May 2013 ~ Slowly South
Day 990 ~ Ripping InMay 31st, 2013
After a leisurely brekkie, the ladies decided to head to town for some shopping. I was excited about installing some of the new boat parts Teal had brought, so they agreed to take the entire crew. A few things went smoothly and a few things did not. A previous owner, for reasons that I am sure made sense at the time, cut off some of the bolts on the triple block I needed to install. This made them just 1/4" too short to really get a good grip on. I installed it anyway, but we'll have to treat the fitting with kid gloves until I can get some 6" long 8mm bolts somewhere.
We all headed to the beach and the cool man-made coves that make Anse Mitan and popular spot for locals and visitors alike.
Day 989 ~ Guides 'R' UsMay 30th, 2013
The idea was simple, "Let's go for a hike this morning!" We had heard there was nice trail south around the point towards the town of Petit Anse. It took a while to get everyone fed, sun doped and shod.
We had just got to the dock when a dark wall of dark clouds descended and unloaded a nice inch or two of heavy tropical downpour. The adults took shelter under a generous gazebo of which the kids soon grew tired. They ended up running around in the rain with and without umbrellas. Like most Caribbean rains, the clouds blew over quickly and we struck out towards the hills. After a half hour of hiking, the trails began to split and wind in directions that didn't seem to be heading where we wanted to go.
I did some off-piste exploration and found another track which seemed to be going the right direction. The crew slogged on and then, to my shock and dismay, the trail just vaporized. The sweating crew were unimpressed with my wilderness guiding skills. We backtracked, forked, backtracked again and finally ended up descending the hill via a water race gully straight down to the waterfront town. It was midday and the sun was baking the sand and concrete off the sidewalk. The kids sighted the water and ran for the cooling surf. We soon found some popcicles and baguettes and it was all smiles again.
We opted to walk back along the road, which proved flat and much faster. Once back at our floating home, we dropped our mooring and motored the hour plus to Anse Mitan, one of our favorite spots, where the kids took to the waters again.
Day 988 ~ More Friend FunMay 29th, 2013
Rained during the night, but we didn't manage to catch much water. Everyone slept in, the poor Alaskans still waking up at 5am their time. Made a pile of baguette french toast for breakfast and there were no leftovers.
We upped anchor about 11am and sailed downwind past Diamond Rock, then turned northward and picked up a mooring ball in Grand Anse d'Arlet. The kids swam, then snorkeled and floated around on their new floaty mats.
Day 987 ~ Friends at Last!May 28th, 2013
Our Alaska friends, Teal and kids, are due to arrive this morning. Girls were anxiously awaited their friends; Nika was counting the minutes. I boarded the bus about 7:30am and found out the hard way that there is no bus to the airport, you have to get off at the nearest traffic circle and hoof it the last mile.
Everything went smoothly at the airport and Teal had no problems with Customs despite the fact that she was lugging 60+ pounds of odd bits and bobs for us. They arrived about 9am....finally! Didn't give them much time to adjust though. The kids went in the water for a quick dip and I went in to the marina get dinghy gas. Then it was upping the anchor and setting sails. The trip was considerably calmer than our last couple of passages between islands but our poor guests, dizzy with jet lag and lack of sleep, suffered none the less. We anchored in Saint Anne about 3pm.
Adults headed in to town to wander a bit and find Customs. We found little open at 4pm and clearing in needs to be done in Le Marin around the corner and deeper in the bay. Back to the boat and then Lisa took the crew to the beach which they had practically all to themselves due to the cloudy day.
Day 986 ~ Welcome to St. LuciaMay 27th, 2013
Boat cleaning, girls did math. Bucket laundry. Hours later than we intended, Lisa and I headed to town in the afternoon to see about my chain and buy some more mangoes.
Pulled up to the dinghy dock by Island Water World and the fruit man, Gregory, was there with his boat. With two other dinghies and a local perogue boat tied up, we pulled into the one remaining free space. From under the canopy of palm leaves and vegetables, we heard a gruff voice saying something about not using the dock when there's another dock available. Then, we realized he was talking to us. Evidently he wasn't happy with us tying up to "his dock." We smiled and waved and promptly locked up our dinghy. The guy kept grumbling and then came up with his best comeback, "I hope something happens to your dinghy."
Wow. Since there were other dinghies locked up in the same place, and were every day, we were hard-pressed to figure out why our purple streak should be such a problem. Went about our business and returned to find the dink as we left it.
Chewing on it more, this guy really is threatening his customer base. He tries to make a living selling fruit to other sailors, including us, and not exactly the best way to make customers. He could lead a training course on How (not) to Win Customers.
On the way out, we noticed 3 security personnel at the mega-yacht dock and decided to inform them of our experience. At first, the one suggested we can just call the authorities (yea, right). Another refuted that comment and referred to us as being "clients". A third came over with a clipboard to write down a name. We saw her walking toward the fruit man at the dock. We shall see.
Day 985 ~ TransitionsMay 26th, 2013
Started the day off right with a heaping stack of Swedish pancakes and a fresh mango. At last, after seemingly months of waiting, mangos are finally in season. The price now is $1.57EC (60 cents) per kilo, about 25 cents per pound. Now we're talking!
