correct way. Back up again I got the cars reattached. We don’t have a spare section of track, so the fix for now only consisted of hooking the main back up so that it can be raised as high as the first reef, which is only about five feet from the top anyway.
While we were doing all of this our perfect little anchorage was invaded. We knew we wouldn’t be left alone for a second night, not once all the boats squished into the town anchorage noticed us looking so peaceful. The first boat to arrive circled us a couple of times to determine if we really knew what we were doing before dropping anchor right next to us. They quickly called their friend who arrived just minutes later. Still more sheep, I mean boats, came in, and by dark we found ourselves in yet another overcrowded Caribbean anchorage.
january 25, 2007 : roseau, dominica
This morning we took our now moderately functional sailboat out for a spin. After we got out of the shadow of Martinique we had some nice strong winds and we found ourselves happy that we already had a reef in the main. We made good time across the thirty or so miles to Dominica, and by early afternoon we were on a mooring just in front of a massive cruise ship. I made the mistake of checking us in to this country which turned out to be quite a project.
The office was all the way on the other side of town and when I got there I found that the place was packed with locals trying to pay their fees to get their overseas packages released to them. There was plenty of arguing going on over just how much tax should be levied on every single item in there. It took a couple of hours but I eventually got us cleared in. The nice thing was that they cleared us out at the same time so that we wouldn’t have to go through that twice. I picked Ali up and we made our way to a Creole restaurant that served the least flavorful and spicy chicken we have ever tasted. The place didn’t seem overly touristy and had decent prices, but apparently they make two kinds of Creole food, one for locals and one for tourists. We called it an early night after that.
january 26 2007 : dominica
This morning we rented a car and headed out to see the island. Right off the bat we ran across a beautiful river flowing down out of the mountains and snaking between the thick growth lining the shores. There was nothing, and nobody, else around. As we wound our way further up in to the mountains the roads got progressively worse. They became so narrow that two cars could just squeak by each other without breaking mirrors, and the potholes could devour a tire. We noticed early on that road works weren’t very high on the islands list of things to do when we saw that the only street lamps that actually had lights on them also held signs saying who the sponsor was. This Light Sponsored by J.J.’s Auto, Your Total Tire Repair Man. It’s much harder for a sponsor to fix a giant hole in a road and get credit for it.
Kubuli, the local beer, has signs covering 90% of the islands buildings.
Up in the hills were plenty of banana plantations. A sea of blue plastic bags hung from the trees, wrapped around the bunches of bananas to help fight the bugs. As we drove along we got flagged down by one of the banana workers covered in filthy clothes after a hard shift working the trees. We gave him a ride to the top of the hill and throughout the rest of the day we found that hitching is the primary means of transportation in the mountains. At one point we had five young school kids squeezed in the backseat. I think they were a little nervous about driving with a tourist because we couldn’t get anything more than a one word answer out of them.
The scenery through the mountains pretty much consisted of rainforest. Occasionally we’d catch a glimpse of the ocean, but there was absolutely nowhere to stop a car safely and get out for a look. We visited the Emerald Pool, which is just a small waterfall falling into a pretty little pool surrounded by the forest on all sides. There were no cruise ships on the island today so we pretty much had the run of the place. I jumped in for a quick swim to cool down and then we hit the road again.
The homes lining the road were mainly simple one room buildings constructed of anything found lying around. They were only about the size of the tool shed in your backyard that you keep your lawnmower in. Something we always enjoy seeing is that the school kids, no matter what their home is like, are always happily running around with perfectly pressed skirts or slacks and the whitest shirts you’ve ever seen. No doubt something the women take great pride in. We have no idea how they do it every day.
By late afternoon we were ready to return the car. The driving here was more stressful than Indonesian driving. The locals may live life on island time, but that goes out the window once they are behind the wheel of a car. So as we were driving along the road back to Roseau we got passed at one point by a nice little blue sports car. Not fifteen seconds later we came around the corner to a cloud of dust. Then we saw the car, upside down in the ditch, with the rear wheels spinning lazily.
It looked bad and we thought for sure we were about to see some real nasty medical television show type things. We ran up to the car and were surprised to find the guy in the passenger seat climbing out through his window. He said they were alright and I looked inside and found the woman crawling around as well. She made her way out and they both just sort of stood there in shock. The woman had a lump over her eye and a couple of scratches on her arm, but aside from that they were fine. The car was totaled, roof caved in, front end smashed into the hill, but the seat belts obviously did their job. Once a few locals arrived we took off. At least three minutes passed before the line of cars started passing us again.
january 28 2007 : terre d’en haut, îles des saintes, guadeloupe
From Roseau we made our way to the northern end of Dominica and the town of Portsmouth. We anchored in the south end of the bay in front of a long beach all to ourselves. When we went ashore we found a great little beach side bar that turned out to be on the grounds of the student housing for an American medical school located just down the street. Students were lazing around on the beach working on their tans while studying the causes of skin cancer. After a heaping plate of nachos and cold beers we made our way up the road to another student hangout. This place was in the middle of a block of shabby apartments and was a tiny little upstairs unit converted into a sort of fast food bar. They served up big mugs of Kubuli and then we ordered a couple of sandwiches to take back to the boat. The sandwiches came wrapped in Subway wrappers which we thought was a little odd, but I guess they are just trying to make the students here feel at home.
