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

Buenos tardes,

Well, didn’t get a whole of sleep on Saturday, the night of our arrival.  Between the surge, causing us to saw back and forth, the creaking (not a strong enough word-maybe shrieking) of the lines as they alternately tightened around the PVC-sheathed steel pilings, and the at least 80 decibel music emanating from the numerous kiosks across the harbor until 02h00, sleep was an unrealized luxury.  We took a walk around the property, and met a couple standing by a pile of luggage in the parking lot.  They had come in the afternoon before, and were waiting for a cab to take them to the airport so that they could fly home.  Their Captain had just landed, and would take their boat to St. Croix, their home port, when the weather cooperated.  Perfecto!  We talked to the cab driver, Wilson, who agreed in much-less-than-perfect English, to take us in to Ponce when he returned with the Captain.  Well…..we weren’t too sure about the communication thing, but since he left an upright fan which he had taken out of the trunk with us as a hostage, and he had to bring the Captain back, we figured the odds of us getting to town were about 80-20, with the odds of us getting to Mass on time were around 40-60.  Thirty minutes later, with our pack loaded, and the Girl retied, we were starting to get a little worried.  That was just the start.  The cab rolled up.  The lady driving hopped out, and headed for the restroom.  Out popped Chris, the Captain, who couldn’t get away quick enough.  While Wilson bent his ear, he kept backing up.  Finally, he said “I gotta go”.  We asked him to keep an eye on our boat, the lady driver returned, and we were off.  Turns out that Wilson was drunk as a skunk.  As we roared down the highway, he regaled us with stories.  First, about how he knew everybody around here, his other car, a Cadillac SUV, then about how he was going to take us on a tour, give us a free gift and onandon.  All of this in sortaEnglish that we could barely piece together.  Interspersed, were asides to the driver in Spanish, spiced liberally with “F bombs”.  Finally, he got the point that we didn’t want a tour, we were just going to church (a concept that seemed very foreign to him).  Winding through the backstreets now, he turns around and says to us “Nothing is going to happen to you, I take care of you”.  We pop out of the barrio into the daylight, only to find that the street is barricaded.  Fortunately, there are 3 cops at the roadblock, and beyond, there is some kind of festival going on (sigh of relief).  Wilson gets out and tries to talk the cops into letting us through.  Nope, not happenin’.  Back up, turn down another sidestreet, wrong way on a one-way street, and we’re in front of the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.  Ten bucks, “See ya, Wilson”, twenty steps and we’re in the safety of the Iglesia.  I had already done plenty of praying, but figured a little more couldn’t hurt.

Afterwards, we spent a couple of hours wandering around the city square, where the Christmas festival was winding down after a weeks’ run.  The downtown area in this, Puerto Rico’s second largest city, was evidently in a state of decline.  There were many empty storefronts, and it was very apparent that the infrastructure was crumbling through lack of maintenance.  Having had enough, we hailed a (different) cab and headed back to the Girl.  As we walked down the dock, we saw Chris working frantically with the lines on our boat.  Several had loosened, and in spite of the many fenders that we had hung, our Girl was slamming the concrete dock.  It was all he could do to hold the boat off in the 20+ kn wind and vicious surge.  Man, we arrived just in time.  There was no one else around to help him, and I dunno how long he could have held out.  We all got “Alizann” retied, but for the rest of the day, and the next, Suz and I were afraid to leave her.  Plus, the extra day gave me time to do some fiberglass repairs-all pretty minor, considering.  (Thank you, Chris).  Lines stretched, loosened, and had to be redone often.  All the while, the boat lurched forward, sprang back, and rotated, causing her to bounce between pilings.  No proper bow lines could be tied, as the slip was too short.  In a word, Miserable!  On the third day, a boat moved off a face dock.  After a half hour (or so) of conversation, the lady at the office consented to us moving to the face, where we could get some proper lines tied.  But…….we could only stay there 2 days, as another boat was coming in.  Sold!  We moved 15 minutes later.  Getting out of the slip was a challenge, but that’s another story.  We resurrected our cancelled rent-a-car reservation, and got a good nights’ sleep in readiness for our road trip to the coffee plantation.