Lisa and I headed ashore and hit a couple of the local grocery stores in preparation for our friends' arrival on Tuesday. We swung by Infinity on our way home and said goodbye. They are heading south and are suffering from serious short-termers disease. They have tickets to return to England the beginning of July and are feeling anxious to 'pack it all in' before then.
Danielle, from Evenstar, came over and I took them all to the beach to play for some sand castle building and swimming. By a freak accident, Nina caught a fairly large (6 inch) fish in the bucket with which she was scooping sand. This caused quite a stir and led to many vain attempts by the other kid crew members to copy the success. No dice.
Made up a huge batch of beef stew for dinner. Nina was very pleased and her homemade biscuits really topped it of nicely.
Day 984 ~ SatisfiedMay 25th, 2013
Checked out the Saturday Farmers' Market at the marina. Seems it doesn't matter where we go, we can't get away from the music. Six tables and there was a DJ with as many speakers stacked up and blaring so you couldn't speak to any vendor without yelling. Everyone seemed to think this was normal.
I worked for a few hours and then Lisa and I took the bus to Mega J, a warehouse store with a little Costco, Sam's and BJs mixed in. No membership required and the prices weren't 'screaming deals' by far, but it allowed us to get a few needed items in bulk, such as whole wheat pasta which the French just can't fathom anyone wanting. I mean, if you use whole wheat, the pasta won't taste like a baguette and then it wouldn't be worth eating now would it?
We had planned to take a taxi back, but didn't realize it was most of the way to Castries (normally a $25 fare). Looking at our cart, I realized that we could take the cheaper bus back if I returned a few items. So we put back the huge bag of paper towels and box of trash bags and hopped the next bus back to the marina where our dinghy was faithfully waiting. Our total fare? A whopping $3 for both of us.
Danielle from Evenstar came over to play and ended up staying for dinner and then 'til 9pm. The girls were thrilled to have another kid around who would take their drawings and imaginative play acting seriously.
"That was satisfying!" Nana announced as Danielle drove herself home.
Day 983 ~ The Royal Flush ReturnsMay 24th, 2013
Today's the day. After nearly two weeks with a single working head for 5 people (4 of whom are not boys, I might add) we are all itching for a fix. I checked two weeks ago and confirmed that the local St. Lucia branch of Island Water World had 4 in stock.
Lisa and I zipped into the IGY Marina complex and tied up the dink. Thinking a bit longer, we locked it as well. "Civilization" has receded a bit in the last sea miles. See "what makes a civilization."
Lisa went to finish up with immigration while I made the long awaited walk up the steps to Island Water World. An oasis of sanity, and boat parts. Sanity because Ian Cowan has been manager there as long as anyone can remember, and Ian actually knows what works in the real sailing world.
Since I needed more time to get boat parts, Lisa went off to try to find Southern Cross whom we met in Martinique. They now live in St. Lucia and have 2 kids. While checking prices at the laundromat, she saw Evenstar's propane tank waiting outside and found them in the marina waiting on a watermaker fix. Lisa was glad to have someone to talk to while I engaged in boat therapy.
With toilet pump in hand (at more than twice the US price), it was time to head back and, after some more destructive chain testing, I dove in and re-assembled the porcelain throne. It was a glorious sound when it growled to life. Everyone wanted to try it out, but funny thing is no one wanted to help put it all back together.
Day 982 ~ Goodbye FranceMay 23rd, 2013
Went to town to go to Leader Price and then check out of the country. I think everyone had empty cupboards after two nearly back to back holidays. The check out lines were huge, and, naturally, they only had three cashiers working. It's the islands, Mon!
While waiting in line, we noticed some suspiciously boaty looking people behind us in line. We struck up a halting conversation in English, which quickly switched to French when they realized Lisa was fluent. They have been aboard for a couple of years and were stocking up for their 3+ week voyage back to France. These Frenchies hop across the pond on a whim, it seems. They have two boys, age 12 and 6. A lively boat, I am sure. We were mutually bummed that we were heading opposite directions.
On the way back, the skies opened up and dumped on us. We waited for a time in a gazebo, then under an umbrella when there was a lull. Managed to get back to the boat mostly dry.
To our pleasant surprise, and mild shock, the girls had prepped the boat for departure. Water tanks closed, anchor ball down, sail bag unzipped, snubber off, winch and helm station covers off, GPS and chart open, etc. We get these glimpses of maturity and flashes forethought from time to time that give the skeptical parent hope that all is not, despite appearances, in vain. Within minutes, however, they reverted to full-on kidville. "What?! Me pick up that towel, I didn't touch it last!"
We popped Brucy out of the muck and set sails for St. Lucia. As is the norm, wind directions varied nearly 90 degrees and raged from 6 knots to 28 knots in the melée that Martinique's mountains make of the trusty Trade Winds. Once well clear of the island, the seas and wind settled down for a really nice run southward.
Arrived about 4:00p, just enough time to check in. But by the time that was done, the Island Water World was just locking its door. So close but so far. I guess the great toilet crisis will have to last one more day.
