January 2011 ~ Windward Islands

Chronological Order

Day 139 ~ Web of DoomJanuary 31st, 2011

In a world of good intentions, sometimes things come together.   Lisa and I were both up about 6:00 am and looked at each other as we lurched in the cross swell. "Let's go now." was on both our lips at the same time.   The anchorage had been pretty calm on the whole but, as the tide changed, we would swing cross-wise to the waves and, small as they were, we would be rocked from side-to-side in an uncomfortable, fall down the stairs drunk sort of way.

So we started whipping the boat into shape and by 7:00 am we were underway.   It felt great to be moving as the sun broke over the mountainous outline of St. Lucia, leaving misty shadows in the valleys and among the palm fringed beaches and rocky cliffs.   The water is colored with a thousand tones of peach and steel as the light shifts from indirect to sun-kissed.

With the wind right on the nose, we burned diesel all the way from Anse Cochon to Rodney Bay, a mercifully short 10 miles in nearly flat seas.  An enjoyable ride despite the grinding engines.

Rodney Bay is a huge protected anchorage with well over 100 boats and room to spare.  We dropped the CQR in 6 meters of water only to hear it grind and drag along a hard bottom.   She eventually set well but then, looking around, we realized that we were too far out, making for long wet dinghy rides to town.  So, we upped anchor and this time I opted for Mr. Bruce.   He too drug around for a while, but eventually set with 40 meters of chain out in 5 meters of water.

Getting to DHL in Casteries was the priority so in a few minutes Lisa, Dan and I zipped to civilization; they found a grocery store and I caught a bus to town.   For $2.50EC ($1 US) I rode a bus to Castries the major port and cruise ship destination for the island.   The Emerald Princess was on the dock and towering over the town.  Finding DHL was a bit of a challenge, but hoofing it in the rising heat for 30 minutes and asking direction 3-4 times, the final time at the UPS Store, I got there about 10:30am.

Then the fun started.   The conversation went like this:

Me: "I am here to pickup a parcel for Peter Torkelson, Yacht-in-Transit Day Dreamer."

DHL guy in the red and yellow shirt: "The package has been detained by customs."

Me: "Yes, I understand, but you have a customs officer here.  Can I fill out the forms and proceed?"

DHL: "No you'll need to get a customs' broker to fill out the forms for you."

Me: "I thought you guys were 'customs brokers' too" (I had heard this already on the phone).

DHL: "We are, but not for these trans-shipment packages because they go on boats.  We don't do those."

Me: "Where do a I get a broker.  How much does he cost?"

DHL: "I don't know."

Me: "Can I just pay duty on the package and import the goods to the country instead of trying to save duty by having them go to a Yacht in Transit?"

DHL: "No, because one of the items is a VHF radio, you must have a license from the Government to import radio equipment."

Me, frustrated and about ready to throw in the towel:  "Can I just send the package back to Budget Marine where it came from?"

DHL: "No, you need a license to export radio equipment."

Me: "I haven't imported it yet."

DHL: "You need a customs broker to handle this for you."

And so it went, on and on.   One circular conversation led to another with the net result being that my parcel sat locked in a room right next door.  Finally, the guy asked another guy who asked another one who said, "Try Spence, he's a broker down the street on your left in a small green house."

Back in the heat I hunted for this little green house, the road teed.   A half block down was a ramshackle green hut.  Perhaps that was it.  I poked my head in and saw two older men with granny glasses staring at computer screens with dazed stares.   The Solitare stare.

"Er, excuse me" I asked, "Are you customs brokers?"  It turned out that I had found the world headquarters of Spence Shipping Limited, Shipping Agents & Customs Brokerage.

After explaining the whole saga, they said they could help, for a small fee of $150EC ($56USD).   What could I do?  The goods in the package were worth about $700EC ($265USD) so it seemed I would have to play the game.  Dan's quote, "Their country their rules" kept coming to mind.

By the time we were all square on the situation, they said, "Oh, look at the time, it's 11:45, the customs guy left DHL 15 mintues ago.  You'll have to come back at 2:30 pm.

"Wow, that's quite a lunch break" I mused sarcastically.  They just smiled.   That's life, in the islands.

So with nearly 3 hours to kill, I walked around Castries, found a roti shop, sampled some local drinks and walked over the cruise ship dock just to refresh my motivations for leaving the consumer culture.   Wow, you walk through those gates and you're back in the States.   Dozens of shops aflood with touristas who can say they 'have been to St. Lucia' without ever having to see a local who isn't paid to be nice to them.  I'll take Vieux Fort any day.

Returned to the office of Spence Shipping at 2:30 pm only to find that the customs web-app server was down; nothing could happen.  Who are these hackers anyway?  I sat there until 3:30pm, when it came back up, only to find that now they have a problem with the way the shippment is coded and I'll have to come back tomorrow.

It was a long hot walk back to the bus, the streets now packed with school children of all ages meandering towards their bus's home.  Turns out there are multiple bus stations and after asking a few times, I finally found the right section of street and boarded a bus back to Rodney Bay.

It was discouraging to ride in the dinghy back home after a full day of walking and talking empty-handed.   I am sure there's a lesson in patience there, somewhere, but what if feels like now is pretty simple, "Welcome to St. Lucia; now get lost."   The message that they want our money but not our presence, or success seems pretty strong.

Dan whipped up some killer pico for another taco night which put a much needed glimmer in the day.

Day 138 ~ Kicking BackJanuary 30th, 2011

It's Sunday.   At home, we had a tradition of Swedish pancakes for Sunday brunch, so decided to do them here as well.  At least this week.

Nana managed to get all 10 eggs into the pot safely this time, so it was uneventful project.  Then it was Hoover time.

The girls and I setup the tramp sun shade and did some rope swinging.   What with Nika's mast collision yesterday, we rigged some OSHA approved pads so future contact will be a little more forgiving.

Then the girls and I headed over to the beach and played for a while with a local boy who was hanging out there too.   Burning calories, a beautiful thing.

We returned for snacks and a bit of napping, then took the whole crew over for snorkeling in the big water.   Nothing too spectacular, but enough fish to be interesting and Grandma got more comfortable in the water.

Dan and I then trolled for half an hour but not a hit.  Frustrating, because there are plenty of fish about.   Clearly, we have more to learn.

Wrapped up the day with Lisa's killer spaghetti and some stories on the tramp under the "tent" (sun shade).   Felt like camping.

Day 137 ~ Goodbye Vieux FortJanuary 29th, 2011

The day broke sunny and breezy, perfect for blowing town. 

We like Vieux Fort.  Unlike Soufrière, the people are generally friendly and engaging, if a bit rough and tumble.   And you do want to stay on the main street and out of the tight alley ways (where Greg had his run in with the hugging assailant), you do want to be out of town by 5pm when the cops all go home, you don't want to leave your dinghy or boat unattended, etc.

Well, the etc's have finally piled up enough to translate to "it's time to leave."

After a quick breakfast it was up anchor.  The "Mrs. CQR" returned to the family caked with a sticky blue mud and sand mixture.  We motored out of the anchorage, then turned to raise the main only to find we were smack in the middle of a minefield of fish pot markers made out of old juice bottles, empty plastic oil quart jugs, etc.   It was Nana who spotted the first trap and called it out just in time.   Then it was dodge ball between a 47' boat and several more clusters of "buoys".

Once clear, we raised the main on a single reef, turned off the wind and unfurled the jib.   Knowing that we would be passing the Pitons, and their squirrely williwaws, and with the girls and grandma out on the tramp, Dan and I rigged a preventer on both the sails, set the auto pilot and took off.

With 25+ true wind speed over the starboard quarter and, as we gained sea room off the coast, the swells built considerably until it was a full-on surf fest.   Laying on the tramp with our heads just over the cross beam we could see both bows come well clear of the water as the swell crested under the boat, then sink so far down in the back of it that we could reach out and touch the water.   We hit 11 knots or more as we slid down the faces.

It was a quite a ride.   We turned then under the Southwest corner St. Lucia and headed North and easterly along the coast line.  The winds were fluky in the shadow of the Pitons, and throughout the afternoon as the mountainous island broke up the steady trades.   But the seas were nearly flat and the gusts were strong, so we made good time.

Didn't have a firm destination in mind, so ended up taking a mooring in the park again off a lonely beach south of Anse Cochon walled on both sides with rocky cliffs sprinkled with scraggly trees. After getting hooked up, we looked around and breathed a collective sigh.  This is the first time we have had a solitary anchorage the entire trip, and it felt great.   Not a boat in sight, other than the occasional passing panga.

With a few more hours of daylight, we snorkeled around the boat and did burgers on the grill -- another first for the trip, which the carnivores devoured with great relish.  Tigers.

Day 136 ~ The Ultimate Fish TacoJanuary 28th, 2011

We haven't had much luck fishing in the last couple of weeks.  Not that we try all that hard, but several nights we put tasty morsels out on a hook.  These might include a rancid slice of ham or chicken skin.  We landed our first Jack off St. Georges on a ham blob, but nothing on the night hooks since.

Well, with the Mahi Mahi last night, we had a few belly pieces left over and we hooked one on last night and dropped it overboard.  This morning, as I was standing on the back step I looked down and saw something waving around in the current under the boat.

It was another Jack, a nice one.  A 12 taco Jack, as it would prove to be.

Lisa and I headed to town in hopes of finding the veggie market, but with little success.  Turns out most of the vendors have moved over to the main drag (Clarke Street) where we were able to find peppers, lettuce and a few other taco fixins.

While we were meandering through the far side of town, we ran into Greg from Salty Paws.

"I was just mugged!" he exclaimed.   Being an ex-Colgate salesman, saying he is an extrovert is understating his skill set considerably.  He gave us a blow-by-blow of his encounter with the bear hugging assailant who, fortunately, proved too lightweight for the victim he had chosen.  Greg soon had the better of him, at which point the attacker decided that politeness really was the better part of virtue.

"Would you like my watch?" he asked Greg.  Either as a peace offering or sign of contrition, we're not really sure.

Needless to say Greg was pretty shaken and made various, "I am out of here", "I can't stay in this town another day" and similar vows.  

Turns out another boat was broken into yesterday as well on the other side of the anchorage (where the boats are more spread out) so Lisa and I held a council and decided we would leave tomorrow.  It's a shame really, because the town isn't all that bad; most people are very friendly, but there are a few rough characters about.  Evidently they are seeing the boat people as their best source for a promotion in life.

When a French boat anchored in the same spot later, Dan went over and tried his best to communicate the deteriorating security situation.  I stopped by a large charter boat later and delivered the same message.  They were grateful for the update and moved an hour later to anchor right behind us.

I worked for a few hours while the entire crew hiked up the hill to visit Aggie, an 86 year old lady to whom Greg had introduced us.  They returned late, but with fresh Jack in the fridge, tacos were a priority.

Dan did his pico magic and, with some grated cheddar and warm tortillas, we agreed they were as good or better than any fish taco we'd previously mugged.

