Morning, Morning,

We were back in the water on Monday, as promised.  Our pal at Crew’s Inn, Meleena, found room at the Inn for us, and we were in our berth by late afternoon.  The relaunch was not without a little drama, however.  The boys that we had hired to remove/replace the stabilizer wings and bow thruster props didn’t show until 14h00, when we were scheduled to splash at 15h00.  They showed up without the proper tools, but the good news was that we had ‘em.  15h05, and the Travelift was ready.  They picked us up at 15h15, and we were splashed shortly thereafter.  Really?

After we went back in the water, we were basically looking for a weather window for our passage up to Barbados.  We took a tour to Pitch Lake with one of Jesse’s guys.  Pitch Lake is the largest of three asphalt lakes on the planet, the others being in Venezuela and California.  The lake is 75 meters deep and is said to contain over 100 million tons of asphalt.  Asphalt has been mined here for a few hundred years and was used in paving roads in much of the northeast of the United States.  Asphalt is still strip-mined here today and exported overseas.  The machinery doing the mining must be kept in constant motion, or it will sink and be trapped.  Sections of the lake are mined in succession, to approximately two meters of depth.  It takes less than 2 weeks for the asphalt to rise back up.  Meanwhile, other sections of the lake are mined.  We hired a guide to walk us out onto the lake.  It felt spongy underfoot, and if you stood in one place too long, you could feel yourself sinking slightly.  There are spots on the lake that are more liquid, and our guide was careful to route us around these, lest we be trapped in the tar.  The houses in the village surrounding the lake are in constant motion, moving inexorably toward the lake, gardens and paths circumvent pools of pitch which has bubbled to the surface.  On the way home, we visited two Hindu shrines: The Temple in the Sea, and the Dattatreya yoga center.  The Temple in the Sea was built by an indentured immigrant from India.  As the British colonials would not permit the building of temples on land, he spent many years hand-carrying bricks and cement out onto the mudflats of the Gulf of Paria to create an island for the Temple.  Restored in 1994, the temple is the anchor for a park on shore.  When we were visiting, a cremation was taking place at the park.  The Hindus here still do it the old-fashioned way:  The body is placed on a pyre, the fire is lit, and the ashes are raked up afterward.  We saw a couple of these ceremonies in locations that we passed on our road trip that day.  The Dattatreya Yoga center boasts the tallest statue of Hanuman (the Hindu monkey god) outside India, standing at 85 feet.

The rest of out days were spent wheeling and waxing the Girl, as well as other minor boat chores.  Afternoons found us gathering at the swimming pool with other cruisers.  Of course, Saturday mornings were Market Days in Port of Spain, and Saturday nights were “Bake and Shark” nights, when we joined with other cruisers at the local watering hole.  We usually had a table of 10-15.  Conversation was lively and the beer was ice cold.  Bake and Shark?  It isn’t actually baked at all.  We’re talkin’ a fried dough bread pocket filled with fried shark and other ingredients-maybe coleslaw, tomatoes, peppers, topped with garlic sauce, Chadon Beni (kinda like cilantro) sauce, and a little Peppah sauce.  Deeeelicious Trini street food.  Thursday evenings, Crew’s Inn supplied the charcoal, grill, tables and chairs for the cruiser’s potluck.  Everyone brought a dish to pass, and a meat, or fish, or ?? to grill. 

Our projected couple day stay morphed into nearly 13 as we waited for the wind to quit howling.  Finally, the 22nd of April looked less bad, so, itching to leave, we settled for a forecast of 5’-8’ seas on a 10 second interval with 15-20 knot winds, which would be on our nose for half the trip, and our beam for the other half of our 190 mile passage, which we thought should take us around 24 hours.  We figured that we could take advantage of the North Equatorial Current, which had hampered our progress on the way to Tobago earlier in the Spring.  We were off the dock at 06h05 on the 22nd.  Our course was laid in to keep us around 10-12 miles off the coast of Tobago, to keep us out of the opposing current which always runs along its shore.  Just north of the eastern tip of Tobago, we would veer north to take advantage of the Equatorial Current.  The first leg of the trip was beautiful, as we cruised into 3’-5’ seas, under sunny skies.  The lines were wet, but no bites.  As we passed out of the lee of Tobago around 19h00, the seas increased to 4’-6’, darkness had fallen, we turned north with the seas now on our beam.  The Girl was rolling, but comfortably, thanks to her stabilizers.  Overhead, the wind had increased to 17kn with gusts to 23.  Suz had settled into bed around 20h00, and I was on the first watch.  All of a sudden, I felt a shudder, and an odd vibration.  The engine work load meter jumped to 65% from its normal 42%.  The engine temperature rose 10 degrees, and the fuel consumption went up 1.5 gallons per hour.  This all happened within about a minute or so.  The Admiral bounced out of bed and I cut the throttle.  “Sh#@! t, we must have picked up a net or something” Okay, we knew this drill.  Throw the prop into reverse, back up and whatever you have picked up will dislodge and you’re on your way.  Well, when you slow down, the stabilizers don’t work, and now the seas were running 5’-7’.  Stopping the Girl and wallowing in the troughs between waves in reverse was a cupboard-rearranging affair.  We rolled from beam to beam, and the cockpit was awash.  “Okay, that should do it.”  On our way again, I went below to check on the bilges.  Lifting the hatches, I could hear an ominous “Bang, bang, bang” against the hull.  Okay, repeat the backing up maneuver, this time at a higher speed, and for longer.  The wallowing between waves was magnified.  It was necessary to hold on with both hands to stay upright.  On our way again, the banging had stopped, and all seemed well.  Wrong!  Throughout the night at various intervals ranging from 45 minutes to 2 hours, we kept experiencing the same scenario, minus the banging.  The engine temperature would slowly rise, along with our fuel consumption and engine work load until we did the back-up maneuver again.  At every juncture, we acted more aggressively in the hopes of shaking our passenger.  We could see large patches of Sargasso weed with our spotlight, and we figured that we were dragging a net.  When it accumulated enough weed, the symptoms would become critical.  Going overboard with dive gear was out of the question, as Alizann was rolling from rail to rail.  We thought about heading due west to Grenada or the Grenadines, putting the wind and seas on our stern, but in the end, decided to push on to Barbados as we were really in no danger.  Worst case, if we lost propulsion, the wind and seas would carry us west to the Windwards somewhere.  We were 70 miles from any land. Needless to say, it was a long night.  At 08h00 on the 23rd, we ducked out of the current, changing our course to the northwest for Barbados.  It was now daylight, but we still couldn’t see what we were dragging.  At 11h00, we reversed for what would be the last time.  The surface of the sea was now covered with Sargasso weed in ¼ mile long patches.  We passed through effortlessly.  Whatever we had picked up was gone!!  I was almost disappointed, as I wanted to see what it was.  In the lee of the island, I was even able to wash some of the salt from our trusty little ship sailing into 1’-3’ seas.  We arrived at Port St. Charles, Barbados at 16h35, 34 hours after departing Trinidad.  John and Paulette, who had been there for two weeks aboard Seamantha were standing on the seawall waving when we arrived.  Paulette, true to form, had remembered that it was my birthday and had us over for her (in)famous rhum punch and munchies.  We went home early, fell into bed and slept like the dead.

Barbados travelogue to follow:

-Later

Morning, Morning,

Let’s just call this the “All work, and no play” log.  After an uneventful flight back home, and a very speedy visit with Customs and Immigration, Chad was waiting at the airport for us.  It was, of course, a real shocker to get off the plane dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt.  Not exactly apropos for eighty-five degrees and seventy eight percent humidity.

Besides being filthy, the Girl looked good sitting at her berth.  She had new neighbors, sailors from Germany.  During our absence, John had kept a close eye on her.  He told us that there had been an unusually high tide which required retying some of her lines-thank you, John.  We spent the first full day just cleaning the outside from top to bottom.  Saturday was Market day, so we rode in to Port of Spain with Stanley (another of Jesse’s guys) for fruit, produce and Trinidadian shrimp.  On the way home, a blast through Massey supermarket rounded out our supply of staples.  We pulled away from the dock at 07h30 on Monday, the 26th, and took a short short toodle out of the harbor to do a quick system check and empty the holding tank.  By 08h15, we were in the sling of Peake Yacht Services Travelift, getting our first haulout in 2½ years.  After 2 idle months sitting at a marina in very bioactive (polluted) water, there was plenty of growth for the guys to scrape/power wash off her bottom.  Very fragrant.  We left to go have breakfast at Zanzibar, where we could watch from a distance.  Alizann’s spot in the yard was less than fifty meters from the Travelift, and equidistant from Zanzibar.  Once we were blocked and the jack stands were in place, the troops were mobilized.  Richard came to the boat and installed an air conditioner in the overhead hatch of our stateroom (the boat’s A/C doesn’t function when she’s out of the water.)  We met with Greg and Lincoln, who would be managing our yard work and went over our list.  As we talked, the list grew, and it wasn’t too long before our one-week haulout looked like it would take two or so.  Git ‘R Done!  We got up with Mitch, our welder, to pick up our burglar bars and have him weld the “knees” that he had fabricated for our stanchions.  Oops.  “Thought that you were coming back after Easter.”  Okay, back on task.  Rishi, owner of Jonathon’s Outboard Service was lined up to do routine maintenance and chase down a cooling problem on the dinghy outboard.  Lastly, we visited Franz, owner of West End Power to remove and inspect our stabilizer fins and bow thruster props.

It's Friday of our second week on the hard, (FYI, Good Friday and Easter Monday are national holidays) and we’ve been pretty pleased with the progress.  The hull has been sanded and has two coats of new paint (waterline-four coats).  The boot stripe has been raised 2 more inches and reprimed and painted.  The hull above the water line has been wheeled out and polished.  The dinghy has had 2 coats of epoxy and 2 coats of bottom paint.  The outboard has been repaired and serviced.  The welding has been completed, and the bars are being polished as I write.  Suz and I have been busy too.  We replaced the support for the swim platform (which was damaged in Puerto Rico).  In doing so, we found that the core of the platform was wet, having been infiltrated around some improperly bedded fasteners.  We removed all hardware, reamed out all holes, let the core dry for a week, removed soft core material then refilled all holes with epoxy and rebedded hardware.  After discovering this problem, we removed some rails from our boat deck, and discovered that it too, wasn’t bedded properly.  Good news!  Some holes damp, but not soft.  Same fix.  The tender got its rails rebedded-Hey! As long as I was mixing epoxy (Actually, each hole took several “pours” in order to control heat).  One evening, we spooled out 300’ of anchor chain and reversed it, end-for-end (to keep wear even), cleaning the anchor locker as we went.  Retrieving 300’ of chain by hand is a real workout, being that we had no hydraulic power to raise it mechanically.  I replaced the stainless-steel tubing on our water maker another day (starting to spring some little leaks here and there from corrosion).  Of course, the unit couldn’t be worked on in place, so I had to disassemble it and take the membranes out on deck to replace 2 of the tubes.  Meanwhile, the Admiral got software updated on all of our devices in between “Hey Suz, can you come help me’s?”  Cocktail time doubled as “Marlinspike Hour,” splicing up new working lines for our Girl.  That’s the big stuff, I won’t bore you any more with all of the little tidbits that were dealt with.  Let’s just say that we’ve been busy.