Day 981 ~ DelugeMay 22nd, 2013
Awakened to rain pelting my brain. The time was 2:20am. I have these re-occurring dreams about life on land. I don't miss land, mostly, but this vision of hearing rain pounding on the roof, of yawning, rolling over and going back to sleep just keeps popping up. Maybe someday it will come true.
But not today. Today, er, this morning, Lisa and I shot out of bed like sardines from a tin. We placed buckets, set the rain deflectors to direct the flow to our tanks, took in the laundry, shut and locked 9 hatches, set out the plants and, in general, tightened our floating home into a rain resistant plastic tent.
Our tanks were quickly topped off, so we had to watch in sadness as gallons of liquid diamonds, fresh and clean, silently rippled off the back into the big salt.
Time has flown by and it's already the end of the month. Our friend and her two kids from Alaska fly in Tuesday morning so we must think about actually getting to St Lucia to pick her up. We upped the anchor and motor-sailed the three miles due north to Fort de France, the largest city on Martinique complete with 1830s fortifications.
As soon as we pulled our hook, we sailed head-on into a squall with 30 knots and driving rain. It didn't last long, but kept things interesting for a few minutes.
After backing down hard on the anchor again, Lisa and I dinghied to town to stock up on the few items which are cheaper in French territory than in the ex-British holdings. Namely, butter, milk, canned tomatoes and canned beans. Imagine that, canned red beans (ideal for chili) that contain beans, water and salt. No chemicals, no preservatives, no gums, no sorbates. How do they do it?
As we stepped into the immaculate, manicured waterfront complete with stainless metal rings for locking your dinghy we noticed a distinct lack of people. Most stores appeared to be closed. No wait, they all were. This was not your standard three hour lunch break either, every single one, including bars, restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops, was locked down tight; these poor people must be suffering severe baguette withdrawal. We finally did find someone to ask, a tourist from St Martin waiting for her reduced schedule bus. Turns out to be the holiday to celebrate the emancipation of the slaves.
So, we moved for nothing. No check out possible, no provisions and no internet. Sometimes there's no point in fighting the Euro + Carib work ethic. May as well relax and enjoy the scenery.
Rained most of the day, on and off. About 7pm the humidity dropped and it just felt like the rain was past. We'll see. All told I believe we had 4+ inches of rain in the last 16 hours. Would have filled the dinghy to overflowing more than once.
After a year of procrastination, we have finally collated, combined and crunched out Actual Cruising Costs. We were a bit surprised, actually.
Day 980 ~ Hacker DayMay 21st, 2013
Some project deadlines just can't be put off any longer. Thankfully it was a cool morning. It had rained throughout the night leaving the decks sparkly clean beneath the feet. Feels great.
Tackled client work all morning and into the afternoon while Nana and Nina did their math and an extensive backlog of corrections. Nika finished her math book a few days ago and is basking in the "no math" glow zone which leaves her sisters speechless and purple-faced with envy.
Since the dinghy wasn't down, we just did the afternoon swim off the back of the boat. Water still feels cool, actually, and is always refreshing. After a certain number of mouthfuls, the sea no longer tastes salty. It is just itself.
Nailed the peach crumble this time. Now if only there was a little ice cream to top if off...
Day 979 ~ Thin Pickin'sMay 20th, 2013
Did math lessons with the girls in the morning, then Lisa and I went to the Anse Mitan beach to see if we could get close to the fruit stand we saw while in the car the other day. We judged pretty closely and it was only a short walk from where we left the dinghy.
Unfortunately, it was nearly noon and the poor lady was completely picked over. Just a few scraps left, really. We took a few passion fruit and a couple of small tomatoes. I used to buy the big ones, like you get at home, but have realized that in tropical climates, once a tomato is cut, it has about a 30 minute life span. Better to buy many small than a few large. To cut is to commit.
Lisa wowed the lady with her excellent French (you know it's good when locals ask what country you are from) so she threw in a couple pomme de liane fruit to try. Sweeter than their related passion fruit but with a subtle coconut flavor. Lisa really liked them as did Nina.
Spit rain throughout the day, enough to just get the hatches all closed before it stopped.
I worked on a client project for most of the day then took the girls to shore about 3pm for our daily exercise. Returning, they played in the water for a while longer. Rain came again just after 5pm and this time meant business; it was enough to fill the water tanks and then some.
Day 978 ~ A Perfect SundayMay 19th, 2013
Like all great Sundays this one started out with Swedish pancakes. Nika was in culinary heaven.
We glanced up to see that Yole boat race was set to pass right by us. We whipped out the camera and dropped the dink to get in on more action. It was great watching the guys wriggle out to the end of their poles, some even slipping and hanging dragging in the water. It was crazy, insane, wet and looked like a ton of fun. They were mostly 20-30s guys, and they were smiling ear to ear, a few waved to us if they could spare a hand.
Lisa, Nika and I went to town for ear medicine and baguettes. Did a light lunch snack then took girls to the beach for some exercise. Nina Face-timed grandma while Nika, Nana and I made hot chocolate and read some original Winnie-ther-Pooh on the tramp. It's amazing how good the real stuff is.
