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

Hola Muchachos,

So here we are at the Marina at Palmas del Mar.  Palmas is a planned community that was started around 1975.  Currently, there are 3,500 housing units here, ranging from single family, detached homes to multi-unit condos, spread over 2,700 acres.  Approximately half are occupied year-round, half are second homes.  This gated community has 25 smaller gated enclaves within its’ boundaries.  There are 20 tennis courts (clay, grass, and composition), an equestrian center, a Catholic church, grocery store, (two) eighteen-hole golf courses, a spa facility, some 16 restaurants, a K-12 elementary school, a Wyndham Hotel, casino and on and on.  The marina will accommodate yachts up to 175’, although the largest here at present is merely 115’.  We’re here because we thought that it’d be a safe place to leave The Girl when we flew home for Christmas.

Our first afternoon was spent cleaning the salt off “Alizann”, picking up our mail, and meeting the neighbors.  Over the next few days, we spent a lot of time walking and exploring a small part of the grounds.  Saturday night, the week before Christmas, featured a (Christmas) lighted golf cart parade, which culminated in the central plaza where the party was just beginning.  A live band kicked ‘em out until the small hours, interrupted occasionally by a few torrential rain showers that blew through.  Although the language presented a bit of a barrier, Suz and I understood the smiling and dancing without any problem.  The girls were loving the line dancing, doing the “electric slide” to the Puerto Rican beat.  At one point, I looked around, and to my surprise, noticed that all of the guys were on the sidelines with just the ladies (and I) dancing-oops.  Next song was a slow one, so the disturbance in the Force was quelled as the men returned to the floor.

There are only 5 of us out on the end of “B dock”, and 2 of the boats are unoccupied.  That leaves Dave, a guy from the U.S. mainland who spends his winters here on his boat, Susan & Peter, Canadian sail boaters who have wintered here in the Caribbean for the past few years, and us.  Of course, we share some sips and stories.  Suzanne enlisted Dave to take care of her garden (Basil, tomatoes, and various herbs) while we are gone over Christmas.  He was looking forward to having his daughter from the West Coast come for a visit over the Holiday.  Peter and Susan were also expecting company, as their daughter was flying in from Toronto, expecting a two-week sail to the Spanish Virgins.  Getting the Girl ready for our absence required doubling all lines and placing chafe protection all around, while leaving extra lines in the cockpit just in case they were needed.  Our spot on “B Dock” was right on the traffic pattern to the fuel dock for the marina staff (not a coincidence), so we figured that if there were any issues, the guys would notice.  Finally, we left Roberto his Christmas gift of a couple pounds of Mahi filets, and after digging out our cold-weather clothes, we’re ready to roll.

That pretty much brings up to the 20th of December.  Luigi picked us up promptly at 06h00, and we were off on our adventure to the San Juan airport.  The traffic thickened as we neared San Juan, and the rain and poor road surface didn’t help matters, but we arrived at the airport 2 hours ahead of our flight.  It was a good thing, too.  By the time we got through the lines at agriculture inspection and baggage check, we really appreciated our “Global Traveler” status at TSA.   

Ha sido un tiempo……

Sooo…. It was brought to my attention that I didn’t close the chapter on the stuck transmission lever.  One of the hazards of A.D.D., I guess-“oughta sight, oughta mind”.  After bleeding the lines, we’ve had no more trouble, but you can bet that we test it before coming into any tight spots now.  I guess that goof-ups are how you add to your list of “Standard Operating Procedures”.  Our list is getting pretty long by now.

On the subject of A.D.D., every time that I sit down to write, I come up with another little project to do instead.  Pretty soon a day becomes a week, a week a fortnight, and before long, a month has gone by.  Let’s catch up:

