March 2011 ~ Leeward Islands
Day 168 ~ Exploring the WrecksMarch 1st, 2011
The day started as most of the last several have. Clouds, rain, wind and then sun followed by a breakfast, lessons and then Löma time. Also on today's agenda though was some long overdue snorkeling. There are two sailboats washed up on the northern beach Nana and I have been talking about checking them out for several days now.
After some chilly snorkeling (the locals say the wind cools the waters), we headed back to the boats to dry off and warm up a bit. Then Sebastian (Löma dad) and the kids loaded up to check out the wrecks of someone else's dream. It's a sobering experience to pick through the carnage that someone was so proud of just a few years ago. The two craft are an interesting study; one was custom constructed of steel and its hull remains intact. The other was a production fiberglass boat that was cranked off the line by Beneteau (the Wal-mart of the boat world) a few years back.
The hull of the fiberglass boat was incredibly thin. Not more than 3/8" thick below the waterline. It was clearly molded as one flat, thin shell and then had stringers, or more appropriately named "stiffeners", added after the fact to keep it from buckling in when it sat in the water. Well, guess what? Contact with a few boulders quickly revealed that which was glassed in and that which was tacked on. The "stiffeners" popped right off the inside of the skin leaving behind just the faintest shadow of where they had been slapped on for added "strength". Kind of the way politicians spice up their agendas with a few carefully selected case studies. The first time the pathetic plastic hull had come in contact with reality, it had been beaten to bits.
The steel hull, on the other hand, was mostly unscathed, just slowly being chewed away by the rust devils. Much of the interior remained. Makes you wonder why it was scrapped at all. Must have been insured.
Nana asked a lot of questions and everyone picked through the rubble, which had already been filtered for everything of value.
Once back, Nina and I went to "town", basically just a strip of restaurants, and found a few tomatoes and some lettuce, but had no luck with a "citron" (lemon).
Lisa made another batch of her much sought after homemade tortillas and Lola joined us for another dinner, which disappeared as fast as they all do. Snappers.
Day 169 ~ Mr. Pelée rulesMarch 2nd, 2011
The day finally came. Löma headed South and we headed North. Nika, Nana and Lola were in tears. Makes a guy feel pretty low, but the reality is we aren't quite ready to immigrate to France yet. I suspect we'll see them again.
We upped anchor about 11:00a and had light airs until reaching the Fort de France Bay. When the winds picked up, we had a great sail under sunny skies. I am finally figuring out this rig and managed to get 8.5 knots out of 14 knots of wind, as it should be.
Once in the wind shadow of the Pitons du Carbet, things taperered off until the boat completely stalled. Oh well, we tried. The engines fired right up and we were burned diesel for the last hour into St. Pierre.
The anchorage here is on the lip of a steep shelf and, with numerous boats already on the hook, it took some time to find a spot we could drop Bruce in and still have enough swing room. We dropped in 12.8 meters of water, but are hanging over 22 meters with 50 meters of scope in between.
We headed into town for some exploration.
St. Pierre was completely wiped out by a volcanic eruption in 1902. The mayor caved in to pressure from the plantation owners who didn't want any disruptions to their farms. When the mountain spewed a toxic gas during the catastrophe, 30,000 people died. Well, everyone except a guy who went down to his cellar and a prisoner in the dungeon. Politicians don't seem to have changed much.
It's clear that numerous buildings in town are built on the broken remains of old structures. Sad as it is, the most exciting discovery was whole wheat flour in the local supermarket. Having searched the big and small stores in each place we've visite, we were surprised to find it here. Although, it came at a premium price of 4 Euros for a kilo. Ouch.
We didn't have a real lunch, so the whole way home the girls were obsessing about food. French Toast with a side of sausage quelled the uprising but came at quite a cost. Fourteen eggs, 1/2 pound of sausage, 2 baguettes, 3 oranges and a tomato. Wow.
Day 170 ~ Laundry & TheatreMarch 3rd, 2011
You can only recycle clothes for so long in Alaska, and in the tropics it's like this: Take the kitchen garbage, dump out the contents of the bag, remove the bag, cut the two bottom corners and make a hole in the top. Now slip it on and enjoy.
And so, laundry day was upon us again. That meant hauling two huge bags to the nearest laundromat, pumping coins into the machines and watching the clothes spin around. What fun. We had spotted a laundromat on our initial walk through town and it seemed right next to the dock. Now, carting heavy awkward bags the "right next" turned into a mile, then two miles. It was probably 0nly a few blocks, but with the sun beating down and the temperature inching up, the distance grew with each step.
While we waited for the laundry, the girls and I checked out the local "magasin de bricolage" (hardware store). I didn't find the parts I needed, but we did find a shovel and bucket that should work great at the beach. After, we recovered our threads and beat it back to the boat for a swim and some lunch. We were mobing up again for a trip to the Mt. Pelée museum of Death and Destruction (not the official name) when yells of joy filled the air, "Singing Frog! Singing Frog is here!"
There was a tremendous pounding of feet, yelling and running about waving frantically lest they miss seeing us. Singing Frog, with three boat kids, wove around the anchorage and finally got all set. They called on the radio to say they were headed to the museum. So we all dinghied over and the kids had fun checking out the melted artifacts from the explosion, including a flattened bell twice the size of the Liberty Bell. Photos of the town just after the blast look pretty grim, very similar to Hiroshima, actually.
Kids being kids, we grabbed a few Otter Pop like things and mosied back to the dock. The Frogs are headed off for an overnight passage to Guadeloupe so they grabbed a few pizzas and hit the proverbial road.
We wandered around the back streets of town, finding an old church, parish and many old cobblestone streets from centuries past. To an Alaskan, where everything is new, it's an odd feeling to walk on streets laid down before George Washington was born.
The most impressive ruins were an old theater, circa mid-1800s, which had been the civic center of the town. Huge stone walls, grand staircases, fountains and the works. Pelée was impressed, or I should say, made an impression. The walls were flattened and remain today much as they were in 1902, the day after. The neighboring prison was likewise demolished, old twisted steel bars remain in piles in the corner. The bars were nearly 2" square, putting to shame the value engineered containment systems of today.
I am sure the jailer was confident nothing could get out, or in. Guess he hadn't counted on a few tons of smoking boulders. He probably even had lunch plans. You always will.
Day 171 ~ Backtracking, AgainMarch 4th, 2011
Well, we should be heading north today, a 70+ miles passage to Guadeloupe, the largest of the Caribbean islands, and also a French territory. However, we have some shopping and searching to attend to and realized that Fort de France, and Martinque, are probably the most developed islands we'll see for several weeks. It makes sense to take advantage of it. And, it was only 12 miles back.
The sun was out in force today, and by 11:00a it was pretty hot. The girls and I went for a nice long swim and then started the condo-to-boat conversion process, which is getting smoother with every practice.
We upped anchor about 1:00p only to find a snarl of seaweed and fishing line complete with lure. We raised the sails but quickly stalled out in the wind shadow of Martinique's central peaks (Pitons du Carbet). The engines fired right off, and we burned diesel for the final 2 hours back to Fort de France.
The anchorage was pretty full, but we finally found a decent spot. The guide says the bottom is rocky, so once again, Mr. Bruce was called upon and, after bouncing and grinding for a number of yards, caught firmly.
It was still hot, so we swam again, and caught glimpses of a couple of turtles popping their heads out on both sides of the boat. I rigged the Bosun's chair to the rope swing and Nika enjoyed it immensely, swinging continuously for an hour or more.
Did dinner of omelettes and hashbrowns: 12 eggs, 1/2 pound of ham, 1/2 pound of cheese, 3 pounds of potatoes and 1/2 kilo of yogurt with nary a trace of leftovers. There must be some growing going on.
Day 172 ~ Fort de FranceMarch 5th, 2011
The Fort de France anchorage is amazingly peaceful, considering the size of the city located just 100 meters away. The Fort is still in operation, over 300 years after its founding, with a nice assortment of French Navy ships docked just on the other side, to the East of us.
After a quick breakfast (quick by family standards) we mobilized and headed to shore to check out the lay of the land. Being a late Saturday morning before a holiday (Le Carnaval), the streets were jammed with families enjoying the sun and doing last minute holiday shopping.