The Admiral’s birthday came around, so we shed our work clothes and gussied up for a night out.  Chad drove us, joined by John and Paulette,  to Aioli, a fine dining restaurant in Port of Spain.  Of course “fine dining” means a lot of things to a lot of people.  Well….the place had a continental vibe from the moment that we climbed the stairs from its’ strip-mall entrance.  The food was truly incredible.  We could have been in Paris, New York City or Napa Valley.  The service matched the appearance.  We had a very uncruiser-like night out, and Suz was smilin’.

We had a farewell lunch with John and Paulette on the 30th, as they were off to Tobago to join Ken and Sylvianne.  It was kinda sad to see them go, but we’ll surely see them in the future (we think that they may join us for the Panama Canal transit in a year or so).

Anyhoo, that’s it for now.  They’re thinkin’ that we’ll be back in the water on Monday, the 9th.  We’ll sit at the dock until we get some semblance of a weather window (it’s been GORGEOUS this week) behind the weather that’s supposed to blow in next week.

-Later

Really?

So, I was posting up some pictures, and realized that there were a few adventures before the Grandbaby trip that I missed:

First of all, every Saturday, Jesse has a van to the city market down in Port of Spain.  We’re off at 06h30, but that’s still a couple of hours after the market opens.  Oh yeah!!  It’s your typical farmers market on steroids.  You wannit?  We gotit!  That’s where we be goin’ for fresh everytang.  Produce, seafood, meat, and then there’s the Indian spices and etc.  Oh yeah, there’s a “Doubles” guy there that has our favorites.  (Thanks, John and Paulette.)  I dunno how many acres the market covers, but it’s enough to spend a couple of hours there.  Jesse says “an hour-and-a-half,” so the foray reminds me of an old TV show where they give the contestants a shopping cart and a short amount of time to fill it.  The first pass is to scope out the various stalls and wares for prices and availability.  Stop at the end point for doubles, then sweep back through to make our purchases.  After the market, it’s a quick (half hour) stop at Massey (grocery store) for staples, canned goods, and etc.  Back at the boat by 10h00.  Fill sink with bleach water, soak all fresh produce, refrigerate, put away dry goods.  NAP!!!

One morning, Suzanne, Paulette, and I had one of Jesse’s guys, Chad drive us out to the “Bamboo Cathedral” for a hike.  The area is so-named, because the bamboo trees on both sides of the pedestrian path overhang it, creating a tunnel-like effect.  Troupes of howler monkeys live in the area, so if you get there either before or after the heat of the day, you may see them moving through.  We arrived just before light and lucked out.  We were the only people there.  We heard the monkeys before we saw them.  The howls/growls were loud and throaty.  Then, overhead, we spotted a group of three moving through the canopy.  The light was bad, so the pictures were very marginal.  After hiking through the bamboo, which was beautiful in and of itself, we followed the unimproved pedestrian road to the deserted U.S.A. radar station at the top of the mountain, a remnant of WW II.  As you might imagine, the view was tremendous.

So, we were ready for a little independent adventure one day, so decided to take public transportation into Port of Spain to walk around and have a fancy lunch.  Suzanne made reservations at “Veni Menage,” a highly rated Indian restaurant.  When we told Jesse of our plans, he said “Just make sure that you’re out of Port of Spain by 13h30, because there’s an afternoon Fete going on just north of the marina, and no taxis, buses, whatever will drive down there because of the traffic.”  We arrived in POS in the morning, and window (and otherwise) shopped until our 11h00 reservation.  We were careful to avoid parts of the city that had been forewarned by locals. Lunch was remarkable.  We left the resto at 13h15 and walked down to the highway to flag down a bus.  Every one that went by was filled to capacity (unlike Grenada, overfilled vans get big fines here).  We decided that this wasn’t gonna happen, so we started walking to the central maxi-taxi terminal, about a mile-and-a-half away.  Baloney!  I stuck out my thumb, and a private taxi picked us up.  He was headed south and would drop us off at the maxi-taxi terminal.  There, people were packed up, waiting for a maxi south.  A nice lady who happened to be passing by told us that no taxis were headed north, because they didn’t want to get stuck in traffic up there.  The maxis were not obliged to make their routes if they didn’t want to, but the public buses were.  She suggested that we walk to the bus terminal and take one of the hourly buses.  Dang!  It was 14h10, we’d have to wait nearly an hour for the next bus.  Oh well, we hot-footed it to the bus station, about a half mile away (Oh yeah, did I tell you that it was raining now?).  We bought tickets and got in line.  15h00.  No bus.  16h00.  No bus.  We’re starting to chat up the folks ahead of us in line.  They’re still waiting for the 14h00 bus.  Rumor has it that the bus is having “mechanical problems.”  Yeah, but how is it that we’re looking at a lot full of buses that aren’t in service?  Long, long, long story short, a bus rolls in at around 17h30.  After all of the pushing ‘n shoving, we, who were around tenth in line, make it onto the 50+ seat bus with about 10 seats to spare.  After some near-fisticuffs, the security guard closes the door, and 30 people are left standing on the platform, awaiting the next hourly(?) bus.  The next day, Jesse just laughed.  We were not amused.

So… we got back home from the adventure to POS.  The “Pool Gang” at the marina had a news flash for us.  A solo sailboater coming in had a little problem getting into the slip next to the Girl.  Somewhere in the 4 tries that he took getting into the slot next to us, He HIT our boat.  Dang!  We inspected our trusty little ship, and yeah, there was a whack out of our boat, and a bigger whack out of the concrete dock.   Whatever.  I got the buffer out, and soon the scar was gone.  Went over to talk to the skipper.  He was apologetic (in French), and said he’d buy me a case of beer.  (Well, three days later, and after his departure before daybreak, we didn’t see a drop of beer.)  Two strikes-a sailboater and a Frenchman-just sayin’.

Guess we’re almost caught up, so……

-Later

 

Morning, Morning!

So…..I don’t usually do trips back to the States in the Log, but a trip to Ann Arbor to welcome our new Grandchild?  Whatever.  Suffer through it.  Jesse’s guy Stanley picked us up at 04h30 and whisked us off to the airport.  There were no gate agents or signs, but we got in with a family of 6, and started a line.  Forty-five minutes later, we had fifty people behind us (and another 30 milling around, waiting for an official start-Trinis don’t like lines, they wait until the last minute, then push to the front).  The gate agents sauntered in, en masse, and the young lady from American Airlines tried to move us.  Not a chance!  Trinis are also very outspoken, and not a little bit resistant of authority.  We kept our mouths shut as several people at the head of the line with us argued heatedly that we weren’t moving and risking giving up our place in the queue.  In the end, several male agents came out, and moved the tightly-packed line backwards so that everybody more or less maintained their respective positions.  (Of course, some of the loiterers wedged their way in, which is why nobody in line wanted to move in the first place.)  We held our ground, as this was not our first rodeo, and it was on to the next hurdle.  Every passenger needed to be interviewed one-on-one with a security agent (Yep, you heard me right).  Then…. every checked bag was opened and hand-inspected.  I guess Trinidad is a high-risk point of embarkation for flights to the U.S.  Didn’t mention it before, but several alleged members of an ISIS cell were arrested right before Carnival.  Maybe the airport was on high alert.  Fourteen hours after we got up, Alison picked us up at the airport in Detroit, and we were at her and Ben’s house in Ann Arbor.

Nash wasn’t due until the 25th but didn’t make his arrival until the 5th of March.  The ten days was interminable for Alison and Ben, but it allowed us to get a lot of work done around their house.  And…we saw snow.  First time in a couple of years.  That’s the Admiral in Lowe’s parking lot.  Among other things at the house, we replaced all the copper plumbing in the kitchen, ran a new circuit from the main panel, installed a dishwasher and garbage disposal and plumbed an icemaker.  A ceiling fan was added to the living room, and we put 3 coats of paint on the inside trim of the windows, which had all been replaced during the Summer.  The list goes on, but you get the picture.  Busy, busy, busy.

Gotta quick tell you a funny story.  Here’s a copy of an email that I sent to John, Paulette, Ken and Sylvianne:

Alison and Nash were supposed to come home today, but her blood pressure is high, so they decided to keep her another day.   Nash is doing great.  Can't believe it, but he almost turned himself over yesterday.  But....I digress. A couple of months ago, Ali told Ben that she wanted Schramsberg Cremant when they came home from the hospital with the baby.  Schramsberg is a California sparkler that happens to beat many of the houses of Champagne in French competitions.  It is also the official sparkler of the White House since Nixon entertained the Chinese.  Well...Ben had a lot on his mind and failed to get a couple of bottles.  Hey Marty!  So, I call the high-end wine stores that I know in Ann Arbor, and no dice.  Finally, I find a little hole-in-the-wall liquor store that has the goods.  I get a couple of bottles of Cremant and a bottle of Blanc de noir for Suz and I.  Night before last, I grab what I thought was the odd bottle and cracked it.  Pour it, sip it...sh**, it's one of the bottles of Cremant!  No problem, we're coming home from the hospital today and we wheel in to pick up another bottle of Cremant.  As you know, Suzanne loves hardware stores and marine chandleries.  I guess that she likes liquor stores too.  I make the purchase, and she says "I just want to look around a bit. Wow, they have a ton of single malts and Bourbons.  Look at this, look at that" & etc.  She says that she just wants to check out their rums.  Now the owner's interest is piqued. He says that he has rum from this shelf divider to that, floor to ceiling.  Next, he's telling us that he saw a show on TV about rum, and that some of these distilleries have stockpiles of rum in barrels in warehouses as far as you can see.  "Yeah, we know.  We live in the Caribbean, and every island has a half dozen distillers." The Admiral says "They don't have Don Q.".  "Oh yeah, I do.  It's on the bottom shelf"  "Crazy, we have a friend that loves Don Q.  He had us buy 6 handles for him when we were in Puerto Rico.” ” That’s really strange." he says.  "I had a guy call me from Trinidad today asking me to deliver some to a friend that just had a baby"  "You taking it to ***** Dunmore Rd.?"  The rest, as they say, is history.  We took it and two bottles of Veuve, saving you a delivery fee.  CRAZY, No?  

Is truth stranger than fiction?

 

When the kids came home from the hospital, Ben’s parents and sister came in all the way from Pennsylvania for a visit.  It was a bonus for the Admiral and I, ‘cause we hadn’t seen them since Ali and Ben’s wedding in 2015. 

After a month of being house guests, it was time for us to leave and let their new rhythm settle in.  The flight home was uneventful, although boarding the plane in Miami was a bit unusual.  Customs and Border Patrol ,with dogs in tow, was on the jet bridge, greeting every passenger before they boarded the plane.  Home again, just call us Grandma and Grandpa.

-Later

 

Good Day, Good Day

OMG!  Has it really been 2 months?  My bad.  No excuse except that we’ve been having waaayyy too much fun.