Day 977 ~ Back in the Afternoon GrooveMay 18th, 2013
We found last year that a large meal about 2:30 followed by a "dessert" for dinner is the best of all worlds. It leaves the evening free from all the heavy meal prep and available for time on the tramp during the last hour of the day when it's most comfortable to be outside. We don't go to bed with a pound of chili in the tummy just reminding us of its presence all night and get dessert without putting on pounds.
So, we tried it again today. A big hit. Nana made two desserts and we played Uno afterward since the clean-up time was light and fast.
Lisa read to the girls for a good hour while I retired early. Ever since the fresh water swim at Spanny Falls my ears have been bugging me and now my port side is getting pretty intensely painful. It's certainly infected in some way, but we forgot to stock up on antibiotics the last time we were stateside. Dumb. We get sick so rarely we never really think about drugs, or doctors. Thinking of it now, though, as the entire side of my headed is pounding and the tenderness reaches from the top of my head to the base my neck. Sleep is impossible, but then there is ibuprofen. Thank God.
Day 976 ~ Chemical WarfareMay 17th, 2013
Nika finished her 264 page math book today. All smiles. Finishing a book garners the accomplice an entire week with no arithmetic. She's dancing in the aisles. Our friend arriving on the 28th is bringing replacement books for all three girls. They are none too happy at this fortuitous timing.
The cooler weather means more project motivation. I cut out a new dinghy seat from a piece of 1x6 pine acquired in Dominica and gave it the first coat of Epifanes varnish.
Back in the freezing fall of Long Island, New York, we longed for the fresh local produce the islands would offer. Well, as memories gloss over the rough edges, we had forgotten about the fruit flies that accompany all this fresh goodness. They are now deeply entrenched in the kitchen and both bathrooms. It's to the point where we wonder who is really benefiting most from this boat ride, them or us.
Today Lisa pulled out all the stops and armed herself with a new bottle of BOP insect killer. It's made in Barbados, so maybe it will actually work, the islands not being known for their shyness when it comes to environmentally questionable progress. The motto reads: "Get serious, get Bop."
We made the girls stay outside where I soon joined them. My lips were tingling, nonetheless. Die suckers, die!
Day 975 ~ Bit by the Project BugMay 16th, 2013
It must have been cooler today. Come to think of it, it was cloudy much of the day. Got up and got going on some long overdue boat projects. We did manage to find some more varnish on our car trip so I re-taped and sanded the forward teak prior to applying another top coat.
Lisa got bitten by the bug as well and finished sewing up our winch covers and cut out bimini fabric to add our long awaited rain deflectors to the bimini top (not to mention patching up a few pin holes).
I took the girls to the beach for some exercise in the afternoon.
Day 974 ~ Striking Out in Le MarinMay 15th, 2013
Not sure what virus has gotten ahold of the girls, but they were itching to get an early start with the rental car. Nina asked if she could set her alarm for 5:45am. Hmmm, is this my daughter?
We did get moving in good time, actually. We were in the car and rolling at 7am which, considering that there are 4 women involved, is no small feat. We took the coastal route around the west side of Martinique. The Diamond Rock view point was a must see. From the cliff side you can see the winds sculpting the surface of the water into a confused froth as the Trade winds are funneled around Martinique's southwest corner, pinched by the tower pinnacle of Diamond Rock.
Despite being the charter boat capital of the Caribbean, we nearly struck out on the boat parts front. No breaker, no zinc plates, no toilet pump, etc. Did manage to find varnish. Had 6 items on our list and visited at least as many chandleries, but came up with only 1 item we could cross off. Give me an hour in St Maarten and I'd have had them all in-hand without even needing a car.
Back by 11:30am on the dot. Dropped off the girls and bags at the beach and returned the car. Simple process. Back to the boat for lunch, then a swim.
Day 973 ~ Martinique TourMay 14th, 2013
The girls did math in the morning while Lisa and I prepped for the day's car tour. On our way by 11:40a. Went through Fort de France and cut off into the mountains toward Mt. Pelée in the north. Found a church up in the hills and ate lunch with a great view of the city. We wound our way through surreal mountain spires and through tropical forest canopies which were, in places, sculpted tunnels. We found a nice waterfall called Saut Gendarme (Policeman's Jump) and stretched our legs for a bit. We ended up on a tiny road that wound up the flanks of the nefarious Mt. Pelée and drove our way, literally, into the base of the clouds at the road's terminus called a l'Aileron. Between puffs of fog we captured sweeping ocean views to east and west.
After a short time out of the car enjoying the views, we then returned by way of the coast. Stopped in St. Pierre to wash a load of clothes. Everything, including the derelict school chairs remained unchanged from March 2011. Things seemed frozen in time. As the sun sank to the sea, we continued down the coast making it back to Fort de France by dark. Stopped at Mr. Bricolage to see if we could find a couple items. Took several wrong turns in the dark getting back to the dinghy. After a full day I collapsed onto a seat, exhausted from the driving and adventure only to hear, "Hey, Pops, what's for dinner...?"
