Top of the Morning

The week spent with Jeremy and his family went by waaayyyyy too quickly.  We did a whirlwind tour of some of the hot spots in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.  On the day of their arrival, March 30th, we did the tourist/shopping thing in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas.  We were off the dock by 08h30 the following morning to grab a mooring ball at Leinster Bay, where we toured the Ananberg sugar mill ruins.  After a morning snorkel, it was off to Great Harbour, on Jost Van Dyke, to clear Customs and have a snack and sip at “Foxy’s.” By 15h10, we had moved to a ball in Little Harbour, in anticipation of our dinner reservation at “Sydney’s Peace and Love.”  While the girls cleaned out the gift shop, Jeremy and I made drinks at the “honor bar.”  (You keep track of your drinks on a scratch pad, then tote them up at the end of the night to pay).  Later, we enjoyed our meals that we had pre-ordered on the VHF radio.  Being the end of the season, we were the only patrons in the place.  The night wasn’t quite as lively as the last time that Jeremy was here, at the peak of the season, but we had a nice quiet dinner prepared by the owner, Strawberry’s Mom.  07h30 the next morning, we were on our way to North Sound on Virgin Gorda, where we took a ball in Biras Creek.  The Bitter End Yacht Club, the Fat Virgin Café, and Saba Rock were our targets there.  We even had time for a little swim.  Wanting to catch a ball at the Baths, we left North Sound at 06h20, and got a ball by 07h35, just as they were beginning to fill up.  Getting to shore was a challenge, as the swell was up, and the waves were crashing.  To compound matters, the dinghy corrals that were there the last time that we visited a few years ago had been removed.  In their place was a roped off swim area that extended 100 yards or so from the beach.  We tied the dink to a buoy, and went hand-over-hand along a buoyed line to the beach.  We spent a couple of hours climbing in, around, and under the unusual rock formations and the sheltered pools that they create, availing ourselves of numerous photo-ops (A Sports Illustrated swim suit issue was shot here a few decades ago).  Next stop, Marina Cay, home of the Pusser’s Bar (home of the Painkiller). We had a couple before motoring to White Bay, on the South side of Peter Island.  While the rest of the gang caught their breath at anchor, Mikaela and I had a great snorkel.  We started out to just dive the anchor, but ended up being out over an hour.  Swimming over the Eel Grass on the way to the reef, I spotted “something” on the bottom which looked really weird.  It was a blood red and orange ball with blackish spiky, feathery appendages-kinda like a round featherduster, and a little bigger than a softball.  It was obviously some kind of critter, maybe an urchin, but it looked like an alien.  In all of our diving in several hemispheres, I’ve never seen anything like it.  When we got back to the boat, we brought the rest of our crew out for a look-see.  Digging out our critter books, we discovered that it was a Magnificent Urchin.  Strange thing is that they’re usually found at fairly great depths-I don’t know what this guy was doing in 15’ of water, but we were happy that he was there.  We slept in the next morning, and motored the 3 miles over to Benure Bay, on Norman Island.  Instead of hitting Pirate’s Bight, another beach bar, we voted for a “rest” day, just enjoying the scenery, snorkeling, and sunning before heading to Cruz Bay the following day to clear back in to the U.S.A.  After clearing Customs, we made the obligatory pilgrimage to “Woody’s” for cheeseburgers and fries before moving the Girl to Francis Bay on St. John’s for our final night together.  Early on the 6th, we departed Francis, moving over to Crown Bay Marina in St. Thomas, where the gang caught a taxi to the airport for their flight back home to Atlanta.  Whew!  Makes me tired just recounting the high points.  You know what comes next-BOATCHORES.  We rolled over and used a laundry service instead of doing it ourselves.  At a buck eighty-five a pound, the forty-two pounds was a bargain.  All we had to do was drop it off, bring it home and vacuum-bag it.  Two days later, with the oil changed and the Girl spiffed up, we were ready to bid “Adieu” to the Virgin’s, and get on South and East, back to St. Maarten.

-Later

 

Well………Change of plans.  We opted out of Great Harbour, and decided to head over to Sandy Spit, off the east end of Jost Van Dyke.  The surge was really rolling in, so we moved a little west, to Machioneel Bay.  The cruising guides told us that the anchoring was difficult due to the rocky bottom, but we looked for a sandy spot and buried the hook on the first try.  Score!  Our next bright idea was to take the “soccer Mom” chairs to Sandy Spit with a few sips and watch the sunset.  Great concept.  Execution?  Not so much.  The waves were wrapping around the spit, creating quite a surf.  I got the Admiral, chairs, and sips on to the beach, then tried to anchor the dinghy.  No way.  After some dinghyslammin’, and wavescrashin’ (over the side of the dinghy-nearly swamping it), the saltwater-infused drinks, Admiral, and chairs were safely on “White Star” and back to sea.  Back at the Girl, we exchanged our salty vodka tonics with fresh ones and did a quick recon over to Little Harbour, JVD to make sure that “Sydney’s Peace and Love” restaurant was still in bidness.  Check.  We’d be heading there next week when our son, Jeremy, and his family were with us.  Next morning, it was off to Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke, to check the status of “Foxy’s”  bar.  Check.  See ya in a week or so.  Next day, we were off to Soper’s Hole to get our despacho for clearing out of the B.V.I.’s.  Customs and Immigration was a zoo.  The 6’x 8’ room was packed with charter boat crews looking to clear their day charter passengers in…..lots of twenty-somethings making snarky comments about the process while the officers are sitting right there.  The head lady whispered “Next,” then pointed to Suzanne (who might’ve been last in line).  We were outta there (mooring, launch dinghy, retrieve dinghy, drop mooring) in less than an hour.  It pays to respect authoritay.  From Soper’s Hole, it was off to Cruz Bay, in the USVI, to do the Customs and Immigration Cha Cha there.  Always a treat (I’ll leave it at that).  It did, however, allow us to visit “Woody’s” our favorite hamburger (and fries) bar in Cruz.  Is this becoming a theme?  Hmmmh…..  The fresh produce was excellent at the grocery store, so we stocked up before returning to the Girl.

From the 15th through the 19th, we spent our time on a mooring in Francis Bay, on St. John in the USVI.  Besides beaching and snorkeling, we got together with “Vision Quest” and “Eagles Wings” (see St. Martin) for a lively game of dominoes.  The 19th and 20th, we moved around the corner to Leinster Bay, where we visited the ruins of Annaberg sugar mill and the Murphy house.  In a fit of stupidity, we hiked over the top of the island to Coral Bay, only around two-and-a-half miles, but up and down and up and down on trails covered with loose rock.  We got to “Skinny Legs,” our hiking for hamburgers destination, and our “Map my Walk” app said we had burned 256 calories.  We scoffed.  Half pound hamburgers, chips (no fryer), and about a half dozen Cokes each and we still felt calorie-depleted.  We explored the little enclave of Coral Bay and gave more than a second thought about finding a cab for a ride home.  Neither of us said “Uncle,” so it was back over the top.  On the way home, we saw a hand-painted sign that said “Google Maps is wrong.  This is not a road to Leinster or Maho Bay.  This is a foot trail”.  HeHee.