So, we arrived in Trinidad, which was where I left you hanging.  The marina at Crew’s Inn was pretty comfy.  We motored in, and the dockmaster put us in an end slip with the port side of the Girl along the wall, and her stern on the dock.  Right below the swimming pool-SWEET!  With the Admiral’s expert directions, we backed our little home between the boat next to us, the wall, and the boat that was tied on the wall ahead of us.  Paulette and John, aboard Seamantha were a few days early, but a spot was still located for them while they waited for their assigned slip to become available.  For the next few days, we just walked around to get the “lay of the land,” locating vendors, repair guys, boatyards, and most importantly a “Doubles” roadside stand, and the “Roti Hut.”  Suz and I contracted with Peake Boatyard to haul us and give the Girl a couple fresh coats of bottom paint, lined up a tech to remove our stabilizers (I’m getting’ too old to haul those babies around), located a welder to fabricate some “Burglar bars” for the hatches over our bed and “knees” for the stanchions holding our new awning on the boat deck.  In between these jaunts, we lit up the internet, ordering some replacement spare parts and miscellaneous doodads.  One day, when Mitch, the welder was over taking some measurements, I was knee-deep in sewing machine parts which were scattered all over the cockpit table.  He asked me if I was okay, to which I jokingly replied “Do you do sewing machines too?”  To my surprise, he said “Sure.  My Mom’s a seamstress.  Who do you think takes care of her machines?”  Knowing that I had a backup in case of disaster was reassuring, but YouTube pulled me through.

Meanwhile, we all were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our friends Ken and Sylvianne on the Krogen 48 “Sylken Sea.”  They had recently launched in Antigua after the boat spent hurricane season on the hard there.  I’ve already alluded to the fact that the weather and seas have been very uncooperative this season.  Every day that they were stuck behind the weather, we had 6 sets of eyes checking numerous weather websites and offering their valued opinions.  Emails and texts flew back and forth hourly (actually, more frequently) for days with conjecture about weather windows and best routes for them to take.  Of course, there was no pressure for them to get to Trini, just the fact that they wanted to participate in Carnival, and oh yeah-they had boat guests flying into Trini from Canada.  Long story short, they made it after a less-than-enjoyable few days at sea with the Mother Hens on this end following their progress and texting them every hour of the trip.  Their guests, Ken and Carol arrived to find a lovely boat to sleep on.

Jesse James is THE go-to guy for cruisers visiting Trinidad.  He runs tours and shopping trips for cruisers with his fleet of five minibuses.  Besides that, he is the master facilitator.  No problem is too large for him to help solve, and it seems that he knows everyone on the island.  Unfortunately, when we arrived he was busy with a big job in another area of the island.  We went to his office daily, arranging tours and outings with his wife, Sharon Rose.  It became a standing joke that Jesse didn’t really exist, he was just the mythical face of the business.  When he finally appeared, we all had a good laugh.

Carnival here isn’t just for a day or two.  Some say that it is the third largest Carnival in the world, behind New Orleans and Rio.  Words alone can’t describe the two weeks leading up to and culminating with Fat Tuesday.  We attended the Junior King and Queen competition, a 6-hour marathon featuring elaborately costumed boys and girls separated by age from 2 to 16 years old.  Another night, we visited several “Pan Yards,” where various steel bands ranging in size from 20 to over 100 drummers practiced for the big competition.  Another evening took us to a costume shop, where workers fabricated costumes for the locals who played in various bands during carnival.  Made to order, some of the costumes were priced into the thousands of dollars ($TT).  (So, let me digress for a moment here.  There are many “bands” which march in “Pretty Mas,” which is the big parade on what we call Fat Tuesday.  The bands range in size from a few hundred to six or seven hundred.  Each band has a theme, so the costumes that are worn by the players all conform to that theme.  You may pay upwards of $1,500(TT) or $200(USD) to march (or play) in that band.  What you get as a participant is 4 semi-trailers: one with the hugest sets of speakers and amplifiers that you’ll see short of a rock concert, one with an endless bar (mostly serving beer and rum (150 proof) punch), the next is the food truck, lastly there’s the trailer loaded with porta potties.  Security details surround each band to help keep a modicum of control.  Picture band after band moving down the street, music cranking to the point that you need earplugs, stopping at four judging points along the 5-mile route all day long.  In between judging points, there’s a lot of winin’ and chippin’ going on.  The competition for the King and Queen of Carnival was another marathon which extended well past midnight.  The costumes were beyond incredible.  The semi finals for the pan band competition lasted a good eight hours, but we wimped out after six, just before 1:00 A.M.  So, you see, the lead up to Carnival was quite rigorous for us middle-aged cruisers.  I said nothing of the “Fetes,” which went on around the island virtually nightly (I say nightly, but the Fetes usually start around midnight or so and last until midmorning.  Pronounced Fet, these parties usually feature live music and lotsa’ adult beverages.  Some were attended by upwards of 10,000 people.)

Monday morning, J’Ouvert, or “Opening of day,” A.K.A. “Dirty Mas.”  There was no way that Suzanne and I were not going to participate.  You don’t need costumes for “Dirty Mas.”  In fact, the less the better.  You join a band, (ours had around 400 people) pay your money, put on some clothes that you don’t mind being trashed, show up at 2:00AM and start the parade.  Our 4 semi-trailers were ready to go, so off we went.  It’s Dirty Mas, because along the way, paint, mud, and chocolate are flying.  By the time 9:30AM rolled around, we looked like walking rainbows.  After seven-and-a-half hours of strong rum punch and dirty dancing along our 7-mile route, I’m not sure that my feet were even hitting the ground, but what happens at Carnival stays at Carnival.  We coerced Paulette, John, Carol, Ken, Sylvianne and Ken to join us, but that’s their story to tell.  We all recovered sufficiently to be back in Port of Spain the following morning at 7:00 to be observers for “Pretty Mas.”  The costumes were incredible, the excitement level built during the day, and by the time we bailed at 5:00 PM, it looked like it was going to be another long night.  All right, let’s address the 500-pound gorilla in the room.  There IS a lot of crime here in Trinidad.  The poor economy, due in part to the low price of oil is not helping the matter a bit.  It’s very important to be aware of your surroundings at all times and stay out of certain areas.  That being said, aren’t those precautions important anywhere?  Trying our best to adhere to “Alizann Rules,” i.e. not being far from home at night, not flashing a lot of cash, and not wearing jewelry makes us feel a bit more comfortable here.

After Carnival was over, the eight of us headed to Asa Wright Nature Center and Lodge, located in the north rainforest.  Our diet hadn’t been bad enough during Carnival, so we stopped at one of Jesse’s favorite roadside stands for some Trini Streetfood.  The Saheena was to die for.  The Roti, doubles, and etc. weren’t too shabby either.  Winding up to 2,000 feet above sealevel through the rain forest, the road narrowed to 1 ½ lanes in places.  Rounding one corner, we came across a well-kept little home.  In the carport, a lady had a 12’x12’ tarp laid out, covered with a medley of hot peppers.  Red, orange, yellow and green, glistening from their recent hose-down, they made for a real Kodak moment.  We got out of the van and chatted with her and her husband.  She makes hot (peppah) sauce for some of the local markets.  On Sunday, the carport is transformed into a church where her husband preaches the Gospel.  Cool.  Back on the road, Asa Wright’s main gate soon came into view.  The lodge consists of the original manor house and several outbuildings, accommodating up to 50 guests, on 200 acres of wildlife conservation area.  There, we had three days and two nights of quiet relaxation, hiking and bird-watching.  Suzanne and my room, one of 2 guest rooms in the manor house, afforded us easy access to the dining room, and the veranda which overlooked a dozen or so bird feeders as well as a several-mile view of the forest valley.  Guides were always available on the veranda to help identify any of the 170 species of birds found there.

Well, just about time to wrap this one up.  We headed back to Alizann, packed some winter clothes, and headed to Michigan to await the arrival of our newest Grandchild, Nash Joseph Wells.

-Later

Good Day, Good Day

John and Paulette recovered all of the stuff that bounced out of their dinghy when the hovercraft crashed, including the 2 new gas cans.  It didn’t look like the outboard went in the drink, but we took both dinks ashore just in case.  Customs and Immigration-Oh, Baby!  Sign on the door says that if we are not dressed appropriately (respectfully), that we will be turned away.  Luckily, we all put on our Customs clothes before checking in anywhere.  We had 4 sets of forms, in triplicate (lotsa carbon paper).  The “Do you have Stowaways on Board” form woulda made us laugh if we weren’t being on our best C & I behavior.  Next came the “If you have Stowaways on Board, what are their names and nationalities” form.  Really?  Computer is not scanning passports, so all info is hand-entered into the system.  I’ll make this quick-an hour later we were done with Immigration.  On to Customs down the hall.  So…..you can’t just “bay hop” here.  You need to give an itinerary, letting Customs know where you are at all times.  “It’s for your protection.  Officers check on your whereabouts for your safety.”  By the way, the island is divided into 2 sectors.  If you move to the other sector, you need to clear in and out there, as well as provide an itinerary for the anchorages that you visit within that sector.  Made our heads hurt.  Good reason to just stay in Charlotteville and explore from here by land.  Total C&I time, 1 hour, 20 minutes.  Good thing that no one else was in line.  Next stop, the only ATM in town.  Nope, neither of our cards work.  John’s only able to get a couple hundred TT dollars ($1TT=$.15US) out of it.  At the tourist office, the nice lady tells us that it’s a small ATM.  The truck from the bank arrives to fill it, and it’s immediately emptied by the folks who’ve been waiting in line for $$$.

It was time to stretch our legs, so we decided to hike up to Flagstaff Mountain for a view and photo op, then down to the windward side to check out the anchorage in Anse Bateau, and the dive shop at the Blue Waters Inn there.  The hike was on pavement all the way.  We had been previously warned by more than one local not to stray out into the bush without a guide.  Seems that over the years, several tourists had gone missing after not heeding this admonition, causing the whole village to be mobilized for search and rescue operations.  After being lounge-chair lizards for a few weeks, the 6.2-mile, 1,300 feet up and down was plenty of exercise, even on pavement.  Of course, it was lunch time when we hit the Blue Water, so lunch on the veranda, featuring Tobagonian delights was in order.  I wondered out loud how my rubber legs were going to make it back over the hill.  I must have missed the memo (not unusual), ‘cause the other three just laughed and informed me that we were getting a ride home.  Whew!  Hate to see a grown man cry, especially when it’s me.

Charlottesville is a fishing village, and there’s not a whole lot else there, so the Sunday check out town day went pretty quickly.  We walked over to Pirate’s Bay, a 600’ up-and-down, then walked the streets of the village, ending up at “The Suck Hole” restaurant.  “No local food,” our waitress informed us.  Our lunch was super good, starting out with an order of fries which were served as an appetizer.  OMG!  There was probably a pound of fries in each order (x4).  We had watched other diners squirting ketchup, mustard, and mayo all over theirs, so asked our server if this was a local custom.  Hahaha.  The squirt bottles contained Pepper sauce, Garlic sauce, and Chadon Bene (Windward Islands equivalent of Cilantro).  Squirted liberally over the sautéed plantain and eggplant-covered fries, the finished product might have been responsible for a paroxysm of ecstasy (tryin’ to keep things G-rated here).  When the main plates of fried fish, shrimp and chicken arrived, we were pretty much sated, so doggie boxes were distributed all around.