We checked out the local marine chandlery but didn't find any good solar shower parts. While we were there we met Rob from Artira and he invited me to stop by later, "I have more than one of everything". One thing led to another and by the time we found a grocery store that wasn't a zoo, fixed Nana's glasses and stocked up on some creative supplies (i.e. paper), it was well into the afternoon.
We had noticed a new kid boat earlier in the morning, Remi De from Down Under. We swung by their boat only to find no one home. Nika, the shy girl who, only a few months ago never wanted to go meet anyone new, blurted out in disappointment, "A new friend I don't get to meet!"
There's also a German boat named "Bagalut" that we have seen at many other anchorages. It's a work of art, an aluminum catamaran. Today I finally worked up the courage to go talk to them. Wrote out a note in German just in case they didn't speak English that basically said, "When you want to sell your boat, call me".
Well, they both spoke excellent English and invited me up. It's a beautiful boat. The owner built 9 other custom boats before building his and, by then, knew what he wanted. It's constructed from Alu-Star, a German alloy developed for the military. Unlike all the other aluminum boats I have seen, this has no aluminum "slime" feeling and doesn't discolor your hands, towels or whatever. It's also set up for cold weather, with blow-foam insulation, and a heater.
About the time I got back, the girls noticed that Remi De had a dinghy bouncing around behind her, so we headed over and met Bruce, Toni, and Remi (almost 6). Before long, Bruce was towing the whole gang around on an inflatable surfboard. One girl would fall in and the others would jump in just for fun. Bruce soon gave up the tow idea and just let the girls jump on and off the board. They all eventually ended up at our boat and an hour later the sun had set and we had compared notes on numerous points of interest.
Dinner of burgers and sawdust buns mellowed the girls out nicely. Now the sounds of a Mexican marimba band are floating out over the water. A bit confusing hearing Spanish here, but hey, it's not the usual head banging, ear splitting noise we often hear in these parts, so a welcome change. They just started on the Pink Panther theme.
Day 173 ~ Work and PlayMarch 6th, 2011
Being Sunday we kicked back a little in the morning, but by 9:00a all the girls could talk about was seeing Remi De. They are only the second kid boat we have met that's larger than ours, so the girls were itching to get over and have a look.
One thing lead to another, and they ended up spending the entire day with them. Since they are anchored within shouting distance we enjoyed the kid break while watching them run around, jump on the trampolines, swim and do other kid boat stuff.
Lisa swam over about noon. I had a few client issues calling, so hit the laptop hard for several hours while the boat was kid free. Connectivity was horrible, but having the laptop set up as an Apache web server allows work to get done off-line, then uploaded in short bursts. It saved the day once again.
By about 5:30p it was time to start working on dinner. Since leaving the English speaking islands there's been a terrible chicken shortage. Well, they have chicken here in France, but it's the sorriest, scrawniest, boniest excuse for chicken possible. Just 24 miles away in St. Lucia we paid $7EC for chicken legs that are large enough to carry a whole meal; here in Martinique they look like elongated chicken nuggets, with skin, and they cost $7 Euros, three times the price.
We finally stumbled on some reasonably priced parts, so fired up the barbie (Aussie speak learned from Remi De) and enjoyed a nice change of protein.
Day 174 ~ Back to St. PierreMarch 7th, 2011
It's covered more in the Caribbean overview pages, but the locals here have a phenomenal tolerance to blaring noise. Here's a brief experiment to see if you can take a Caribbean style parade:
Find the biggest pot in your kitchen, with lid. Go out to your garage and take a helper with you. Turn on the ignition to both of your cars. Leave the garage door closed. Open all the car doors. Get two hammers, take one and give the other to your companion. Turn on the stereos of both cars and crank the volume so loud that the speakers start sounding fuzzy and distorted (this is the quiet part). Have your companion start hitting the lid of the pot with a hammer at an irregular tempo, nothing too orderly, just random, while honking the horn of the car with whichever foot is available.
Now comes the good part. Put the pot over your head and start striking it with the hammer with one hand at random intervals while honking your car's horn with continuous 20 second blasts in between 5 second breaks. Change the radio station to something really obnoxious, but different than your helper's car.
Now do this continuously for 6 hours.
As incredible as this sounds, it's pretty close to the incredible, indescribable cacophony that rocked the anchorage from 3:00pm to 9:00pm yesterday and started again today at 5:30am. "Le Carnaval" they call it locally, but juvenile is what it is in reality. I know, that's judgmental; bad me. If you are half deaf I am sure it's all good. However, after the kids went to check it out for curiosity's sake, they came running back minutes later complaining of headaches. Really. And I am not joking about the horns or their random timing.
I guess it's what you are used to, but if you are used to hearing yourself think, or thinking period, then it's a pretty tough experience to stomach. Guess I am just culturally insensitive. No wait, sensitive. Anyway, we're out of here.
We upped anchor about 1:00pm and motored most of the way back to St. Pierre which leaves us staged well for the 70+ mile run to Guadeloupe which we hope to make tomorrow. The weather forecast is not ideal, calm winds and seas, which is good, but slow. Not sure what kind of time we'll be able to make or what angle we'll be able to sail.
Guess we'll find out.
Remi De was already in St. Pierre when we arrived, so we swam over and chatted for awhile, then Nina and I went to down in search of 'des oeufs' (eggs) without much luck. All the stores are closed for Carnaval but we managed to find some tomatoes at a floral shop; guess they grow more than just roses.
Day 175 ~ Making TracksMarch 8th, 2011
We set our distance record today, which isn't saying much. Like a turtle bragging about relative velocity, we burned off some miles today, but remain well behind the pack of kid boats we first met in Carriacou a couple of months ago. We made 74.5 miles in 10 hours, 47 minutes, averaging just under 7 knots. We motored at least half that time since we were in the wind shadow of Dominica for a good 4 hours.
Date/Time:03/08/2011 10:14:50 AKST
With the wind predictions calling for mild conditions we raised the main all the way today, a first in months. It looked good to see the full sail up and pulling. The highlight of the trip was two whales which came over to give us a close pass (if you know what kind they are, shoot us an email). They looked us over pretty well from about 30 feet away and then blew a couple of puffs and dove out of sight. Of course there was a mad scramble for cameras and such, but it all came down to just a few clicks and they were gone.
And, of course, the boat needed attention throughout the day. Wind shifts were commonplace, necessitating sheeting in, and then out, the sails. At one point, there was no wind and the swell caused the main to flap around so much we contemplated dropping it all together but found that just releasing the tension on the halyard (line the pulls it up) caused the snapping to subside.
And the starboard engine shifting cable came off its harness, meaning that when you push the shift/throttle lever forward, the engine revs up, but nothing happens. Nice. A half hour of hanging upside down in a toasty engine room bobbing around in the swell with sweat running in your eyes is a must-have experience. But hey, it shifts into gear now, which allowed us to pour on the petrol for the last half of Dominica and make our anchorage before sun down.
We trolled the entire day and hooked a nice little Tuna just as we passed over the banks of the Saints (a small group of islands off the southwest tip of Guadeloupe.) We were under full sail making 8 knots+ when the little sucker hit. Poor thing. I heard the drag start to click, looked back and saw the his silhouette bouncing along the top of the waves. I grabbed the pole, and should have just released more line, but instead gave a jerk and he and the hook parted ways. There's been quite a dry spell on the trolling front so he would have been very welcome into the family. Alas, we'll have to keep trying.
We motored into the Bourg de Saintes anchorage and dodged around for a while looking for a spot. Lots of boats and deep soundings (meaning lots of chain required) finally drove us to the back of the pack. There's a little cross swell here making our stop less than ideal, but Mr. Bruce did his duty on first contact so we called it a night, slapped some burgers on the "barbie" (Nika loves that word) and crashed.
Day 176 ~ Keeping the British at BayMarch 9th, 2011
Up to this point, we have seen British forts and British guns, huge cannons now rusty relics of a pre-nuclear era when heavy iron ruled supreme. They were each impressive in their turn. Today, we saw their rivals.
Fort Napoleon on the island of Terre d'en Haute explained in cement, stone and steel why the 750,000 people of Guadeloupe, Martinique and surrounding islets speak French to this day. It's a master work, dwarfing the British structures in scale, quality, workmanship and brains. I am sure the King could have built a similar work, and probably did in places, but the French invested more here and it shows sterling a century and a half later.