So, let’s back up just a tad.  The night of the dock incident, we had Chris over for some enchiladas.  Nothing like an Irish gal cooking Mexican food in Puerto Rico.  His story goes like this:  Born in the States, his folks moved to St. Croix when he was eight.  He grew up there, and has worked on boats his whole life.  He is currently a harbor pilot in St. Croix, and moonlights as the Captain of the 62’ Ocean Alexander that his bosses left at the dock here in Ponce.  He’s worked for these folks for the past several years, and will be the Captain of their new 78’ Fleming that is nearing completion, and will be delivered soon.  It seems that the owners came in to PR from Dominican Republic without clearing Customs (it was the weekend).  They then left the boat and flew out, leaving Chris to deal with the paperwork on Monday.  Fortunately, the Customs folks saw things for what they were, knowing that Chris had nothing to do with this mess.  They didn’t confiscate the boat, and let the owners off with an $8,600 dollar fine.  (probably not even a hiccup for folks that own a Cessna Citation, and have a $7M boat coming soon).  Names have been omitted to protect the (not so) innocent.  Just another story from the backwaters of the Caribbean.

Well, there was a whole lot more to these stories, but as usual, this is getting waaaayyyy too long-winded, so…….

-Later

Buenos Dias,

Up at 06h30, off the hook by 07h00.  We threaded our way back out through the reef, using our previous days’ track on the chartplotter, as the angle of the sun at this time of day didn’t lend itself to reading water depths.  Cayos de Cana Gorda, or Guilligan’s Island, was only two hours away, but with the wind, seas, and small craft warnings, we wanted to take advantage of the light early morning winds for a pleasant ride.

Okay, so what’s with this “Night Lee” that I’ve been talking about?  Land masses take on, and conversely release heat more quickly than water.  During the day, the land heats up quickly.  The hot air over the land rises, causing the wind to be deflected from sea to land (an onshore breeze).  At night, as the air over land cools, it becomes heavier and falls to earth and flows out to sea (an offshore breeze).  This effect affects the gradient wind (prevailing wind), deflecting it.  In effect, the nighttime offshore breeze created by this effect creates sort of a “bubble” around an island, raising (in altitude), or deflecting the prevailing winds.  In our case, the easterly Tradewinds.  This bubble, or Night Lee, can extend tens of miles out from an island, and last from around midnight until 9 or 10 in the morning.  The distance from land and the duration of Night Lees are affected by the strength of the gradient winds, the elevation of the land mass, and daytime temperatures.  Bottom line-generally cruising in the lee afforded by a land mass at night provides a more pleasurable experience.  Okay, I probably really muddied things up.  Google it.

Well, it was still kinda bumpy, but I was able to rustle up some scrambled eggs, served over red beans and rice, topped with Mexican cheese.  A bit of “Scotty O’Hotty” habanero salsa provided a little kick.  Arriving at our destination, we worked our way through the reef, and the seas quickly died.  Suz tucked us in behind a little Cayo, and the hook was down by 09h30.

What a pretty spot.  The little Cays next to us were in a Puerto Rican park, so were uninhabited, and had roped off swimming areas and picnic tables ashore.  During the day, the little ferry boat from the Jacinto restaurant on the mainland brought visitors out to the park, but in the morning and early evening, we had the place to ourselves.  There were no other cruisers in the anchorage, either.  We spent two days there, just soaking up the ambiance.  Had lunch at Jacinto, food was nothing to write home about but got a little taste of the local color.