The 15th of December dawned warm and sunny-81 degrees with a 10kn breeze.  Off the dock at 08h00, we were anchored in the bight at Isla Caja de Muertos by 09h45, in the company of 2 sailboats.  There are several versions as to how “Coffin Island” got its’ name.  My favorite is the story of a Portuguese pirate, Jose Almeida, who fell in love with, and married a Puerto Rican woman, taking her pirating with him.  The story goes that after she was killed by a stray bullet, he had her embalmed and entombed in a glass coffin, which he then proceeded to hide in a cave on the aforementioned island.  In the ensuing years, until he was captured and executed at El Morro fort in San Juan in 1832, he visited her tomb often, leaving half of his treasure there.  Many years later, a Spanish engineer located the coffin and gave the island its’ name.  No mention was made of the treasure.  The official story is that the island got its name, because the outline on the horizon looks like a human figure in repose-BORING!  The island is uninhabited now, save for a few Ponce Park rangers who maintain a small museum, picnic/swimming area, and automated weather station on the west end of the island.  Apparently, a ferry boat from Ponce lands at the decrepit dock near the anchorage on weekends, bringing daytrippers from the “mainland”.

We dropped “White Star” and headed north along the coast, looking for a sandy beach on the sharp limestone shore ringing the island.  There was a small patch of sand at the foot of a trail that we presumed led up to the lighthouse perched some 500 feet above the water, but the waves rolling in, and the rocky bottom precluded leaving the dinghy there.  Plan B.  We dropped Suz, the backpack and my clothes on the sand when the waves subsided for a minute or so, then moored the dinghy in deeper water.  It was a refreshing swim to shore.  The hike up to the lighthouse started in dense, scrubby vegetation, giving way to a cactus forest, finally ending in an arid zone at the top of the ridge where the lighthouse stood.  Built a couple of decades before the Americans received Puerto Rico in the Treaty of Paris after the Spanish-American War, its’ architecture is typical of the colonial style that is found around PR.  The lighthouse is totally abandoned, save for the automated light atop the tower there.  The view was nothing short of spectacular.After our morning hike, we went ashore at the other end of the island where the ranger station is located, and checked out the “museum”, which was actually an exhibit of posters describing the flora and fauna of the island and surrounding sea.  Besides the rangers and a couple of kids off of one of the anchored sailboats, we had the island to ourselves.

The anchor was up, and we were underway by 06h25 the next morning, with winds around 10kn.  When we reached the southeast corner of Puerto Rico, the night lee had dissipated, and we experienced a little bit of a rocky ride, with 20+kn winds blowing the tops off 2’-4’ seas on our nose.  After surfing the rock-lined channel into the marina at Palmas del Mar, we contacted Roberto, the dockmaster, who asked us to tie up at the fuel dock.  “Don’t need fuel, just direct us to our slip”.  Well…..we pulled in to the fuel dock, where Roberto and one of his guys got us secured.  When he asked us to get off the boat, I have to admit that I was a bit confused.  Turns out that he put us in his golf cart and drove us around the nearly-empty marina so that we could pick our slip.  Unheard of!  After he explained the pros and cons of the different docks (close to the office, a little more surge, a little less wind, and etc.), we settled on one far from the office/main gate, but with less surge.  The guys got us properly secured, and gave us some tips on line placement, delivered in a very nice tone, then drove us to the office, where we met Juanjo, the Marina’s general manager.  By the time that he finished his welcome orientation, we felt like we were checking into the Ritz, not a marina.  After he had arranged for a driver to take us to San Juan airport four days hence, and sensing some unease, he gave us his cell number, telling us that if there was any problem, that he’d take us himself.  More on Palmas

-Later

Buenos tardes,

So, Enterprise picked us up yesterday morning, and we were off on our adventure to the coffee plantation in the mountains.  The highway headed north out of town was four lanes, but full of potholes and patches, making speeds over 50mph feel too fast.  As we headed up the mountain, the small stream of cars thinned to nothing.  Google announced our turn, and it was a good thing, as there were NO street signs.  Kurt, the owner of Hacienda Pomarossa, told Suzanne that his farm would be found at kilometer 12.8 of this road.  I use the term “road” loosely.  Yes, it was paved, but barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass.  The edge of the pavement dropped off 8” to the (not) shoulder, and in many places, was fractured off completely, a foot or so into the lane.  In a few spots, the downhill lane was gone altogether, having washed downhill in some previous mudslide.  That didn’t keep the oncoming drivers from racing down like maniacs, often coming around blind corners in the middle of the road, only to slam on the brakes and swerve over to their own side before they hit us.  We mighta’ bought the farm, had the semi truck coming the other way around a blind switchback not had a very loud horn.  We heard him coming before entering the turn, and it’s a good thing, too.  He took up the whole road, the tractor and end of the trailer on the right edge, with the middle of the trailer extending over the inside of the curve on the left edge.  I think that a very short, but explicit descriptive may have slipped from my lips, because Suzanne was laughing hysterically as we sat stopped on the road, the semi’s tires inches from my head.