Thought it might be fun to circumnavigate St. John’s, so on the 21rst, we headed around the east end to Hurricane Hole on the south side, just adjacent to Coral Bay.  We took a “day ball” in Otter Cove there, and explored the bays by dinghy.  Of course, we ended up in Coral Bay, where we offloaded trash and hit the Dolphin Market for fresh produce.  We looked for a bar that we had visited some thirty-five years ago, meeting Suzanne’s doppelganger.  Long story, but we were sitting at a bar there, and a guy at the other end kept staring at us.  Finally, he came over and said something like “Suzanne, who’s this?”  We thought that he was going to hit us up for a drink or something.  The Admiral says “I don’t know you.”  He looks at her like she’s out of her mind.  Okay, so we talk a little bit more, with us wondering what his angle is.  He tells us that there’s a girl in town named Suzanne, that looks just like my Suzanne.  Right.  He goes back to his bar stool.  Within the half hour, he’s back at our end of the bar with a girl in tow.  Holy Crap!  The two could’ve been twins.  Even the Admiral said that it was like looking in a mirror.  Okay, that’s the story.  Present day-couldn’t find the place.  We did find “Skinny Legs” again for an encore.  If you like burgers, highly recommended.  I wanted to stay on the ball, but the boss said it was for day use only for a reason.  We motored over to Hansen Bay, and anchored in front of a little resort there.

On the 22nd, we continued west and took a ball in Great Lameshur Bay, former home of the Tektite underwater habitat/research lab.  I won’t bore you with the details, but in the late 60’s, the Tektite habitat was built by General Electric.  Besides marine biology, the research conducted there included the use of rebreathing SCUBA devices, psychological effects of living in close quarters in a hostile environment for extended periods (NASA was all about this), and the new technique of saturation diving (where humans stayed underwater for extended periods, negating the need for multiple decompressions).  Google it if you’re interested-cool stuff, especially for my marine scientist spouse.  There were some good hiking trails, so we took the opportunity to get off the boat and do some walking.  We stayed in the bay for a couple of days, until the surge drove us out on the 24th.  While we were there, we met Zim and Kim, aboard their 54’ Jeanneau, “Someday,” as they readied their vessel for the “Around the World Rally” starting in May.  We shared drinks and stories a couple nights.  I’m sure that they’ll have a lot more after they complete their circumnavigation in a few years.

Back on the north side of St. John’s, the waves were kinder, and we spent a few nights snorkeling and hiking around various bays.  On the Admiral’s birthday, we got gussied up and dined at ZoZo’s at the old sugar mill in Caneel Bay Resort.

Off to Charlotte Amalie, on St. Thomas to get the Girl cleaned up in readiness for our son, Jeremy, and his family’s arrival.  Having not stayed in a marina for 6 weeks or so, we needed to fully charge and equalize boat batteries, do a thorough housecleaning, laundry, reprovision our fresh produce, and restock with duty-free alcohol.  We checked into the IGY Marina there, dwarfed by the many 150’+ boats in residence.  Not an economical stay at $4/ft., plus electricity, plus water, plus trash removal etc., but very convenient for the reception of guests flying in.  Being near the cruise ship port, all the amenities were nearby too.  We also discovered National Marine, a boat chandlery specializing in servicing the megayachts, but more than happy to order a part for little old us to fix our recalcitrant head.  The price that they quoted was only a bit more than we would have paid for the part in the States (including shipping).  Well, Jeremy, Jodi, and Mikaela are arriving on the 30th, so we’ll catch up with you

-Later

Hey ya,

Boy, de time she do pass quick-like.  After a couple of days experiencing 25+ kn winds, we could finally feel comfortable leaving the Girl.  It was also a pleasure to be able to take a ride in the dinghy without getting soaked to the skin.  We ran in to the Bitter End Yacht Club, and had lunch at the Pub.  The best thing that I can say about lunch was that the WiFi was fantastic-the best we have experienced since leaving the States.  Got lots of pictures up.  The food and the service?  They should have paid us.  We hiked the trail which loops from the north to south side of the resort, climbing up to around 200’, and affording a beautiful view of Gorda Sound, and Oil Nut Bay, off to the east.  We were a bit disappointed to see that the trail which cut across the old Biras Creek Resort property to the new Oil Nut development was posted “Private-No Trespassing”.  We had been excited to see the progress of the development, as we had chartered here several years ago when the sum total of the Oil Nut Property was a 12’x12’ sales office.  From a distance, it appeared that several homes were now completed, and dredges were hard at work in the marina.  On the way down the trail to the south side of the BEYC, we had a birds-eye view of the new marina tucked back into Biras Creek.  It appears to be catering to megayachts, but we were pleased to see that several mooring balls were still tucked up into the creek, and that our favorite little restaurant here, “The Fat Virgin”, was still in biz.

It was time to get moving west, so on the morning of the 9th, when the wind had subsided to 20-25 kn, we were anchor up by 08h30.  The seas were kind (2’-4’).  In the passage between Virgin Gorda and Tortola, the hydraulic system alarmed with a high temperature warning.  #$%@@!  We shut everything down, and I went below to investigate.  Yep, infrared pyrometer confirmed high oil temperature.  Pull the top off the sea strainer-no crap in the strainer, water flow good.  Easy, it must be the impeller.  Took the cap off the raw water pump, and behold!, the impeller was fine.  Hmmm….  Started the boat back up, within a minute or so, the temp was dropping.  Only thing that I could come up with was that we had sucked up a piece of trash (plastic bag, etc.) which blocked the water intake on the hull.  When we stopped, it must have floated free while we were rocking and rolling in the waves.  By 11h45 we were on a mooring ball in Great Harbour, on Peter Island.  Peter is a privately-owned island (Amway), but with the exception of the dozen gated palaces situated around the Cay, visitors are welcome.  We spent 2 days there.  The first evening we had sips at the restaurant patio, located at the exclusive resort here.  After checking out the dinner menu, we discovered just how proud they are of their food, and decided that we’d rather eat on the boat for a week, and still have some change in our pockets as opposed to enjoying the resorts’ hospitality.  The following morning, we took a hot, hilly walk out to the far end of the island, where a pair of wind turbines provide 2/3 of the islands’ energy needs.  They are supplemented by solar panels located on several of the residences, and a diesel generator located right on site.  The island is completely self-sufficient, making all of their water and electricity, and prides itself in being very “Green”.  Just to the east of the turbines, on the north side of the island, lies White Bay.  We didn’t hike down to the beach, as we were “all hilled out”, but from our vantage point up on the ridge, it looked like a nice, secluded anchorage with a beautiful white sand beach (note to self).  On the way home, we stopped at the resort’s beach bar/restaurant, and splurged for lunch.  Actually, the prices were quite reasonable compared to the dinner menu.