This morning, we were up and out by 06h30, headed to an anchorage at Caja de Muertos Island.  The Night lee dissipated 2 hours into the 3-hour trip, and the seas were predicted to be running 5’-7’, then 7’-9’ over the next few days, so we reevaluated our plan to anchor in the open anchorage there, figuring that we’d rather be stuck someplace with more to do.  Ponce, the second largest city in P.R. was on the schedule for a road trip later in the month, so we decided to call the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club to see if they could get us in.  No problem.  We were tucked in to a 19’ wide slip with plenty of surge and wind (in our 17.5’ wide boat) by 10h00.  By 11h00, we had a car rented for Monday, had the Mass schedule for the Cathedral, coffee plantation tour reserved and were registered for the week.  This afternoon, we strolled the malecon(La Guancha) and had lunch and a few cervezas at one of the kiosks there.  Looking forward to touring this historic city and its environs in the early part of this week.  We’ll report in……..

-Later

Hola Muchachos,

Our crossing of the dreaded Mona Passage couldn’t have been more benign.  The wind and seas cooperated fully.  At times, the surface of the ocean looked like mercury, with nary a ripple to mar its’ glassy surface.  This particular piece of the ocean has a nasty reputation.  In the slot between Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, water boils up out of the miles deep Puerto Rican Trench, and is pinched between the islands, the 400-foot depth of Horseshoe Shoal acting like a sandbar off a beach, causing waves to stack up in a rather singular fashion.  Couple this with the prevailing Trade Winds, and thunderstorms marching west off the coast of Puerto Rico nearly every night, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a lot of sea stories.  Sorry, no story.  We love PLEASURE boating (And, it’s oftimes better to be lucky than good).

With “la Isla del Encanto” in sight, I gave Jose, the owner of Marina Pescaderia a call.  He had expected us to be there the following morning, but our pushing through without an overnight stop at Sand Cay, as originally planned, had put us in early.  He told us that he wasn’t at the marina, but would call his “guy” to help us in.  At 16h45, we were tied up, and ready for a cold one, some 56 hours after leaving Providenciales.  The marina was immaculate, although many of the boats berthed there were far from it.  It looked like we might have been the only transients in what appeared to be a 200 (or so) slip facility.  The electric supply was strong, and the freshwater pressure great.  The fixed concrete docks were pretty new and in very good condition.  The fee structure here also fit our thrifty profile.  $1.20/ft., $.24/kwh, and $2.50/day for water.  That night, we slept in air conditioned comfort-livin’ large! 

Probably don’t need to tell you how we occupied the next morning, arising to the roosters sounding off around the bay, you know that you’re in the islands.  After the Girl was desalted, we headed in to explore the little fishing village of Puerto Real.  There wasn’t a whole lot to see.  The town looked pretty depressed, without much in the way of commerce.  The fish market, a couple of scuba shops, and a marine supply/service operation were the only visible places of business.  Also of note was the relative absence of young people (a sure sign of a dormant economy).  We had lunch at the Mercado Bakery on the outskirts of town, and had a good time people watching (and being watched) as the locals streamed in and out at lunchtime.  No ingles spoken here, we were going down fast when a bilingual teenager from the continental U.S. came in and helped us with our order.  Turned out that she was studying premed at a university on the island, and was from Springfield, MA.