Day 972 ~ Rained OutMay 13th, 2013
Lisa and I puttered ashore to clear in with French Customs. Alas, the computer, a Windoze cinder block, was having a bad day. Granted, the French islands, requiring only a simple computerized Customs form, are far superior than other islands with their mountains of paper forms all filled out in triplicate. You'd think they'd have just made the process web-based, but then that would put honest, hard working, unionized, people out of their part-time jobs. Can't do that.
So, no dice. We remain in the legally vague transient boat/quarantine flag zone. Not really legit, but not really illegal aliens either. The lady at the office didn't seem too concerned. We'll try back tomorrow.
Our next stop was to check out rental car prices, easily done as four of the agencies are within a few steps of each other. The French have a weird perception of English words and love to use them in ways that can only make you smile. One car rental company was named "JumboCar". This coincides with our bad car names page.
In the end, we found Budget to be the cheapest at 33 Euros so we reserved for tomorrow at high noon. Well, we had to actually make it for 11:30a because they close for lunch from Noon until 3pm.
Returned to the boat to work on a client project then took the kids to the beach at which point it started to rain. All the touristas cleared out so we ended up with the beach all to ourselves. I mean, c'mon, you wouldn't want to go swimming in the rain and get all wet now, would you?
Day 971 ~ Grinding OnMay 12th, 2013
The anchorage in St. Pierre really only has room for about 8 boats. It shelves off deep and quick. The wind turned fluky in the morning and started to spin us into a local fisherman's nets, so we decided to bag a trip to town for Customs and laundry and get going. We upped the anchor and set the sails. We flew along for about 15 minutes, then coasted into a huge windlass pocket. No choice but to grind it out for what amounted to nearly 2 hours of motoring to Anse Mitan.
At one point I saw birds swooping down toward a teaming froth of water. That looked like fish, so I dropped a hootchie over and trailed it out on 50 meters of 100lb test line.
Turns out we puttered right through a massive pod of dolphins, probably 60 individuals and many little new dolphins not any bigger than large salmon, and sticking close to their Mums. They dove and wove around our bows for several minutes. Looking back I saw a large adult leap 10-12 feet in the air, at least twice its body length in a confused twisting flip of a crazy corkscrew dance. He was smiling the entire time.
Went into town to scope out rental car places, laundry and Customs. Everything is closed, of course, this being Sunday, but we found all. Found a good sorbet shop where they make their own. I recommend the passion fruit while Lisa preferred the pineapple, but the others we tried weren't at all bad. Being French, of course.
Back to the boat for lunch and a swim.
Day 970 ~ Sailing South, AgainMay 11th, 2013
Rained most of the night off and on. Between the weekend, a holiday on Monday, the Triskell Cup Regatta yesterday and the jazz festival this coming Sunday, the beach bars have been going strong nearly all week. We've had to endure music, heavy on the base and at full volume, every night except Tuesday night. The water and light wind ensures every boat can hear it as if we were tied up to the bar itself having a drink. We really need some sleep. Except for the all-night crooning, we've really enjoyed Dominica and its people, but we've also got visitors flying into St Lucia on May 28th, so we really should make some progress.
Winds were good for leaving the bay, but as soon as we rounded the corner it died. Not a good way to start. Motors on, we ground our way until we hit a low spot in the island where the wind could get through and enjoyed peace, at least for a short while. Once the mountains rose up again, it was time to burn the fuel and continue on our way or else we won't make it past Roseau. Motored about 3 hours out of 7 and motored past Mt. Pelée, Martinique, unclouded and quite spectacular in the waning light. Arrived in St. Pierre just before sunset.
Day 969 ~ Dairy at LastMay 10th, 2013
Math in the morning. Heard Regatta murmurings on VHF Channel 72 in the morning and looked out to see several sails up. Dinghied over to Elin to pick them up and watched the race start from the committee boat at the line. The girls were actually excited to see all the sailing action and could pick out people who were making mistakes or in particularly good form.
I went to IGA to see if their milk and yogurt was unpacked and took the girls to the beach on the way. Elin and another Swedish boat joined them. After nearly a week without dairy products, I came home with the goods at last. Real milk, from a cow not a factory, and yogurt to boot. Our lucky day.
I returned to the crew and then it began to rain around dinner time so we packed up and went back to the boat. We're actually going to leave tomorrow so we need to do a bit of clean up and prep beforehand. By dinner, the rain came hard and filled our water tanks, which had been near empty. Good timing.
Day 968 ~ Wonders Never CeaseMay 9th, 2013
Math lessons in the morning. Lisa and I need to sign some documents that require a notary public. Fearing the worst, I thought we might have to sail back to a more 'civilized' island to find an authority that Alaska would respect.
Turns out, that's not the case. A notary in Dominica applied in our situation so all we have to do is find one. Lisa called around and soon learned that most lawyers in Dominica are also notaries. One charges $22 per signature, another $32 per document. We opted for the latter since we needed two signatures witnessed.
We dinghied to town Lisa and we soon found the attorney's office that was supposed to be "right across from the dock" about one block in and two blocks over. We were cordially greeted and ushered right in. He was tall with wisened eyes and neatly cropped white hair. He reviewed our passports, read through the document, asked a few questions then signed and stamped. His commission number was #21.