Day 135 ~ Grandma ArrivesJanuary 27th, 2011

Today is the big day.  Grandma "Clancy" (Lisa's mom) is due in today at the nearby airport.   As a way to celebrate, we had Swedish Pancakes for breakfast, a tradition that takes a full hour to make and another half to work through.  There was one lonely little leftover.

With laundry and trash on our minds, Dan and I headed over to the commercial dock.   Trash was no problem, but water proved more problematic.  The tap was 200 yards from the dock and the thought of sherpa-ing 30 gallons of water in the mid-day sun just didn't flow too well.

We headed over the fish dock but got the story that they weren't allowed to fill water containers at the landing stations.   It sounded fishy to us, but asking a second guy we got the same story, so not sure what to think.   Greg from Salty Paws was incredulous -- "You just need to ask the right people."

We set a water date for 9am tomorrow.

Dan and I frittered away an hour scoping out some project stuff, but kept coming up short on parts and pieces.  After a half-hearted lunch, Dan, Nina and I headed into town for provisioning.   I bought 4 pounds of fresh Mahi Mahi (called Dorado) for $9EC ($3.50) a pound.  The dealer put it in the fridge for us to pick up on the return trip.

We headed to IGA and then split up; Dan and Nina headed for the checkout and I caught a bus to the airport.   After convincing the custom's officer that we really were anchored in Vieux Fort, Grandma was admitted to the country and we were free to go.

But there was more.   A young lady had be-friended Grandma and helped her through customs so we returned the favor and set her up with a cab and arrangements for her return.

Dan met us at the fishing pier with the dink and we managed to get grandma and gear aboard.   Then there was a whirlwind of girls and suitcases and jumping and screaming and hugging that went on for a good hour.   This, followed by Mahi Mahi sandwiches with home-grown lentil sprouts and a side of rice, put everyone in a sleepy mood.  But, Grandma had brought dresses and treats and toys so a third Christmas ensued until everyone was either in a sleepy stupor or getting grouchy.

Day 134 ~ Tacking ThroughJanuary 26th, 2011

With some work calling, I did a quick breakfast and went over to the resort to get connected with the wider world.   The last couple of days had been pretty calm, but got a nice rain shower in the dinghy ride over.

Had arranged for our boat parts to be delivered to the resort, but now find out that, even if they did come, customs will detain the package and we'll have to go to Castries where the DHL office is located in order to liberate the goods.  Ahhh, life in a 3rd world bueaucracy.  Under Dutch management, St. Maarten has been duty free for 250 years and is the economic hub of the entire island chain.   And these local governments think it's a coincidence.   How quaint.

Wrapped up work about noon and headed back to the boat.   Was a pleasant surprise to find the boat ship shape and ready to sail.   Dan had generously scraped barnacles for much of the morning and reported that the boat was now barnacle free.  A great feeling.

After lunch I decided to raise the main while still moored.   It had been calm a morning with plenty of clearance between boats so it seemed to make sense.  However, we had only had the sail up for 2 minutes when I glanced aft and saw the burst coming.   By the time I got back to the main sheet it was at 25 knots and building.  The main flipped to starboard and filled with a tremendous surge and creaking of sheets and shrouds as I dashed to release the mainsheet (rope transferring the power from the sail to the boat).   The wheels slammed over as we lunged forward on the mooring line with the tension of a piano wire.   Likewise, the mainsheet was stretched like steel.  In the long seconds it took to release the mainsheet without losing a limb, we wheeled on our bridle like a bull in the ring.

"I am never doing this again!" and other exclaimations were heard as the main finally luffed (flapped like a flag) and the rig de-powered.

In another minute the williwaw had slackened and we were able to get off our mooring.   Just as Dan gave the all-clear signal, another blast hit us and we were launched out of the mooring field like a caged bird finally seeing the light of day.  In the shadow of the Pitons the winds are wild and squirrely and we took the full force of them.  We had a reef in the main (it was set for higher winds) but, with the full headsail out, a 37 knot torrent poured over us with a shudder.   Dan and I had the headsail rolled up a moment later while Lisa worked to keep the boat from becoming the world's largest weather vane.

Once we were clear of the mountain-borne turbulence, we settled into a nice tack to tack upwind run making 7-8 knots in 15-20 knots of wind.   I intended to tack once or twice and motor the rest of the way, but the swells were large and easy, the winds were steady and perfect, the sun was meandering through a pastel sky punctuated with soaring frigate birds and bordered by the cliffs of southern St. Lucia.   It was a surreal hour.

Dan and I tweaked the rig until we had it set so that tacking involved nothing more than turning the wheel (the headsail clew is managed with a tracking system that self-tacks.)

As the sun sank lower we approached the Vieux Fort anchorage.   This is the first time we are returning to a location and it felt nice to know where to go or not.   Knowing now that the bottom is mud, we dropped the CQR in 6 meters of water, let out a full 40 meters of scope, then backed down hard on it.

The family is starting to get into the rhythm of the boat and, without a word, each found something to tackle, lines to coil, hatches to open, wind- and sunscreens to re-secure and a dozen other post-sail tasks were completed with few words and fewer minutes.   A family team working in harmony towards a common purpose was a perfect cap to a fantastic sail.

Dan grilled up some chicken while I did the kitchen work.   Homemade BBQ sauce over grilled bird with the smell of the sea and the gentle rocking of the boat felt right in a fundamental sort of way.  It was hard to imagine a gourmet meal in New York's finest upscale restaurant feeling any better.

Day 133 ~ Welcome to SeattleJanuary 25th, 2011

Well, Lisa's prayers were answered.  I can't say too much for my half-hearted offerings.   Suffice it to say that our tanks are full.

It rained all day, off and on in a classic Pacific Northwest style.   It was even cooler, under 80 most of the day and nearly jacket weather this evening at a frigid 76 degrees.   There were times, if our view didn't include a palm tree, that we could have been anchored just about anywhere in Prince William Sound.   Rocky cliffs tumble down to a blue-green sea alive with the impacts of a million droplets per minute.

Having been off-net for the better part of 4 days, it was time to catch up on some project coordination and order a few more boat parts.   Every time we take on fresh water, floor boards have to come up so we can check tank levels.   No fun.  The old float style gauges have long since bit the dust.  So, after all the back and forth correspondence, we have a new tank sender shipped DHL, only to find out that they won't deliver to the resort in front of which we are moored.   "Too remote."

Well, something will work out eventually.   Best just to go with the flow.

Dan picked me up off the resort's dock in a nice little downpour on his way back from Soufrière.  He had given up staying dry and was stripped down the the waist and sopped already from his run into town.

We are trying to keep an open mind about the Soufrière area, but it's getting hard to deny the obvious.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but the locals are bigots.   They are so sick of seeing touristas that when a real white person walks in the door they really would rather you just disappear.   Or they will ask you point-blank for a handout, or try some cheesy scam to weasel you out of currency of any flavor.  It's all rather tiring, actually.

While we got that feeling a few times in Grenada, and more often in the Grenadines, it's pretty much standard fare here.   The contrast with Vieux Fort is pretty sharp.   Since they rarely see tourists, most Vieux Fort locals don't know what to make of you and so are, as often as not, friendly.  Sometimes even talkative.

So, it's about time to move on.   Our goal is to give every place a fair shake and see what's really beneath the surface.  Turns out the insides of this apple are rotten.

Dan did his long-awaited super taco night and, amazingly, there were even leftovers.  Then it was cold (solar showers only work with solar power) showers and beddie-bye time.

Day 132 ~ Rain and SunJanuary 24th, 2011

In need of fresh water we spent the morning squeezing every drop from every cloudburst that passed, and there were many.   Rain, a blast of wind and then sun.   The rain would build from a light Seattle drizzle to a torrential downpour; a cheer would just be rising in our throats when it would abruptly stop.   There was just never enough to really make collecting feel worthwhile, but we tried anyway.

The core issue is that St. Lucia's water infrastructure was damaged badly in Hurricane Thomas a few months ago.  We've been warned several times that the "pipe water" isn't safe to drink.  The idea of putting known bad water into our tanks strikes me as best to be avoided, so we were in a bit of a quandary.   Not sure what to do, we turned to the local boat boy.

"What you can do, you can boil de water", recommended Cletus, the fruit man who motors past each day offering fresh produce from his boat.   The grapefruit, bananas, and paw-paw (papaya) are local grown and packed with a flavor that Fred Meyer just can't seem to deliver to Alaska.   Yes, his prices are higher than town, but then he delivers, and has two boys in school, and he needs a lot of dental work (we don't mention that part).

So, we needed rain and guess who did the praying for it?

It cleared off in the afternoon into a typical sunny tropical afternoon, so we all headed in to the local waterfront resort here, named Jalousie, to take a look around and check up on email.

They have some fantastic views, old buildings and an intricately woven string of spa bungalows set in amongst a tropical rainforest with a bubbling brook cascading beneath many of the treetop hideouts.   For $240, you too could have the 3 for 2 special which includes a full body exfoliation.

"What's an 'exfoliation'?", asked Nana, the attorney.

"Er, well..." I wasn't sure, is what it boiled down to.  But for some hard cash, I guess I could find out.

Back at the boat I flogged away at some chili, but the beans never did soften.  I've got to be doing something wrong, but it was devoured promptly anyway.  Guess I take the quality too seriously for this carnivorous breed.

Day 131 ~ Not Much HappeningJanuary 23rd, 2011

Saw a rainbow in the morning.  In the afternoon, we took a trip in to check email at the resort.  While Peter worked, Lisa and the girls wandered about the Jalousie grounds.  In the evening, Daniel and Nina provided the entertainment by building a clothespin tower.

Day 130 ~ In the Shadow of GiantsJanuary 22nd, 2011

We awoke to dead calm, with barely a ripple on the water.  Puffy clouds were skating by, dodging the peaks of the Pitons that surround us.   They tower above us both North and South, a majestic presence that is both grand and inspiring.   Not sure we are up to climbing them.

Today is Lisa's birthday, so Nana and I made her favorite breakfast: swedish pancakes.  What with all the famine around here (!) and Dan being with us, we did a batch with 13 eggs, probably 5lbs of batter.   There were two left.

Since Lisa's had her intro dive behind her, and Dan is a certified commerical diver, we sucked it up and went along with the scam that you must have a local "guide" to accompany you on any scuba dive.  We arranged for a 1:00pm pick up at the boat and all the necessary gear for $90 US.

With Dan around, Lisa and I were able to dinghy the 2 miles to town together and do some provisioning.   Wow, in many ways it is like Vieux Fort, a rough and tumble place but familiar enough with tourists that every other person sees you with dollar signs in their eyes.   Disheartening.  Those that didn't ask for money on the spot were chilly and impervious to "Good Morning" politeness that worked well just a few miles south.

We found the bakery, meat market and supermarket, managed to pull together just about everything we needed then sherpa it all back to the dock.  The meat market was an experience, clean and neat but with a touch of auction frenzy with ladies of all ages calling out their orders and a small staff scurring around to fill them.  Chicken is very popular.