On Monday morning, Junior picked us up for a day of touring Tobago by car.  We toured the length of the island, checking out every anchorage and little fishing village on the leeward side.  After our recon, we decided that staying at anchor up in Charlottesville was still a good idea.  Moving to the interior of the island, Junior took us to visit the “Herb Lady”, Philomene, at Eboe Gardens.  Around her house, perched on the side of a hill (and what house here isn’t?)  were a myriad of imaginative containers filled with dirt and harboring a variety of herbs, medicinals, and decorative plants.  The containers ranged from discarded Styrofoam cooler tops to garbage bags, with all manner of holders in between.  Suz bolstered her collection of herb plants here.  Next, we had to stop at Bucoo Bay for a peek at the goat-racing track. Once a year, on Easter weekend, the annual goat races are held there.  Crazy-a huge stadium, built around a grass-covered dragstrip, and used only once per year.  I guess it’s a huge event.  People come from all around the islands to participate in the betting and spectacle of it all.  (Think a boisterous Kentucky Derby.)  BTW, these aren’t your garden variety goats, these are RACING goats.  With long legs and slimmer bodies, they look more like Greyhounds than goats.  The trick, though, is picking the right jockey(?).  Young men sprint alongside the tethered goats, so the oddsmakers place a fair amount of weight on who’s drivin’.    Might just have to get back for this event.  Wheeeling into Scarborough, the vibe was like day and night compared to little Charlotteville.  Very touristy, and a much busier, apparently the “business center” on Tobago.  We stopped for “Doubles” at a roadside vendor (the back of a station wagon).  Okay……Doubles are a breakfast staple here in Trinidad/Tobago.  Delicious.  First, a sheet of waxed paper.  Next, two Bara (a fried pancake made of Gheera (roasted ground cumin), flour and curry powder).  Next, Chana (chick peas, minced onion, ground garlic, chopped pimiento, chopped onions, curry powder, amchar masala, water, salt, and chadon bene is ladled on top.  The Chana has the consistency of split pea soup.  You bet it’s a challenge to eat.  Ya got no implements.  Hold the paper in one hand.  Slip one of the Bara out from under the fray.  Use it as a spoon to sop/scoop the Chana off the other Bara.  Then, eat the other Bara with the remaining Chana.  Or………….Get yer face right into the whole mess and slurp/suck your way through.  Walk to 2-gallon water jug and wipe off mouth, chin, nose, hands, shirt, shoes, etc.  Or be a Trini.  Eat and walk away without a trace of food on your Sunday finest.  Mastering the Double will become a quest during the following weeks here.   A short hike the Argyle waterfalls gave us a chance to stretch our legs with a stroll through the forest.  Back to the boats by early evening, we had a good feel for the island.  Paulette called Newton George, a renowned local guide to arrange some hikes in the rain forest later in the week to do some bird-watching.

Another day took us back to the Blue Waters Inn, where we had arranged for a half day excursion to Little Tobago Island.  This National park is a bird sanctuary, where we expected to see Frigate Birds, Red Footed Boobies, Brown Boobies and Red-Billed Tropic Birds.  We weren’t disappointed.  We saw all of these and more, even spotted a Tropic Bird in her nest on the ground, guarding her single chick.  After our hike, we enjoyed a nice snorkel on the reef, seeing the usual suspects plus a Hawksbill Turtle.

Well, that old weather thing cut short our sojourn on Tobago.  During our stay, the winds continued to build, but it looked like we’d get a bit of a reprieve late in the week before the Trades became “Brisk” again.  We had to cancel our Rain Forest hike, but promised ourselves that we’d return in March or April to finish what we had started.

Back at Customs and Immigration, our pleasant conversation about grandchildren, kids, and life in general paid off.  We were granted passage out of Tobago on a “nod and a wink.”  The officer provided us with a handwritten note, which she dutifully stapled together.  She told us that while we anchored overnight in the Scarborough sector that we didn’t have to check in, and when we got to Trinidad,  present her note to Immigration, and everything would be all right-she’d make a call.  So, we left the office after more chittin’ and chattin’, promising to bury her in New Grandbaby pictures upon our return.  (Oh, the Admiral tells me that I mightn’t have shared the news.  Our daughter and son in law are giving us a new little boy at the end of February.)

We crept down the lee side of Tobago on Thursday and anchored in Store Bay, outside Scarborough.  On Friday, we made a smooth passage to Trinidad over two-foot seas.  One more 48” Mahi in the freezer, by the way.  We docked at Crew’s Inn Marina and Hotel and readied ourselves for the Customs and Immigration ChaCha.  (Even tho’ it’s the same country, you still have to clear in and out.)  Ha Ha.  We produced our “Get out of jail free” note.  Frowns on the officers turned to smiles.  No paperwork.  Zip, Zilch, Nada.  After some more chitchat with the officers while everyone else in the room was filling out forms and waiting in line, we were home. 30 seconds formality, 5 minutes rappin’.

We’re here for the next couple of months.

-Later

Good Day,

John and Paulette arrived just when we were finishing up with our projects.  The last coat of Awlbrite went on the teak, Gazza and Peter finished up with the detailing, and I was done with the mechanicals-for now.  It looked like the wind and seas would abate somewhat in a few days, so we made ready to skedaddle to Tobago.  We said goodbye to Rob and Cindy over dinner at the marina, and had our last Indian food fix at “Spice of India” (sister restaurant to “Masala Bay”, which we enjoyed several times while at Marigot.)

On the 18th of January, we started our first passage of the new year.  Alizann was off the dock at 05h08.  Our plan was to run in the Caribbean down the lee side of St. Lucia, then into the Atlantic for a straight run to Tobago.  The seas were forecast to be 3’-5’, increasing to 4’-6’ by the end of our 26-hour run.  Winds pretty steady at 15-18 knots.  Both the wind and waves were predicted to be just a little aft of our beam, causing us to expect a bit of a rolly ride. As Seamantha is a larger boat, and thus a bit faster, we left about an hour ahead of John and Paulette, figuring that they’d catch us sometime in the middle of the afternoon.  The first four hours were gorgeous.  We had a slight push of current, and seas were running less than 2’.  As we rounded the southern tip of St. Lucia, the seas ramped up a bit to 2’-4’, pretty much on our beam.  A 1.5 knot current pushing against us was going to be the story of our life for the southbound cruise.  (In actuality, it varied from .5-1.5 knots nearly the whole trip.)  The lines went out, and by 12h30, the fishing drought was over.  We hooked into a 4.5’ Wahoo, and before we lost him 15 minutes later, he gave us quite a show.  At 13h00 the reel was zingin’ out again.  This time, we boated a 48” Mahi.  Less than a half hour later we boated a 42 incher.  At the same time, the other reel was spoolin’ out.  When the Admiral brought it in, there was a disembodied Skipjack head on the lure.  Missed another biggie!  Yow!  Suz thought that the fishing would be better out in the Atlantic, and she sure was right.  Stopping for the fish thing slowed our progress, and Seamantha caught and passed us.  By now, the seas were running 3’-5’ with a bit of chop on top, thanks to the now steady 18 knot winds.  Getting a bit too wavy to fish, as every time we hook up we have to slow the Girl, and she commences to rock and roll, pitch and yaw.  It’s always hard to gauge the height of seas, but when I’m standing in the cockpit and can’t see over the top of the waves, I feel pretty comfortable calling them 3’-5’.  We were still 19 hours from Tobago, so our little buddies folded up in the cooler needed to be butchered and refrigerated.  Brought out the Husky portable workbench, braced my back against the bulkhead and went to work.  Of course, after I was done the cockpit looked like the scene of a mass murder.  I didn’t start feeling pukey(sp?) until I was just about done cleaning up on my hands and knees.  Not good.  Suz had to come down and chunk up the filets and throw them in the freezer while I stood in the pilothouse door, gulping in fresh air.  (Note to self-take antiemetics when filleting in cockpit in rolling seas.)  Some pre-cooked sloppy Joe’s hit the spot, then we settled in for the evening.  Four to six feet now, winds back to around 15 knots.  The inside of the cupboards were being re (or is it “dis”) organized as we listened in amusement to the clatter from the outside.  As the sun sunk below the horizon, it was dark as the inside of a pocket, being just a day or two from New Moon.  Suz hit the rack early, so by 00h30, she had six solid hours of sleep under her belt when she came on watch.  By 06h30 when I got up, the seas had dropped to 3’-5’, winds still 15 kn, and the current was abating.  The Admiral said that during her watch, the current had become so intense that she lost another knot of headway, causing her to have to increase throttle.    By morning, Seamantha was two and a half miles ahead of us and headed for the barn.  As Tobago drew closer, the seas dropped to 2’-4’, then 1’-2’ over the last hour of the trip.  When we entered the harbor John and Paulette had the hook down, and Suz maneuvered the girl into position where I snubbed the anchor chain with 225 feet out in 40 feet of water.  While I was studying our position relative to other boats, an “Oh sh$#t” exploded from the door of the pilothouse.  “John and Paulette just dropped their dinghy!” “So?”  “I mean DROPPED, not lowered.”  We couldn’t see their tender due to the relative positions of the boats, but we could see bright red gas cans floating on the water.  Now we’re getting nervous as they’re not answering their VHF and we can’t see either of them.  Boats rotate a bit.  There’s John.  There’s Paulette.  This all transpired in probably less than a minute, but it seemed like an eternity.  Amazingly, all four of the dinghy lifting lines severed at the same moment, dropping the tender straight down where it landed upright.  What if the dinghy hadn’t been clear of the boat?  What if only one or two legs of the bridle had broken?  What if it had swung back and hit one of our pals?  Thankfully J & P had some good JuJu going in a bad situation.

Time now for the Customs and Immigration Chacha, but that’s a story for

-Later

Good Day, Good Day

Here in the islands, it’s very poor form to neglect greeting someone, even if just passing on the street.  A little bit different than back in the States.  “Good day, everything okay?, you good?”  Then, you’d better be ready to chat for a minute (or ten) with a total stranger.

It was a good thing that we headed to Carolina with an extra bag-lotsa boat parts to bring home.  Kurt’s partner, Richard was waiting for us at the airport when we arrived in St. Lucia.  We took a leisurely ride back to Rodney Bay, stopping at a scenic overlook on the windward side, and the “bread man” in the interior.  Baked in a traditional stone oven, the 8 inch loaves were split and slathered with butter and slices of cheese while still hot.  Richard looked the other way as we ate in the backseat of the minivan.  (Just what we needed after all the food and drink over the holiday).  Back at the ranch, the Girl looked good.  Zim had looked after her while we were gone, even watering Suz’s plants.  They looked better than when we had left.