As he was reading things through I glanced around the sparse office. One bookshelf behind us was laden with dusty volumes with titles like "Roberts on Arbitration" and "Samson on Torts". Each were several inches thick. Sure glad I didn't go into law after all.
We checked at IGA for milk or yogurt, no dice. When we got back to the boat we found out that Nika had cleaned it mostly single-handed even washing the breakfast dishes. Sometimes we don't know what comes over these girls (or what is holding them back 99% of the time). Of course, we thanked her and praised her up one side and down the other. Number 1 just rolled her eyes.
We grabbed a quick lunch then joined Elin, a Swedish boat we met yesterday, at the beach with their two kids.
Something must have gotten through because Nina volunteered to wash dinner dishes. Wonders never cease.
Day 967 ~ Crater ValleyMay 8th, 2013
To our shock and amazement the girls insisted on an early start. "Can I set my alarm for 5:30am?" were Nina's exact words. Go figure. We did manage to actually leave the boat at 7:30am, a near record. This time we headed up to Syndicate Falls, winding our way up the mountain and through various farms growing a wide variety of fruit. We spotted grapefruit, mango and orange trees, banana plants, and a few we didn't recognize.
On the way back down, we picked up a local lady walking down the long hill after having visited her friend. She was going to Calibishie so we could at least take her to the Portsmouth bus depot.
We stopped to get gas, but, just like Long Island last year, there was none. Sorry, Mon. Tomorrow. The next fill is coming on the barge, probably the same one that has Sukie's propane, IGA's milk and yogurt supplies.
We were directed to the fishing dock where they supposedly still had gas. There was a nice queue of cars already, but zero action. The lady with the key to the pump was "coming". She was there in an island flash, say 15 minutes. There was already a line of about 6 cars, but once the lady got started, we moved quickly to the head of the line and were on our way again.
From town, we headed up the northern road which took us through "the crater", which was a steeply sided valley straight from a Tolkien novel, complete with misty cliffs, towering rock spires and a lush valley floor. Despite taking dozens of photos, they remain but a pale shadow of the majestic mountain scene.
We crossed a ridge then dropped steeply down a plunging slope, the narrow road twisting and turning like a snake diving off a dune. It ain't called "Devil Mountain" for nothin'.
We meandered through Penville, then headed south on the interior road vs the ocean route and connected up with the main highway back to Portsmouth. Ray's Roti shop was open and lively so we snagged a few chicken rotis and returned the car with 10 minutes to spare.
Got gas for the dinghy and headed back to the boat for a swim. I used Skype to call Sukie's. Despite the bad connection, I learned that the propane was in and our tanks would be ready shortly. Nina was keen for more adventure, so we bussed it to Roseau and back in about an hour and a half.
We met a Swedish boat, Elin with two kids. Tiny boat, perhaps 32 feet, and they just crossed the Atlantic a few months ago.
- On the way to Syndicate Falls, St Peter Parish, Dominica, Caribbean
- Snack Stop, St Andrew Parish, Dominica, Caribbean
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Day 966 ~ Crazy Car DayMay 7th, 2013
I zipped over first thing in the morning and checked out the rental car situation. Silver Lining Rentals is a family run business as attested to by the three business card holders on the counter. Eric Georges, Evan Georges and Charles Georges, Manager, Sales and Operations directors respectively.
Eric took great care of us. I explained the situation and he suggested just the perfect car for us, a Honda CRV, and even knocked the price down a bit. I arranged to pick it up at noon. After a few really crazy rental marathons, we now know to rent them from noon to noon, thus breaking the frenzy in two halves.
The girls finished up their math and we got lunches packed. Got to the rental place right on time and headed south to drop our two remaining empty propane bottles off at Sukie's. I was hoping against hope to get them filled while-u-wait but figured the worst case scenario was we would have to come back after an hour or two. Yeah, right.
Actually, Sukie's, who also owns a chain of bread bakeries and a fleet of ice delivery trucks was completely out of propane. Rien, nada, nothing. When?
"Maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day," the disinterested clerk offered after a drawn pause which seemed to wonder why anyone would care. Well, we weren't getting any today, that much was clear.
On our way again, we spotted some fisherman were waving a palm branch over a large chunk of meat on the side of the road. There was a turn-out, so we pulled off to investigate. It was a large blue marlin, sans head, but easily 10 inches thick. The flies swirled, the palm frond pulsed. You could buy the entire thing for $8EC a pound ($3.00 USD).
We roadside lunched under a sprawling mango tree opting for some processed bologna protein, probably drenched in insecticides, from a factory located far, far away. Fresh fish caught that morning, who needs it?
We started our tour inland and wound our way up steep hairpin turns on narrow tracks that would make Italy proud. The views got better and better as the temperature fell. Based on a few internet postings and some local directions, we found Spanny Falls and tagged along with a guided tour just arrived. Both falls were eerily perfect and picturesque, like they were designed and built for a movie set.
We then wound our way through the central highlands where the road was cut through deep rain forests riven with rushing rivers. Boulders lined the valley floors where torrential rains must roar. Emerging on the windward side of the island, we picked our way along the coast finding a black sand beach which was strikingly similar to many Alaskan shores. well, except for the palm trees.