At the supermarket a lady asked, "Where are you from?".   When I said, "Alaska", she countered, "Well, we are from Georgia.  Just decided to come down here for a while."   Turns out they had rented a house for cheap, bought a car and got scammed on it, and were enjoying living in a different culture.   "You can rent a really nice place for $100 US!", she said incredulously.

We got back to the boat with just enough time for Lisa to open her birthday present, a waterproof camera and case, which she has never asked for, but has wanted for quite a while.   Then it was a scramble to get the divers some lunch, get the camera tested and all the gear pulled together.

The "guide" appeared just after 1 and took them about 300 yards away and followed their bubbles around in the boat, when he wasn't engrossed in his book, texting or lunch.  Handy, but it still left us with this distinct impression that the local law is about extracting cash from touristas more than it is about safety or protection of the local health of the coral.   But as Dan said, "Your country, your rules; play or leave."  We might just do the latter.

Day 129 ~ The PitonsJanuary 21st, 2011

Well, the real St. Lucia as expressed in Vieux Fort's teaming culture of shanty town, bars and churches has been a welcome repose from the charter boat scene with its tawdry polish and shallow laughter.   Touristas be gone -- these are real people in the midst of eeking out a life from the sea and their wits.  Tightly muscled men in tank tops attack piles of slippery fish amidst a flurry of flies expertly winnowing every fiber of flesh from the slippery carcasses for paltry sums.

It's been observed that, under pressure, people polarize.  Vieux Fort is exhibit number one.  Rough characters, bars open early and stay open late.  Crime is fairly common.  Doors are locked and barred with padlocks the size of a taco grande.  There were so many hold-ups, that the government relaxed the restrictions on firearm ownership, allowing shop keepers to put up an armed defense.  One crusier lost a dinghy while he was at Christmas Eve mass just up the street from the fishing pier.

But polarization infers two sides and we all agreed that we had never seen a place where religious faith was expressed more openly.  Nearly half of the fishing boats bore large religious names or verses emblazoned on their bow, stern or sides.   Fishing panga names like "Respect Life", "Ninanuel", "Love your neighbors", "God Answers Prayer" and "Patience is the Key" were common.   Church bells rang throughout the week and on Sunday mornings persistantly.

We had the impression that people didn't have the excess wealth, time or capacity to worry much about keeping up appearances.   Perhaps pressure, painful though it is at the time, yields more growth and authenticity than a lifetime of Oprah and therapy sessions.  Something tells me that the stamina it takes to drive a 20 foot panga into 12 foot seas and 25 knot headwinds for 80 miles, fish all day, hauling and killing numerous animals each capable of breaking your arm with a single blow, then running down seas at full speed for another 80 miles doesn't leave much time to contemplate the meaning of your navel or stress out over your father's lack of positive affirmation.

We were sad to leave, actually.   But fair winds were calling and Dan didn't fly all the way here to only see a fishing village.   So, after a quick breakfast we upped the anchor and welcomed uncle Bruce back to the family.   He was so firmly embedded in mud that it took a couple of minutes of tugging and motoring forward to break him free.  We then had a fabulous down wind run in 20-25 knot true windspeed, running with the swells.   With a reef in the main and the headsail tied open, we topped 10 knots on the front of many a swell.   Then we turned to a reach as we rounded the southwest corner of the island and turned north into the Piton's mooring field.

Anchoring is prohibited so we picked up a mooring ball, or tried to.   Boat boys offer to help us pick up a mooring but, with Lisa at the helm, we nail them every time.   The yayhoo parked right on top of one and wouldn't move.   The conversation turned from polite to confrontational when I insisted we didn't need help and didn't want to hit him in the process.

He finally got the message and left muttering various obscenities and veiled threats about "hope you sleep good tonight," etc.   I told him we would report him to the park ranger.   A retired cop I once talked to said, "Don't lose any sleep over the belligerent bad guys.  Let them yell all they want; it's just air.  It's the quiet ones you have to watch."

We got the mooring hooked up and then Cletus, the fruit guy, came by.   Just as he came up a squall hit so we invited him aboard to stay dry and had a nice chat.   He apologized for the other guy's aggression and said he was going to report it as well.   Nice to have a local backing us up.   We bought some grapefruit and bananas.

Lisa made some meat quesadillas for lunch and then she and I headed to the resort in search of internet.   Not much luck; it's available only in the lobby.  When we returned the seas were calm and the sun shining.   We snorkeled around for a while in the clear waters.  The bottom was rocky and home to numerous fish and crabs.

Back aboard we perfected the roof to roof rope swing technique, although I had to hit the shrouds a couple of times to prove that some angles work and some don't.

Leftover spaghetti disappeared in minutes.

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Day 128 ~ Barnacle CounterattackJanuary 20th, 2011

The day broke calm and sunny which was a nice change.  With cooler weather came project motivation, and Dan and I ripped into the settee undersides in hopes of installing a new 12v receptacle for the laptop.   In the end we punted to an extension cord approach, but didn't even have the parts to pull that off.

After a quick lunch, we gave the barnacles more than they bargained for.   Dan took one side of the port alma (hull) and I the other.   With a scraper and Scotchbrite pad, they didn't really have a chance, although we each caught one on the knuckles and paid for it with blood.   They are still pretty small and most come off easily.   The Scotchbrite did a good job on the slime as well.  We'll give the cleaned sections a week or two to see if any hitchhikers return.   If so, we'll have to get pulled again.  That is not going to be fun.

I did some work afterwards while the girls swam and worked out the initial stages of a rope swing setup.   Nana has been into fish since she was in diapers so, when Dan needed a pickup from his shoe shopping trip, she and I went in to the fish dock and watched incoming boats unload their catch.   No monsters this time, but plenty of Mahi Mahi which they call Dorado or Dolphin.

Now that we're known at the fish dock, we're not harrassed much with, "Need a taxi?" type offers.   A relief.

Back at the boat, we whipped up some chicken and mashed taters, which were sucked into the vortex at speeds which defy universal contraints of time and space.

Day 127 ~ Making ConnectionsJanuary 19th, 2011

Another blustery night led to another blustery day.   Sunshine, intense blasts of wind (saw 39 knots, 45 mph), then a brief torrent of rain, then dead calm, sunshine, puffy clouds before the next dark wave of clouds rolls in.

There are people like that.

Dan and I tackled replacement of one of the trampoline lines which is showing considerable wear.   While we were re-threading it, Greg and Mike from Salty Paws came over to see if anyone needed come ashore.   Dan was interested in doing some more exploring so he took them up on it.  Lisa wanted to mail some postcards and hit the bakery so, after the usual ramp up with sun dope and hats and glasses cubed to the third power, I dropped them off at the fish dock later.

Then it was work.   Turns out I had to destroyed a critical piece of a project last time around and had to rebuild one of the photoshop files.   Didn't have me in a good state of mind when the kidlets came back about 3:00pm.  Dan returned a bit later and brought news of a nine year old girl who was staying with her grandma and may enjoy some company.   So the whole crew took off to find Grandma, about a 40 minute walk away.   Turns out she is the talkative sort and lives at the top of the hill with a 360 view of the seascape and islands.

That gave me the time to finish up the project and when they called for a pickup at 6:30, the indoor storm clouds had passed.

We did a leftover night with plenty of tingly soup and sour sauces in the mix, but a few gems remained and were consumed along with the tasty cookies and other treats from the bakery run.

Then crash.

Day 126 ~ Fish MarketJanuary 18th, 2011

The night was blustery with some impressive blasts of wind and rain, which quickly abated and left calm in their wake.  

Dazed by our late night social with Salty Paws, we all kind of stumbled around for the first hour or two of the day.   With overcast skies and stiff breezes, boat project motivation returned.  Dan had brought us some needed parts so Dan and I tackled replacement of the starboard dinghy left pulley and repair of the stove top ignition system.

I uttered the fateful words, "this should be a 5 minute job."  Right.  An hour later we finally had it back together and working.  We had a light lunch and then Nina, Dan and I headed into town while the younger girls worked on some writing projects and facetimed Grandma.

Vieux Fort on a week day is a very different affair than on a Sunday afternoon.   Lots of hustle and bustle, shop keepers standing in doorways and plenty of stray dogs.  We split up with Dan going for the long hike while Nina and I chased down such necessities as Scotch Bright pads, white beans and ant poison.  We picked up a small detachment of tiny back ants in the boat yard and have been doing battle ever since.  We have kept them pretty well on the defensive with aggressive kill-on-site policies, but it's time to deliver the fatal blow.

We worked our way back through shanty town and got those looks that we know mean, "What are YOU doing here?"   Nina said out loud what I knew she had been thinking for awhile,

"It feels strange to look so different from everyone else."

"Yes", I countered detecting a education-in-life moment, "How do you think it feels to be black in Alaska?"

"Well, that's different", she replied quickly.

"How?" I asked with a tone that made it clear I didn't really buy that.

Long pause.  "Well, I mean they are used to being different and I am not yet."

"Really.  You think that you get used to this feeling and then it just goes away?"

Another pregnant pause, "Well, no, I guess it would always feel strange."

"I think so, and now you know how E*** and J*** and A*** feel in Alaska" I concluded, naming some of her friends who were adopted from overseas and don't exactly look like Scandinavian stock.  The wheels were turning and it was a joy to watch the light grow a little brighter as her world expanded to include this new and novel idea of being different, and perhaps even being treated differently just because you don't sport the dominant complexion.

As if to hammer in the point a little harder, it wasn't much longer before a local man strutted past and called out, "Hey white man!"   Thanks to Greg from Salty Paws, I had a ready response which was off my tongue before I really thought about it.

"Hey black man!", I called back with equal vigor, then cringed as I heard it echo off the rotting stone wall which lined the rough hewn street.

That got his attention.   "OK, OK" he said with a I-am-back-pedalling-as-fast-as-I-can expression.

We worked our way back to the fishing harbor which, as it turned out, was in its prime time of day.   It was just after 5:00pm and it was a bustle of sharply dressed professionals, older folks, families and children all meeting incoming boats and gawking at the catch.   Boat after boat came in with loads of Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, King Fish, Blue Marlin and more Tuna than you could count.   The boats are open fishing pangas, perhaps 25 feet long, with narrow beams, perhaps 6 feet wide. I asked a guy, who looked like one of the fishing set, how far they go out.

"Oh, 75 to 80 miles sometimes" he replied nonchalantly.   Wow, that's a fair bit of pounding considering the waves are running 2.5 to 3.5 meters (8-11) feet and you'd have to be going pretty fast to get out there, have time to fish, and return again.  As we were talking, I recognized the tall customs guy from the airport.   He was walking along with a guy carting a pile of carcasses towards the wash down and weighing area.

I nodded to him and he recognized me.   It was a fortunate encounter as he filled me in on the details of how to negotiate, when to buy, who to have to do the cleaning and the customary costs for this or that.