Over the Holiday, I had talked to Jeff, on Idyll Time.  He and Suzie had just gotten their boat surveyed for their insurance renewal.  In the course of the survey, a small leak was noticed in…….Guess what?  The gennie exhaust elbow.  Time to face the music.  Easy(?) jobs always seem to grow in scope as you’re working through them.  One of the screws holding a flange was buried behind the shore power cord bin.  Only the shorty screwdriver would fit-my hand wouldn’t.  Grrrhh!  Sweat, swear, sweat, swear.  Repeat.  Screws out, flange won’t budge.  Chinese 5200 (permanent adhesive) under the flange and around the elbow.  Repeat sweat/swear mantra.  Fetch 4 pound sledge.  Satisfaction.  When the elbow was out, the cause of the problem was evident.  A faulty weld had allowed the stainless steel to corrode, and there WAS a small leak in the tubing.  One of the legs of the new fiberglass elbow not long enough, and another problem discovered with the original installation.  Time for a re-engineer.  Incredibly, Island Water World had some fiberglass tubing.  JB Weld, a couple coats of glass matting and some epoxy followed by a coat of black paint, and the new bits were ready for install.  Channeling MacGyver? Guess the dues were paid on the removal, ‘cause the install went super smoothly.

Suz and I had been commiserating over recoating our brightwork (teak caprails).  The teak still looked good, but we knew that it wouldn’t be long until the epoxy coating (Awlbrite) began to fail.  After procrastinating for a month, we hired Tony and “Friend” to do the job.  It sure felt good to have that project off our plate, as we had both dreaded the prospect of taping, sanding, coating and etc.  Oh yeah, we had to move the boat so that the guys would have access to the port side, and as we were moving the Girl, Suzanne heard a new and strange noise.  We finally determined that it was the raw water pump for the oil cooler.  I thought that it’d always sounded that way (see: Delusional thinking).  Nope, “That’s new” says the Admiral.  Check spare parts spreadsheet-Yep, got one of those.  Yada, yada, yada.  They say that one of the definitions of cruising is “working on your boat in exotic places.”

My sad story is done for now.  I’m sure that it really choked you up.

Gary and Tori came in shortly after our return in anticipation of starting the first leg of the ARC around the world rally, so we had more playmates.  New Year’s Eve saw a cruiser-organized wine tasting dock party on the tee head next to our boat.  Local hikes, including a stroll up to Fort Rodney on Pigeon Island kept us occupied for a few days.  We had eight dive days with Dive St. Lucia.  They have a great program.  A two-tank dive with lunch in between dives off a well maintained, open transom 46’ dive boat costs around $100 (U.S.) a head.  The crew is well trained and very enthusiastic-we love ‘em.  Suz headed back to Ann Arbor in the States for a few days to attend Ali, our daughters’ baby shower.  While she was gone, I had a chance to replace that pesky pump, and do a thorough cleaning on Alizann.  From the flybridge to the bilge, everything was removed from its’ hiding place, cleaned and replaced.  Stopped counting at 29 hours.  (I know, sob, sob, sob!)  The good news was that I ran out of time, so hired Gazza and Peter to wash, wax and detail the outside.  It took the two of them two full days, which of course was stretched to occupy the better part of three-and-a-half to get the job done.  At the end of the workday, we sat in the cockpit of Alizann sipping cold beverages and rappin’.  Gazza is a Rastafarian, and we had some spirited discussions on religion.  Gazza had some very unambiguous opinions on both.  I thought it was a dealbreaker when I told him that Suz and I were Catholic, but serendipitously, a guy came by in a dinghy after just having lost his chain and lock in the water.  When I dropped everything, donned my mask and snorkel and found the lost goods, Gazza decided that I was a righteous man and let the Catholic thing slide.  Whew!

Shortly after Suz returned, Rob and Cindy on “Avventura” (Grenada pals) came back to their boat from a holiday trip to the States.  The weather was so cold in Kansas City, where they live, that some pipes froze and burst in their home.  Maybe one of the few things more expensive than boat repairs is hiring a plumber on New Year’s Day.  This boating thing is so hard to describe, but the intense friendships that you develop and renew periodically are one of the attractions for us.

Too soon, it was time for the World ARC to leave.  After years of preparation and planning, Kim and Zim on Someday and Tori and Gary on Solitude dreams were about to come to fruition.  You can follow these two boat and others on www.worldcruising.com.  As the last days before departure wound down, their moods changed and the tension was palpable.  After all, this wasn’t a 3 or 4-day passage.  They were leaving to go AROUND the world.  Two nights before departure, Suz broke the tension with a “Bon Voyage” meal aboard Alizann.  The “Four Cheese, Drunken Sun-Dried Tomato and Spinach Pasta” casserole, washed down with a few bottles of French red and white pop was delicious.  Dinner was capped with a homemade Key Lime pie, Godiva chocolates, and orange-infused rum.  Yum!  After the forty World ARC boats left the marina, it was pretty quiet, but no worries.  John and Paulette, aboard Seamantha, were soon on their way from Martinique to join us for our Trinidad/Tobago excursion.

Internet is spotty.  I’ll try to bounce some pictures into space when it gets better.

-Later

Au Revoir, Martinique.  Hello St. Lucia.

Time to giddyup.  The weather window popped open, so we were off to St. Lucia.  Had reservations for a slip beginning on the 15th, but figured that 2 days early was no big deal.  Emails to the office went unanswered, and our phones were acting up by not acting at all.  Arriving at Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia, we found that there was “no room at the inn.”  Oops.  Elton, the Dockmaster worked his magic and put us at the “Big Boy” dock, where Alizann nestled in among the 100 and 200 footers.  He even got us a U.S.A. power supply.  Livin’ large in the expensive seats (at the cheap seat price).  He said that we’d probably have to move over to the “poor side of town” as soon as a spot opened up on the other dock.  So, I’m doing the post passage engine room check, and there’s some dried salt on the floor of the generator compartment right under the raw water cooling pump.  Sheesh!  My handy dental mirror and flashlight reveal that there’s also a trickle on the underside of the pump.  I knew that it was going to be there, but I like to delude myself now and then, preferring to think that everything’s O.K. when it’s not.  I know the drill.  There’s a spare pump on board.  We’ll get another spare when we’re home at Christmas-Ka-ch$ng!  Continuing the inspection, there’s a puddle of dried rust on the sole where the generator exhaust passes through the engine room bulkhead.  Hmmmh.  It’s directly under a stainless-steel elbow which is bright and shiny.  Mirror and flashlight reveal a different story underneath.  Clean rust trail off with emery cloth-shiny, no worries.  Tighten hose clamp, repeat delusional thought process.  Run generator for 10 minutes-no leaks.  Finish engine room inspection-all good.

Over the next few days, we get The Girl dressed up for Christmas with outdoor lights, etc.  In the meantime, we meet up with Kim and Zim (s/v Someday-St. John’s and Grenada), who are here for the start of the ARC Around the World Rally.  Theresa, Randy and the boys from Pilot’s Discretion are here too.  After being on the megayacht dock for a few days, we figure that they’re not moving us.  Meticulously get all the chafing gear on the lines, double-tie, get down extra fenders so that we can leave the Girl over Christmas.  Kiss of death.  Next morning, Sean, the marina manager comes by to tell us that we need to move.  Grrrhh.  Meanwhile, the elbow is nagging me.  Pull hose on other side of bulkhead to check inside of elbow.  Looks good, but the elbow is made from SS tubing, not pipe which is thicker.  Google, Google, Google.  Okay, the experts say that the fittings should be SS pipe or fiberglass/polyester.  We better have a spare.  Call Krogen-Gregg says that he has a new Stainless elbow that he can ship.  Thinking, thinking.  Hmmh, if it does start leaking, and I have to replace it, why not use fiberglass, which will never corrode.  Kill a half day online.  Order fiber elbow to be delivered over Christmas.  Sheila, just add it to the pile of boatstuff that’s accumulating in your guest bedroom.

“Oh, you’re leaving your boat in the marina for ten days with no one onboard?  You need a Temporary Importation Permit.”  Are you kidding?  The Customs cha-cha all over again.  (Why can’t I just keep my mouth shut?)  Customs needs a boat inventory before the officer can come to do a boat inspection before we can get our permit to leave.  Ka-ch$ng!  Okay, most of our stuff (spares, tools) is enumerated on spreadsheets, but it’s not a bad idea to have a list of all our goodies for insurance purposes.  We ended up with 5 sheets, single-spaced, 2 columns for our boat inventory.  When we gave it to the Customs officer, his eyes nearly popped out.  We made it about halfway through the first page, when he said he’d take our word for it.  He had an icy drink, signed our papers in triplicate, and was on his way.  (They DO love their paperwork down here in the islands.  Suz and I believe that they comprise 90% of the world market for carbon paper.)

Kurt picked us up at Noon on the 18th, for our hour-and-a-half drive to the airport.  Fourteen hours later, Suzanne’s sister, Sheila, picked us up in Asheville, North Carolina.

-Later

Bonjour,

Ah Martinique.  Great food, wonderful grocery stores, cheap French wines, great food, good roads, lots of hiking trails, great food, many sights to see.

Soo…..  Our plan was to anchor out in Martinique.  Then, we thought we’d get a mooring ball so that we could be close to the marina.  Then, maybe we should rent a car (John and Paulette had one).  Well, let’s see if they have a berth at the dock so we could have easy access to the car.  Long story short, we rented a car for 2 weeks, and Le Marin found a spot on the dock for us, on the condition that we left in a week.  The marina holds around a thousand boats, but was jammed full.  We figured that things would work themselves out as long as we just hung loose.  Okeey Dokey.  Time to Med-moor between our neighbors who were about 19 feet apart (our beam is 17.5).  I’m backing the Girl in from the pilothouse, totally blind.  The monkey working the controls while the Admiral is in the stern whispering commands into my headset.  (We prefer this routine to my driving from up top, as I can step out of the pilothouse to the bow easily).  The dock guy is in his tender, holding the bow mooring ball sorta out of the way, as I’m backing between the our neighbor’s stern  and the ball.  All’s going well until we’re sideways without a lot of room to maneuver.  “Oops, I meant stern to starboard, not port”.  It was gettin’ on towards dusk, and cloudy, but I could see the dock guy’s eyes, as big as pies as the Girl slid past his tender before he disappeared below my line of sight.  No crunch, no foul.  We got ‘er straightened out without a go-around, Suz got stern lines on with the help of the young lady next door, and our Dude, now visibly more relaxed, got the bow attached to the ball.  We jammed some fenders between the boats, and we were home.  Our neighbor lady, Elodie, had just single-handed from France in the Mini Transat, a race which had ended for her the day previously.  (The Mini Transat is a race for 6.5 meter-that’s 21 feet, folks- boats that starts in France, and ends in Martinique around 17 days later.)  We didn’t see much of her for the first few days as she was laying in the cockpit of her Uncle’s boat next to us, catching up on her sleep.  Our neighbors on the other side?   Let’s just say that we locked up tight whenever we left, even for a minute.  Not judgin’-just sayin’.  The always colorful life on a boat!  We solved the European shore power problem (partially) by wiring up an adapter to allow us to bring 220V, 50Hz into the Girl.  We charged our batteries with one of our chargers which would accept 50Hz, while running the boats’ AC appliances off of a different inverter.  The only appliances that we lacked were air conditioning and the washing machine, as our inverter doesn’t put out enough voltage to run these guys, and they don’t like 50Hz frequencies.  (Okay, tech geeks, I tried to keep the explanation simple)

The hikes on Martinique are plentiful.  There are kilometers and kilometers of reasonably marked trails covering much of the island.  Suz and I knocked off the south end of the windward coast in several day-sized pieces, as well as a few in the interior.  There’re still plenty for our next visit.