Back in Portsmouth, Ray's Roti was closed so we back tracked a mile to IGA and enjoyed a dinner of ice cream consumed entirely in the parking lot under the wedge shaped glow off a street lamp. Moths cast ever flickering shadows over flashing spoons brought from home for just such an occasion. It was a free for all.
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Day 965 ~ Toasty DayMay 6th, 2013
The Caribbean is blessed with wind 95% of the time which keeps the boat comfortable and the wind generator cranking out amps. But there are days that are windless and sweltering. Today was one of those.
I went to get some fuel, drop off trash and go to the IGA grocery. Seems I'll never learn to not go to the store on a Saturday or holiday. Yes, today was another holiday. Many shelves were empty and the place was packed. On the up side, I did find a dock near the rental car place so we'll see about booking a vehicle for tomorrow.
After lessons all anyone could think about was cooling off in the water. Kids swam all afternoon. Nana and Nika used a selection of beach bottles to set up a bar of their own, serving only the finest sea water. A light breeze filled in by late afternoon, but it was 91 degrees. Toasty, but not quite Oriental, North Carolina, in July...yet.
Day 964 ~ Windless and SwelteringMay 5th, 2013
As long as the wind blows, everything works out fine. The last few days, though, have been another story. Between the loud and long weekend night thumping "music" beach parties, zero wind, stuffy boat, bugs and heat, sleeping conditions have not exactly been ideal.
Nonetheless, we decided to do church again. I came stocked with earplugs, which, it turned out, weren't really needed this time. Different worship leader had a completely different style, and volume. Funny thing, after two weeks of attendance, I recognize a lot of people throughout the week in town, working in shops, the lawyer's office and hanging out shooting the breeze under the shade of a large mango tree.
The wind shifted to southerly, which leaves our anchorage exposed to a nice 3-4 foot chop. Wind from the south also usually means hot. We swam anyway.
In the late afternoon, the girls and Lisa saw 2 local young guys in Fawkes' (neighbor boat) dinghy. No sign of the owners despite the commotion. The men waved to us as if they were supposed to be there and didn't seem to be trying to hide anything like the guys on St Kitts had been.
Despite appearances, Lisa called our boat boy, Martin, on the VHF to see if Fawkes was with him on a tour, but Martin calmly indicated that it's not a rare occurrence for locals to swim out to hang out in dinghies, given this is a Sunday and all. He also mentioned that tomorrow is a holiday, so anything goes I guess. At any rate, the Fawkes' owners popped up on deck about that time. Turns out they were home, just unaware of their visitors until they heard Lisa's radio call. After a short chat, one guy swam to back to shore while his friend was overcome by the effects of excessive alcohol and the motion a small bouncy dinghy provides. Some of it ended up overboard.
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Day 963 ~ Yellowfin for AllMay 4th, 2013
I guess we have been here a week now because the Saturday market is this morning, again. Lisa and I were up and going fairly early hoping for some good stuff, specifically mangos, Mon.
Unfortunately, we had no luck in the mango department. It's still too early we are told. There were a few measly ones here and there but nothing to get excited about. We snagged plenty of rock figs (tiny bananas) and the new passion fruit favorite which, when dropped in the fridge the night before, are mighty tasty. There was also some fish on hand. Grouper and king mackerel as well as some yellow fin tuna. I opted to buy an entire 5 pound yellow fin as our canned tuna supplies were exhausted some weeks ago and the old chicken standard is tasting a little stale these days.
What with the flies swarming and the blood and guts dribbling off the back of the guy's pickup bed, I turned down his offer to "cut it for you, Mon!" Ah, no thanks, I'll cut it at home; really, I can. In theory, if the fish is fresh, it's fairly sterile inside. In theory.
But it was packed in a cooler with ice and smelled fine, so we slipped it in a little black plastic bag and toted it home. Oh, the cost? For fresh yellow fin tuna right off the boat one better be ready to slap down a whopping $7 EC ($2.50) a pound. In Japan that same fish would be around $200.
Still no wind. Nice for swimming, but bad for bug control. Tried to rent a car but they closed at 12:30 today, are always closed on Sunday and Monday just happens to be a holiday. It's de islands, Mon.
Day 962 ~ Gassing UpMay 3rd, 2013
We have three, 10-pound marine-grade aluminum propane bottles. They came with the boat and were re-valved in Boston in June 2011. On average, a single 10 pound can lasts us 3+ weeks, the largest factor being whether or not we bake versus buy our own bread. We have never run out of propane, until yesterday.
I knew we were close, but in the French islands it's nearly impossible to get American style bottles filled. We knew it wouldn't be a problem in Dominica, so we didn't worry too much about it. Today's the day. Feeding three ballooning girls (Nina grew nearly 3/4" in the last three weeks) requires food, and lots of it.
I caught a bus to Roseau from the Portsmouth bus station. No one blinked an eye at my metal companion. I had already fished for local intelligence and knew I was looking for a place called "Sukie's Gas". The bus driver claimed to know where it was.