Having seen the sights, the next day was consumed with living.  While Suz took care of office/computer stuff, I re-bedded some deck hardware and repaired a broken hatch.  Late in the afternoon, we finally met Jose, the owner, who had been AWOL since before our arrival.  Over sips of “Don Q” rum, we got the Chamber of Commerce spiel, after which, we coaxed his life story from him.  Jose gave us a several page handout, detailing anchorages, attractions, and his favorite restaurants and hangouts along the south coast where we were headed.  He told us that he knew lots of people along our route, so if we needed any help along the way, that we should call him.  Okay……so here’s the abbreviated life story.  Born here, Jose went off to Georgia Tech to get his degree in engineering.  Returning home, he settled into the family business, servicing the landline telephone system all over the island.  Well, in comes Carlos Slim (see Mexican multi-billionaire) and buys the Puerto Rican telephone system.  Five contracts have since dwindled to one, as Mexican companies (owned by Senor Slim) took over the maintenance operations.  Jose also started a Redi-Mix concrete company, but with the collapse of the Puerto Rican economy (PR is in federal receivership), new building isn’t happening.  They’re now doing custom structural and decorative concrete.  Okay, so where does this marina come in?  As Jose tells it, “My Dad was in town with a few of his buddies, got really drunk, and bought a marina.” His family has no interest in boating or water sports, so the already decrepit marina and its’ wooden docks continued their downward spiral, until finally, as he tells it, a decision needed to be made.  “I told my Dad that he either needed to sell the land or rebuild the marina.” I guess the rest is history.  They started the permitting process in 2008, as the economy was tanking, and completed construction in 2011.  Jose, who loves the water, and has had a boat of some type since his first Boston Whaler as a 10-year-old, runs the operation in his spare time.  He told us that the bank was paid, and the marina is breaking even financially.  Of course, he is looking to build the business so that he can “sit at the marina bar and drink Don Q.” I have no doubt that he will, with the level of service that he provides.  I love stories about people who work hard and succeed, but I digress.

We fueled up the Girl on relatively inexpensive (compared to the rest of the Caribbean) Puerto Rican diesel, and were off the dock at Puerto Real by 07h00 this morning, the 7th.  Taking advantage of the remainder of the Night Lee, we cruised in light winds, and were anchored inside the reef behind Cayo Caracoles by 10h30.  Here, we spent the day just playing in the sun, enjoying dinghy rides and the warm Caribbean water.  We debated staying here for another day, but think we’ll move up the coast tomorrow, and stay a few days at “Gilligan’s Isle”.

No internet, just cell, so no pictures.

-Hasta Luego

Gooood Morning!

It’s 01h00 on……..”let’s see….ahh yes, Sunday morning, and I just came on watch after 7 hours of killer sleep”.  Ever since I became voluntarily unemployed, the time/space continuum has been disturbed-on a passage, even more so.  It’s one of the reasons for the $19 Timex on my wrist (the day/date function), the other being the LARGE readablewithoutglassesnumbers.  Sleep yesterday night was sketchy at best.  Even though the seas were 4’ and less, they were hitting us just off the port bow, giving the Girl some lively movement in all three axis (axes,axises, axees?) whatever, she was pitching, rolling and yawing in rapid succession.  The frequent rain showers didn’t help, as the closed portholes made for a rather stuffy boat belowdecks.   This morning, we had more of the same.  Cloudy skies, and frequent pouring rain were the order of the day.  We’d no sooner get the portholes and hatches open, then the rain would come pouring down (and sideways).  In midafternoon, we got some lines in the water.  Since I was planning on napping to make up for lost time the night before, the fishing effort was halfhearted at best.  No baits, just artificial lures.  True to form, I was just getting off to sleep when one of the reels went zinging out.  Winding in, we could see that it was a little Mahi.  As I was thinking “Should we keep him, or let ‘em go?”, he shook the hook.  Problem solved.  Back to the couch.  Not fifteen minutes later, repeat the process.  I’m not yet quite with it (still sleeping) as I’m letting line out to reset.  All of a sudden, I see a six inch tidal wave rocketing perpendicular to our wake and hit the lure that I’m just letting out.  Three hundred yards of line roll off the spool in a heartbeat.  I’m trying to get some drag on the reel, but to no avail.  I’ve got the biggest fish I’ve ever hooked up, and my reel’s malfunctioning!!  Meanwhile, he’s taken 400 yards, I’m thinking “to heck with it, I’ll just hand line him in”. (and throw away the pile of line that’ll end up on the deck away.)  He saved me the humiliation.  One shake of his head, and he was gone.  Sheepishly, I looked a little closer at the “broken” reel, and realized that I had never set the clutch-one of the hazards of fishing in your sleep.  The third time was a charm.  This time, after a 30 minute nap, when that reel started screaming, I was in battle mode immediately.  Man, it was something big.  Four hundred and fifty yards were off the spool before I could reel in a single inch of line.  I looked at my reel, and saw line that had never been off it (you can tell by the way it’s wound).  For the next twenty minutes, I reeled in twenty yards, he took back twenty-five.  Exhausted, I put the rod back in the holder, and took a rest.  Suzanne spelled me a couple of times, reeling with both hands.  When we finally got him to the boat, this “monster” was no more than a 49” Mahi, no bigger than the guys that we boated in the Bahamas last year.  That was a long story just to explain why I got a good sleep tonight.