There are plenty of other attractions to visit:

The banana plantation, Habitation Balfort, where we toured the fields aboard a little train.  We were taught us everything that we needed to know about the cultivation of bananas.  All of the fruit exported from Martinique goes directly to France. 

The Habitation Clement, a restored sugar plantation, gave us a taste of what life was like on a 19th century sugar plantation.  (It was also the location where George H.W. Bush and Frances’ Francoise Mitterrand met following the First Gulf War).  Several buildings and an old rum distillery were available for a walk-thru.  At the end of our tour, we had a real bonus!  Rum tasting-with samples of all of Clement’s current products.  The pourers weren’t in any rush to chase us out.  I had the feeling that we could have tasted all afternoon, but we had to drive home in the now torrential rain.  It was raining so hard that there was a guard at the bridge over the raging creek to show us the way to drive over the now-submerged, railingless(?) plank bridge. 

We were a bit disappointed after driving all the way north to the sugar refinery, only to find that they were closed until a few months into the dry season when cane would again be harvested.

The ruins of the Chateau Dubuc  on the Caravelle peninsula were extensive, and the setting was stunning, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the windward side.  Another rainy day, but as we walked along on our self-guided tour, we stopped to seek shelter for our brown bag lunch (baguette, French cheese and meats, of course!).  We had planned on hiking another segment of the shore trail after our tour, but were foiled by the pouring rain.

Another day took us to Jardin Balata (Balata Gardens).  Even though exotic species of plants from all over the world were displayed, Balata wasn’t your typical botanical garden.  Instead of groupings by species, the garden was designed to be a work of art, blending different colors and textures of plants to create scenes pleasing to the eye.  Every time that you rounded a turn in the serpentine path coursing through the property, you were confronted with another Kodak moment.  Very cool.

The Anse Cafard memorial was very moving.  Erected on a prominence overlooking a bay where a slave ship grounded on a stormy night in 1830, killing most on board, it features fifteen modern art stone sculptures.  Depicting slaves, the figures are oriented so that they face the African’s homeland of Ghana, thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean.

The childhood homesite of Josephine (Napolean’s wife) is worth a stop, if for no other reason than to say that you were there…Nowadays, only the foundation of the main house and the ruins of the sugar mill are visible.  A small museum is also on the grounds.  (You may know that both Martinique and St. Lucia claim to be her birthplace)

La Savanes des Esclaves is a reproduction of a typical slave “village” that would be found on plantations during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Although the guided tours are in French, a self-guide brochure, printed in English, allows you to fill in the blanks if your French is “iffy”.  Very easy to spend a couple of hours there.

Martinique is a country where daily life revolves around lunch, much like France.  Businesses close between Noon and Two P.M., and there are no two ways about it.  We fell easily into the habit of taking our main meal at lunch time, and our days of exploration were punctuated by lunch at some great little restaurant that someone had recommended.  I could name names, but the places will probably be different by the time you get here.  Don’t be long!..........tick,tick,tick.

Do the French like their wine?  As my pal Dick would say “Does a chicken have lips?”  I’ve never quite figured the simile, but it rolls off the tongue well.  Yeah, French wine is inexpensive here, but mores so when you shop at Pomal wholesale distributor (Thank you, John and Paulette).  This is where the retailers shop, and we felt fortunate to escape with only 6 cases of red and white pop.

All in all, the two weeks flew by.  Yes, on day 7 we were awarded a reprieve of 3 more days.  On day 10, the Dockmaster appeared at our stern and informed us that we “must leave right now”, as a boat was coming in to this, their reserved slip.  No worries.  He moved us to the “Big Boy” dock for the remainder of our stay.  John and Paulette’s 58-footer looked like a dinghy compared to the other yachts berthed there, so you can imagine how lost Alizann looked.

It would be really easy to get sucked in to life here at Le Marin.  The dockage is inexpensive, and there are modern conveniences here on Martinique (In absolute contrast to Dominica and St. Lucia, around 30 miles or so to the north and south, respectively).  Fresh baguettes every morning, loads of great little restaurants, good roads, nice beaches, a real shopping mall………….

We may be back.

-Later

Pages

Captain's Log

Bueno Dia,

The Girl all bedded down for our 4 (or 5) day absence, the backpacks loaded and by 07h45 on Monday morning, we were ready to roll.  After spending the whole day in bed, Suz seemed to be on the mend from her G.I. bug-at least she hoped so.  Always game, she never says die.  Sue and Mike, our new Australian friends met us on the dock.  We walked out to the marina gate, where we were to pick up our ride to Magic Tour, in uncharacteristic silence.  Turns out that we were all thinking the same thing:  Were we physically and mentally ready for the arduous 4 days ahead of us?  When we arrived at the office and joined the gang that was waiting there for our 2 hour ride up to Mamey, the starting point of our trek, the uncertainty in my mind just blossomed.  There was no one else in the group of 27 people waiting that was less than 30 years younger than us, and boy, were we getting the eye.  In the end, that sealed the deal for me.  There was no way that I wasn’t gonna do this thing.  I’m pretty sure that my Bride was thinking the same thing.  We were split into 2 parties.  Ours had 13 hikers: a German couple, a Dutch couple, a couple from Italy, 2 guys from Sweden, a guy from Belgium, and the 4 grandparents.  Our local guide, Indio got us all briefed through our translator, Estefan, while their intern Juan loaded our gear onto a couple of Toyota Land Cruisers.  Our driver, Joel was a familiar face-he had driven us up to Mompox a week or so previously.

We arrived in the village of Mamey right around 12h00, just in time for lunch.  As we were eating, groups of hikers were straggling in, looking happy but bedraggled.  Lotsa “High-fivin’” was going on, as they had completed their hike.  Indio gathered us up in front of the topographical representation of our hike painted on the wall and took us through the plan.  Today would be a relatively easy walk.  Four hours, with one steep “up.”  The kicker was that there was no cover for this portion.  “Make sure that you have plenty of sunblock on, wear a hat, and drink lots of water.”  It was HOT.  Even though it was kinda hazy the sun beating down was relentless.  The footing was good, however, 2” of fine white dust covered the path which we shared with Pack Mules and motorbikes.  Fifteen minutes into our first steep “up”, our pal Sue said “I’m not going to make it”.  Well, we certainly weren’t going to make the time that the youngsters were, but we were going to do this thing at our own pace.  And so it went.  Rest stops were well planned.  Just when you thought your heart was going to jump out of your chest, there was the rest of our gang, catching their breath, having a sip, and maybe a snack of fruit.  Then, it was off again.  After a few hours, we passed the last spot accessible by motorbike.  After that, we only had to share the path with mules.  We arrived at the first camp a bit ahead of schedule, even with us taking up the rear.

Okay, so here’s the skinny on the camps:  The sleeping areas were like pole barns without walls-roof only.  The beds consisted of rows of bunks, each encased in mosquito netting side-by-side on a packed dirt floor.  The “mess halls” were rows of long tables and benches situated under a similar wall-less structure, with the galley attached.  All open air.  The toilets were in a separate cinderblock building with the “showers” behind.  These did have walls.  The shower consisted of a ½” pipe coming out of the ceiling, supplied by cold river water.  There weren’t many showers, but you didn’t need to worry about somebody luxuriating in the hot shower.  For Suz and I, the drill was simple:  Arrive at camp, grab a bunk, then head straight to the shower while everyone else was milling around.  Rinse out soaking wet clothes (I’m not exaggerating this one-you could literally wring out your shorts and shirt, you perspired so much) in fresh water.  Dry off with chamois (towel too heavy to pack).  Put on long pants and long-sleeved sleeping clothes and plenty of mosquito repellant.  Sit and chat with the rest of the group for a while, then have dinner.  There weren’t a lot of places to sit and relax, as the seats were just wood benches, and the generator went off around 21h00, so it was off to bed.

Several companies are licensed to trek up to The Lost City, and there are only a couple of camps, so we had as many as 50 people in camp at night.  Licensed?  Yep.  The Colombian government is very attuned to preserving their indigenous population’s ways of life.  The trek to Ciudad Perdida goes through indigenous tribal lands, so the number of hikers is limited, and you MUST go with a licensed company.  Forty percent of the monies collected in fees from hikers goes to the local peoples, and all of the camps are owned by them.  (Quite a contrast with the way that the United States treated our indigenous population).  The trail is closed for 1 month per year while the indigenous folks celebrate their religious season.  The Kogi are the tribal group that inhabit the area of the Sierra Nevadas where Ciudad Perdida is located, however the Arhuacas and the Wiwas, also descendants of the ancient Taironas consider the site sacred as well.  Over the course of the hike, we passed by several Kogi villages.  All of their buildings are constructed of natural materials-wood, bamboo, mud and palm leaves.  Several villages appeared to be abandoned, but Indio informed us that the owners were at their other homes.  The Kogi farm at different elevations, and all families have several homes, so that they can follow their crops.  Smoke was billowing out of the walls and roof of several huts as we passed by.  When a family moves back to their house after living away, the vermin are cleared out by starting a smoky fire in the chimney-less building.

05h00 came mighty early.  Happy Birthday to me.  Got a raise today-went on Medicare!  Out of the comfy pajamas and into the soaking wet clothes from the day before.  With humidity in the 90’s, ain’t nuthin’ drying overnight.  Since your clothes are soaked in sweat an hour after walking, it seemed silly to bring all that extra weight in clean clothes for every day.  The exceptions for us were underwear and socks.  T.M.I!  Breakfast at 05h30.  Our group’s departure time was 06h00.  (The different groups had different departure times, so we rarely saw other hikers on the trail).  Well….we were in a rain forest, and it was the beginning of the rainy season.  It started raining in the morning, and rained off and on (mostly on) for the whole 8 hour walk.  When I say it rained, I mean RAIN.  At times, it was tough to see the scenery across the sheer drop-offs next to the path, the rain was so heavy.  No reason to wear a raincoat, as you were wet anyway.  In fact, with the temperature in the 80’s the rain felt good.  The bad news was that the path was pretty steep.  In places where you weren’t scrambling up rocks, you were hiking up (now slippery) red clay.  The combination of water, mud and Mule deposits made a slip-and-fall a scary prospect.  Okay, that was the crummy part.  The good part was a hundred times better.  At times, the views across verdant green mountains and valleys with no signs of human habitation were breathtaking.  The trail, now fully in the rain forest was covered by a canopy of lush vegetation.  Bird songs, insect sounds and the drone of the rain created a sensory near-overload.  Combined with the sound of your footfalls, the rhythm of your breathing and the beating of your heart, you had your own personal mantra repeating itself throughout the day.  At times, you felt like you were the only person on the trail, as you could neither see nor hear anyone ahead or behind you.  The trail paralleled the Rio Buritaca.  At times, you could hear the water roaring 200 feet below you.  At others, the river was right next to the trail.  I think that we forded the river by hopping from boulder to boulder a couple of times during the day.