Next stop, Norman Island, still part of the British Virgin’s.  We remembered the Bight as being a very popular anchorage for the charter folks, with a floating schooner/bar, “The Willie T” anchored in the middle, and the Pirates Bight, a funky little beach shack bar on shore.  Several years before, while chartering, Suz and I had explored Benure Bay, a few coves west of the Bight, and thought that it’d be a cool spot to hang.  Apparently a few other folks did too.  When we arrived, there were several other boats already anchored there.  Nonetheless, we picked out a likely spot and dropped the hook.  One of these days we’re going to master this anchoring in traffic thing.  On the third try, we finally had the Girl laying in a spot where we wouldn’t be too close to other boats if the wind shifted.  We spent the afternoon snorkeling off the point on the east end of the anchorage.  Dinghying home, we passed by the sailing catamaran “Mauna Kai”, meeting Rick and Bobbi.  Sips and conversation followed, and by nightfall we had a dive trip planned around the west point of the bay for 09h30 the following morning.  They were quite a contrast with us, the lifetime planners and plodders, as far as choosing cruising life.  Two years ago, they chartered a boat with a captain.  Bobbi said “This is what I want to do”.  They retired, Rick went to Martinique to buy a boat, they sold all their stuff, moved aboard, took a sailing lesson, and here they are.  Really?  The morning’s dive turned out to be a very pleasant surprise (after Suzanne’s new dive computer fell off the stern into 20’ of water over a solid coral bottom).  By the time that I got my gear on, the boat had been swinging in an arc around it’s mooring, and I had no idea where to look.  Bobbi and Rick had been looking, but to no avail.  When I got into the water, it was pretty clear that this was going to be a losing proposition.  The bottom was a three-dimensional maze of nooks and crannies of rocks and corals.  After saying “Uncle,” I headed back to the ladder.  The sun came out, and I looked over the reef, admiring the scene in the glittering light.  There, 20’ away from me, doing a headstand atop a formation of pillar coral, was that 8” long computer.  Two inches laterally in any direction would have put it in a slot between the many pillars, never to be found.  We shot some great video of a ray, and saw plenty of lobsters on this dive which ranged from depths of 25’-62’ along the reef’s edge.

We brought the Girl back to the harbor, and Mauna Kai took off for Jost Van Dyke.  The day was young, so we hiked over the top of the island to get a look at The Bight.  Whoa!  Our funky little beach shack with all the boat cards and graffiti plastering the ceiling was gone.  In its place was a huge open-air restaurant, with gift shop and scuba store attached.  The harbor was filled with charter boats and mini-megayachts.  The smell of suntan lotion permeated the air, the Rolex’s and designer label clothes were in perfusion amongst the 100’s of entitled type A’s in attendance.  (Not judging here, just trying to paint a mental picture for you).  After finishing our $17 dollars’ worth of Cokes, we beat a hasty retreat, somewhat saddened that another funky little spot had succumbed to “progress.” Back over the top of the island, and back at our bay, never lacking for company, Nancy and Todd, aboard “Wild Daisy” invited us over for sips that evening.  Nancy had seen our hailing port, and being from Michigan as well, came over with the invite.  We had waaayy too much fun with this interesting couple, he an internist who all of a sudden said “to heck with it” about 2 decades ago, and never came back to the office, and she, the owner of a tool and die shop, who just retired.  Sounds like it worked out well for them.  He’s been sailing for 25 years, while she (who professes not to be a sailor), has been able to do what she loves.  She was a fountain of wit: “I’m getting a tee shirt made that has a picture of a sailboat on it that says “I’d rather be working” and “I love going to windward on a 747” are a few of my favorites.”

In the morning, we took Alizann out to “The Indians,” a popular snorkeling spot just outside The Bight.  We really thought that 08h00 would be early enough to snag a mooring ball, but they were already taken.  We circled back toward The Bight, and took a ball in Kelly Cove, just short of The Bight, then took “White Star” out to the Indians.  It was just “okay.” With so much tourist traffic, it’s very hard on the coral, and most of it was dead.  There was some good fish life there, though, especially for novice snorkelers, with some interesting rock formations.

After our snorkel, we were out of Kelly Cove, and on our way to Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke, where we’ll pick up.

-Later

Bonjour, then Hoodorning!!

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  A week in St. Martin ended up becoming two (or so).  Clearing Customs was quite interesting.  We headed in to Fort Louis Marina to use their computerized check in.  After we had entered all of our vitals into the work station, we presented ourselves to the lady at the desk for our printouts.  Besides the fees for Customs and Immigration, she wanted $15 for the use of the service.  No thanks!  I think that she was amazed when we thanked her and walked away.  We dinghied in to the lagoon, and printed out our forms for a donation of $2 to a local charity-check in done!  The lady at Island Waterworld (local chandlery) was incredulous that the marina was going to charge us so much.  Note to self-listen to fellow cruisers (who told us to check in at Island Waterworld).  Besides the day that the wind was out of the North, and we got the stuffing kicked out of us, the anchorage in Marigot Bay was wonderful.  We wandered about town, visited Fort Louis, high up on the hill overlooking the harbor, and enjoyed the City Market on Saturday.  Every morning at 0730, we listened to the cruisers net on our VHF, moderated by Mike at “Shrimpy’s.” That 45 minute+/- presentation gave us all the info that we needed to face the day-weather, arrivals and departures, general announcements, buy, sell and trade, and general information for cruisers.  Shrimpy’s itself, was another story-it really defies description, but I’ll try.  There’s a laundromat.  They’ll also take your laundry and clean it for you.  We tie “White Star” to the seawall and thread our way through the clutter of spare parts, old outboard engines, the communal refrigerator and microwave, and general mayhem that occupies the porch.  Inside Shrimpy’s central, a long clothes-folding table separates the rows of washers and dryers from the assortment of well-used tables and chairs occupying the rest of the room.  These are occupied by a dozen or so cruisingonabudget sailors hunched over their laptops, whose LED screens provide the only lighting in their half of the space.  Lining the walls are bins and shelves filled with used boat parts and assorted odds ‘n ends.  Manning the VHF in a corner is Mike, a man of indeterminate age, his ample belly displayed through his unbuttoned shirt.  (No aspersions intended-just trying to give you a visual.) As we exit out the back (or is it the front?) onto the alleyway, fetid with the odors of humanity in the tropics, it’s clear again that “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

We soon exhausted the sights on the French side, and found that we were dinghying through the lagoon to the Dutch side every day.  Suzanne found a nice salon where she got her hair cut, and there was a good (fresh produce) grocery store there.  Island Waterworld’s flagship store, and Budget Marine also had stores on the Dutch side, and we spent a good bit of time (and $$) at the 2 stores.  Sandwiched in between sat Lagoonie’s, which became a favorite lunch and Happy Hour stop.  On the way home one afternoon, we smelled gas coming from the outboard.  Within minutes, the motor was missing, and barely making any power.  After the fuel pump incident in Grand Bahama last year, we had a pretty good idea what was happening.  Sure enough, when we pulled the cowling off the motor, I could feel gas pouring out of the backside of the fuel pump reservoir.  As we contemplated the long paddle home, a young couple tooled up in their center console and asked us if we needed help.  The 2+ mile tow back to “Alizann” sure beat paddling.  Back at the ranch, I had the fuel pump off, the “O” ring inside replaced, and the engine running in 45 minutes.  The experience left me wondering if we should carry the tools and extra “O” rings onboard the tender.