I have seen numerous commercially installed retaining walls in the States fail in a matter of a few years. Here was a stone wall, built 160 years ago, holding back a 30 foot embankment and spanning well over 100 yards. I sighted it down and couldn't perceive a half inch of deflection. While structures up and down these islands are crumbling, the Fort walls, over 40 feet high in many places surrounding an inner fort of three stone walled stories, look in near perfect condition. Well the cut stone stairs are wearing down, but hey, stone is stone.
The Fort closes at noon, so we meandered down the hill and through the small town. We found a sandwich shop and enjoyed a baguette sandwich with butter, cheese and ham. Who needs veggies anyway?
The girls found a statue in the part that was kid-climbable and spent an hour or more polishing the grime and bird poop off with their hands, feet and clothing. When Bruce (Remi De dad) brought back a couple of bowls of "chippies" (french fries) the girls dug in with nothing less than carnivorus gusto. A few fistfuls were already down the hatch when I saw the color of their hands.
Now, when you have your first child, you are careful to wash the pacifier off any time it touches anything. By the third, you just stuff it back in and chalk it up to immune system booster credit.
So we come to these hygiene junctures where we have to decide whether we are going to be remembered as the jerks who interrupt every exciting moment to break out the hand wipes, or if we're going to let the pirates eat the chippies with hands au natural, as kids have been doing for centuries.
I turned away and struck up a conversation with Bruce about boats. The perfect distraction.
I headed back to the boat and did some client catch up for an couple of hours while Lisa and the crew played at the beach. Then it was a quick dinner of pasta and white sauce (an all time favorite). Nika fell asleep at the table. I thought she might be faking it to get out of brushing her teeth until I noticed that she was asleep face first into the cushion, the full weight of her head mashing her nose into the seat. You've got to hate it when that happens.
Day 177 ~ Simple IntentionsMarch 10th, 2011
The anchorage was rolly all night. We awoke with an unspoken determination to get moving and find some place calmer, despite the attractions ashore. But, first the details. We still need to check in, find a post office to mail postcards, and get a few food items. Lisa took the girls to give me some work time.
By the time they returned the anchorage was so rough that getting the girls out of the dinghy was like pulling them up off a trampoline in an earthquake. However, we managed to haul the dink up and the awnings in. The engines fired and we welcomed Bruce back into the family. It was only about 10 miles to our next anchorage, off the city of Basse Terre, Guadeloupe's second largest.
The wind angle made the sail from Terre de Haute to the southwestern tip of Guadeloupe's mainland a wonderful reach. In 10-12 knots of wind we made 8-9 knots under full sail. The motion was easy and gentle. Lisa took a nap while the girls listened to stories and created a lego cooking show.
As we rounded the corner and headed north up the western coast of Guadeloupe we were suddenly facing 4-5 northerly swells and 15-18 knots of northerly wind, right on the nose. The trades are always broken up by land masses, but usually they swirl around and shift as we go. We burned diesel for a half an hour but nothing changed. To make matters worse, our intended anchorage along Basse Terre was completely unprotected from the north. I could see a few boats toughing it out but they were bouncing around like popcorn in a frying pan.
Given our last couple of bouncy nights, I knew that wasn't going to fly with this crew. The chart showed two more anchorages with northerly protection further up, 6 miles and 13 miles into the swell. My simple 1 hour outing was turning into a full-on expedition. Ouch.
We could go back where we came from, but that was too discouraging to consider, so we throttled up and just pounded into it. Minutes dragged on. The girls hunkered down in their favorite corners. Waves came up and through the tramp, the deck awash many times.
With wind and waves on the nose, we were only making 6.3 knots over ground. The coast crawled by at a snail's pace. I would see a landmark, look away for what seemed an eternity and then look back to only find it a few inches further along than before. Lost my hat overboard for the third time. Another good way to practice man overboard drills. We nailed it on the second pass. Hmmm, more practice would be good.
About 2 hours into it, the fishing pole started bouncing. We throttled back and reeled in a decent barracuda. Since Ciguaterra is common this far north we were in the midst of deciding his fate when he flopped free. Well, that made it simple.
We pulled into Anse à la Barque. It's a tight, deep anchorage suitable for a few boats, but a dozen local boats were already there as well as three cruisers. If we were desperate it would have had to do, but we opted to keep grinding north in hopes of more room and a better night's sleep.
Well, we found it under Pointe Malendure. It's a beautiful, calm spot with a shallow sand anchorage, as it turned out. A welcome repose after a rough grind. We motored in and set the Bruce just as the sun was setting behind Pigeon Island. There were a few other boats around, but it was just what the doctor ordered and we all drew a collective sigh and just chilled out until the darkness deepened fully.
Day 178 ~ Scoping Out the 'HoodMarch 11th, 2011
The anchorage we would have sailed past without a thought, had it not been for the miserable conditions yesterday, appears to be a real gem. The winds are a little fluky due to the steep terrain surrounding us, but it's quiet and peaceful, with excellent anchor holding in pure sand on a flat shallow bottom. A dream come true for the Texan paranoia among us.
And, I hate to say this out loud, but the reality is getting hard to deny...
It's cold up here this far north and such. We're 16 degrees north of the Equator, Man, and it's downright chilly at times. We must be headed the right direction after all.
Seventy-five miles doesn't seem like much, or look that far on a chart, but since making the crossing from Martinique, it's noticeably cooler with lower humidity. Lisa broke out the blankets a couple of nights ago, and they were welcomed with enthusiasm on all quarters.
It was so cool, we shut a hatch just to retain warmth last night, a first for sure. It was 72 degrees at 8:00am this morning. I even got by with a cotton shirt for a few hours -- unthinkable just a hundred miles south, where sweat erupts the moment anything with insulation value touches the skin.
Now Lisa is grousing about wanting to take showers indoors out of the wind. Insanity!
We all dinghied up and headed into town, only to find it completely dockless, a first in French territory. So we punted and dropped an exploratory party off at the beach. Lisa and Nina hoofed it the 3/4 mile into town and returned with good news. A car rental place, laundromat, butcher, two decent grocery stores, and more, just a 20 minute walk away.
Across from the anchorage is a marine reserve around Pigeon Island. A number of operations offer day scuba diving trips. Having seen prices around $80 US for these in the past, I figured the cost in Euros would be outlandish. However, when we found out they will equip you and guide you (underwater) for 35 Euros so Lisa signed up for a Sunday trip. It will be her third dive and, with her new underwater camera, she's looking forward to it.
We also decided to rent a car for a day and expand our horizons a little. Lisa went back to book it, but the one-man shop is closed from 12-2 and, when we returned at 4:15, he had already closed for the day. Ahhh, the French. Just have to give it a go tomorrow.
Day 179 ~ Water and WorkMarch 12th, 2011
With our water strike out yesterday, the pressure was on this morning to find some. Lisa's french connection here made all the difference. The dive shop on the beach she booked with had indicated that we were free to use their hose, so we mobilized forces this morning and headed over.
It's high time the girls carried some of their own water. At least that was the theory. As it turned out, the hose was right next to their gearing up area and clients were already there. It just didn't seem appropriate to march three kids back and forth through their staging area with buckets.
So, we opted for the low key approach. Lisa filled a few jugs and we both carried them back to the dink while the girls looked on. Not exactly the plan, but we brought home 20 gallons, and that's enough for a couple more days.
Lisa also managed to book a rental car for Monday. At 35 Euros for the day, including insurance, it's a pretty good deal. In Martinique, the basic cost was in the 50s, and went up smartly from there.
Kind of nervous about driving after 4 months of maxing out at 15 mph in the dingy. At least it's right-hand drive on nice roads with western standard patterns, I think.
Lisa also found out that there was internet at a restaurant just down the road, so I gathered up the gear and hit the web hard for a few hours while the girls did their French, math and literature work.
The clouds burned off about the time Lisa picked me up so Nina, Nana and I went snorkeling around the boat for a bit. The water is perfectly clear with star fish turtles. Not a bad way to wash the electrons off one's brain.
Nana and I were rustling up some drumsticks and 'taters when I heard yelling and running on deck. Either something, or someone, fell over board, or a kid boat arrived.
Turned out to be Tépacap, whom we had met with Loma a couple of weeks ago in St. Anne. Two boys about 11 and 8. They dinghied over once they were set and we caught up on all the kid boat movements.