We each bought a 5lb tuna and then proceed to the cleaning station where, for $5EC, a wiry guy with rasta hair and small arms of iron used a rough shaped daggar to dice the once fearsome predator to pieces.   He had the heart out in 5 seconds and the fillets off shortly thereafter with nary a trace of meat on any bone.  It was quite a show.

Lisa came over and picked up Nina and the groceries while I hung around and waited for Dan to return from his wanderings afield.  The air was seasoned with the smells of fresh catch, hot outboard engines, sweating fisherman, the perfumes of the professional office workers and the fetid lagoon into which every unwanted fish part inevitably succumbs to a seething army of miniature crayfish and rock crabs.   Puling our dinghy up to the blackened wall for the first time, we were taken aback when the wall changes color as the miniature armored vultures scatter to avoid being crushed by our bow.   You can hear them skitter hither and yon, like roaches, only salty and wet.

The facilities are expansive and well built, it turns out, by the Japanese as a gift to the local fisherman.   Well, a gift perhaps, but St. Lucia is part of the International Whaling Commission and voted to give Japan their desired whale killing quota.   What a coincidence.  Or not.

Day 125 ~ Barnacle AttackJanuary 17th, 2011

Swimming under the boat a couple of weeks ago, I noticed, to my chagrin, a nice collection of barnacles were calling our almas (hulls) home.  Now, you will never defeat the sea or its creatures who have perfected the art of catching rides on anything and everything.  But, we had two brand new coats of premium bottom paint.  Two weeks later, the colony is expanding with impressive ardor and speed.   The barnacle coverage now is probably only 15 or 20 percent, but that's a lot of hitchhikers.  Most fleck of easily with a thumbnail, but that's not always going to be the case.  Something has to be done, and soon.

First, I called the paint company to figure out what is happening.  Turns out that being out on the hard for 9 months after application is a no-no.   Now in the water, we need to give the entire hulls a light scrubbing with Scotch Brite pads to remove the oxidization layer and allow the copper in the paint to do its deadly work.

Oh, that will be fun.

I got a price on a haulout, sort of like what it must feel to shop around for a divorce attorney.   The thought of going up on the hard again so soon is sickening.  But waiting a year until we are dragging around a few hundred pounds of firmly affixed crustaceans is even more disgusting.  So, I guess we better try the Scotch Brite approach and see if it's feasible to do afloat.   A really shallow, soft sandy Bahamian anchorage would be really handy about now.   Good luck, all these rocks are mountain tops and they don't do shallow.

While Dan, Lisa and the gang explored town I did some long overdue work.  They returned in the early afternoon with roti, cookies and other bakery treats, which were promply devoured with gusto.

The girls and I went for a swim, but the visibility in the water is perhaps 4 feet and the wind and chop made for a chilly and uninviting experience.   We were out and showering in less than an hour.  Dan has a special pico recipe, so while he whipped it up and did the taco thing prep work.   There were hardly any leftovers. 

The wind picked up and Dan asked how much power the wind generator was making, so we were calling out windspeeds and amps when Greg from Salty Paws came over.   He has the same generator and isn't seeing near the output that he expected or that we are getting.   So we kicked around some wiring thoughts and then invited him up for more conversation.

After covering wide ranges of topics, the inevitable Nikah questions came up.   The next time someone askes me what I think of Nikah Palin I am just going to say, "I don't" and hopefully that will end it.

One subject led to the next and before we knew it midnight had come and gone.   Greg filled us in on the local crime scene, the police that all go home at 5:00pm and many local cultural nuances and body language that Americans completely miss.   He gave us some concrete pointers on what to say and how to say it and what the accepted responses are.

Day 124 ~ The real St. LuciaJanuary 16th, 2011

After an exhausting sail, I expected we'd sleep in, but the early bug had bitten and we were up and going with the sun.  It feels good to have the upwind work out of the way for the foreseeable future.

We had to re-anchor, twice, due to fluky winds and incoming micro cells which whipped winds and boats every which way.  The anchorage is fairly deep, so we had a lot of scope out and found ourselves uncomfortably close to a channel marker and then another boat.  Since the anchorage is noted as having mixed holding and rocks, opted once again for Mr. Bruce.   Wasn't a big fan of them based on the empirical tests I have read, but day to day experience with it is bringing me around; although, having one that is 50% over spec, might have something to do with it.

Did pancakes to start the day right, then alternated between prepping for rain and opening up the boat again to cool off.   Wave after wave of rain and winds came through, inevitably complimented by blue sky and sunshine for another half hour.

The cooler weather brought motivation, so I tackled some long overdue cleaning and inspection of the forward crash compartments which were, thankfully, dry.

Did a light lunch, then Lisa dropped me off at the fishing port and I headed into Vieux Fort.

Wow, the similarities with rural Chinese towns were acute; the open drainage accumulating loose trash in the corners, the stray dogs, the barred windows, the heavy locks and even the smell were so similar that, if you had changed the signage and the color of the idle men hanging out in doorways, you'd have been there.   When I passed a Chinese bar and "supermarket" with chinese characters on the windows done in cheap red tape, the transport was complete.

Having loosely memorized the simple map in the guidebook, I hoofed it hard for 10 minutes and came out where the bus station should have been.  No dice.  Asked a guy on the corner and was pointed one street over.  The first bus I found was missing only one person so, for $2EC, I got the last seat and we were off.

It's only a couple of miles around and then a 5 minute walk to the terminal.   A real airport.  Compared to Grenada and Clifton on Union Island, this looks and feels like a real airport.  Bustling and busy with lots of people of many colors, vendors and baggage men.   Was pointed to Customs by each policeman I passed and felt I must finally be getting warmer.

The last lady I asked said, "Through those doors" and pointed vaguely while turning her attention to her phone.   Large red "No Entry" signs, "Port Police permission required" and other similar dire warnings were plastered on and beside each large steel door.

"You're telling me to go through the 'No Entry' door?", I asked with raised eyebrows, wanting to be sure the dialectical differences between Hairoun culture speak and mid-west flavored American hadn't led to a misunderstanding that would land me in jail.

"Yes, yes, just knock and go in", she replied, while texting.

As I trepidaciously approached the doors, an overweight American tourist sporting several large bags fumbled through one door.  I held it open, cautiously peeked inside and took a half step over the threshold.

It was the back end of the customs tables through which all incoming flight passengers must go.   A smartly dressed lady who seemed to function as an arm of the airport public relations team immediately caught the site of me running upstream of traffic and made a beeline for interception.

I made eye contact, using every posture I knew how to convey confusion and uncertainty.

I explained my purpose and she smiled, "No problem, you're in the right place, you want to talk to that tall guy over there", pointing a daintily decorated finger towards a uniformed custom officer who stood a full head higher than everyone else.

I worked my way toward him, dodging snow-white British touristas with lapdogs, the odd newlywed American couple, and numerous Canadian escapees.   I waited until he was free, than explained my purpose: came in on a boat, need to check in, etc.

"I am sorry, sir." he responded with a nod in the direction of a huge line of people, "We're a little busy at the moment; you'll have to wait until we are done here, at least until 4 o'clock."  It was 3:15pm, so no big deal.

He politely asked me to wait outside the customs area which, sadly, was not so nicely air conditioned.

I struck up a conversation with the St. Lucia helicopter vendor and learned about her messy divorce and subsequent immigration to St. Lucia.   "It was the only flight out of Newark that night to someplace warm, so I got on."  And stayed for a long time, like 21 years.   Married a local, bought land, and is now selling helicopter tours from a small flourescent lighted booth in a dim corner of the St. Lucia airport.  And happily too.  I guess living in paradise has its upsides.

"Don't you miss the seasons?", I asked.  "Are you kidding!?", she said with a smile.  "I don't miss snow one bit."

After these, and many similar exchanges, it was after 4:00pm.   Dan, my best friend from grade school should be somewhere in the customs line by now so I headed back through the forbidden gates.

Sure enough, I caught sight of him pretty quickly.   He was through customs in a minute and I was able to help with his gear, most of which was stuff we requested ranging from a bamboo floor mat to full size Alaska and American flags to mosquito netting, thankfully which we haven't needed so far.

Back in the inner sanctum, I was handed off from the big guy to a younger lady.   I get along pretty well with most people, but things went downhill fast.

"When did you get in?"

"Last night."

"Why are you here so late, it's the end of the day?  You are supposed to check in immediately."

"It's Sunday, everything is closed, I had to walk and get a bus."

She was unimpressed.  In the past, my forms were given a prefunctory glance and stamped for approval with a smile.  Now, smelling a nonconformist, she dove into every detail.   The form was quite tedious, requiring all passport numbers, issuance dates, birthdays, place of birth, relationship, measurements and specifications for the boat, hull number, documentation numbers ad naseum.

After 12 years of typing every day with a few moments of writing by hand scattered about when a signature is necessary or shopping list is made, it's safe to say that my lettering is less than precise.  Lisa claims it's unreadable.  So, you can imagine this official's disposition as she flogged through my scrawl, one digit at a time, comparing every bit of information.

"Do you need glasses?", she asked.

I was taken aback.  What with the creole accent, I wasn't sure I heard her right.

"Glasses? Er, no."

"You have errors in your form, what is this, a 5?   You have the birthdays switched on two of these rows" and similar critiques continued sporadically with every minor oversight.

What could I do?  Nothing but take it.   Her neighboring customs officier ,who could clearly overhear the conversation, tried to hide a smile.  I guess it's the game they play.   Here you are, living a dream, but now, for this moment, you are completely at their mercy.   A mouse in the cat cage and there's no doubt whose expense at which the fun will be.

Finally released, I was sent to immigration where, to my chagrin, I was presented with 5 entry forms which had to be filled out in complete detail, one for each person, with the exact same information I just put on the customs entry form.  To his credit, the immigration guy took pity and used a few passports to fill out the forms as I completed out the others.   Then it was stamp, stamp, stamp and off I went.  He never asked any questions or double checked details.   Guess he had grown up already.

Finally, back in the open air again, Dan was waiting patiently sitting on his totes.  "Hey, this guy wants to talk to you", he said motioning towards what appeared to me to be a taxi driver.

"Great", I thought, another hard sell.   But I had underestimated him.   Nevil, not only drove us to the fishing pier for a pickup, but turned out to be a boating fan who was actively searching for a day charter sailboat.  Before I knew it we were talking of the merits of this or that craft and how it would work for a tourista business model.   It was great to see a resourceful local thinking entrepreneurially.  Looking around the island in general I can tell he's not the only one.

Back at the boat, the setting was ideal.   A soft warm breeze was ruffling our flags, puffy clouds brought brillant color to a perfect sunset.  The boat moved gently at her anchor.   Dan probably wanted to sit for a bit and soak it all in, but we were pumping him for information, bringing him up to speed on this and that and, before long ,the girls couldn't help but get antsy to see the gifts that the Grandmas had sent with him.

It was like a second Christmas.   We spent so much time talking and discovering this or that item which we had forgotten having asked for, that dinner slipped my mind for too long.

Hotdogs, rice and beans filled the gap rather nicely, and sent the girls to bed with full tummies, the monsters.