We thought that St. Barth’s was a haven for megayachts-Hah!  The number and size of 100+ footers there paled in comparison to the fleet in St. Maarten.  There must have been thirty or forty boats over 100’, and scores in the 50’-100’ range.  One afternoon, while we sat on the deck at the St. Maarten Yacht Club sipping a cold beverage, watching the yachts coming through the drawbridge, we met a crazy sailing couple from (where else?) Canada.  Chris and Fran regaled us with stories about how much fun was to be had when the Heineken Regatta was in town.  Okay, long story short(er).  We decided to stay for the regatta, which was to be held the following week, and moved the Girl into the lagoon on the Dutch side.  Before we left, however, we let the French couple who had been delivering fresh baguettes and croissants to the boat every morning know where we were headed.  For the following week, we continued to enjoy the French bakeries’ wares, delivered fresh every morning.  (As an aside, there is a “French” bakery on the Dutch side, but we enjoyed the goodies from Sarafina’s a bit more)

On Fat Tuesday, we joined a gang of cruisers in a rented bus and headed out to Grand Case, a town on the French side, just north of Marigot for the Carnival parade and festivities.  It took forever to get there-I think that everyone on the island was out partying, and the road was jammed with vehicles and pedestrians.  Along the roadside were numerous little stands and tents where the barbeques flared, the cooks filling Styrofoam plate after plate with Caribbean treats.  We strolled the street in Grand Case, shoulder to shoulder with the throngs there.  Crafts and local products were on display in numerous tents and makeshift stalls along the road, which was pedestrians-only that evening, and all of the shops were open.  Food choices ranged from Lolo (local, low price sittinatapicnictable grub) to fine dining.  Suz and I opted for the latter, and had a very good dinner at “Oceans 82”, which featured seafood and noveau French cuisine.  We hadn’t done the fine dining thing for a while, and we enjoyed every minute of the experience, just barely finishing in time to catch our ride home. 

The Heineken Regatta was a real treat.  Nearly 200 sailboats participated in class racing, ranging from the big offshore ocean racers down to 30 footers.  Teams from all over the globe came in, and the town was rockin’.  The conditions for racing were ideal-20+kn winds, and 4’-6’ seas.  Every morning, Suz and I were out in the tender, taking photos of the boats as they jockeyed for position at the starts of their respective classes.  The wind and seas were a bit of a challenge in our 11’ Whaler, but it didn’t stop the Admiral from snapping around 500 pictures.  The next challenge is culling out the 10 or 20 best shots.  That brings us around to Saturday, the 4th of March.  With one more day of racing to go, and the UB40 concert to come on Sunday night, we were faced with a decision.  It looked like a short weather window for our passage to the British Virgin Islands would open on Sunday, after which it would slam shut for the rest of the week.  We decided to forego Sunday’s activities.  We had our trusty (and I do mean trusty, as several boats had dragged through the anchorage during this windy week) anchor up by 15h30, and made the last bridge opening at 16h00.  Anchoring in Simpson Bay for the night, we were rocked by the surge, in spite of having the flopperstoppers deployed.  We were underway by first light, and trailed lines for almost 12 hours, with nothing to show except one short strike, which resulted in the loss of a bait, and 2 sets of tangled lines.  The conditions weren’t ideal for fishing, with 4’-6’ seas on 6 second intervals, and winds from 14-18 knots.  We made North Sound on Virgin Gorda, some 80 miles from St. Martin, just before dark, and got the anchor down in the lee of Prickly Pear Island.

It's Tuesday now, and the wind has been howling for 2 days.  Early Sunday night, the wind subsided, and was swirling around the island, causing the anchored boats to twirl every which way, putting us perilously close to the boat next to us.  Since we were the last to arrive, it was our responsibility to move.  We’re anchored in 40’ of water, and are happy that we’re farther from the island.  We’ve watched as the vessels in front of us have not behaved themselves in the wind swirling around the land, while the Girl has enjoyed(?) pretty consistent wind.  Several of them have since moved.  The whole bay is experiencing a lot of surge, and the boats are rolling.  We’re very happy to have our flopperstoppers to control the roll.  Ohmygosh!  1500 words?  I’ll let you go.  Talk at ya

-Later

P.S.  We’ll get some pictures up when we get decent WIFI

 

 

Gooood Morning!

A couple of days on Buck Island morphed into a week.  We dropped our anchor in the little Bight on the west end of the island.  The long reef to our North kept out the waves from that direction, while a crescent-shaped, sandy beach sheltered us from the prevailing easterlies.  During our week there, snorkeling charters from St. Croix joined us daily, disgorging dozens of vacationers onto the beach for their “hour in the sun”.  By 16h00, we were usually alone for the night, or joined at most, by one or two other boats.  Facing West, the sunsets were beautiful, and the moon was full during the week.  We spent several days hiking, re-hiking, and re-hiking the solitary trail up and over the tiny isle.  The 300’ rise afforded us some great views and a bit of exercise too.  We spent another day circumnavigating the island on our kayaks, cleaning up flotsam on deserted beaches as we went, ending up with 4 large garbage bags of trash.  The first half of the trip was a workout, paddling against a 17kn. wind, and choppy 2 ½ footers.  After our lunch break on a small sandy beach, the rest of the trip was a breeze-literally.  It was downwind all the way home.  We foisted off some bags of trash on an obliging snorkel charter, and left the rest at the outhouse on the beach (after arranging for the Park rangers to pick them up the previous day.) On our last day there, we were cruising in the dinghy when we heard someone yelling “White Star!” Coming around, we found that it was Mark and Dave, from Palmas del Mar, PR on Mark’s boat, along with several ladies that they had met on St. Croix.  We enjoyed visiting with them, and had dinner together before they had to leave (no overnight permit.)