After our pal was butchered, yielding about 10 pounds of gorgeous filets, Suz informed that we were done fishing.  “What?”  Seems that the freezers are full-no room for more food.  Remember, we’re headed to the islands, where beef will be somewhat less than plentiful.  The rain showers finally abated, the clouds cleared, and we had a breezy, sunny evening, with the sun setting over calm seas.

I got ahead of myself, so let me go back and fill in the blanks.  After we left Southside late Friday morning, we spent the next nine hours cruising over the shallow Caicos Bank.  The sun was full-on.  The temperature was in the eighties, with humidity right up there to match it.  Wind and waves were on our nose, starting at a manageable 2’, and increasing to 4’ by the end of the day when we exited the Bank at Fish Cays.  Two hours across the Turks Island Passage brought us onto the shoals around Big Sand Cay, where in the pitch black, under a wafer-thin crescent moon, we threaded through, between the island to the north, and the coral rock shoals to the south.  (radar, accurate electronic charts, and GPS are good things-we never saw nuttin’ out the windows).  From there, we expected deep water the rest of the way, and since there was virtually no boat traffic, we flipped on the television for some binge-watching.  Some friends back on dirt had told us about the series “Scandal”, so we downloaded a couple of seasons before we left.  As of last night, we’re on the second episode of Season 3.  As I mentioned before, sleep came with some effort Friday night.  I got my best in the last hour before I relieved the Admiral at 02h00, when the waves started to moderate.

I guess that gets us caught up.  It’s 01h45 on Sunday morning, the seas are less than 2’, and the wind, in the night lee created by Dominican Republic, some 30 miles off our starboard, is less than 10kn.  Before Suz went to bed, we discussed the latest weather report, downloaded from our Delorme satellite tracker.  Conditions look favorable for us to push on to Puerto Rico, so we’ll bypass Samana, D.R. to take advantage of this unusually (for this time of year) nice weather.  I think that I’ll listen to a few of our prerecorded podcasts, drink a Coke, and settle in for the night.

PS:  You mighta guessed no cell or data coverage.  We’ll shoot these last few into space ASAP.

-Later

Ohhh, Yeah……

After we paid de money to da men, we were done with Customs and Immigration (until it was time to get our clearance to leave).  We got the bikes down for some much needed exercise.  We quickly found out that “improved road” didn’t mean paved.  As we toodled out of the drive and onto the “road”, it became evident that we were in for a bumpy ride.  The surface reminded me of those first photos sent back from the Mars rover.  There wasn’t any loose gravel, just sharp, jagged rocks sticking up out of the surface.  Everywhere that there was a slight incline, eroded ruts from 4”-8” deep scarred the crust.  The benefit accrued from this condition was that there weren’t any quiet cars on the island, you could hear them rattling and bumping up behind you long before there was ever any danger.  (Not that we saw many cars on this back road).  Six miles out, near the end of Juba Point, we came upon a man-made basin surrounded by lots suitable for building.  Two homes, built on the prominence between the basin and the sea, created an imposing presence.  We guessed that they were over 20,000 square feet each.  One was rumored (and confirmed) to belong to Prince.  Impressive.  We doubled back past the marina, and headed north to explore Turtle Bay, a marina on the north side of the island.  Crossing Leeward Highway, the paved four-lane which runs east-west down the length of the island was a real trip.  The locals make up for the speed that they CAN’T drive on the improved roads when they’re rocketing down the Leeward.  It took us 10 minutes to get across the roundabout, which was nothing more than slightly controlled mayhem.  Suz and I quickly determined that our bike riding would be limited to back roads.  Over the spine of the island, we worked our way down the windward side to Turtle Bay, riding through platted, but as yet unbuilt developments.  There, we scoped out the marina and grabbed an iced tea and some Tuna carpaccio rolls at “Mango” restaurant.  (Their dinner menu looked great).  We rode the beach road up and down past some beautiful homes, and used the beach access to check out the shore.  It was really windy with a lot of surf, but with many coral heads scattered along a sandy bottom, it looked like a good place to snorkel from the beach in calmer weather.  With the sun dipping low, we pedaled on back to Southside, where our odometer revealed that we had covered over 15 miles, most on bumpy, rutted roads.  Our butts felt it.