After they left, I heard Nika the previously shy one say, "Well, now we have something to look forward to!"
When dinner was devoured and evening chores done we read another couple chapters in the first Sherlock Holmes story, a Study in Scarlet. I didn't think it would hold their interest, but I was sorely mistaken.
Day 180 ~ Sara's BirthdayMarch 13th, 2011
Nika turns 8 tomorrow, but we have a car rented and know that it will be a crazy day, so we decided to celebrate today. Tépacap unexpectedly motored by to anchor next to us so Lisa made a cake (the best kind, from scratch) and we invited them over for an impromptu birthday party. They have two boys who speak only French; but hey, some kids are better than none.
About 11:00am I was below doing something, and heard running and screaming. Singing Frog arrived (3 kids) and, so, of course, they were invited as well. About an hour or two later, Remi De also showed up and, before long, it was a regular shindig, as if we planned the whole thing. The kids came over early and, once again, it was kid mayhem for hour upon hour. We opened presents and broke out the snacks and the hours ticked by. We parents compared notes on all things cruising while the kids rope swung, legoed and, in general, thrashed the boat while having an all around good time.
By the time everyone dingied home it was well after dark. There was a good hour of cleaning and dish washing, but everyone agreed it was one of the best days yet. Nika no longer minded having to celebrate her big day a day early.
Day 181 ~ Whirlwind TourMarch 14th, 2011
We rented a little micro-French car for the day and explored Guadeloupe, the largest of the Caribbean islands. It's an odd combination of steep and windy mountain roads connected to flat-out four lane freeways zooming over low undulated farm lands.
There were many times when it felt like we were driving through any small farming town in Arkansas or Georgia. The French government roads, signage and infrastructure have permeated to the very roots of the island. We had nearly reached the extreme eastern tip of the island and needed a lunch stop. We turned the corner and found a beautiful little park, complete with quaint gazebo over a picnic table, artistically done garbage bins and concrete boat launch. After several months in the third world, it was like a page from a fairy tale, freshly painted in pastel colors, over looking a vanilla cream beach with turquoise water. It was surreal.
We had only ham sandwiches, but they just tasted better. Guess the "authentic" caribbean wears thin after a bit.
We stopped at a few shops here and there, a bricolage (hardware store) and Uship (boat parts place) with little success. We did hit a few large grocery stores and stocked up on things that seem to be really cheap in France, like boxed milk and locally grown pure cane sugar. If it's not cheap here, we're not sure where it could be.
We returned via the southern route around Basse-Terre thereby covering a good portion of the island. We wound up back near the anchorage at the local laundromat after dark. There was a hole-in-the-wall Pizzeria that offered grilled half chickens for 4 euros and handmade pizza just around the corner in a nearly deserted strip mall. Tough to resist. The girls watched enthralled while the proprieter whipped out our pie and expertly slid it in the oven.
It disappeared in a flash after which we went to find and load the dinghy, which was just across the street, with our day's loot.
When I had tied the dinghy up hours before under a progenous tree, I had wondered at the incredible amount of guano on the boat tied next to my spot. "Wow", I thought, "they must not have washed that dink in years!"
As I climbed in the darkness down to the dinghy, which had faithfully waited patiently all day, I noticed some new spots in the hazy glow of the laundromat's parking light. First one here, and one there. Then, it dawned on me. I glanced up. Dozens of snoozing snowy egrets were nested above for the evening, resting from a hard day's fishing.
I froze. Suddenly acutely aware, I could clearly hear impacts all around. Plop, splat, splash. The intonations were only affected by the surface that received the hit. Our previously clean dink was now covered in white and gooey brown leopard spots and more was falling fast. Knots and locks, which normally come off quickly in my hands, now took forever, getting snagged and hooking on every possible ledge or crannie.
Whiz, plop, splash, splat.
The dink was free now but the outboard, which doesn't like to be left alone for more than an hour, was requiring its usual dance of priming and pulling. Plop, splot, ploosh. I bent over to prime it again when I felt the air pressure changing on my back just before the strike, which landed with a dull thud. A warm, gooey package burst over my back, adhering to my sweat-infused shirt and penetrating to my skin in a patch the size of a muffin. But of course, I wasn't laying flat, so it started to ooze down towards the beltline, finding its way into every available pore.
About that time Nina broke in from the boat launch where I was headed, "Wow Papa, look and see all those bird above you; that's amazing!"
Now, months on a boat with temperamental toilets will harden a guy a bit to the vagueries of nature and biological imperatives. But, surrounded by guano encrusted boats on a hazy night with more rounds whizzing by made for a repulsive sensation. I let out a have groan, half yell.
"Ahhhhhhhrrrrg!" I yelled, "I've been hit!"
"By what?" Nina replied
"Think about it!" was my not-too-patient reply.
As I stood up the adhesion broke free and it felt great to have the shirt and it's contents off my skin and in the breeze. The engine finally fired, and I backed out and away from the drop zone with all due speed, then promptly made the mistake of bending over again. Stick, slide, slime. Another gutteral scream.
Of course, as I motored towards the light and my innocent family, you can imagine the disgust and "oooh, gross!" that resonated through the small harbor when they saw our new leopard look. Lisa and I spent some quality time with a flashlight and used up half a box of Kleenex, trying to make the dink ready to receive our food stashes, not to mention 2 large bags of clean laundry, but we tried not to think about it too much.
At some point, you realize that nature really does have the upper hand, gravity is king and some of the tastiest things in life are savory not because of what you know, but because of what you don't.
Ignorance really is bliss.
Day 182 ~ Taxi ServiceMarch 15th, 2011
One whirlwind day lead to another. The car had to be back at 9:00am, but had to be returned clean, so Lisa was up and going with the sun. Since it looked like good lighting, she got the car returned, checked email while parked at the nearby wifi restaurant, booked another dive and dashed off to get aboard the dive boat before they left without her.
While she was ashore she met Tépacap who had hitchhiked over from Deshaies (pron. "day-ay"), the next town north, to do a canyon hike. They needed a lift back and asked if we would mind them riding with us to the next town. Of course, she said, that would be fun.
Lisa had only been back a few minutes when they called on the radio. We picked them up, upped anchor and headed north. The winds were variable so we sailed for a while, but eventually had to grind our way the last 5 miles or so.
Cédric, the Tépacap dad, knew the bottom to be sand, so we gave the CQR another try; with enough scope, she bit in hard and held us even with the engines in reverse. Guess you just have to give her the right bottom. We dingied into town and walked around a bit. Lisa checked us out (on the French Islands you just use a computer) while the girls and I hung out at stony beach for awhile. And, sure enough, Nana found a precious something, in this case a stick. We know the tropical mindset is taking hold when the first thing we think about in response to meeting the precious discovery is, "that thing isn't coming on our boat, it could be carrying roach eggs."
Well, after a few tears and discussion, we agreed it would reside in the dinghy.
Day 183 ~ North to the FutureMarch 16th, 2011
Deshaies seems like a quaint town, and offered a quiet, calm anchorage with good holding. Pure gold for the cautious cruising dad. We had previously decided to skip Antigua. The wind angle will be right at the line between sailing and pinching (where the sails are going too close to the direction of the wind and begin to stall) and we've been told it's expensive to check in.
However, that's where all the kid boats are going and the pressure wasn't so subtle to follow the herd. When the kids are happy, and distracted, parents are happy and productive, so the temptation flows both ways.
Lisa wanted to mail some postcards, so she and Nana headed to town at 8:00am in order to return by our 9:00am departure. By that time we had the boat pretty well in shape and it didn't take long to get the dink up and anchor away.
The wind picked up just around the headland so we raised the main and shut the engines down. As seems to be typical there is considerable current mixing with the trade wind wave pattern around the north and south ends of each island. This makes for short choppy waves, what is often called a "washing machine" effect. The first hour or so we would be going along smoothly for a bit only to encounter a string of steep nasty waves nearly head on. Nothing big, just 6-7 feet, but steep enough to send us airborne off the top and crashing into the gulley with a nice blast of spray.
In addition, fish pots (and their accompanying lines and buoys) kept cropping up. We ran over at least one, and probably a few others without knowing it. Since our props were folded there really wasn't much risk of becoming entangled, but eventually one of them met our fishing lure, and won. I had no choice but to cut away the line. And it was my favorite Frenzy lure, which had won more hits than anything else we have tried so far. Oh well, better that than to drag a fish pot for 40 miles.