We left Buck Island at Midnight on the 13th, to time our arrival at St. Barthelemy before dusk.  Our cruising guides told us that we’d have several choices for anchoring/docking, and we wanted to be certain that we didn’t run out of daylight before making a decision.  As day broke, we got the lines in the water, and were rewarded with a small, but enough for several meals, Blackfin Tuna.  As we arrived at St. Barth’s, it was apparent that the anchorage outside Gustavia was really rolly, and the harbor was full.  We headed northwest to Anse du Colombier , several miles from town, and picked up a mooring ball, joining around 15-20 other boats anchored/moored there.  After clearing Customs in Gustavia the next morning, we spent the day window shopping (Hermes, Prada, Rolex, Vuitton, etc., etc.) and walking the seawall along “Ego Alley”, where MANY 100+ footers were Med-moored in a neat little row.  Actually, the mere 100 footers looked small as compared to their big sisters.  Lunch at “Shellona” on Shell beach was a treat, although pricey (over $100, no booze) rubbing shoulders with the “Beautiful People” there.  The visit to town confirmed that our decision on Anse du Colombier was the right one, for multiple reasons.  As our friend, Randy, is prone to say “The rich people are pushing the millionaires out.” Next day was spent hiking the trails from Anse du Colombier.  The first took us along the rocky North shore, skirting the edge of the cliffs which dropped some hundred feet down to the crashing surf.  After backtracking to the bay, a second trail took us to the top of the island, providing us with views of both the North and South sides (as well as cell coverage).  By the time we got to the top (177 meters) of this rocky, dry trail, we were both huffinandpuffin.  Our vantage point gave us a nice view of the house that David Rockefeller built in the late 60’s, which has been vacant, and decaying, since 1992.  It is spectacular, located atop a peak overlooking Colombier  on one side, and Gustavia (several miles away) on the other.  If you’re interested, it was featured in articles in Architectural Digest, and Variety magazines.  The architecture reminded us of the Rockefeller property located on Caneel Bay, St. John, USVI.  In the evening, the park ranger came by, and informed us that we were too big for the mooring.  We pulled off, and dropped anchor just outside the field.  The morning of the 17th, we went back into town, and cleared out with Customs after taking the opportunity to cover some of the back roads, and points of historical interest.

By 13h30, we were anchor up, and headed to Ile Fourchue, just 4 miles away, where we planned to spend the night in the bay on the south side of this uninhabited private island before heading over to St. Martin. Forty-five minutes later, the anchor was down, and we were enjoying the warm afternoon sun with the eight or ten boats on moorings there.  As the afternoon ebbed, most of the other boats departed.  By cocktail time, there were only 4 boats besides ourselves, and we looked forward to a peaceful night.  Right around dusk, another boat cruised in.  As they passed close by, one of the folks on board yelled in French, then English, “Did we have any lobsters for sale?” because we looked like a fishing boat.  (HaHaHaHa-he really thought that was funny.)  They proceeded to grab a mooring ball, and partied until 02h00, screaming, whistling, and playing French rap music, which reverberated off the cliff walls rimming the bay.  Very uncool.  I’m sure that two of the other boats there, which had small children on board were impressed.  When we left for St. Martin at 10h00, the revelers were all still asleep.  We had a sunny, breezy passage to St. Martin.  As we passed Phillipsburg on the South (Dutch) side of this divided island, we could see no less than 5 cruise ships docked in the bay.  Rounding the West end of the island, we turned up into Marigot Bay on the French side.  There is a large lagoon occupying the inside of the west end, which is accessible by passing through drawbridges on either the Dutch or French side.  Our initial plan was to stay in the lagoon, but in reading the cruiser’s net reports, we were concerned about: high crime against boaters, and the cleanliness of the water inside.  So……. here we are, anchored in Marigot Bay on the French side.

-Adieu

Gooooooood Morning!

On Monday, we did the tourist thing.  Mark had a dive trip planned with a local operator, so we hitched a ride in to Christiansted with him.  We had a very tasty breakfast at “The Avocado Pit”, while we waited for Sweeny, who runs a local tour bus business.  Our tour took us to St. George Botanical Gardens, a must-see, after which we traveled to Fredericksted.  There, we toured the old Danish fort, and took lunch at “The Turtle Deli.” The sandwiches were HUGE.  Suzanne and I shared one while gazing out over the water from our picnic table in the shade of Sea Grape trees.  Sweeny rallied the troops, and it was off to the Cruzan Rum distillery, where we went on a guided tour, ending at their asmuchasyouwant tasting room.  Compared to our Bacardi visit, we agreed that this tour was by far the better.

As Mark and Judy were leaving Tuesday morning, they asked us if we wanted to ride along.  “Heck Yeah!”  We spent the day driving around, exploring.  After touring the restored Danish fort in Christiansted, we drove east to Udall Point, the scenic overlook on the easternmost end (and of the USA) of the island. On the way there, we visited the radiotelescope which is the east end of the V.L.B.A. (Very Long Baseline Array), a string of ten identical dishes extending from here to Mauna Kea in Hawaii.  We had lunch on the north coast at “Off the Wall,” on the beach at Cane Bay.  Mark loves getting off the beaten path, so we drove some pretty sketchy roads through the rain forest and along the coast, stopping for Sundowners at “Rainbow Beach Bar” outside Fredericksted.

Wednesday was a hangaroundthemarina day.  We arranged for a car rental (no mean feat-most were taken), and contacted “St. Croix Dive Experience” to secure two spots on their Friday morning dive boat.  Since we hadn’t been diving since the Bahamas a year ago, and we both had new regulators, we thought it’d be best to do a warm-up dive with a professional operator, for safety’s sake.

On Thursday morning, our rentacar was delivered at 09h00, and we were off.  Our first destination was Salt River, where the National Park Service has a visitor’s center overlooking the water. Salt River was the site of Columbus’ 1493 return to NA with 17 ships. This time the natives were not as friendly. The view was tremendous, and the talk by the volunteer ranger was very informative.  We also had a chance to check out Gold Coast Yachts, the boatbuilder where Larry (from Michigan) works.  Heading to the west, we visited Estate Whim, an old sugar plantation which had been restored by the local Historical Society.  Definitely worth the visit.  The awesome sandwiches at the Turtle Deli in Fredericksted were calling, so we had lunch on the beach there.  After our drivearound exploring the backroads of the island, we hit the Cruzan Rum distillery to replenish the ship’s stores.  Mexican Train dominoes provided the evening entertainment.

We were on our way to Christiansted before 08h00, and were at the dock loading our dive gear on the boat by 08h15.  We were fortunate to have the owner of the company, Michelle, as one of the crew.  She’s logged over 10,000 dives around St. Croix, and is a local legend.  Although the water was a bit stirred up from strong winds the previous couple of days, the visibility was still 100’ or so.  Our new SCUBA gear worked well.  Our old dive computers-not so much.  Although we had fired them up the day before, neither wanted to turn on.  Mine is 31 years old, and doesn’t owe me a nickel.  Suzanne’s is only 5 years old, so we were a bit disappointed.  No worries, the crew had a couple for us to use, and all was well.  Although the reef wasn’t very healthy, we saw a fair bit of marine life, highlighted by several Green turtles, Reef sharks, a Spotted Eagle Ray, and a big Stingray.  Of course, all of the smaller usual suspects were present as well.  After a quick shower, and lunch at the “The New Deep End Bar and Grill”, it was time to reprovision.  CostUless is the St. Croix version of Sam’s Club, and we found most of what we needed there.  Their produce looked like it had just come off the boat, so we were happy campers.  On the way home, we stopped at Seaside grocery for the couple of items that we were missing. 