Today we set out for the quick trip to Guadeloupe. However first we had to fix something. Just when we think that maybe we’ve got all of this boat stuff figured out, we do something so stupid it’s as if we had just moved aboard. We noticed recently that our anchor chain was really twisted up. Causing the windlass to work harder and the anchor to spin in circles as we dropped it, leaving us not knowing which direction the anchor was lying on the bottom. I came up with a brilliant solution to the problem though. Since we were in a deep protected bay with flat waters, we could motor to where it was 300 feet deep and drop the chain all the way out. Once it was all hanging freely it would untwist itself and we’d bring it back in. Simple enough right?
Well it turns out there is a kink in my theory, a rather obvious one in retrospect. The kink, 250 feet of chain is extremely heavy. We removed the anchor, fortunately, and dropped the chain down. Once we reached the end and it had untwisted, I sat down alongside the chain and got ready to pull it in. I knew it was going to be heavy, but had figured that with me pulling and the windlass cranking, it wouldn’t be a big deal. I was wrong about that.
The windlass couldn’t budge it, and even with my feet planted firmly, pulling with all my might, I only managed to get it up about two links before dropping it again. I don’t know what a foot of chain weighs, but assuming it’s rougly two pounds, we now had about 500 pounds of dead weight hanging off the front of the boat.
Some people probably still don’t quite understand why we would have 250 feet of chain on the boat if the windlass couldn’t lift it. At least I hope there are a couple of people who don’t. Well normally we are only anchored in water under 50 feet deep. So even when we have all 250 feet of chain out, the most the windlass has to lift at any one time is the fifty feet hanging from the boat to the ocean floor. I of course knew and understood all of this, but for some reason just didn’t think my whole project out very well.
We sat there a few minutes trying to figure out what to do. The only solution we could come up with was to simply drive the boat to shallower water which would lighten the load. Now the trick was to not snag anything 200 feet below us. If that happened we’d end up having to cut it away, losing all of our chain in the process.
To add insult to injury it began raining heavily while we were coming up with this, and we were expecting at any moment to have a squall come ripping through the bay to really cause us problems. We motored along slowly, oh so slowly, until we reached 130 feet. At that point we gave it another try and found that with me pulling as hard as I could, and the windlass churning away, we could just get the chain to inch its way up. After a few minutes the chain was back in the locker, the anchor reattached, and we were on our way to Guadeloupe. The only difference was that now we had a nice straight chain.
Fortunately the rest of our day went a little more smoothly and we had a nice quick sail over to Guadeloupe. Actually to The Saints, a small group of islands just off the coast of the main island of Guadeloupe. We made a quick trip through the main town but weren’t feeling up to a big night so we just called it a day and went back to the boat to watch the entertainment.
People who have cruised in the Caribbean know what I am talking about. Watching people anchor in the evening is one of the most amazing things you will ever witness. I don’t want to sound like an anchoring snob, we’ve made our share of mistakes, but a lot of people truly have no idea what they are doing. I think the biggest problem for most people is that they just can’t seem to judge distances. They drop anchor in a space that looks fine to them, then they let out 150 feet of chain and find that they are actually right on top of the boat behind them.
Cruisers always like to blame it on the charter boats, but last night we watched a Canadian cruising boat come in, drop anchor, fall back, and end up close enough to the catamaran behind them that they actually moved their dinghy to the side of their boat so it wouldn’t be hitting the catamaran. They stood around staring at the situation for a few minutes and somehow decided that this was acceptable. However, when the catamaran people returned they had a different opinion. They told the guy to move. He grudgingly fired up his engine and lifted the anchor, then drove around in a circle, and dropped his anchor in what looked like the exact same spot. We were watching this, and I said to Ali, “Man, this is going to be funny.” As the boat fell back it ended up maybe ten feet farther forward than where it started. The Canadians once again stood there with their hands on their hips and stared back at the catamaran. After a couple of minutes they shut the engine off. The guy on the catamaran took one peak out there, shook his head, and seemed to decide it just wasn’t worth saying anything a second time and went back inside. This same scene plays out every evening, the only difference is the boats.