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Day 123 ~ Passage to St. LuciaJanuary 15th, 2011

I don't know what the official definition of a "passage" is, as opposed to a day sail.  Perhaps it's overnight or something.  But regardless of what the officials think, today we had our first passage.  Passage because it was long and upwind, and involved massive quantities of sea water washing over the forward decks, numerous and variable conditions, and no fish.

Was up at 5:15am thanks to a rain shower.  Tried to doze until 6:00am with little success, so gave up a few minutes before the alarm went off and got moving.   I was pleasantly surprised to find the girls up and going just a few minutes later.  We gobbled a quick breakfast, did final boat tightening which, due to all the efforts last night, didn't take all that long.

We were anchor up at 7:03 am, just as the sun was breaking over the Bequia's backbone.

The first several hours were the easy part.   We sailed smartly across Bequia channel and into the wind and wave shadow of St. Vincent.  Since it's the drug capital of the Caribbean and we've heard plenty of problem reports by other sailors, we gave the entire wild looking mountainous land a pass.   Sans enfants (without kids) Lisa and I would be a little more bold but, in our current situation, risk tolerance is pretty low.

About halfway up the west side of St. Vincent the wind and waves petered out.   I took the opportunity to make some sail adjustments and the girls enjoyed the peace and sunshine.   It lasted about 10 minutes, maybe a touch more, then the waves started coming from the North, wrapping around the island.  The winds did likewise.

By the time we cleared the north end of St. Vincent, the seas had a chance to express their true nature; having lived wild and free since Africa, they had a lot to talk about.   Spray was pretty much everywhere at times, with the entire foredeck being awash on many occasions.   There were a few older swells of real merit, the kind you look back on and only see a wall of water rising behind you, and some high clouds.

The wind steadily climbed through the 20-knot range hitting 29 for a spell.   That's brisk by any measure, but with hundreds square feet of canvas flying, we really felt it.   We peaked out about 9 knots of boat speed, a paltry sum really, but we were pinching the wind pretty hard, trying desperately to make some easting; St. Lucia and Vieux Fort, our intended port, lies 10-12 miles to the east of St. Vincent, besides being 22 miles north.

It's that easterly bit that's the hard part.  We can sail about 32 degrees off the wind, which is better than many catamarans, but not quite what a monohull can do.  We overtook and slowly passed a 45-50 foot monohull which was using the same rhumbline as we were.

Once north of our destination, we tacked back and crossed his track, less than 1/2 mile ahead of him, which just proves the point that going to windward cats don't have anything to brag about.   Give us another 10 degrees of wind though, and we would have smoked him.

DayDreaming Spot
Date/Time:01/15/2011 03:31:10 AKST

While it would have been possible to tack back a few times and sail all the way in, the sun was falling fast.   At 2:45pm, I decided to burn the fossils and head straight for our destination.   We arrived about 5:30pm, but the anchorage at Laborie was tight and the one boat there had taken the only viable spot.   It's a narrow slot really, bounded by reefs with a nice little swell rolling through and crashing on the left and right.   The light was low already and visibility wasn't good.   Reefs that were clear in the aerial photos, weren't at all visible so we bailed and headed to Vieux Fort.   On the chart it looks open and exposed, but we were pleased to find a nice roomy anchorage, with virtually no swell and a nice steady 15 knot breeze to keep things cool.

You can see the airport from the boat, so getting our guest will easier here, and we found a few other cruisers tucked in which usually bodes well.   We anchored well clear of the pack and enjoyed a quick dinner and hot shower (there has to be some upside to motoring for 3 hours) free of zipping dingies and neighboring boats.  Behind us is, well, I guess Belize, if you go far enough. 

Total for the day was 61 hard-earned miles, including 15 miles of hard-earned easting.   At this rate, BP should just keep drilling, much as my sailing ethic hates to admit.

Day 122 ~ Prepping to moveJanuary 14th, 2011

I know, the last entry which referenced no free time seems incongruous with the whole sailing ideal, but here's how it goes.

We are sailing to St. Lucia tomorrow, or planning to.  Was up at 7:15am and. after the usual hygiene activities, had to fix the clew attachment of the main sail, take on 50 gallons of fresh water, check water levels in both tanks (requires removing floor coverings and boards), fill the solar shower, get everyone headed in the right breakfast direction, get the dinghy ready to go ashore, round up the empty gas cans, gather trash, motor to the trash dock, deposit said trash, motor everyone ashore, drop of the laundry, provision for the trip tomorrow, buy gas, carry said gas from the station to the dock, refuel the dinghy, mix the gas, load everything, unload the dingy, make lunch, boil 14 eggs so we have ready protein for the passsage tomorrow, assist Nina with her English and writing work, clean the dinghy (spilling a teaspoon of fuel creates the nastiest dingy scum you can imagine), round up passports and boat documents, motor back to the dock, find the customs station, fill out a full length legal form in triplicate with everyone's passport numbers, boat details, etc, take the form to customs, wait, then to immigration, wait some more, final provision check, back to the boat, clean up the line tangle on the mast, tighten the luff line of the head sail, oil two squeaky toilets, re-stow (safely) the new fuel, empty the water bladder to clean up the deck, and write yesterday's blog entry.

And now it's only 4:30pm.  

Still have to pack lunches for tommorrow, pull a 9,000 calorie dinner out of thin air, create the GPS routes and waypoints for tomorrow's trip, check tidal ranges and times to insure we aren't fighting the moon, settle numerous kid disputes, give the evil eye to a huge French charter boat that considered anchoring too close, be sure to smile and wave to our Italian neighbors tonight so if we run into trouble on the passage tomorrow we'll have someone nearby to call since they are going the same way at about the same time with a boat that's about the same speed.

And that was one day in a month of the same, which leaves precious little time for reading or other intellectual pursuits that people imagine must be possible every day.

I'll keep imagining.

Day 121 ~ Hike & Beach funJanuary 13th, 2011

With a 9:00am hiking date with Strong Legs, breakfast was a hurried affair.   Being this close to the equator, you don't want to hike across an island at mid-day. We rendezvous'd at the dock and headed up and over the ridge which defines Bequia's north to south spine.  We didn't have a firm destination, but wanted to see more of the island and make it across to see the open oceanside.

After about a half hour into the hike, we stumbled on a beautiful beach backed by a large open expanse of grass and dotted with waving palm trees.  It was almost too perfect.   We stopped for a rest and then a chat and stayed for a snack (the girls devouring the popcorn Strong Legs brought).

While Jack and the girls made boats out of coconut shells and created a whole line of kitchenware for their cave house back at the beach, Dave, Cathy, Lisa and I compared notes on how we came to the point in life where doing something really crazy actually made sense.   It was interesting hearing how someone on the other side of the planet (Dave is Australian) in the office cubicle assembly business reached the same conclusions as a reclusive webguy hunkered over a flat screen next to Bear Mountain in Alaska did.

The difference is that they have been out for 6 years and aren't sure of their end date.  Dave speaks of fishing so phenomenal that you throw back a 20 lb tuna because it's too small, of wahoo that take over the cockpit, and rural Brazilian river anchorages where you can eat like a king for $5 a day.   Gets a guy to thinking.

We are both headed north to the States, Strong Legs is on a timeline because Dave's green card expires if he doesn't spend at least 18 months in the states in the next three years.

My guess is we'll cross paths again.

Then we hiked back, now at mid-day, sweating gallons.  We shared a Roti lunch, with some incredibly good local Golden Apple juice Cathy found at a stand tucked down an alley off the main street.   It was so good we had one and then another and another.

After some recovery time on the boat, I picked up Jack and we headed to cave beach where the kids had a blast in its various rooms and hallways, always at the ready to dodge particularly large waves which occasionally funneled across their floor with a swirling rush of knee (kid knee) deep foam and water.  It's a cool spot.

I finally finished my first book, which I've slowly picked through since our boat yard days.   An indication of just how little free time there has been -- precious little, actually.   Funny as it sounds, managing a cruising family is a full time job, as many commentators have noted.

Dinner of spaghetti with a side of Italian meatball-ettes was hoovered down at the usual rate.   Barracudas, these offspring!

Day 120 ~ Hunkered downJanuary 12th, 2011

It started blowing hard about dark, and picked up from there.   It's predicted to be lively for the next couple of days.  One of the things I love about this boat is how quiet it is even in a stiff wind.   Well, it's not really quiet, but quiet compared to our last boat.

Still, the occasional gusts were pretty loud; feeling the boat surge against the anchor led to disturbing dreams about breaking hardware, drifting boats and Italian speaking Texans.   Got up several times to look things over, but it didn't appear that we are moving an inch.

Can't say the same for our next door neighbor, mister "guess I am a bit close".   It was with a touch of triumph that we looked out this morning to find him about 30 feet further astern of us than he was last night.   Guess we can let our anchor chain back out again now that he has provided the service of dragging the "mooring" downwind enough to give everyone plenty of clearance.

Have certainly made our share of mistakes out here, but sometimes gloating feels really good, like a pizza binge, I guess.  Feels good, but probably isn't all that healthy.   About the time I click "save" we'll start dragging and all shades of smugness will look pretty shallow.

Tackled mostly school and work this morning.   Nana and I did some light shopping in town.   I had a couple of teleconferences in the afternoon, so Lisa took the girls to the beach with Jack from Strong Legs.  They arrived back just after sunset and the first question I got from everyone was, "What's for dinner?" 

Uh, a php authorize.net integration?   That didn't sit too well, so we punted to chicken tacos.  The only thing left over was some lettuce.  Sharklettes.

We rounded out the evening by discussing the worst jobs I had ever had.  Tales of making dog food, moose chow and climbing up grain elevator shafts were far more interesting to them then they were to recount.   Simple entertainment, I guess.

Day 119 ~ More workJanuary 11th, 2011

Well, we have good internet so there's not much else to say.   Time to tackle several projects and tasks that have been pushed to the edges for a little too long.

Lisa took the girls to town for some exploration while I cranked out some hard code.  After lunch we snorkeled a nearby reef.  There were plenty of fish, but the visibility was terrible thanks to the large northern swells working their way into that part of the bay.

When we returned to the boat we found that a clueless charter boat had taken the mooring right next to us.   And I mean right, like 15 feet to port and aft of us.   It seemed that if the right combination of wind and swing came into play we would make contact.  Since the mooring is an illegal one (meaning no permit from the government), we have the right of way, but the charter probably doesn't know that.  It means though, that he gets to pay for damages.   To top it off, the mooring is just a concrete block with a chain with a cheap anchor at the end.  I snorkeled over it when we arrived and the anchor was just sitting on the sand/coral bottom, not even set.

I told the poor guy as much when we got back, "Look man you are really close."

"Yeah, I guess so", he replied with a shrug.

"Well, it's not a real mooring, so if it blows I guess you'll just drag out of the way." I couldn't help pointing out.

I put out bumpers just in case and took in about 10 feet of rode (anchor chain).  This should have us swinging in front of him if it comes to that.  With the bigger winds predicted for tonight and tomorrow, we won't have long to wait.