Our friends on dirt often ask us “What do you do all day?” Imagining, I’m sure, that we sit around drinking cute little umbrella drinks while lounging in our hammocks.  Well, yesterday I screwed all day.  I literally crawled from one end of the boat to the other, armed with nutdrivers and screwdrivers, tightening every fastener that I could find.  Loose hose clamps may mean water on the wrong side of the hull, and loose electrical connections make for heat, corrosion, and possibly fire, none of which would be a good thing.  By the time I crawled out of the engine room at 17h30, I looked like I had just gotten out of the shower, and had lost 3 pounds.  Screwing all day takes a lot out of you.  Suz spent the day doing “Admiral stuff”, paying bills, working on our taxes, and etc.  In the evening, Chris (Captain from the Ocean Alexander) and Christina, his wife, picked us up and we all cruised into Christiansted for dinner at “Rumrunners Bar and Grill.” The seafood pasta special was delicious. St Croix is a beautiful, quiet island steeped in history and friendly people. Definitely worth a visit.

It’s Super Bowl Sunday.  Today, we’ll get the Girl ready to leave tomorrow morning.  The plan is to head out to Buck Island, a National Park marine preserve about 3 miles offshore.  You must get a permit from the Park Service (which we did upon our arrival here in St. Croix) to anchor there.  We’ll drop the hook on the lee side of the island there for a few nights and do some snorkeling/diving before heading to St. Bart’s (or St. Martin).  Probably won’t have interweb for awhile, so…..

-Later 

Hola!

Culebrita was a relaxing stop.  We were over from Culebra in around an hour, so arrived around 09h00.  There was only one mooring ball left there, and it looked to be in pretty bad shape, so we took some time to find a spot to anchor.  The bottom rises pretty dramatically from deep water to the shore, and many coral heads were visible in the shallow water.  After poking around a bit, we finally found a sandy patch in 15’ of water.  After letting out 75’ of chain, our stern was now in 30’, and blue water wasn’t far behind.  I was really being a weenie.  Even after swimming the anchor and finding it to be well-set, I was worried that if the Girl dragged, the anchor would be in deep water without a chance to reset itself.  It took about a half hour for me to be okay with leaving her for the day while we hiked onshore.  We dropped the dinghy, and anchored her, tying her stern to shore.  Our first goal was the Culebrita lighthouse, high atop the island.  A half hour walk got us there.  The original lighthouse is in a shambles, but we were able to explore both around and through the structure.  It was pretty typical of the other Spanish colonial buildings that we had seen throughout Puerto Rico, built out of coral blocks, trimmed in brick, with a stucco coating.  The aid to navigation is now provided by a light fixed upon a steel tower, fed by solar panels.  The concrete pad that the tower sat on provided a superb vantage point from which to look out over the ocean, and, behind us, back over the island.  We hiked the interior of the island, through dry forest, to a bay on the north side, to check out the anchorage there.  Since the swell had been running out of the North due to several Cold Front passages coming off the U.S., we had expected the anchorage to be untenable.  Before we were out of the woods, we could hear the surf beating on the shore ahead of us.  The beach was beautiful, but the few boats moored there were all rolling significantly.  We had a walk from end to end, and enjoyed our lunch in the shade of a palm tree just above the high water line.  After lunch, we hiked back to the other side of the island, hauled anchor, and motored back over to Culebra, where we anchored behind the reef in Bahia Almovodar(las Pelas to locals).  On the chart, this bay looks wide open to the sea, but in fact it is well-protected by a reef under one foot of water.  It’s rather stunning to see the sea, which was running around three feet, stop suddenly as the waves hit the shallow water, becoming transformed to three inch ripples.  We ended up staying for two nights, exploring the mangroves surrounding the bay by dinghy, and just enjoying the solitude (until just before dark on the second day, there was only one other boat in the bay, anchored ½ mile away).  The Girl also got prettied up below the waterline when I donned the SCUBA gear and armed myself with various scrapers to relieve her of the slimies and crusties that she had accumulated.

We were outta there on Saturday morning.  As predicted, the seas were running around 2-4’, winds 14kn.  As soon as we hit deep water a couple hours out, the lines were in.  After fishing for 5 hours, we had to ready the fenders and lines for our stay on St. Croix.  All we had to show for our pescadarian efforts were a couple of short strikes resulting in ruined baits.  No fish tonight.  The entry in to Green Cay Marina is pretty narrow, and very shoal on one side, but we entered without incident.  After beating into the wind for 7 hours, the Girl was pretty salt-encrusted, but an hour or so of attention from the crew brought her back to her spiffy self.  The marina here is attached to a hotel/resort property, and staying at the marina allowed us use of the entire grounds, including the pool, tennis courts, spa, paddle boards, and etc.  The next morning, we stopped by Rubicon, the Ocean Alexander that we had met in Ponce, Puerto Rico, to pay our respects to Chris (the guy who prevented our boat from smashing the dock there).  He wasn’t on the boat, but the owner was, and we had a nice conversation with her. Our exploratory walk didn’t last long before we were seated at an outdoor table overlooking the ocean enjoying omelets.  We spent the rest of day just hangin’ around the property.  Suz got some computer work done, while I did some troubleshooting on, and repairing a hinky battery charger.  Back over to the resort, under the shade of a palapa, I examined the inside of my eyelids while the tour director laid plans for our siege of the island in the coming week.  We had sips that evening with Larry, Mark, and Judy aboard “Alizann”.  Larry is a friend of a friend from Harbor Springs, MI, who lives on his boat here with his wife, Amy.  He is a boatbuilder by trade.  They sailed their home-built trimaran (a rocketship named “Morello”) down here three years ago.  He is a foreman for a custom boat builder here, while she is a nurse in the hospital.  Mark and Judy are our neighbors here on the dock, retired and hailing from Minnesota.

Getting kinda wordy, so we’ll start exploring St. Croix

-Later

Buenos Dias

Isla Chivas.  What can I say?  We threaded our way in through the reef at midmorning.  Warning buoys surrounded the Isla alerting to “unexploded ordinance”.  Having read previous posts, we knew that the warnings pertained to expeditions to shore, not for anchoring.  We coasted in to 12’ of water, and searched for a sandy patch to drop our hook.  Suz expertly put the Girl’s bow over a white area, and I dropped the anchor dead center.  Backing down, the anchor bit on the first try.  We didn’t bother to launch “White Star”, instead got the kayaks wet.  Our azure blue anchorage was ringed by white sand beaches-a postcard perfect setting.  Kayaked around the bay, then walked the beaches, searching for “treasures” most of the day.  We scored lots of beach glass, and some small urchins for our collection.  Suz found a nice Helmet shell, but it was inhabited, so we threw him back, not wanting to ruin his day.  Numerous signs on shore admonished us to follow the 3 R’s-Recognize, Retreat, and Report, concerning unexploded ordinance on shore.  We didn’t see nuthin’.  Returning to Alizann, we polished some of her stainless, giving her some much-needed love.  Late afternoon brought in two ultra-lights with floats landing in the bay, providing a show for us.  Dinner, Tuscan chicken in the Admiral’s new electric InstaPot, was taken over another sublime sunset.