The morning hike was punctuated by a rest/snack stop.  Fruit was provided, and liquid in the forms of water, Gatorade or soda was available.  We stopped for lunch a little after midday.  Our cook, Maria had gone on ahead of us and had our second hot meal of the day prepared for us when we arrived.  Lotsa calories and protein at every meal kept us all charged up.  Supplies for the camps are brought up on mules, which we encountered frequently during the day, and heard passing by at night.  After lunch, we were back on the trail for 4 hours, again with a rest stop in the middle.  This pattern would be repeated over the next few days.  At one point, we crossed the river on a one-person platform suspended from a cable and hand-pulled by rope across the gorge.  Very cool.  We arrived in camp tired and wet, but exhilarated.  The next day, we would hike the trail and ascend 1200 steps, arriving at the Lost City four hours after our morning departure.  There was an almost audible buzz in camp that night.  Our translator, Estefan assured us that it never rained in the morning up there.  The generator went off early, as it ran out of gas.  We were too.

-Luego

Feliz Pascua!

The Girl was resting so comfortably (and clean) that we didn’t even leave her all afternoon and evening.  Periodically, gusts of wind would race up the bay, causing our wind generators to really fly.  I love the sound of money going into the bank.  I think that we finally have our renewable energy sources tuned in.  The solar panels and the wind generators are at full potential.  We’re covering all of our electrical loads, and putting the surplus in the battery bank.

Warning:  A small bit of tech talk ahead.  I think that I told you that I had rewired our 110VAC watermaker to run off our inverter, so that we could make water while underway without running the generator.  That experiment didn’t work out so well at first.  The watermaker was drawing so much power that the alternator never fully charged the house battery bank, so…the engine start battery (which also runs the CPU controlling the engine) never got it’s share of juice.  As the start battery’s voltage dropped, the low voltage alarm on the John Deere panel went off, signaling that the CPU was not getting enough voltage to run the engine.  (Bad Juju!)  Eureka moment!  A month or so ago, I figured out that I could reprogram the alternator regulator in such a manner that we could overcome that problem.  After a half dozen passages, I can now confidently report that the fix is working.  We no longer regret not purchasing a 12VDC watermaker.

We had a wonderful night at anchor.  Absolutely no chance of rain, so we inflated the Air bed that our pals Dick and Jan bought us and slept up on the boat deck.  Under the full moon, we didn’t see many stars, but it was all good.  Friday morning greeted us with a conundrum.  We were only allowed one night in a bay.  The wind was, if anything, blowing harder than the day before.  We decided to stay put.  If the Coast Guard chased us out, we’d head back to the marina.  After a breakfast of Tuckmuffins (a legendary breakfast treat in my own mind), we dropped the kayaks into the water.  Paddling out to the opening of the bay, the Admiral found that she couldn’t paddle against the (I’m guessin’-30 knot winds).  One gust hit me on the beam and nearly knocked me over.  Back at the Girl, we had a refreshing swim/read/nap afternoon.  17h00 (park closing time) came and went without a visit from the authorities, so we had another quiet night on the hook.

Saturday morning we were up and out in order to get ahead of the winds, which increase as the day progresses.  We still had 20+ knot winds and 4’-6’ seas, but they were on our stern.  After a year or so without fueling, the Girl was thirsty, so we put on 575 gallons of diesel before returning to our slip.  We got our backpacks loaded up for our forthcoming hike to Ciudad Perdida on Monday, then took a stroll through town.  Holy week is a big deal here in this predominantly Catholic country, so the city was rockin’.  We snagged a table at “Ouzo” before the dinner rush:  Crispy pork belly app., Duck Confit Ravioli for Suz and Hornido Sofrito for Yours Truly, all washed down with a pitcher of Sangria de Casa (tinto).

We hit 07h00 Mass this morning, only to find out that the Easter schedule was different than the usual-it started at 06h00.  That turned out to be okay.  Forty-five minutes into the service, Father was just getting warmed up, so we still got an hour and fifteen minutes of religion even tho’ we were 45 minutes late.  Suz looked like Death during church, and she’s been in bed since we got home at 08h00.  It’s 15h00 now.  The lower G.I. funk has been going around, and it looks like she’s the latest victim.  We’ll see about the hike tomorrow………

-Later

Ola, Amigos!

We’ve had a couple of quiet days, just hangin’ on the Girl taking care of the necessaries.  Holly the haircutter invited us to a potluck the other night, and we met half a dozen other cruisers.  Most are on the other dock, so we hadn’t interacted with them yet.  Among a few other pearls of wisdom, we found out that all of them were making water here at the docks, and most of them had been here at least 6 months.  We have never run our watermaker at a dock, for fear of fouling the delicate membranes with any petroleum pollutants which may be in the water.  Long story short, we made water for 7 hours yesterday without any issues.  We still won’t make a habit of it.

Yesterday we rinsed off our trusty little ship and polished some stainless steel.  The dust here is unbelievable.  You can rinse down the decks, come back a day later and still get a wave of brown water streaming out the gutters.  We’ve learned to keep the hatches mostly closed since we were having the same problem inside.  Thank goodness for Vornado fans.  At night, we turn on the airco in our stateroom.

 

We’re into our second day of “Lose incredible amounts of time to computer crap”.  Yesterday, I cleaned up our main navigation black box.  We still had routes and waypoints from Labrador and Newfoundland clogging up the memory.  That went smoothly, just took some time.  Then we started on the PC based program.  I got stuck.  The Admiral couldn’t help.  Then……I know better, but consulted multiple forums and flogged around for a few hours without result.  Suz says that John on Seamantha uses the same program-he’ll know.  What’s Apped him last night.  Talked to him this morning.  All good.  I just heard a “Woohoo!” from the pilothouse while I’m peckin’ away in the cockpit.  Here’s the deal.  There aren’t any official charts of the area we’ll be visiting next (The San Blas Archipelago in Panama).  The definitive cruising guide for the area has been compiled over the years by Eric Bauhaus.  He has taken over a million soundings and created a whole portfolio of charts which can be found in his book “The Panama Cruising Guide.”  These charts have in turn been magically turned into an electronic format for “Open CPN,” an open-source navigation program created by a group of cruisers.  Suz downloaded these on to our nav PC months ago, but never said “Abracadabra!” so our boat did not appear on the electronic chart.  Well, she did her prestidigitating today, and made it so.  When she called me up to the pilothouse a couple hours ago, it was working waaayyy cool.  When she closed the program and tried to reopen it, it crashed big-time.  She’s been up there for all this time trying to resurrect it.  In the meantime, I’m hogging up the bandwidth downloading 650 other charts to the laptop.  Okay, I’m heading up to see how it’s going.  Hahaha.  She’s got GPS position, AIS targets, and depth working on the Open -CPN and the Bauhaus charts.  And you thought that she was just another pretty face.

Well, we spent another day manually entering the latitude/longitudes for waypoints and anchorages in the San Blas islands.  It was painful, (I think that there were around 140- some odd positions) but will be well worth it over the next year.  It was time for a break, so we decided to take the Girl up to a couple of the bays in Tayrona National Park.  We had passed them on our way here and they looked, and we had heard, that they were pretty cool.  Problem was that you need a cruising permit and permission from the Port Captain here in Santa Marta to anchor there.  Our trusty lady at the desk, Kelly failed us big-time on this one.  She told us that the cruising permit could be had in a day, and that as soon as it was in process, we could head out.  We paid for the cruising permit last Friday, planning on heading out on Monday.  Monday morning, we head to the office for our permit.  Kelly’s on vacation for 2 weeks, but David, the Agent here at the marina will handle it.  Come back this afternoon.  The Port Captain had to check with the bank to make sure our $$$ had been deposited, manana.  Tuesday morning.  He’s working on it.  Come back this afternoon.  Manana.  Wednesday morning.  David’s meeting with the Port Captain.  Come back this afternoon.  No can do.  “Can’t we go, since he has our money, and it’s in process?” No.  We’re resigned to not being able to go, and having a cocktail up on the boat deck, when David appears around 17h30 with a gorgeous document in his hand.  Yay!  Weather’s supposed to be iffy-very windy and high seas.  We’d already decided not to go.  Didn’t tell David that.  So, we are in this conversation with him, and he tells us that he’s so happy that we got the permit ‘cause he worked so hard to get it.  His contract here at the marina is up, and his last day is Sunday.  He’s a full-time business student at Magdalena university, and his last year will require his full time attention.  After he leaves, Suz and I decide that we should probably go-it’ll make David happy.  My concern is that David is also the Agent at the marina, acting as the go-between with Customs and Immigration.  I have a shipment of boat parts coming that I don’t want to pay duty on.  Hopefully the new guy knows the ropes and will get our stuff through the maze.

Thursday, 07h30, and I hail the Port Captain on the VHF.  Yep, we get permission to anchor for 1 night each at 2 bays up in the park (The limit is 1 night).  The wind was brisk when we pulled out of the harbor, but nothing really significant.  As we turn the corner 45 minutes later and start heading East, the breeze is picking up.  Picking our way between a rocky point on the mainland and a small island, the sea becomes a washing machine.  Breakers are crashing over the shallows on our port and starboard.  It looks scary, but the guides that we’ve read say that we can go through.  Well…we never see less than 66’ of depth.  Boy, it was kind of a puker.  27 knots of breeze on the nose with a beam sea.  We could hear the cupboards being rearranged, and took a peek down into the salon.  Oh yeah!  Our recliners had slid across the floor, bunching up the rug in the process, but were now stable in the center of the boat thanks to the bunched-up rug.  An hour-and-a-half later, we turned the corner into Bahia Neguange, more or less out of the wind-driven waves.  Up at the head of the bay, all appeared calm.  Before we dropped the hook, we let the boat settle into the wind, and found that the swell rolling into the bay was right on our beam, making for a bit of a roll.  Nope.  Even with the flopperstoppers out, it’d probably be an uncomfortable stay, and we were looking forward to some peace.  Out of the bay and into the one next over, Bahia Gayraca.  Much better.  The swell wasn’t funneling in to this one nearly as much and we had a nice breeze.  We dropped the hook in 22’ of water around 150 yards off the beach and put out 150’ of chain, just in case.  We got the cupboards and inside of the boat tidied up, then took to scrubbing the layer Santa Marta dust off the outside while enjoying the sunny afternoon.

-Later

Buenos Dias,

Our “go to” lady here at the marina is Kelly at the front desk.  (She’s one of the 3 people in town that speaks English-not dissin’, just sayin’).  We have a Q&A with her at least twice a day, and she’s invaluable.  She guided all of our paperwork through Customs and Immigration without us ever seeing an official.  Nice!  She also acts as our go-between with the marina manager and the dock supervisor.  IMHO this place would be lost without her.