Strong Legs came by and invited the girls to come play the beach.  Nana and Nina wanted to go, so they took off in their dink.   Nika and I put out bumpers and made some anchor changes, then motored up to one of the many charming dinghy docks and walked around town a bit.   Free from the tyranny of the older ones, she chattered away the entire time about this and that.   She's very observant and notices all kinds of details.

Been boiling a big pot with a ham bone for 4 days now off and on.  Finally found some proper beans for it -- the locals don't eat anything but chickpeas and kidney beans, so finding some navy or white beans was nigh unto impossible.   But Lisa scored at the "specialty import" store and got basic white beans.   Ooooh, novel.

It all came together pretty well, and it was so darn filling that the girls slowed down after only a bowl or two.   Gotcha!  I didn't hear any whining this time about having thirds or fourths.

Day 118 ~ Work and PlayJanuary 10th, 2011

A few projects are beckoning.   We did a quick (by 4 girl standards) breakfast and headed out to check out the town and find some internet in a quiet place where I could focus and make some progress.  Things were bustling on a Monday morning with street vendors and plenty of other cruisers with their straw hats and shopping totes meandering from shop to shop.

We hauled in two huge loads of laundry to the do-it-yourself laundromat and then I hunkered down at the smoothie place using their free wi-fi and tried to make a laptop battery last longer than ever intended.  Lisa and the girls came about noon and we enjoyed some smoothies while Lisa struck up a conversation with the lady manning the register.

She was born in nearby Kingstown, St. Vincent, moved away, then back to here.  She enjoyes Bequia a lot.  "I don't care what people say", she dismissed with a a wave of her hand, "it's very safe here as long as you stay out of the wrong areas -- just like anywhere."  Her hollywood style sunglasses covered half her face but couldn't quite mask off the expansive black eye she was sporting.  It was in that third day yellowish purple phase.

Shopped here and there and found a few staples, then returned for some sandwiches back at the boat.  The girls are developing a taste for this Danish canned sandwich meat.   Basically, it's spam made with chicken and ground a little finer so the gizzards and cartilage aren't visibly distinct with the naked eye.   Not sure this is a good thing, but it doesn't require refrigeration so that's a plus.

There's another Lagoon 47 anchored a few hundred yards behind us.  I motored over to have a chat and compare boats only to find a deck strewn with belugas.   I figured it out before I was embarrassingly close and turned a wide circle towards home.   The French.  Is there anything more to say?

The girls swam for most of the afternoon, then got too cold so stood around shivering while Lisa and I jerry rigged the damaged solar shower.   It burst a seam last night.   The poor thing isn't designed for daily use, instead being built with just enough quality to last through the average 3 day camping trip a time or two.   It's going on 6 weeks of daily use and just can't take the heat.

We did a dinner of tacos, and the girls plowed through nearly a 2 pounds of ground beef not to mention the beans and tortillas.   Lions.

Day 117 ~ Quiet BequiaJanuary 9th, 2011

We woke up slowly to a peaceful anchorage wrapped with a heavily forested ridge and took a slow morning recovering from all the sail and anchoring excitement.

Did pancakes, always a favorite and then Nina and I dinghied to town to explore a little.   Being a Sunday, most shops were closed, but we did manage to find a tropical fruit smoothie shop and some fresh fruit.   Bequia is an odd mix of nicer, pedestrian-friendly oceanfront walkways and then, just around the corner, squallor and piles of trash.  Like a teenager trying to find his identity.   There are some very nice homes sprinkled along the bluffs, but the overall feel is bit stretched.  We really want to be upscale but there's more work to do.  Perhaps a lot more work.

We took a slow afternoon while the girls swam off the back of the boat.   There is a lot of dinghy traffic and boat boys zipping past, so Nina engineered and deployed a floating swimming perimeter utilizing some line and swimming noodles which are brightly colored and happen to have holes all the way through.

A while later we saw Strong Legs, an Austrailian boat with 10 year old Jack aboard, motor past in the distance towards the lower anchorage, so we went over and invited him to come join the fun, which he did a bit later.   They had just landed a barracuda and were in the process of grilling him up for lunch.   So many distractions.

We returned Jack and hung out at their place for some time.  The kids explored the nooks and crannies of other people's floating home while the adults discussed various routing and fishing interests.   It appears they are headed up the east coat of the US this summer as well so it's likely we'll cross paths again.

Wrapped up the day with a genuine, authentic, down to the roots, American chili dog on white buns grub fest.   I guess if the chili had been out of a can it would have been even "better" but, hey, when we are hungry it all tastes good.

Day 116 ~ A real sail to BequiaJanuary 8th, 2011

It was time to go.  Actually, it wasn't quite, but weather is king now and wasn't impressed that, after 3 days at anchor, we had more that we wanted to do in Canouan.  With brisk winds predicted starting today and building for the next week, getting to Bequia is only going to get more interesting the longer we wait.

So, after a quick breakfast, we got some water from the local water boat boy and upped anchor.  She was set pretty well, what with all the excitement and all.

After clearing the anchorage well, we raised the sails and started making headway.   It's about a 20 mile near-upwind reach, and the wind angle was such that we couldn't quite make the tack directly there.   We reached well past our destination and then tacked back towards Admiralty Bay on Bequia.   We could have tacked a few more times, but with lively seas and gusts to 27 knots, the better part of valor said to burn some diesel and muscle straight in the last few miles.

Had a few really nice spells, with a top speed of 10.1 knots in 24 knots of wind with a reef in the main (sail pulled smaller to be safer). We'll call it a successful day.

The highlight though, much as I love sailing, wasn't the wind or the waves or the speed.   About 3 hours in, I was watching the waves when I saw a huge swordfish leap out of the water and crash down again on his side.  You could see the gleam in his charcoal eye, the electric sliver shimmer of his glistning wrapper under the tropical sun put all jewerly to shame.  His razor like forked tail bespoke a power and grace that would strike fear in the heart of the entire flying fish population.   He was easily 60 inches of pure muscle with a couple of feet of sword mounted on front for effect.   It's the kind of thing that is so unexpected, and incredible, that it has to be played it back in your mind a few times while rubbing your eyes just to be sure it's not imagined.

Then he leapt again.  And again.  By the third leap, the doubt was gone and I started hollaring and pointing with frantic gestures, "Swordfish!  Look!  Quick!"

The alert listners, Lisa and Nika, were not disappointed.  He continued the aerial display for another 4-5 leaps all the while making straight collision course with my flying fish lure.   But, alas, it didn't tempt him, or he was avoiding something big and scary and didn't think it was appropriate to stop and ask for a snack break.

In any case, I am not sure I would want to tangle with him.   Getting him on board and keeping all my appendages would be a feat beyond my modest fish-handling skills and 50lb test would have made it a long fight, if he managed to stay on at all.

We motored into a beautiful Bequia with towering cliffs on both sides and a nice wide expanse for a harbor, perfectly situated to protect a boat from the prevailing winds and seas.    We dropped anchor in an ideal spot, and dragged.  Thunk, grind.  Upped the CQR and tried Bruce.  Still, no dice.  Hard bottom.

We moved over and up 100 yards and gave it another go.   This time things felt more solid.   Snorkeling over the Bruce, I had Lisa motor up and then reverse down on it again.   Being in only 3 meters of water, you could hear the hardware as it ground down into the rocky, coral casserole.   And she stuck well this time.

Passages always translate into pent up energy afterward, so the girls were in the water in seconds; the yelling and exhuberant silliness lasted until the sun set and the wind and wetness brought on the "I am cold" and "can we take a shower now?" questions.

Our spaghetti feast yielded no leftovers but soon led to yawns.  Nika, Nana and I did some long overdue tickling, stick-the-flashlight-up-your-nosing and other essential kid things before we all crashed.

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Day 115 ~ Contact from another planetJanuary 7th, 2011

As we speak, numerous deep space antennas are trained at distant galaxies in vain hope of finding the slightest sign of alien life.  Untold dollars are spent trying to answer the perennial question, "Are we alone in the universe?"  But they are looking too far.  We are, in fact, not alone.  Aliens landed on our trampoline just last night in the form of a 40' ketch flying a big Texas flag; guess they were jealous of our Alaska flag.   But we defended our 7 stars on a field of blue with honor and sent those Texans packing, as it were, or at least back to bed where they were when all the action happened...

The night was peaceful when we retired and, being exhausted from a full day of sun and excercise, we were out in a minute.

About 2:00am rain coming in the open hatches pricked me back to a hazy life.   We need water pretty badly so Lisa and I were both up and moving quickly.   We wait a few minutes for the boat to get cleaned off, then redirected the torrents into the tanks.   If it's really coming down, we can fill in 10-15 minutes and last another week so, crazy as running around naked at night in the rain sounds, it really does have a purpose.

After getting things set up we got back under cover and had a look around.   To my surprise, there was a boat just in front of us that, I was 90% sure, wasn't there went we went to bed.   The Texas boat off our stern appeared to no longer be there either.  Hmmm.  The wind was squirreling around 360 degrees; one minute from the North, the next from the West.  I watched the "new" boat for quite a while and he didn't seem to be moving.   Figuring they had dragged their anchor, but were now hooked up, I laid down on the couch in the main salon with a flashlight nearby to wait for the next big wind shift.

It didn't take long in coming.   Perhaps ten minutes later there was bracing blast from the direction of the alien boat.   I popped up and hit them with the light.   To my shock and chagrin, they were sideways to the wind and closing fast.  My little light couldn't even cover the hulk, I had to pan right and left just to size it up, as a mouse would have had to swivel his head left to right to take in the entire scope of the elephant that was about to step on him.

An approaching boat, dark and unmanned, filling your windows in the dead of night illuminated by a hand-held flashlight is not a sight one soon forgets.

They were probably 20 feet out and closing fast.  I fired an engine and shoved it in reverse which, in hindsight, was a pointless excercise since we were already pulling hard on our anchor chain in the brace of the blast.  Lisa popped out of our room like a praire dog on high alert.   I was yelling something incomprensible like, "they are going to hit us; I can't believe this!" which probably sounded like "ho go fundle monkey jesh don tick ez".

"What do you want me to do?!?" she yelled back. "Bumpers!  Now!" I think I screamed.   Somehow that message got through; it was all a mad blur.  Stepping out of the cockpit we were met with a blast of wind and the subtle glow of the oncoming hulk gently illuminated by the shore lights nearby.

In a hazy blur we were forward in an instant and the had the bumper containing forward compartment hatch open the next second.  The bumpers are supposed to be attached with simple, quick-to-untie slip knots.   I gave a quick jerk and the darn thing had an extra loop on it which, in the panic, had to be undone with incredible slowness.   Years passed and a quick glance up showed the oncoming alien hulk was about to cast a shadow on us.  

To our amazement, however, there wasn't a soul stirring aboard her.   Not even an anchor or night light was on.   Lisa started yelling with all her soccer mom power at them one minute and at me the next, "get me that bumper!",   "You're dragging into us! Get up!  Get your engine started. HELLO, HELLO" then back to, "put the bumper in!"