We were off the hook by 07h00.  The Admiral was crackin’ the whip for some fresh fish.  I rigged up some Ballyhoo baits, and we headed for deep water on the way to Culebra, our next Spanish Virgin Island destination.  All we got to show for our efforts was one Toothacuda, and 2 spoiled baits.  Our Christmas present from our son, a baby monitor, however, performed admirably.  When the fishing reel in the cockpit started spooling out, we heard it loud and clear, even over the music crankin’  in the pilothouse.  We love technology!  By 13h45 we had the hook set in the bay out of Dewey, (named for the Admiral) Culebra.  We planned to stay here for a couple of days while we explored the island.  After getting the boat squared away, we headed to shore in the dinghy on a quick reconnaissance mission.  It only took an hour to walk all of the streets of Dewey.  The little village was quite colorful, with gaily painted buildings, and many murals.  We found that the “Dinghy Dock” restaurant/bar had a happy hour(s) with Medalla beers for two-fifty, but more importantly, the fastest internet connection that we had seen in a long time.  Instead of taking 2-3 minutes (or more) to upload a picture, we could get one up in around 30 seconds.  Bonus!  Let’s have another beer.  We were feeling the need for some exercise, so the following morning, we loaded the backpacks with our beach togs, and headed to Flamenco Beach, (another) one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  It was a good three-mile haul, and we were rewarded with a truly beautiful beach, where we spent the day snoozin’, swimmin’, and strollin’.  At one end of the mile-long beach was an old U.S. Army tank, slowly being reclaimed by the sea.

That kinda brings us to the U.S. military presence on Vieques/Culebra.  During the 1940’s, the U.S. Navy purchased around 22,000 acres (or, about 2/3 of the island of Vieques) for military purposes.  The Eastern end of the island was used for live-fire exercises, including ship to shore, and air to ground bombing.  The Western end of the island was used as an ammunition depot.  In around 2003, the Navy ceased operations, and returned the island to the Puerto Rican government.  Since that time, the U.S. government has spent around $220 M to clean up contaminated lands on Vieques.  Given the terrain (jungle and heavy overgrowth), the cleanup is far from complete.  Thus, the numerous warning signs around certain areas of the island.  No political commentary-Just sayin’.

Today, the 25th, we rented a jeep and did the beach tour of Culebra.  We visited every beach on the map, sometimes traversing rocky two-tracks to get there.  Didn’t do much sunbathing, but we saw and walked them all.  The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were good, but didn’t stick to the ribs, so when we returned to town we headed to the “Dinghy Dock”.  The Grouper sandwich and the Ahi/Romaine salad hit the spot, washed down with some cold Cokes.  Before we headed back to the Girl, we strolled over to “Mamacita’s” for a couple of Bushwackers (as recommended by friends at Palmas).  Tomorrow, we’ll head over to Culebrita with the Girl, to do some SCUBA diving, after which we plan to anchor in Almodovar Bay, back on Culebra, for a couple of days before we head to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  I’m guessin’ no interweb for awhile, so…..

-Later

Hola Amigos,

Yeah, Baby!  Off the dock by 10h00 on Friday, the 20th day of the New Year.  The seas were dead calm for our three hour trip to Vieques.  We ran out to the deep water and wet a couple of lines, but no joy.  Besides the gorgeous beaches, one of the prime “must do’s” on Vieques is visiting the “Bio Bay”.  It’s a bay on the south coast of the island that is filled with bioluminescent organisms, visible only at night.  No motorized vessels are permitted in the bay, so the alternatives are to anchor a couple of miles away, then dinghy over in the dark, or take one of the guided tours by rented kayak.  The weather was so settled, with the swell out of the North that the Admiral said “why don’t we just go over and anchor behind the reef at the opening of the bay?”  I wasn’t so sure, as the few reviews that we had read on “Active Captain” (our crowd-sourced Bible), recounted stories of miserable, rolly nights in this spot.  It was early in the afternoon, so “What the heck, let’s check it out.”  Working our way behind the reef wasn’t as daunting as the charts suggested.  We found a patch of sand in 15’ of water, and fired the anchor down dead center.  As I was swimming the anchor to make sure that it had set well, a sailboat coasted in next to us and dropped their hook nearly on top of ours.  Hmmm……. I didn’t say anything, but wasn’t real pleased.  As I’m getting back on the boat, the Captain of the other boat asks me if I’m okay with where he’s anchored.  I reply that he looks like he knows what he’s doing, so if he’s okay, I’m okay.  Fifteen minutes later, he has his crew scrambling to fend off, as he’s 4’ from our starboard rail.  Now attuned to the error in his ways, he gets his anchor up and moves.  Muchas Gracias.  Guess I should say Danke Schoen-German flag.  We dropped the kayaks, had dinner, and paddled in just after dark.  The show was incredible.  Every dip of our paddles left a trail of white light in the water, and luminescent wakes followed our boats as we glided along in the moonless night.  Blowing on a cupped hand full of water elicited a shower of blue-white sparkles.  We could only imagine what the bay must look like in a rain shower, each drop firing up a burst of light.  What a trip!

So let’s talk some biology.  Dinoflagellates?  They’re single celled organisms (actually plankton).  These little critters are able to transform chemical energy into light, utilizing an enzyme called Luciferase and oxygen.  There are several theories as to why these little guys produce light, but, whatever.  When the pressure of their surroundings changes, they let out a burst of light which lasts about a tenth of a second.  One shot, then they’re done until they are able to synthesize some more Luceriferon the next day through photosynthesis.  Dinoflagellates are present in the ocean, but not in the concentration that is found in this “Biobay”.  (In a saltwater flush toilet on a boat, you often get a light show when you take a pee in the dark.  But then, I digress).  So, why are there so many of these flashy little critters in bays like this?  First, there’s the narrow entrance.  Then, there’s the wide, shallow bay behind that entrance which allows for warming, and increased evaporation which results in high salinity.  The very salty water gets heavy, and sinks to the bottom of the bay.  As new ocean water enters the bay, moved by the prevailing winds on the ocean, the heavy, salty water on the bottom is forced out.  Since the dinoflagellates live on the surface, their concentration increases.  Add into the mix the Black and Red Mangroves that line the edge of the bay.  Their leaves fall into the water, and as they decompose, provide vitamin B-12, and other essential nutrients for our little lightmeisters.  Voila!  A natural tourist attraction.

We backtracked a couple of miles back to the bay outside Esperanza to take in Vieques’ second-largest town the next day.  May or may not have been worth a stop, but we can say that we did it.  We went to shore, and strolled along the malecon (shore, pier, boardwalk), passing by a couple of beachbar-type restaurants.  Then, we dinghied along several miles of shoreline outside of town to the west, then around the point to the east, anchoring in Sun Bay, where we walked the beach for a mile or so.  Around sunset, the live music started (it was Saturday night).  We were forewarned, but it was loud.  Not just loud, but LOUD!  I like my music, but I can tell you that at 02h27 when it stopped, I was extremely relieved.  Sunday morning was a sleep-in day (imagine that), so we didn’t get off the hook until around 09h00, headed east, with Isla de Chivas as our destination.