We sailed on then, shortly over water so deep the depth sounder went blank. Once well clear of Guadeloupe, the wave pattern flattened out and calmed down considerably and we settled into a long sail. Forty-four miles isn't that far by car, but it's a good 5-6 hour run for those who float.
As we approached Falmouth Harbor, the conditions were so ideal, 14-18 knots of wind in light trade swell, that we opted to tack once to gain English Harbour, where we knew the other kid boats to be.
Once inside, we found a packed anchorage with only one visible hole. We dropped Bruce and he set the first try but we ended up swinging very close to another boat (Arita fro Sydney) and so opted to pick up and try again. Bruce set the second time right away and our position now is much better with better swing room for all. Just to be safe though, I put out a full complement of bumpers.
And sure enough, the other kid boats were here too. Before long, Remi had come to play at our place, and then they were all paddling around on a surf board, and then they were at Tépacap and their boys were in the water too.
The peacefulness aboard was so great that I cooked dinner so Lisa and I could eat, just the two of us, but you guessed it. Just as we took the first bite, they were all back in full, cold, wet dripping reality to devour the rest of the hamburgers in kid style.
Later on, we bought some good web access and were able to Facetime Grandma, a first for nearly a month.
Day 184 ~ Forced to workMarch 17th, 2011
With kid boats in the neighborhood, what was there to do but organize a history hike? Antiqua is rich with relics of the Napoleonic wars, old forts, walls, powder houses and more. We hooked up with Remi De and Tépacap at 9:00am for a hike that quickly turned toasty.
After checking out numerous ruins, we traversed up a rocky ledge, each breath tinged with the fragrance of roasting goat dung. Evidently goats are left to run wild and then, no doubt, harvested at opportune times.
The sun climbed higher and, before long, it was getting pretty toasty. We opted to not go all the way to the peak, but instead turned downwards and ended up at the Antigua Yacht Club, home to numerous superyachts including the Maltese Falcon. It's actually not that classy looking, and was outshown by Aster, Mirabella and several newer super sailboats whose clean lines and classic forms are just simply not to be beaten by any Johnny-come-latelies.
We poked around the local shops, mused at the bulletin boards plastered with the resumés of recently-fired superyacht crew members. Of course, they don't say that they were recently fired, but their looking for work in an industry that doesn't know the meaning of a downturn is a good clue. Once one has spent a few million on a boat, he's not going to skimp on a salaried position to keep it healthy.
We did lunch back at our respective floating kitchens, then Lisa took the kids to the beach while I tackled some long overdue client issues. We have good internet at anchor for the first time in several weeks and it's nice to Skype and Facetime at will.
Got things wrapped up about the time Lisa and company returned from the Naval Museum which was very well done. Remi De invited us over for a "sundowner" (snacks/drinks at sundown) which turned into a multi-hour, wide-ranging conversation covering the French mentality, best upwind sailing techniques on catamarans, homeschooling and more.
We finally left well after 10:00pm with the girls falling asleep in the dinghy during the 50 yard ride over. They'll sleep well tonight.
Day 185 ~ Hot TrailsMarch 18th, 2011
Lisa had some internet stuff to catch up on, so the girls and I decided to tackle the hike Remi De recommended. Starting from the beach in front of us, it was wonderfully shaded for the first 100 yards, then broke out into the open ridgelines which wrap the rocky south coast of Antigua.
We traversed across several lines before a beautifully terraced stone shoreline studded in crystaline transparent tidal pools rich with tiny tropical fish darting away from every shadow. Baby Sergeant Majors, wrasses, tiny puffer fish just to name a few. Nana, the tactile learner had to take her shoes off and wade through the pools to fully understand them.
We continued up then and saw Tépacap round the headland. We called them on the radio to no avail, but when Nina broke out her pink bandana and started waving they turned our direction and waved back. We shouted Au Revoir! numerous times but the wind and the waves were too much. We broke over a ridgeline that revealed the Atlantic stretching off to Africa in the distance dotted with several sails the size of which appeared as snowflakes adrift on a rippling silken sea fading off to every horizon.
After lunch on board, Nina and I visited the Naval Museum here in English Harbour. It's one of the best we have seen with many artifacts and tons of detailed placards and information panels.
We snagged some eggs and other staples from the dock store at premium prices. If we want to eat in remote places, we are going to pay. We returned to the boat and cleaned things up after several days of kid craziness, never a fun process, then devoured the tacos with gusto, Face-timed Gramma one more time before leaving wi-fi land and then hit the hay to the sound of the next-door French charter boat's 10-voice drunken chorale.
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Day 186 ~ The Daily GrindMarch 19th, 2011
It's pretty hard to complain about the weather. It's at least mostly sunny every day, rarely rains with usually just enough breeze at anchor to keep the boat cooled off. Well, today was hot. Actually, it was just windless in the anchorage and, with the normal dose of sun, by 10:00am when we were just finishing up a water haul, things were getting nice and toasty.
As we will detail in our Locations section, every area has its downside, and last night a charter boat parked right next to us. It's packed with late-20 somethings who returned from the bars plastered at 10:00pm and took it from there with table pounding yelling, drinking games and double dare challenges (all in French), then they chilled out by cranking up their music until after 2:30am, when the crew of 10 was reduced to about 3 voices. Lisa was impressed.
I have heard tell of stories where cruisers band together and raid obnoxious boats disabling key sound making equipment and, in general, sharing a little brotherly love with the offending visitors. Tough to do on your own and Rob over on Arita, our next door neighbor, sleeps just fine with his dinghy chain running up and down the side of his boat all night. My guess is he didn't lose a wink.
It was time to move, in any case, and a bad night's sleep just spurs things on. We needed water, so I headed in with all our jerries and the bladder. But without any shoes. As I was huffing it barefoot over the rough steaming pavement to the only nearby ATM I had this thought, "this being the Caribbean, I'll bet the ATM is out of order."
And so it was; a black screen of death. How nice. It must run Windows.
I managed to scrounge enough stray Euros, EC dollars and coinage to secure 55 gallons of water. After we got it loaded, Lisa and Nina headed to town to find a working cash machine and a few last minute provisions.
Then we were off, circling to the East, into the teeth of the wind and swell, which, for a change, were mercifully light. We ground away on one engine and fished the entire 8 miles around to Green Island, a charming islet in a remote setting, just a few buildings and lights sprinkled here or there off of dirt tracks. The powder white sand beaches didn't hurt either.
We pulled up behind Tépacap (which means, "I dare you to do it!" in French slang) and dropped the CQR. With 75 feet out in 10 feet of water she just bounced around on the bottom for 100 yards. I have had it with this useless hunk of a wanna-be anchor. It does occasionally work well, but only when conditions are right. So, we reeled her back in and switched to Mr. Bruce, who promptly grabbed a tenacious hold and stopped us dead in our tracks. A great feeling, I assure you.
Tépacap was over in a few minutes and, before long, the kids were having a diving contest with all the scores in French. I took the opportunity to check out a nearby wreck and do some exploring. Elixir for the male soul.
We invited Tépacap over for pasta and chicken and whiled away the evening talking boat stuff and where to go next. They don't seem to mind having us around and the girls enjoy having other kids around, even if they are clueless boys.
Day 187 ~ Exploring Nonsuch BayMarch 20th, 2011
You know how cereal boxes show the spoon about the size of a small airplane, clustered with huge Corn Flakes? If you look closely you'll see the disclaimer, "Enlarged to show texture". That's sort of the idea with the Vignettes section, which has several new postings. Enjoy.
Spent the day exploring Nonsuch bay above and below the waterline. It's a large bay protected by a outer reef. Inside are several square miles of blue-green water, deserted beaches and great kite boarding. We anchored, unwittingly, right in their favorite pathway to and from the landing/launching beach, so throughout the day we would here a "whoosh" and see a kite the size of a minivan whizzing past our veranda.
It looks like fun. It looks hard.
We went snorkeling around Submarine Rock with Tépacap in the afternoon and took several barrels of water over the bow on the way to and from and was greeted with wailing and moaning that would harbinger a return of the black plague.
Started reading the girls Part II of a Study in Scarlet and, one thing leading to another, ended up finishing it hours later, well after dinner time. Not a good way to stage yourself for an early morning sail up to Barbuda tomorrow. Guess we'll have to dig out and dust off the alarm clock. Just writing those words sends chills down my spine.