Back to our walkabout, the visit to the Museo D’Oro turned out to be a hidden gem.  Besides exhibits featuring gold jewelry (as the name implies), there is a wealth of information regarding the Sierra Nevada regions of Colombia.  The museum also happens to be housed in the building in which Simon Bolivar laid in state after his death in 1830.  Written descriptions in Spanish and English attend each display.  We learned more South American history in two visits than we had in the previous sixty-odd years.

Adjoining Simon Bolivar Parque and adjacent to the Gold Museum is Juan Valdez coffee shop.  This is the Colombian version of Starbucks, with coffee that is ten times better.  Most of the best Colombian coffee is exported to Europe, with the inferior mass produced beans staying in-country, or exported to the U.S.A. The Juan Valdez chain’s aim is to introduce Colombians to their finest coffees. However, it was a total shocker when we were charged 13,000 pesos for a large cappuccino and a large latte.  Ohhh…. That’s around four bucks.  Needless to say, we’re now regulars.  The coffee dude doesn’t ask our names anymore.

In the morning, fruit vendors ply the streets, pushing their handcarts.  Some have amplifiers and loudspeakers over which they hawk their wares in the concrete canyons between the high rises.  Whole pineapples go for 3,000 ($.90 U.S.).  Bananas, Mangos, Pineapples and other South American fruits that I’ve never heard of are equally inexpensive.  After we buy fruit for the boat on the sidestreets, we have a favorite guy by Bolivar Parque that sells plastic cups full of sliced fruits, accompanied by plastic forks for 2,000 a pop.

We’re not really sure what the diving here is all about, but there are several dive operations in town.  We’ve visited a couple of them, and may go for a dive or two while we’re here.  -Keep you posted.

Besides street food, we’ve eaten at a couple of recommended restaurants.  “Ouzo”, is highly rated by both Tripadvisor and fellow cruisers-very good, with Sangria that is superior (or maybe it was so because we had been walking all afternoon).  Lamart, a funky little place recommended by Andrea (up at Minca), served up a mean Ceviche, followed by a very good main course of fish. A couple of other restaurants were good, but not memorable.  The common denominator is that all have been very inexpensive by North American standards ($30-$40 U.S. for 2 drinks, apps, and entrees).  Kinda makes going out a very viable alternative to staying home and cooking.

Back on the docks, we filled our water tanks with the tap water.  No good! No good! No good! cried another North American who had been here for 6 months.  “I was sick for a month, and Nigel, down the dock, ended up in hospital for a week (he has other health issues) from drinking the water.  Sheesh!  What a dummy.  We’ve been drinking tap water since we left home 5 years ago, but this IS South America.  So we’ve just taken on 300 gallons of potentially poisonous H2O in our public health graduate’s pristine water tanks. W.H.O website says that a cup-and-a-half of bleach in each tank should do the trick, so now our dishes, laundry, and skin is whiter than white.  The Admiral does this procedure once a year, so the drill wasn’t unfamiliar.  Meanwhile, we’re buying bottled water.

You know that these two science majors are nerding out on history these days, and our visit to the gold museum just whetted our appetites for some South American rat facts.  After a twenty minute, two dollar cab ride, we arrived at Quinta San Pedro Alejandrino, the estate at which Simon Bolivar spent his last few weeks. The botanical garden there was very much less-than-spectacular, but the colonial architecture and the artifacts on display more than made up for it.  With the help of our sorta English speaking guide, we learned more about General Bolivar, a.k.a. El Libertador.  Our taste of history at the estate provoked us to dig deeper, thanks Google, when we got home.

Monday the 8th, 08h30.  Time for our road trip to Mompox.  Sue and Mike joined us for the 5 hour trip, driving out of the shadow of the Sierra Nevadas, through the lowlands leading to and surrounding the once-busy port of Mompox on the Rio Magdalena. Established in 1540, the town was the major port linking the coast to the interior of the colony. During that period, goldsmithing and ironwork flourished in this center of commerce.  Late in the 19th century, trade routes changed to another branch of the river Magdalena, and Mompox has been in decline ever since.  As of late, it has been increasingly popular as a tourist destination, due to the plethora of colonial architecture there.  By no means touristic(?), I can see this sleepy village exploding on the traveler “must see” scene when the local airport and highway are completed.  We stayed at a small, 8 room hotel on the river in Mompox. It is a charming little property housed in the historic Portales De Marqueza warehouse. Our cook, Margherita served us up a savory breakfast of local fare which generally held us until dinnertime every day.  Jim and Carole joined us, and the six of us wandered town, taking in the local culture.  We visited several churches, took a three hour boat ride into the Pijino swamp, and plied basically every street in this busy little village.  Feeling like we had seen all there was to see in Mompox, Suz and I came home on Thursday, leaving Jim, Carole, Mike and Sue, who were spending another day (Their rooms were prepaid).

Suzanne prepared a fantastic chicken curry yesterday.  Mike and Sue joined us for dinner when they returned from Mompox, as we figured that they wouldn’t want to chase for food after the long drive home.

The washer quit yesterday with a load still in the drum.  Sleep last night was sporadic.  I hate having things broken.  This morning, while Suz was having her hair cut by a fellow cruiser, I pulled the doors and moldings off the cabinet where the washer/dryer sits, and pulled it out so I could take the cabinet apart.  Good news was that the failure was located in the switch that stops the washer when the lid is open.  I couldn’t fix the switch, so I bypassed it by jumping the wires.  All good!  The Admiral says that she’ll enjoy sleeping with the Maytag repairman tonight.  T.M.I., I know.  No worries, I won’t keep you posted.

-Luego

Buenos Tardes,

So… we’re getting ready to start our second week in Colombia, and what a time it’s been.  Right now it’s 92 degrees and 88% humidity at 13h00. It has become pretty clear to this Gringo why siestas are the order of the day here.  I’m hidin’ out, peckin’ away at the laptop with the sweat rolling down my spine.

The crossing was a dream.  We had 2’-4’ seas on our quarter most of the way.  At 06h00 on Saturday morning (36 hours into the trip), we rounded the point north of Santa Marta.  It’s not unusual to have 40 knot winds with the current piling the waves up around this point where the Sierra Nevadas rise up out of the sea.  This passage is consistently rated as one of the most difficult in the WORLD!  Yeah, that includes Cape Horn.  My red-headed weather forecaster and lifelong companion hit the nail on the head.  5-10 knots, 1’-3’ seas, as we watched the sun rise over snow-capped mountains.  I got the 2 Blackfin tunas that we caught filleted and into the freezer as we eased our way down to the IGY Marina at Santa Marta.  After we had the Girl properly secured in her assigned slip, screens and sunshades in place and lounge chairs out, one of the dock guys came by.  He didn’t think that the other guys had put us in the best spot and wondered if we might want to move before it got windy.  Long story short, we moved.  Later that night the wind came up to a steady 27 knots with gusts into the mid 30’s.  At 22h00 Suz and I were on the dock securing extra lines across the slip next to us, happy that we had moved.

Small world time.  We introduced ourselves to the Australian couple on the sailboat next to us.  They told us that they had some friends from Michigan that they had met in Indonesia several years ago and had travelled quite extensively with them.  Suz asked what city in Michigan.  “Grand Rapids” The name of their boat?  “Nepenthe” Aha! Must be talking about Carol and Jim (You remember them-we met them in Guadeloupe a couple of years ago.  You know the couple that started a 2 year circumnavigation and ended it 17 years later.) Well….Turns out that they didn’t go back to land after all, and they were about 20 miles up the coast here in Colombia. The 4 of them had just returned from a trip up the mountain to Minca, and were planning a 4-day jaunt to Mompox(Mompos) the next week.  Carol hoped that our new pals, Sue and Mike would talk us into joining them.  No problem!  Mompox was on our list of places to visit.  We got a hotel reservation, arranged transportation for Sue, Mike and ourselves, and made a plan to meet up with Jim and Carol there.

For the first day or so, we just got the “lay of the land” here in Santa Marta.  We quickly found out that in this city of 400,000 or so, about 3 people spoke English.  Crash the Spanish “How-To” books, and gracias de Dio for Google Translate.  After hitting the ATM, I finally found out what it feels like to be a billionaire.  (A Coke costs around 5,000 Colombian pesos. 10,000 COP is around $3.15 U.S.)  It took awhile to get the conversion thing figured out.  We had planned to do some hiking/touring inland from Santa Marta (hereafter SM), so we checked out the tour operators in town.  We settled on “Magic Tours,” and booked a day trip to the small village of Minca, located up in the mountains around an hour from SM.  It seemed like a good way to check out their operation before booking our big trips with them.

The next morning, our driver was at the marina gate.  We drove through the narrow streets of SM, congested with cars, motorbikes, bicycles, and yes, horse and mule-drawn wagons.  It took me about 5 minutes to realize that renting a car and driving in this snarl of apparent traffic anarchy was TOTALLY OUT OF THE QUESTION.  Nonetheless, we popped out the other side and made our way up the serpentine road to Minca.  So what’s in Minca? Not much.  Some small farms, growing coffee and cacao and some small hostels.  It’s known as a hub for backpackers and trekkers, and there are scads of them there.  Suz and I were definitely the oldest non-locals by 30 years.  What’d we do there?  We met our guide, Andrea and our 5 fellow walkers.  Our first walk was to a small coffee plantation, where we stopped and had some killer coffee.  One of our companions was a Brit who didn’t like coffee, so they brewed her a cup of Coca tea.  We also learned that only the indigenous men, not women, chewed coca.  It is legal to grow and smoke marijuana in your home, but not in public, nor is it legal to sell it.  Oh….the useful information tangents that we get off on. After the coffee farm, we hiked for another 2 hours to a small waterfall, where we cooled off under the rushing water.  From there, it was another hour or so to Andrea’s dad’s house on the side of the mountain, where he cooked us a wonderful lunch followed by some cacao drinks. Besides the ignominious moment when Yours Truly slipped off the bridge comprised of 2 bamboo poles spanning the creek, the hour long walk back to the village was uneventful.  I really thought that the least one of my companions could do was follow me in to the drink, or at least suppress their laughter, but no.  It wasn’t to be.  Ego severely bruised, but ankles unharmed (although rather soggy) I trudged (squishelly) down the jungle path.  Our ride arrived, and we decided we’d stick with Magic Tours for our next outings.

The Santa Marta marina is right in the center of town, so walking access is very easy.  Before it gets too hot, our routine has been to put a few miles on and explore.  After our Minca experience, we headed back to Magic with Mike and Sue in tow, to book our hike to Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City).  It’s said to be a pretty strenuous hike, so we’ve been trying to get some walks in before, even though we know that we won’t be able to get in shape walking on the flat at sea level.  We’ve got our trek scheduled to begin the Monday after Easter.  We’ll keep you posted.  If you want, you can check out The Lost City at:  https://ciudadperdida.co/

Lotsa stuff here in SM, so I’ll talk at ya

-Luego

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