-Hasta Luego

Feliz ano Nuevo,

The trip back to the States was outta sight.  We stayed at Suzanne’s sister and brother-in-law’s home atop a mountain outside of Asheville, North Carolina.  Their home is large enough to accommodate the whole fam damily, and it’s always a nonstop party from the minute we arrive.  After a couple of days of one on one time with Mike and Sheila, the rest of the gang started rolling in.  Both of our kids and their spouses made it for a few days each, and we were able to see most of our nieces and nephews as well as all of Suz’s sibs and Mom.

After returning to Puerto Rico, and settling back into the marina, where Alizann had spent a couple of windy but uneventful weeks, we were ready for some exploration by land.  On the first day of the new year, our trusty little rentacar took us to El Yunque National Forest.  EYNF is the only U.S. national forest which is a tropical rainforest.  After hitting the visitors center for a quick orientation video, we hiked a couple of short loops, one of which took over a steamy trail running next to a river which culminated in a pretty waterfall.  Water dripped from the lush green foliage, and bromeliads sprouted from every fork in the trees branches.  Huge termite nests occupied many of the deciduous trees appearing like bulbous brown tumors.  Given the paucity of hikers along the trail, I was surprised at the number of folks swimming at the base of the waterfall, destroying the illusion of being in the wilderness.  The trip to the park was definitely worth it, and we agreed to a return engagement later in the week.

The next day took us to the giant radiotelescope at Arriceibo.  First conceived in 1960, and completed in 1963, the radiotelescope was, and is, the largest radiotelescope on the planet, with its’ 1,000-foot diameter spanning a large natural sinkhole in the Puerto Rican karst mountains.  Over the last 50-odd years, an incredible amount of ground breaking research has been done there, including one project which resulted in a Nobel prize.  The facility is not only capable of receiving radio signals and photons from deep space.  It also broadcast our first intergalactic “postcard” sometime in the 1970’s.  Studies ranging from identifying gravitational waves (creating proof of some of Einstein’s theories), following Near Earth Objects potentially capable of colliding with our planet, and, closer to home, studying our stratosphere, name just a few.  The facility is funded by NSF, the National Science Foundation, and researchers compete for time on the dish by submitting proposals, only the best of which are accepted.  We spent around 2 hours there, observing the dish from the visitor’s center, located high on the slope over it, and viewing an informative video.  That afternoon was not so high-brow.  We toured the Bacardi distillery, which was good fun, but maybe could have been better-I’d give 3 out of 5 stars.

Next day, it was back to El Yunque for the hike to the summit.  We started out surrounded by mostly deciduous trees, which transitioned to a Sierra Palm forest that gave way to scrubby bush as we ascended, and the soil got thinner.  Emerging at the top, we were treated to a spectacular 360-degree view.  A peanut butter and jelly sandwich never tasted so good.  The drive home took us by the huge (1000 slip)marina at Fajardo, rumored to be the largest in the entire Caribbean.  While having a snack at the restaurant there, we patted ourselves on the back for choosing to stay at Palmas.

Ya can’t come to Puerto Rico without experiencing Old San Juan.  Suzanne arranged for a private walking tour to start out our day, using an outfit called “Tours by Locals”.  Our guide Jorge, met us promptly at 09h00, and spent 4 hours with us, showing us the high points of the Old city.  He was extremely knowledgeable and personable, and the hours just flew by.  It was the first time that we hadn’t used our travel agent back home for a local guide in a new city, and we did so with some trepidation, but the experience was good, and the cost was a fraction of what we have spent in the past (whenever we explore a city that’s new to us, we always hire a guide so that we don’t miss the good stuff, and, from time to time get in the back door where tourists don’t tread)  By the time 13h00 rolled around, we had already exchanged reading lists with our guide who, by the way had a Masters in Microbiology and had been involved in some marine research (See Suzanne Tuck, Marine Biology and Freshwater Ecology).  We also questioned him about the company, Tours by Locals, and he told us that he was pretty happy with the way that they treated him, and was planning to keep them as his booking agents.  So……we’ll use them again in other cities.  We explored on our own for the rest of the afternoon, and returned the following day, primarily to tour the two Spanish forts, El Morro, and El Castillo, which guard this strategic entry into the Caribbean.

You can’t rent a car without having a “provisioning day”, so Sam’s, Walmart, and Ralph’s Wholesale Foods occupied most of the next day

Over the next few weeks, the wind continued to blow like stink, (we even heard that the cruise ships were staying in port up in San Juan) and since our reservation was for a months’ stay, we just enjoyed Palmas.  We walked most mornings, exploring many of the 2,700 acres in the facility.  Middays found us doing boatchores, including some varnishing around our windows inside the Girl, repairing some hairline gelcoat cracks, and re-sewing some of our Velcro closures on the canvas.  Afternoons at the pool overlooking the ocean were spent reading and sharing stories with our many new friends here at the marina.  Suz, our entertainment director, organized potluck dinners at the Tiki Bar (which just services the marina clients) on the night of the NCAA national championship, and due to the overwhelming positive response, the following week for the NFL playoff games.  While still here in the U.S.A., I was also able to take care of a little medical issue which was discovered over Christmas back in the States.  You know that we don’t eat out a whole lot, but we did a couple of times and have this to report:  The Punta Vista restaurant on the roof of the Hotel Milano in Old San Juan had an outdoor section, and served pretty decent Mofongo.  The Restaurant on the Plaza, here at Palmas, serves up very fresh Italian cuisine (we ate there twice).  The Mexican restaurant at Palmanova, here at Palmas also, was a “don’t bother”.  Our Tiki Bar served an awesome, half-pound (no exaggeration) bacon cheeseburger- the ultimate cure for the toomuchfunthenightbefore blues.  Outside Palmas, and up the Panorama Highway southwest of the gate was El Nuevo Horizonte perched on the side of the mountain overlooking the ocean.  The food there was pretty solid.  We just had lunch, but the guy at the table next to us was eating a whole flash-fried fish that looked super.  A couple miles outside the gate was the Delicia Café and Bakery, with delicious panini sandwiches, made on a half-loaf of Cuban bread, feeding 2 for $6.  (Stopped there 3 times).  In Ariceibo, the Salitre de Meson, had a beautiful outdoor dining area right on the beach.  With the waves crashing in, the food probably tasted better than it actually was.

Okay, so it’s the 19th.  We’re 2 days past our intended stay of a month.  The wind dropped this morning like somebody flipped a switch, and the seas have been subsiding all day.  We have been expecting this break for almost a week, so will be heading to Vieques for a few days starting tomorrow.  Always bittersweet to leave newfound friends, but we’ll see some of them along the way, and there are new pals right around the corner.

So, as we start the New Year, our tally is: 4,197 nautical miles this year, 14,602 nautical miles since leaving Michigan.

-Hasta Luego

Pages

Captain's Log

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

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