The ride south was beautiful, and a bit scary. This guy squealed his wheels on almost every corner. Dominica is steep to the water in many places which require deep cuts for road access, cuts that are just simple slices into the mountain side. Many are rock, some are boulders and gravel. At one point, a boulder the size of an SUV had fallen onto the roadway deeply scarring the asphalt and mashing the metal guardrail into the ground like a blade of grass. Enough to give one pause.
The driver stopped at the end of a rutted dirt road and indicated that "Sukie's, just down there." I paid my 8EC ($3) fare for the 50 minute ride and shuffled off down the dusty track, toting my tank under a toasty sun. I soon spotted Sukie's and ambled up to the unmarked office. I have found that Caribbean culture actively resists anyone who tries to pressure people, hurry things along or, in general, rush the gentle ebb and flow of productive commerce. Hurry hurts you. Best to ease into things.
I set my can down by the door and slowly meandered in. Was it possible to have this style can filled here? The lady came around to have a look. "You liv'in on a boat?" How could you tell, I thought, the epoxy impregnated shorts any clue?
Yes, they could fill the bottle, but "the guy who does this is out now."
"How long until he returns?" Distant stare. She must think I am in a hurry, "OK, no problem, I have all day."
"Oh, he'll probably be back in an hour or two."
I decided to bus the last 5 minutes to Roseau and scope out the turf. Got a bus quickly and was in town a few minutes later. A study in contrasts. The usual cruise ship strip complete with Colombia Emeralds jewelry stores is located just up the street for leather skinned tomato dealers with glaucoma.
Overall, though, the poverty index shows through. Not filthy, but not clean. Security guards at the door of every grocery store. Civilization in oversized diapers.
I bussed it back to the Sukie's. The bottle was filled and I settled up the bill. A whopping $20EC ($8) for 10lbs of propane. It must come from Venezula, the same guys who pave the roads and sell fuel from Petro Caribe trucks whose tagline motto struck me as funny at first, but then ominous: "Energy for Union."
Day 961 ~ Bussing It to CalibishieMay 2nd, 2013
We decided more exploration was in order. After math lessons, we took a local bus ride to Calibishie, located on the northeastern side of the island. Drive over was gorgeous and the bus driver was friendly and very courteous.
Incredible, lush green everywhere. The forest is denser than the discount rack at Nordstrom, and nice to behold by far. Fruit hanging everywhere. I don't think many locals starve; there are literally amazon-size mango trees around many corners, laden with fruit.
We wandered from one end of town to the other. A cloudburst broke open, so we ducked under the awning of the local grocery store. In the middle of the deluge an old man with an explosion of white whiskers which would make any Santa proud strode up pushing a wheelbarrow chock full of ripe plantains. For $2EC (75 cents) we bought a large bunch. Took the beach route back to the other end of town and waited for a return bus. Same bus driver eventually came back and picked us up.
Got some postcards and caulk at a local hardware store. While waiting for the post office to return from lunch, we sat under a tree at the stadium. School football (soccer) teams were preparing to play. The girls got interested so we stuck around and watched the first half.
No wind. Back for a swim to cool off. Our propane ran out while baking the banana crumble, but thankfully it was cooked sufficiently to disappear just as quickly as usual. Whew, that was close. Guess I'll be going to Roseau tomorrow after all since our menu now will be limited to uncooked items like, say, bananas and cereal anyone?
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Day 960 ~ Lemon Grass Anyone?May 1st, 2013
We decided to skip lessons and get the girls off the boat for some exploration and exercise. We downed a quick brekkie and headed ashore. We left the dinghy at the local bar's dock, hand driven sticks for piles and rough sawn boards that would make the perfect "distressed" floor for which an architect in New York would no doubt pay premium.
We found a wrecked sailboat set off the side of the road. Utopia was certainly someone's dream before becoming a three dimensional billboard for Cruiser Skills 101 (see myth #4). There were a few pieces of hardware still attached that looked promising, but I decided it just didn't feel right to strip someone else's dream, even if it was dead and buried. Sacred ground and all that.
We plunged into the tangled forest. There was a path, of sorts. Plenty of tail markers, but sparsity of trail at times. Crazy mushrooms, hermit crabs galore and lemon grass. Fields of it. To think I used to spend $2.99 for four measly little stalks in the specialty produce section back home. This stuff is a weed. We saw tethered cows munching away. Hey, I wonder what lemon grass fed beef tastes like? Hmmmm. We picked handfuls.
Eventually emerging on a beach the girls waded around and found sea glass while Lisa and I just soaked in the scenery. A local tromped by and we exchanged good mornings. He walked down the mouth of a small stream that emptied out into the vast deserted bay. He bent down, wrestled around for a bit and started huffing back up the beach with a small plastic bucket on his shoulder. He was carrying a large, round rock.
He returned about 3 minutes later and repeated the process. Again, and again. He was ferrying stones about 50 yards to the lawn of an immaculate sea-front villa, complete with elegantly trimmed dormers. I guess in some places, and to some laborers, the idea of a wheelbarrow is but a vague vision. This guy may as well have lived pre-wheel.
We returned along the road to the anchorage and spotted a few local "crab cakes" as Lisa coined them.