We made it.  Hacienda Pomarossa was perched on the side of the mountain, amidst a rain forest of vegetation.  Kurt and his wife, Eva had an idyllic property-eight acres of coffee trees sprinkled among banana, mango, plantain, mandarin, orange and grapefruit trees.  Kurt is German, but has lived in PR for 41 years, and has been married to Eva, a Puerto Rican, for 40.  She is a self-professed city girl, and lives in Old San Juan, at their home there most of the time.  Kurt loves the farm, but visits the city now and then.  Works for them.  Kurt toured us around the farm, and demonstrated his processing equipment.  Unlike many small farms, Kurt does all of his own processing, from picking to destemming, peeling, drying, roasting, and packaging the beans.  Definitely a labor of love, the end result being around approximately 6,000 pounds of gourmet coffee per year.  After our tour and a talk about the history of coffee, we discussed our respective reading lists over a couple of cups.  He is obviously well-read, and I got a couple of suggestions for future reads, as well as giving a few titles to him.  We sat and talked about a mutual favorite, “1421, The Year that China Discovered America”, as well as a couple of others.  After 4 hours at the farm, it was time to head out, as we wanted to drive over to Salinas and check out the harbor there.  Google Maps showed us the route, and we were off.  If the road in was small, this one was miniscule.  No wider than a typical driveway, I couldn’t help but wonder what we’d do if we encountered a car coming the other way.  We twisted, turned, and wound our way down the mountain, several times finding that we were on a drive heading up to someone’s shack, having gone straight when the road took a sharp turn.  Finally, the “road” ENDED.  Google showed a road ahead. But the trees and bushes belied this fact.  Whatthe?  By now, after 45 minutes of twisting and turning, we tried to backtrack after making an 18-point turn to reverse direction.  “Do you remember seeing that shack?”  “Did we see that rusted out truck before?”  “I don’t remember this intersection, do you?”  Google had completely redrawn itself, but by now, we didn’t trust her anyway.  It’s pouring rain now, and getting darker.  We came over a rise, and entered a section of road which was totally unfamiliar, running along the edge of a dropoff.  There was a young man on a backhoe fixing the side of the road, talking to a kid on a bike.  No habla Ingles.  We managed to get through the language barrier, he barked some orders to the kid, who tore off on his bike into the pouring rain.  Motioning for us to follow, we wondered where he was taking us.  Ten minutes later, there we were, at the driveway to Hacienda Pomarossa.  We took the original road home.  It now looked like a turnpike.  Kinda outta time, we stopped to eat at “Casa del Chef,” a restaurant that Jose had recommended.  There, we both availed ourselves to the ubiquitous Puerto Rican delight, Mofongo.  We’re talking mashed, then fried plantain formed into a ball, surrounding (fill in the blank) Camarones (shrimp), Pescado (fish), Carne (meat), Pulpo (octopus), Concha (conch), Pollo (chicken), or whatever.  The whole deal is then drenched in an intense Ajo (garlic) salsa.  Whew!  After we waddled back to the car, we headed to the supermercado for fresh fruta y vegetales.  We got back to the Girl just before nightfall.

Weather should be moderating tomorrow, so we’ll get off the dock and head out to Caja de Muertos.  Our plan is to anchor there, and climb to the top of the island, then spend the night on the hook.  There’s really no harbor there, just a little Bight on the southwest side.  If the anchorage is too rolly, we’ll head 15 miles east to the bay in Salinas.  Until then,

-Later

Pages

Captain's Log

Morning, Morning,

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Later

Really?

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

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

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

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

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

Guess we’re almost caught up, so……

-Later

 

Morning, Morning!

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

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

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

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

Is truth stranger than fiction?

 

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

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

-Later

 

Good Day, Good Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Later

Good Day, Good Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re here for the next couple of months.

-Later

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