On the next wave they were on us.  Their solar panel was the closest appendage and it received a good shove and folded inward.   Their railing stantions (vertical posts holding up the lifelines which are wire ropes that serve as a railing) were the next layer.  Lisa grabbed the corner of the metal stern rails and gave a mighty shove just as the bumper came free in my frantic hands.

Amazingly, Lisa's push coincided with a slacking of the wind.   The alien craft moved outward just a few precious inches while I slid the bumper in between their stern quarter and the very tip of our starboard (right) bow.

CONTACT!   We are not alone; the aliens from Texas are real.

Lisa's full-throated reveille was not entirely in vain.  After the initial contact, alien lifeforms were seen scattering about the deck, children, adults in vague shapes with no lights and few clothes were puttering aimlessly and sleepily about; lo, not an English word spoken either.

As the waves gave our two boats a tango feeling, one up the other down, all mayhem broke loose.  We were yelling at them and they were mostly looking back dumbfounded.   "Where did you come from?" written all over their faces.  These people didn't have a clue.  "Start your engine; get moving!" and similar other directives where met with deer-in-the-headlight expressions and then bursts of what sounded like Italian. 

Italians flying a big Texas flag; bonafide lifeforms from another world.  Their swim platform came up, a gust shoved their stern towards our cross beam, and down she came, entangling a swim step over our anchor bridal.   The extra 10 tons of boat on our anchor chain had it stretched like a piano string, effectively snagging them and holding the aliens in place against our bow.

"Push the line down!  Step on it!" I hollered, only to be met with more dumb stares.  I put my flashlight on the entanglement and what appeared to be the mom finally got it.   She went over the back transom and got her foot on the bridal and stepped down hard.

One wave, almost off, second wave...

BAM! the tension on the bridal made its sudden release feel and sound like a cannon shot.  We shuddered and started to twist away, the weight of their boat shouldering us, as it were, off to the side, like a linebacker headed for the end zone.   Another gust and they began to rotate around our bow with the apparent intention of sharing more love and gelcoat with our starboard gunwale (side).

"More bumpers!" I screamed in the din, and Lisa dove into the hatch and soon came up with another.

Out of the alien abyss I heard a burst of Texas accented Italian slathered with a sleepy slur, and then their engine finally fired but remained in neutral.  We gave a mighty shove and the wind shifted several degrees.  They began to drift free of us, still sideways to the wind and headed for the next boat down the line.   Air horns went off, loud indistinguishable voices were heard from a nearby boat as they passed her.   After what seemed like an eternity, they put things in gear, raised their anchor and got their spacecraft oriented into the wind and underway.

Never did see the Texan, or hear him say much for that matter.  With our one last hollared suggestion about the mooring field ahead, they motored off several football fields away and anchored again before returning the boat to its original darkness.   A repeat performance would have pushed them down on a 100' rusting hulk of a huge fishing boat with truck tires skirting her full length. Justice, in that case, would be well served but, no, their anchor held just fine all night.

By now, it was 3:30am.  However, somehow we couldn't go back to sleep.   Wired isn't quite the right word, but talking it all over for a half an hour and figuring out what we'll do differently next time was probably the best way to decompress and learn from the experience.

When we were cruising the Bahamas we met a couple who had been out for half a decade.  They said, "Don't worry about dragging your anchor; if you are careful it will probably never happen.  What you should worry about, however, is other clueless boaters hitting you as they drag by.  We have been hit five times in five years."

With those statistics, I had figured it was 6 months before we had a 50% chance of being hit.   Well, 5 weeks in and we're already set for a whole year.   It's that kind of math that politicians just love.

We finally calmed down enough to where sleep made sense again.   The next morning, as you can imagine, there was considerable discussion among the other boats who were in the line of fire.  We were also amazed that their anchor had missed catching on two other boats and several mooring balls in their circuitous route around the bay.   We picked up a few more tips on how to handle the next alien encounter, which is probably a mathematical certainty.

The rest of the day was pretty mundane by comparison.  Worked for several hours at the hotel's "Internet Office", a mosquito-infested concrete block cell about 10' x 8' with no ventilation and a self-closing door.   But hey, it's painted happy yellow.  It was an oven and I was the turkey but, having forgotten the basting brush, it wasn't quite the same.

We all went snorkeling on a nearby reef after lunch and saw some amazing new fish species, long tubular things, horned things, and other nearly indescribable life forms.  It was all very beautiful and interesting.

But somehow, it was the Aliens who were on my mind.

Ted and Gina on Cool Change had invited us over for dinner.  We enjoyed a full evening of good food and lots of discussion on just about every topic of boating and computers and advantages of electric toilets that cruisers have in common.   We finally got back well after everyone's bedtime and, in hopes of a peaceful night, crashed hard.

Aliens be gone.

Day 114 ~ CanouanJanuary 6th, 2011

Took an easy morning.  Ted from Cool Change came over and had a few more computer questions.   I think it's time to change my official profession to life insurance adjuster.  Would probably make life simpler, but it is nice to be able to contribute something meaningful to people who have otherwise mastered the cruising life.

With semi-reliable internet I tackled some work projects that have been hanging for a long time while Lisa and the girls whipped this boat into ship shape, and I mean shape.   On their hands and knees at times shape.   In the end, I was presented with a large pile of man stuff that needed to magically disappear.  Not really being the neat freak type, I must say if feels a lot better with the boat in tip top shape.   Like it's easier to breathe.   I think it has something to do with it being a small space, or something.

I don't really want to think too much about cleanliness because I don't know any neat-nicks that are happy people.   The world is a messy place and if you get obsessed about every crumb or stain or incongruity you're not going to have much energy left to make a meaningful contribution, or have fun.   By the time you are done cleaning, it's time to go to bed.  When you get up in the morning, guess what?   You still have to eat, and that makes crumbs, and so the circle goes on unbroken until you die, and then someone else has to clean up your mess anyway.   May as well leave it for them starting now, or at least strike a balance.

A good friend told me once, "I don't want my epitaph to be, 'She kept a clean house'.  I mean, how sad is that?"   That made more sense to me than most of the conventional wisdom on the subject.   So, I like the boat clean, but the question is can we live it the unclean, or at least the unperfect, and still have a good time and learn something?  I think so.

We headed over to the beach about 3:00pm.   Nika is still banned from the water, so we fiddled in the sand for a while and then came back to get Lisa for a walk to town or, what the locals call, the Village.  We ran into Ted and Gina again and they pointed us to a better store a little further down the road.  They had a good selection and the prices weren't outlandish considering where we are.   Actually, half or more was cheaper than Alaska so perhaps the remote Carribean is all about saving money.  Yeah, that's why we're here.

We got back at sunset, stopped by Cool Change to turn on some lights per Ted's request, and got back just in time to get the dink up before dark.   It's windy all the time, except for about an hour this evening during dinner prep time.  Wow, what a difference air movement makes.  With two pots going and no breeze I got just a taste of life as a farm wife in the depression era in what Oklahoma must have felt like every day.  Sort of.  Well, it was hot.

Lisa rigged up an air scoop out of a Cheerios box that helped considerably to funnel in the little breeze there was.

We plowed through dinner like a mowing machine and then talked more history, politics and religion, stitching them together as they really are woven in real life.   It's such a natural way to learn.  The girls have learned how to goad me on with leading questions, so the discussion continuted long after Nika had fallen asleep.  She would have fallen face first onto her saucy plate if she hadn't happened to tip backwards, nose in the air, eyes half lidded.  Cutie.

Then we had to wake her to take a cold shower to wash off the salt and extreme heat of the day.  The solar shower works great as long as the shower and the solar are closely timed.  An hour after sundown and it's cold as ice, seemingly.

The girls were troopers and soon were all tucked in for the night.

Day 113 ~ Tobago Cays to CanouanJanuary 5th, 2011

A peaceful night broke with our typical tropical sunrise.  Cotton puff ball clouds skittering across a blush field of pastel pink and blues.  Oh, how quickly we adapt to the beauty and take it for granted.   Just another morning.

With a kitchen full of eggs, and some reef snorkeling on the agenda, we went for the perennial Swedish pancake breakfast which was heartily consumed by all, even my Nika who wasn't feeling too well.  He ear started hurting yesterday and we mistakenly let her do the turtle swim which just made things worse.  So, she was banned from the water today.

We headed out once the light was good and snorkeled a shallow reef just around the corner and down one tropical island.   Lisa has, so far, been underwhelmed with the fish life and water quality this far south, having had some outstanding crystal clear dives in the Bahamas.  However, today changed all that.   A beautiful reef with gazillions of fish, including eels, several flavors of tangs and numerous queen angles, not to mention huge trigger fish, grunts and schools of the nameless varieties.

The poor girls snorkeled until they were frozen (well, relatively speaking).  Nika and I hiked the island through rough scraggly brush and thorny twisted vines to a rocky plateau at the top.   The view was stunning, but no, we didn't have a camera.   You could see the large horseshoe reef through the transluscent water.   The 60 boats moored and anchored were a bit much, but the beauty of the canvas showed through.

We kicked around revisiting the turtles, but ended up heading back to the boat.   We'll have to pay another day if we stay, so upped the anchor and made tracks before lunch.   We covered extensive periods of history using on the way over, spanning most of the life of Rome in just the 7 miles to our next destination, Canouan Island.   This involved crossing an exposed channel which featured some huge older swells, ones you look up to at times, but since they are wide and long I enjoy them.   Not sure the girls do though.

We arrived about 2:00pm and, after a few skips on the bottom, stood on our CQR with 100 feet of chain down.   We did a quick lunch and then the nappies kicked in.   Swimming hours a day, then sailing, and the motion of ocean has a way of draining us that's hard to articulate.   Even the usual rowdy Nana was subdued while Lisa snoozed in the cockpit and I tried to dodge the sun on the roof.

As the afternoon cooled, Nana and I dinghied over to the dock in the Charlestown Bay.   It leads to a classy resort hotel, which offers the essential wi-fi, for a price.   We walked 10 minutes or so to town and bought a few things, enjoying a "beer" as Nana called our fruit drink.  Sitting on the covered porch drinking straight from a cold glass bottle suited her just fine.

We got back in time to enjoy a great sunset.  Leftover chili was demolished, but more sedately than usual.   Then the yawning started.   Another full day.

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Day 112 ~ Swimming with TurtlesJanuary 4th, 2011

Tobago Cays, The Grenadines

Frigate Rock had proved an ideal spot: quiet, calm, good snorkling and good friends.   But, alas, in a gypsy life, when it's time to go, it's all up for grabs again.  The weather window is ideal for a visit to the Tobago Cays, the must-see marine park just 6 miles away.   From where we were, we could see a ton of boats anchored there so had delayed a bit to see if the anchorage would clear out some post new year's party.  No dice.  So, with the winds and seas mild, it made sense to go now.