Day 188 ~ Tacking with TépacapMarch 21st, 2011
We were up and going with the sun. We had agreed to navigate out the touchy northern channel of Nonesuch Bay in company with Tépacap. We have a fairly good chart of the reefs so felt comfortable going for it.
Tépacap called right at 7am and we already had an engine running. We motored forward and by the time we had Mr. Bruce up and cleaned off, Tépacap went zipping past us. Guess they decided to lead.
The light was fairly good by then, so the reefs were clearly visible. Always nice to have something concrete in front of your eyes. There were some decent swells coming in over the reefs, but we didn't lose any kids overboard so count it all a success.
We got out into the open water and raised the sails. The winds were light and variable, so motored for the first half hour or so. They filled in nicely once we cleared the northern end of Antigua. A few hours went by, the girls listened to audiobooks and played legos while I enjoyed just sailing. We hooked and landed a really nice looking Barracuda about half way along. Since we are this far north in the land of Ciguatera, we have decided not to eat any Barracuda since they are a primary concentrator feeding on small reef fish. What we really want is a Mahi Mahi, Tuna or Mackerel, but so far it's just one Barry after another.
Barbuda's low headland was just in sight when I saw some abnormal wave action off the port side about 1/2 mile out. It looked like something thrashing about in the water. It took a few eye squinting minutes to determine that it was a humpback whale, or whales doing the "Check out this tail slap thing!". "Oh yeah, feel this body slam!"
At the call of whales ho! the girls came scrambling out with camera's a plenty. I figured by the time we got there they would gone. Instead, they just kept it up for nearly an hour while we tacked past one way and then the other. We finally just stalled out right near them and enjoyed the show. At times they would swim up near the boat and you could see them underwater twisting and turning, spinning off vortexes of bright green water.
We called Tépacap on the radio and they turned our way and enjoyed the show as well. The photos below are fun, but they don't quite capture the majesty and power on display.
Now close together, we sailed neck and neck with Tépacap trading tacks into the protection of Low Bay on Barbuda's west side. It was dream like sailing, turquoise water, trivial chop, decent wind and a huge protected bay rimmed with a frosty white hand beach tinged with pink accents of millions of tiny shells.
We anchored near Remi De and Bruce and I split the water taxi ($40) to the only town on the island Codington. We circumnavigated the town in search of Customs (in a guy's house) and Immigration (an office that we reached 5 minutes before closing) and the Port Authority, a lady we finally hunted down on a the local running track getting in her exercise. We came away with the impression that next time, we might just take a pass.
We returned in time to do a beach fire as the sunset against an electric blue backdrop rimmed with a pastel glow on the horizon. The three cats sitting at anchor in formation against the surreal backdrop was an impressive sight to soak in. With powder sand in between your toes it felt like being on the moon and looking back at your little planet, suspended effortlessly in a make believe fairy land. One where dreams really do come true.
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Day 189 ~ Sledding DownhillMarch 22nd, 2011
Barbuda is really cool; an eleven mile beach powder white, flecked with pink shells, under a full moon is pretty tough to beat. But somewhere in an undergroud super-cooled vault churns a super computer which is modeling earth's weather systems. Doppler radar satellites feed an unending stream of wind measurements, temperature and pressure variations measured to the fractions of a degree. The machines then fast-forward the tape on nature, as it were, and predict that we'll experience a day-long round of 3-4 meter seas from the wrong direction, and little wind. Not ideal sailing weather, so go now we must.
The alarm clock went off at 6:15am and and we were underway promptly by 7:00am. Remi De didn't have a good chart of the reefs in the bay, so we agreed that they would follow us out. We threaded our way out as the sun rose behind us in an unflickering ball of pastel fire.
We upped our sails in tandem and rode an effortless rush of air encouraged on by following seas which steadily built as we passed out of the Barbuda's wave shadow.
We hooked a decent fish only minutes after wetting a line but, as Remi De was just pulling past us on the windward side, we had no easy way to slow down. The poor rascal planed for a while bouncing off of waves and submerging again. Eventually he broke off.
The waves evened out and lessened as we progressed. I finally switched lures from the Berkley Frenzy look-like-a-swimming fish plastic and metal lure to the I-am-a-cute-little-pink-squid-that-you-can't-resist tuna catcher. We added some hootchi skirks, extra weights and a Mustad double hook. I was in the galley whipping up a stack of pancakes when the reel started running. Too bad for the cakes.
After several botched chances, Lisa and I now have a more cohesive fish response. We turned into the wind and fired an engine to keep the boat moving at just enough speed to keep the fish behind us. By instinct, a hooked fish seeks shelter under the boat and the will invariably wrap the line around the rudder or prop, giving it the leverage it needs to break the line and escape.
Been there, done that. Lisa kept the throttle nursed while I slowly worked the fish in. We were hoping, praying, for something other than a Barracuda. Blue-water fish are safe to eat, reef predators are not, this far north. As the fish tried desperately to get under the boat, I could see rich green and yellow hues. Hallelujah. Having learned the hard way, we dropped him straight into a Roughneck box and slapped on the lid. Blood Containment, Inc.
When I finally managed to recover the hook I found that 4 of the 7 strands of stainless steel leader had been cut through by his line of micro razor teeth. Another few minutes and he would have been gone.
We sailed on then, passing to the north of St. Bart's with a classic schooner tacking off the port side. The sun was dropping fast, so we slipped into Philipsburg, a ghost of a beach-front town in the Dutch St. Maarten if ever there was one. But, it was a protected anchorage after 10 hours underway.
Day 190 ~ Kid ReunionMarch 23rd, 2011
After two early mornings and long days, we slept in a little and puttered a bit before turning on the radio. As soon as it came on we heard Ondine being hailed. The girls went spastic and suddenly found the motivation that I can never seem to inspire. Now, prepping the boat to move suddenly held their interest.
We motored out of the bay and upped the sails. It was a nice downwind skate to the northwest corner of French St. Martin, then reached up the west side and tacked into Marigot Bay. The girls spotted Ondine from a mile out and so, naturally, we anchored nearby. Little smurfs were bouncing on both decks while James motored over to say hi and check out our plans.
The girls went over and ended up spending most of the day there, which allowed Lisa and I to find customs and a cash machine.
When Ondine dropped the girls off, the girls insisted that they join us for dinner. One thing lead to another, and the hours zipped by. At 11:00pm, hours past normal bedtime, we finally pried the kids apart and promptly sent them to bed.
Day 191 ~ Boat ShoppingMarch 24th, 2011
St. Maarten is known for its duty-free shopping, so this is the place to check out the never-ending list of minor boat parts we can live without but will live better with.
Speaking of living better, we upped anchor and moved upwind a half mile to gain better protection from the powerboats whizzing by and swell hooking around the north end of the bay. Mr. Bruce set immediately, again.
We dropped off propane canisters, ripped out tank level sensors for recalibration and thus and such, ad nauseum. I spent hours wandering through isles, pouring over catalogs, sitting at office desks piled and strewn with paperwork while the Caribbean breezes rustled palm leaves just beyond the slatted windows.
Nina and Nika went on an organized trip of snorkeling around an old wreck in Simpson Bay (Dutch side) with a bunch of other boat kids. Lisa and Nana deep-cleaned the boat, the galley, the salon, scrubbed floors and more. The boat looks great.
I got back in time to do a quick water run, not that 55 gallons from a tiny kinked garden hose is quick, but hey, it's the tropics so why do anything fast?!
Ondine had invited several kid boats over for snacks and a cartoon screening. The adults talked all things boats and boat problems until the 11 kids exploded outside to burn some post-movie energy by climbing all over the rigging, bouncing on the tramp and gobbling up the remaining food.
Dan texted me that he was on the ground and headed our way, so we rounded up the kidlets and I dropped them off on my way to get Daniel at the nearby ferry dock. We loaded his 100lbs of certified luggage into the dink, once again in more Roughneck totes destined to stay on our boat.
We stayed up late catching all the state-side news until well past midnight. Bad crusier's practice, since the first thing we have to do in the morning is rip off the wind generator and take it in for a new set of bearings.