january 29 2007 : guadeloupe
Off the boat early this morning to beat the heat we walked up the hill to check out Fort Napolean. The views from the top were incredible, taking in all of the surrounding islands and giving a perfect view of the anchorage. It is times like these when we realize just what a small boat we have undertaken this circumnavigation in. Bumfuzzle is literally just a spec from these heights, while the boats around her look like cruise ships. When we are on the boat and anchored next to a 50 something foot monohull we don’t think anything of it, but from up above we look like nothing. It’s then that we start to realize just how few boats we see that are as small as us. Sure there are some 32-36 foot monohulls out here, but they are few and far between. The vast majority of monohulls are in the 45 foot plus category, and as for catamarans, forget it, they are all 44 feet plus. We have yet to see a catamaran of 35 feet or less.
The fort was pretty great. Because it is relatively new, at just 130 years or so, and was never used in battle, it looks as if it was built yesterday. Like all good forts, or castles, it has a big moat surrounding it, and a drawbridge to let you inside. Once inside this fort you find that the walls are still perfect and have a 360 degree view of the surrounding waters. Cannons point every which way, and batteries in which they stored all the cannonballs and whatnot are built into the walls all the way around.
Nowadays they’ve turned the top of the fort into a sort of cactus garden. Besides the cactus though there are hundreds of giant iguanas climbing all over the place. If I held one up by its tail it would probably hang about five feet long. They climbed around in the trees and just stared at us while they warmed their bodies in the sun. Right smack dab in the middle of the fort was a big building which now houses a maritime history museum. The museum was okay, especially if you speak fluent French, but for the rest of us you could just walk around and look at pictures.
By the time we left the fort the ferries from Guadeloupe had begun to show up and the island had been transformed. Instead of a sleepy little local place, it was now a speeding taxi van, sunburned tourist place. The island really has a different feel from 10 a.m. until about 4 p.m. During that time thousands of people come over from the mainland, good or bad. We decided to retire to the boat for a few hours before heading back to town. After a few ferries had headed for home we made our way back to town for a couple cocktails.
We wandered around until we found the absolute least attractive place in town, the only place that you had no view of the water, and settled in for a couple of drinks. It was still right on the main street giving us a great spot to people watch from, but the beers were a full 2 dollars cheaper than the place right across the street. Nothing makes me happier than finding where the locals go to get sauced. You know you’ve found the best deal in town then. We spent a couple of hours there before we finally realized the place didn’t even have a toilet, and by that time we felt it best to high tail it home.
january 31 2007 : pigeon island, guadeloupe
It was just a twenty mile motorsail up to Pigeon Island. This place is a Cousteau National Park and at one time apparently was considered a premier world dive site. It’s just a tiny island only a half mile off the mainland and as we motored up we had our eyes peeled for the yellow mooring buoys which are supposed to be laid there for yachts to use. There were dozens of white moorings there which are for the dive boats, but we couldn’t see any yellow. Then we came around a corner and found two of them right in front of us. One had a dive boat sitting on it, despite all the white ones nearby, and the other had a sailboat racing for it from the other direction. He beat us by about two minutes and we had to resign ourselves to anchoring in the bay off the mainland nearby.
The anchorage wasn’t the best, and when it started to fill up with boats later in the afternoon we started to consider looking for someplace else. Then to seal the deal, the Canadian boat that we just talked about because of their bad anchoring came in and dropped directly in front of us. Way too close again. That group just doesn’t quite get it. We immediately started up the engines and lifted anchor. We had to actually drive around them and then fifty feet in front of them in order to get to our anchor. The whole time they just stared at us like we were crazy. Sorry, but we just can’t stand a crowded anchorage, there is nothing less appealing to our cruising lifestyle.
Just then, the boat that had beat us to the mooring came into the bay. We cruised straight out to the island and found both moorings now open. We grabbed one, but then realized that the mooring was placed so close to the rocks that we would actually hit them if the wind shifted around on us in the night. The other one looked a little better so we moved over there. As Ali tied us up she realized that somebody had prop chopped the mooring line and it was only hanging on by about one thread. No good. So we headed back over to the mainland. Found a spot off to the side of the other boats, finally got the anchor dug in, and ended a very long pain in the butt day.
Today we took the dinghy out to the island to do some snorkeling. As usual we just didn’t see what the big draw was. The water was nice and clear and I could easily see 50 feet down, but there just wasn’t much happening. No big fish, not a whole lot of color, and no wild coral formations. Things must look a lot different once you get out in the 100 foot water in order for so many people to pay big money to dive here. With the exception of Egypt, which had great reefs, the best snorkeling we’ve still seen was in the Bahamas. By far the most colorful, the clearest water, and totally secluded. I can think of three places in particular in the Bahamas that we really liked and there were no other people anywhere.