Alouette and Abracadabra are moving farther north today, so our troops won't take much convicing.  Nanaleize and Jabez from Abracadabra came over and played for a couple hours this morning while Lisa went to Ashton and got a bread, eggs and water.  Just the essentials around here.

We got underway about 11:30am and arrived a little after noon.   We wanted to anchor out by the reef's edge but, when we got there, it was pretty rolly and felt exposed, so we circled back and tucked under the lee of one of the small islands within the lagoon boundary.

We dinghied over and found the turtle feeding area.   It didn't look like much, so Lisa asked someone standing nearby if it was 'the place'.   Yes, yes, the turtles are there, so we went for it.   Sure enough, it didn't take long and Lisa, Nana and Nina had them in sight.   Nika and I followed and soon found our own.  Not being a big naturalist I wasn't expecting much of a thrill, but it was really cool.   Their shells have stunningly beautiful patterns of fine tile expertly fitted in an elegant organic pattern.

We hunted turtles until the sun got too low to see much and then headed back home for a leftover dinner of fried rice and ham.   Not sure it was all that great, but huge quantities were consumed and then the eaters started to tip over right at the table.  Another busy day.

Day 111 ~ Surprise VisitJanuary 3rd, 2011

It was a wonderfully peaceful night.   Just a sprinkle of rain at 4:00am to get my attention. The day broke perfect; light breeze with puffy clouds and plenty of sunshine.   We had decided to explore the closest town, Ashton, in hopes of finding a few staples like bread and eggs.

It was a beautiful ride over.   At the dock, it quickly became evident that there was no way to lock the dinghy.   I sat there a while thinking about it and finally came to the realization that if a real, but remote, risk of losing the dink was going to prevent us doing what we came here to do, explore new places, then there wasn't much point in being here.   So, I tied it up with a simple knot and walked away, trying not to give it a second thought.

It soon became clear that Ashton was pretty sleepy, well at least pretty small.   All the bread sells by 7:0am, so the early birds had made off with all the worms, as it were.   They hadn't seen an egg in several days.   I find this hard to believe, but there's not much you can do but smile and say thank you.   It's pretty clear that most business around here flows through informal networks, or "through the back door" as the locals say.   You either have to tap into those channels or look elsewhere.

So we took a bus to Clifton, the anchorage we had evacuated nearly a week ago.   What do y0u know, but they had eggs and bread, so we bought a little more knowing this would probably have to last for several days.   I had seen a little marine supply place in the cruising guide's map of the town, so asked directions a few times and finally found the place.  Locked up tight, dark as a tomb.   Hmmm, it was 11:00am.   A lady sitting across the street said, "you just call him and he'll come open up."

Well, I wasn't sure I even needed anything all that much, so just said thanks and turned to walk back.  When I heard a clink-clink of a hammer on metal and saw a guy with long greasy hair and a force 10 tan working on an outboard in a small lean-to.   He was wearing flip flops and a dog was napping nearby, its t0ngue nearly touching the dirt floor.  There was a little sign over the door, "Unitech".   I poked my head in and asked if he had a safety cutoff clip; it's a small plastic piece that attaches to the outboard and its other end goes around your wrist.  If you fall overboard, it pops off the outboard with you, thus cutting off power to the engine.   We had been living without one, a small zip tie having been fitted into the spot by the previous owner.

Hearing my question, he went in the back and started digging through plastic bins of old parts, many clearly destined for a dust to dust future.   Thirty seconds and he came up with an 'ah-ha!' expression.  It was kinked and a bit greasy, but he said, with a heavy French accent, "It shood work".  I had only a vague idea of what the real one looked like and I hesitated.  "Don't worry" he continued, "You take it and if it works you can come back and pay."   A bead of sweat was trickling down his leathery face and through dense 3-day stubble.

Maybe that's the line he uses on the all the Yanks he takes for suckers, but it worked on me.  I  paid the $15EC ($6) he asked for and took it on faith that he knew his business.

He did, as it turned out, so now we are up to speed on the outboard safety checklist.  We got back to the dock and both Lisa and I were craining our necks to see if the dink was still there; it was, of course.   We loaded up and headed back.  As we approached the anchorage I saw a new boat anchored near us.   As we got closer, I recognized it as Alouette, who we had met and enjoyed getting to know some last week at Tyrrel Bay.  The girls when ballistic, trying to jump off the dinghy as we passed them.   There was much yelling and jumping about.

We got back and getting them to unload the groceries was pointless.   They were already stripping down and changing into swimwear regardless of the finer points of Puritan modesty...oh well.  Their clothes lay in three small piles on the floor as if they'd magically disappeared without them.

Before long everyone was on our boat and the madness lasted for hours and involved no less than 361 leaps from various boat parts into the water, the capture of scores of moon jellies (gangsters, they called them) while they rounded them up in plastic cups and squished them just for the feel of it.

About 3:00pm another boat pulled in.  It was Abracadabra, the other kid boat from Tyrrel Bay.  Then, Ocean Odyssey, whom we'd just met as they went to town to clear in with customs, returned with their 8 year old.  The volume went through the ceiling.

Hours passed and mass calories were burned, which was the point of it all I guess.  What with all the distractions, the adults enjoyed some much needed uninterrupted conversation while I whipped up a huge pot of chili and another of brown rice with an eye for not having much time to cook in the near future.

We finally dispersed everyone back to their respective Mother Ships in time for dinner, which was devoured in typical garbage disposal style.  The exhaustion is beautiful.   You can just seen their bodies thriving on sunshine, water, fresh air, friends and piles of basic food.

Nika couldn't manage to stay awake through our history discussion, but that's okay.   The Middle East conflicts are more than a 7 year old really needs to tackle.

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Day 110 ~ A peaceful anchorageJanuary 2nd, 2011

Frigate Rock, Union Island

It was time to move.   With strong northerly winds of the past few days, Chatham bay has become party central.  The trailer park is bigger than ever and now sport dirtbikes zipping past at full throttle all day and most of the night.   Well, dingies instead of dirt bikes, but the effect of their two stroke buzz bombs for motors is the same.

We had a quick breakfast and then did the home to boat conversion.  I must say, things are going faster each time as everyone knows better what to expect and what they can do to help.

We picked out anchor right out from underneath our neighbor and said goodbye.   We motored around the south west end Union Island, retracing our previous track.  I was kicking around where to go next when the fishing reel started clicking.  Action!

There was no yelling this time, but still some general confusion as we throttled back and scrambled to arrange an welcoming committee (bucket, hammer, gloves, etc).

He was small for the big gear, but a nice meal's worth of a jack.   Since pasta was already the plan, we just kept the chicken in the fridge and did a side of fresh Jack.   And succulent he was.

We were near the first potential anchorage so, since we were already slowed down, we broke out the "big gun" wifi super antenna and found an open network.   That made the decision easy.   We worked out way up into the Frigate Rock anchorage and found a nice, wide space with about 3 meters of water.   Just right.

Seeing a varied bottom again, I went with the big Bruce from the get-go and he set fast and hard.   I am really liking this guy.   Glad I didn't trade him for another plow style without giving him a chance.

We were settled into a nice uncrowded anchorage and checking email by 10:15 in the morning; it felt great.   The girls hit the water and we swam over to the anchor together.  Looked good so will sleep well tonight.

Did an early lunch, then did some history work with the girls and ended up discussing Buddism versus Christianity, the whole empty versus full approach to life.   Seeking Nirvana by deciding you didn't really want what you can't get always did seem like a cop out but I tried not to be too critical, giving the girls space to consider the ideas that have influenced the world.

We went snorkling on a nearby reef after deciding that the outside was just a little too rough for the girls to handle.  I think it was too rough for me to handle, for that matter.  We found a magical little pile of rocks and coral, probably only 100 x 50 feet in size, but host to a wide array of cool fish, including a real life eel tucked in the rocks and looking as hideous as ever.   Fortunately he was small (1 foot or so).   It was a blast and we stayed in the water until the cold drove us back home.  Yes, the cold, it's been a little cooler lately and as soon as we are out of the water, the wind turns the tropics into a spring time in Seattle feeling, or worse.

Our neighbors include a boat named "Cool Change" and they had invited us to stop by.   So, we got washed up and headed over.   They were good friends with our boat's previous owners, so filled us in on some details like, "you got two solar panels from us and that fridge used to be ours too..."

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Day 109 ~ Weather RulesJanuary 1st, 2011

Chatham Bay, Union Island

Well, we had plans today.  Plans to move, plans to find internet, plans to get some stuff done, etc.   Not having a fixed schedule is kind of the point of this escapade so, when it started raining hard and blowing harder about 2:00am, we were out setting up our water tanks to soak in the bounty.  After a few starts and stops, we were full and returned to a fitful night of sleep broken intermittently by the carousing of our white trash party neighborhood of late and partly by the sound of another torrential down pour, a thousand sheep marching over your head.

Dawn brought broken clouds and the promise of a nice day.   We wanted to hike the nearby mountain and then move to another anchorage just 4 miles up the chain to the island of Mayreau.  But it was not to be.  The port auxilary alternator's belt has been screeching on almost every engine start.   It should be a 5 minute fix to tighten the belt.   Two hours later, our cool morning hike window had passed and I had completely removed the alternator, replaced the primary mounting bolt, found and fitted a spare belt and re-assembled everything.   Another boat maintenance thrill.

We were debating just moving on, when the weather closed in again.  More rain and sheets of it at that.  Lisa started moving spare buckets around to catch the odd draining drips and, before long, had three buckets full, enough to do a full load of laundry.   So, out came the chemicals and the piles and, an hour later, the idea of moving the boat anywhere was laughable.  The entire cockpit was a jungle of drying textiles, roughly akin to what must happen in the back of a every rural Malaysian roadside inn.

Oh well, the girls and I went to the beach and reviewed the World War II to Korean era, then covered Vietnam and the emergence of the Powell Doctrine first seen in the Gulf I.   Again, much was missed I am sure, but not all.  Nana particularly is fascinated by history, so her questions keep things rolling.

Headed back to the boat and geared up for the hike, which is never a quick process.   We got underway at 3:30pm, which is the magical transition from hot to bearable if the sun is out.   However, with heavy clouds and a lively breeze most of the day, it was very comfortable.

Up the hillside we scrambled, at times having to clutch clumps of grass to keep from sliding back down the steep slope.   You guessed it, the view from the top and the blast of fresh breeze were exhilarating.

After a rest we meandered through a rolling meadow only to crest one roll and face a blast of wind and the sweeping view of the neighboring islands and sea beyond.   Incredible.  We took an alternate route down and found an easier descent, which was a relief.   Jerry, the owner of one of several beach side "restaurant/bar" combos which is really just picnic tables on sand under a rough lean-to, was at his place so we chatted for the third time since our arrival.   He strikes us as a really geniune, down to earth guy who doesn't need anything from us, just enjoys talking.   His huge knit hat stretches to contain what must be enough hair to cover several professional basketball heads.

After a swim and showers, it was time for some real down home white trash cooking.   Hot dogs, beans and rice.   There were scant leftovers, the vultures.