Day 192 ~ Defining a Bad DayMarch 25th, 2011
The electronics shop says they can fix our wind generator if I get it to them first thing this morning. So, was up and going as fast as a 2:00am late nighter allows. Ran down a few bunny trails before figuring how to get the generator off without dropping it from its 8 foot perch. Then downed a quick breakfast and zipped over to the Dutch side to drop it off. Dan came along and decided to rent a bike for the day and go exploring.
Then it was back to the boat, round up the kids and laundry. Lisa dropped me off at Shrimpy's Laundry for some long-overdue internet work stuff while she and the girls sweltered in the open air/sun laundromat waiting 90 minutes for a broken washing machine to relinquish the linens.
One thing led to another, the girls and I went shopping over lunch break and, before we knew it, the day was mostly gone. We picked up Remi and then I zipped the couple of miles back to get Dan and recover the wind generator.
Bad news. The internal ceramic charging coil, the part that develops the current, is completely fried. Baked, cooked, shot. The nearest one is in Britain and it's Friday evening. Guess what that means? Time to do what the locals do best, wait.
More bad news struck when the guy I had talked to about programming our water level sensor turned up sick today; Monday is his day off. So, guess what? Time to do what the locals do best, sit around and wait.
Dan and I puttered back in the fading light, giving me time to process the setbacks and gain some much needed perspective on the definition of a bad day. The owner of Berlin, a really expensive, fast catamaran has another definition of a bad day.
James on Ondine had even another definition of a bad day. He went to check the status of his black water holding tank and the cap came off in his hand. When he went to put the new cap on, the entire top of the tank collapsed under the pressure it took to drive a tiny screw in. He described the smell as "rich"; Dan calls it the "smell of money", so we headed over to help his diagnose the problem. In other words, we just went to commiserate and provide some moral support. It cheers a heart to no end to see someone else with their head in the bilge.
Then it was a quick, late dinner of Yellowfin spaghetti (you have to try it before deciding) and a lukewarm solar shower. Ah, the joys of cruising.
Day 193 ~ Full Court PressMarch 26th, 2011
A flea market of boat parts was announced on the net, so Dan, Nina and I headed out before breakfast. These late nights with kid boats need to chill out a little. We can't keep going to bed at 11:00pm and stay in step with the early-bird cruising culture.
Turned out that there wasn't much there. Just a few old guys with a few dusty items. We bought a courtesy flag, then hoofed it over to the chandlery to try to get our tank level sensors programmed.
Marvin, the boss, was still out sick. The first few people said he had been out for a week and that they dare not call him. It was clear from their body language that fear was a major component of their relationship. Hmmm.
Finally, it was suggested that we talk to his wife who was working upstairs. A more beaten down and fearful person is hard to imagine. She was almost shaking at the thought of calling him, but agreed to do it all the same. A consent, I realized after the fact, which took more courage than I have probably mustered in the last several years in total.
At first Marvin said, no, no, too complicated, only he could do it. However, when I explained that I was a programmer and could figure out the software if we could just use the black box that the company supplies, he grudgingly agreed to do it over the internet by logging into his machine remotely. He wouldn't let me talk to him on the phone directly; I had to convey everything through his wife, who had the receiver close enough for my own voice but ended up repeating my directives verbatim anyway. After I connected all the wires, it was a trivial 3-minute process.
When I returned to the sales floor to thank the sales guy for his help I concluded by saying, "It was really simple."
"Of course it's simple," he replied, "it's about Marvin's self esteem. That's not so easy to handle."
Unlike their competitors, the store was spotless, well-organized and well-staffed. The parking lot was clean, the building freshly painted. I suddenly realized that this was all about Marvin.
We found a prop for the outboard, installed it and went over to recover the wind generator, which the guy at Eclectic explained how to re-assemble. They are really helpful and an hour of electronic's expertise only costs $45USD. Wow.
Lisa and Nina-Kate from Ondine ran to the post office in hopes of finding it open. Having arrived only 5 minutes after closing, they sweet-talked the guy into selling them some stamps anyway.
All the stuff we heard about the French being rude is complete poppy cock. Overall, they are considerably friendlier than Americans, and often go out of their way to be helpful if given the chance.
The afternoon was hot, so I went for a dip and, when I was returning from the anchor, I sensed more than saw two huge shadows under the boat. Shark was the first thing on my mind, but the shape was wrong. They were a pair of massive Tarpon, the size of a decent King Salmon. They were watching me with beady eyes. I wasn't exactly their prey, but neither were they moving away from me. This was a peer to peer relationship. I decided that they could have their medium and I would have mine and climbed out with more than usual vigor.
We debated trying to catch one, but it turns out that they aren't particularly edible, so we left them unmolested (save for a few documentary photos) to continue patroling the anchorage.
Ondine was doing another movie night, so Dan whipped up some omlettes and I dropped them off next door.
It's late now, after 10:00pm, the bean soup in the pressure cooker is whistling, some acoustic tunes are on the stereo and a crazy tropical bird is whooper whilling as it whirls invisibly through the moonless sky overhead. The boat rocks gently, the light chop is slapping the dinghy, a soft humid breeze is skating in through the hatches and the day's heat is slowly dissipating.
I am now convinced that it takes more faith to believe this immersive experience is an accident than to believe it was designed. I am just too cynical to accept that the odds add up. They don't, and pretending they do doesn't hurt the designer, it hurts us.
Day 194 ~ Nonstop in MarigotMarch 27th, 2011
From Lisa's perspective:
Remi De arrived first thing to invite the girls to 'brekkie' (breakfast in Aussie-speak) followed by a play on their boat. Daniel and I headed out to provision. On our way, we ran into Tépacap who was heading over to our boat for a quick hello before the plane arrived with visiting family in a few hours.
Dan and I continued on to the grocery store. The dinghy motor wasn't running well, but we decided to "go for it" anyway. Running on one cylinder half the time, we chugged and sputtered to the grocery store located just outside a marina full of super yachts. The store,, well-refrigerated for those not used to A/C, was overflowing with goods and produce. Shelves stocked with not just one or two choices, as we've become accustomed to on the islands, but 5 or 6 in some cases. We found every type of fruit, root, berry and vegetable grown by man. Want milk? They have rice, soy, almond, real ($7.25US/gal) and 5 types of sterilized box. How about eggs? We have white, brown, small, medium, large, jumbo, duck and quail to choose from. One-fifth of the store was dedicated to alcohol alone. The building was only about the size of a standard Rite-Aid or Walgreens and it was incredible how much they packed into it.
Having not seen a display of this size for five months gave me a bit of culture shock. I believe I saw America through the eyes of a foreigner for the first time and was likewise overwhelmed. Tépacap (from France) rounded the corner about the same time and confirmed my sentiments in a single word: "Wow". Gathering a few supplies, the 5% discount given to all boat owners only slightly mitigated the hefty price tags on the items we chose ($5.75 for a jug of cheap Aunt Jemima syrup). Returning to the French side's grocery store, ironically called "US Supermarket", with its standard island fare and fewer choices., Lisa was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
Once back on the boat, we swapped passengers. Daniel and Peter went to Ondine to check out some navigation electronics thus leaving Lisa all alone for an hour, that turned into at least four. Orchid anchored just in front of Remi De and, having attempted to find kids on our boat, all swam over to Remi De instead. Of course, Bruce kept their attention by fashioning a water slide out of his windsurf board and Toni added some dishsoap for extra sliding power.
Peter and Daniel finished up and also ended up on Remi De to fill and borrow a couple of dive tanks from them. The worn out crew returned to the boat after a full day only to be met with the same mess on the boat and the age-old question of "what's for dinner?" While the boat was tidied, the rest of breakfast's pancake batter was cooked and added to the pressure cooker bean soup test. Mmmm, filling, and nary a drop left in the pot upon completion. Sleep well my spinning tops.
Exhausted from week or sailing and exploration, I read a book for the first time in weeks and even got a nap. Glad the kids have fun while I troubleshoot the outboard that was working fine until I changed the spark plugs. Putting the old ones back in didn't help any either. Should have followed the age old advice, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"
Day 195 ~ A Miserably Productive DayMarch 28th, 2011
These days must happen. Our dinghy has never planed well with more than a single person. I believed it to be the prop, and so replaced it at considerable expense. The dink was much faster now at full power with one person, but wouldn't get on step with Dan, Nina and I.
So, I went back to Budget Marine and asked if I could exchange it for a different pitch prop only to be met with himming, haaaing, "we don't normally do this" kind of thing, etc. It helped that the new prop was less expensive, so in the end, they did a straight trade, making another $40 in the deal.
Wow, what a difference 2 degrees makes. The dink now pops out and planes easily, even with three adults, two jerries of gas and supplies.
More hours went by hashing out the ordering of wind generator parts from England, more outboard parts, correct spark plugs this time, ad nauseum. The girls did some lessons and then ended up playing with Remi De for several hours. Boat kids make the world go 'round.
We ended the day with a marathon internet and water fill session at Shrimpy's Laundry, ordering final things for delivery with out next group of guests. An iPad, an AIS receiver so we can see big ships radio transponders and a special treat for the girls (Nina reads this, so I can't say).
Dan whipped up his famous fresco tacos to the delight of the crew and two fell asleep at the table.
Day 196 ~ A Perfect SailMarch 29th, 2011
The day broke cloudy and overcast with stiff winds from the south. It was time to move, everyone felt it. Tackled several boat projects before breakfast, re-installed the now recalibrated port water tank level sensor, greased up the girls toilet so it will be easier for them to use, emptied and cleaned the starboard water tank and scrubbed down the deck where the most dinghy traffic has ground in a deeply embedded cocktail of greasy land grime.
Boats are funny things in that way. If you never go ashore, or bring anything foreign aboard they stay nearly spotless. You walk in barefeet everywhere, there are no bugs, no dirt and no trash.
But building a temple to yourself in the end proves an empty exercise in a life of isolation and is little life indeed.
Going ashore proves unavoidable and the dirt and grime of land tracks itself into your sanctuary one foot fall at a time. Ants hitch rides in grocery bags, roach eggs in cardboard and, before you know it, your white pristine boat looks and feels like an ordinary piece of terrestrial real estate.
Lisa and Dan ran a few errands in the morning. Lisa found a nice, new kid life jacket on the cruisers net (VHF radio classifieds) to make up for the one I used as a engine cover while working in the depths. They also returned a few small items, snagged a few groceries and took on 55 gallons of water.
Then, at last, it was time to leave the tarpit that is the Sint Maarten's wild west commercial/industrial center. The powerboats, the wakes, the dinghy trains, the jackhammers and the mega yachties. Lisa's uber antenna have never liked the place, picking up imperceptible (to a man) vibrations that harbinge disturbing events. This sixth sense of a woman is impossible to articulate but immediate and concrete, like the sensation you have when stepping into a funeral home having mistook the unmarked door for a client's office.
We welcomed Bruce back into the family and motored north out of the bay. We raised sail a few minutes later and tacked directly into the wind up the northwest coast of St. Martin. Dan wetted a line and a few minutes later hooked yet another Barracuda on a hand-assembled hootchie rig. He had to get physical with it to set it free again. The teeth are always the image that sticks in your mind.
We tacked across the northern end of the island and reached down to Orient Bay, jibing our way into the bay and then dropping sails and picking up a mandatory mooring in the park behind Île Pinel, right behind Tépacap.
When we were coming in, I realized I hadn't a clue where the mooring tackle was. We haven't moored since the Pitons nearly two months ago, and so we ended up punting to a quickly assembled mooring snubber. Of course, once the pressure was off I soon found the real mooring bridal. We ended up moving to a ball closer in once the party boat left.
Remi De was kind enough to loan us a couple of dive tanks and a BC, so Dan and Lisa got to go on their first dive without the pressure of having to pay for a guide or rent gear. We wanted to swim off the back of the boat, but the largest Barracuda we have ever seen was hovering under us, its impressive shadow ghosting along under the dinghy as we were loading our gear. It's probably 6 feet plus, the size and shape of a laser guided missile.
Lisa and Dan eventually returned, Lisa was cold and cramping pretty badly so I towed her part of the way home. We did another round of Yellow Fin spaghetti and, for the first time, ate at the inside dining table.
It was raining cats and dogs outside. Good thing we worked so hard to buy and haul water earlier today...
P.S. Added a new feature to the home page that shows the last update time on the blog. Should save you having to hit the blog page to see if there are changes.
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Day 197 ~ Diver DownMarch 30th, 2011
The day broke with another pastel explosion of nuclear proportions. Some mornings the girls wake up with a bang and the day is a whirlwind of chaos from the outset. On other days, such as today, the morning just meanders along at a mellow pace.
The girls did some lessons and, about the time they were wrapping up, the charter boats rolled in, packed with touristas. With some air in their tanks, Dan and Lisa went for another dive while the girls and I snorkeled within the park's reef boundary markers.
We returned to the boat and washed everyone and everything down, then read some stories and waited for the sun to wane a little. Nana and I made some bread and then a batch of cookies. Thought I was making peanut butter cookies until I got the last line of the recipe – turned out to be Peanut Butter Chip cookies, not exactly the same thing. Bummer.
Then we marshalled the forces and headed into explore the Isle de Pinal which proved to have a surreal, windswept landscape with rugged rock outcroppings, another prop from a Tolkien fable. We climbed several and were rewarded with sweeping ocean views towards Africa and cut mountain silhouettes of St. Martin.
Tépacap had offered to provide some fresh caught Mahi Mahi for dinner at our place, a tough offer to refuse. Tried brown rice in the pressure cooker for the first time. Wow, 18 minutes for rice that is nearly perfect. That's about a third of the time, and propane, normally required. Should have done this a long time ago.
It was a wonderful meal with great company. We swapped various sailing stories, and compared notes on how to catch fish. I have wanted a Mahi Mahi for years, and have so far been completely skunked. Max (age 9) from Tépacap wanted to see pictures of our Tunas so he could compare. Having landed a monster, he was pleased as punch to find that ours appeared as mere minnows.
Oh, and the Mahi Mahi on the grill was excellent. I feel one calling my name.
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Day 198 ~ Turtle HeavenMarch 31st, 2011
Up with the sun in the most natural of ways; light streaming in the window gently brings on a wave of consciousness. It's not a dream, there's a boat sitting outside my window, gently swaying in the breeze, rocking gently.
We're going to move to another nearby islet today and just the thought ignites the usual Type A drill sergeant personality that is such a big hit with the ladies around here. So, instead of barking orders and running around, we just took it slow and let the morning happen. The new math books Dan brought were a big hit and the girls got rolling with it while I just piddled around tweaking things, tidying up that kind of busyness which boats never cease to provide. You put a little effort here, some attention there, and things get better in a tangible way. Cubicle life doesn't work that way.
Dan and I cast off the mooring about 10:00am and motor-sailed out of Orient Bay and into the lee of Tintamarre, just off the northeastern tip of St. Martin. Tépacap motioned us over to the ball behind them which we picked up easily. We hadn't had the engines off for more than a few minutes, when a turtle popped up nearby, and then another and another.
We took to the water and I spotted one feeding on the bottom right away. They can't hold their breath forever, so I just hovered above him and waited. Before long he started moving up and forward. I flippered my way along with him and he surfaced within touching distance, then swam lazily along just a few feet under. I followed for a couple minutes or more. His shell was magnificent, the colorations rich and multi-hued in the waving sunlight refracted through the rippled surface of the sea. He swam with a grace and ease of a master dancer, a striking contradiction to the ungainly land creature we know ashore.
We hunted turtle for a while longer, but most were pretty cautious and kept their distance and depth. So, we got everyone in the dink and headed over what appeared to be better snorkeling. One thing lead to another and, eventually, I was ferrying a dink full of heavy dive gear out to a mooring ball which marked a sunken tug boat. Dan and Lisa shared the few breaths remaining in her tank to get down and check it out and were glad they did.
By the time we all got back it was getting late and we had agreed to go for a walk ashore with Tépacap. The beach was steep so there were a few hairy moments getting the dinks on and off without dumping anyone over or flooding the dink.
The island was beautiful and wild feeling, with a few touches of the past. An old stone wall, gate posts, old fashioned hinges rusting away. Further down the coast the graceful hull form of a wrecked sailboat rested among the rolling waves on the windward side, just visible through a mile of salt haze, like an unbroken eggshell lying in a railyard with rails and wheels and feet trampling all around. It was surreal, and out of place, a lone piece of man in a wild sea of rough coral, wind blown scrub and pounding waves.
We returned before the sun set completely, devoured another hastily cooked meal and headed for la la land.
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