Okay, I don’t wanna give you T.M.I., but I’ve gotta say a word about the showers at Southside.  The restrooms are carved out of the side of a limestone cliff.  The women’s shower is open to the sky, and has two great shower heads, replete with hot water.  Since there were no other boaters there, I had the pleasure of using it instead of the more traditional mens side.  (it doesn’t take much to make me happy).  After showers began what was to become our nightly ritual here at Southside.  Bob’s Bar is an open-air affair attached to his house, high on the cliff overlooking the marina.  Since we were the only transients, we were treated by the company of the local “regulars”, mostly comprised of expats from various European and North American countries.  Let’s just say that the conversation was lively.  The cruising guides had warned that Bob was a Bocce aficionado who seldom lost a game.  From our slip, we were hard-pressed to figure out how he had grown grass for lawn bowling.  Well, we got our education up at the bar.  “REAL Bocce courts were made of crushed limestone, 60’-80’ long………..& etc.”.  The Admiral got some lessons in the finer points of the game from the Master.  One night, we thought that we might be the witnesses to local history.  One of the patrons had Bob down by a score of 5 to 1 (game is over at 6.) Bob proceeded to win, 8 to 5.  Bam!  Navarde, the bartender, introduced Suz to Bambarra (a local rum), while I enjoyed Turkshead, the local Brew, as we watched the sun set from the terrace every evening.

Our rental car was delivered the following morning, and we took an all-day field trip, cruising the island from tip to tip.  Of course, we did the marina tour.  Blue Haven, our initial destination, is a very upscale facility, associated with a couple of high end hotels.  Included with your berth is the use of the amenities, including spa treatments, the pool, gym and several restaurants.  Very nice.  Most of the vessels in the near-empty marina were small mega-yachts.  From all appearances, the season was yet to begin.  On the other end of the scale, Caicos Shipyard was mostly a working marina, situated, like Southside, on the Caicos Bank.  It looked like if you needed any maintenance, this would be the place to go, with several large Travelifts and workshops.  We decided that our funky little marina, not too fancy, not too stark, was just about right for us.

Being the good tourists, we hit several of the popular beach bars, including Bougaloo’s, Da Conch Shack,  (where we bought a half dozen fresh Mangoes out of a guys’ trunk), and Kalooki’s.  Each had its own charm.

The Conch Farm, developed in the late 80’s by an American marine biologist for the commercial production of conch, was a must-see for my marine biologist spouse.  Danver led our private tour, which was very informative.  I just couldn’t figure out how this was a money-making proposition.  He told us of the grandiose deep-water fish farming project that was in the works, scheduled to come online the next year.  Even though we were “in between seasons” for the Conch, I couldn’t help but think that things were too quiet.  Danver was adept at answering my pointed questions, and I was careful not to get out-of-bounds.  Suzanne, in her later research, found that the Conch Farm had been closed as a viable aquacultural project in 2008, and only made money through their guided tours.  Just enough of the facility was kept functional so as to provide exhibits to the tourists.  Two vans full of patrons rolled in just as we were leaving, a testimony to the power of advertising.  That said, we’d go again, as we learned a lot of cool but not useful information.

On the way home, we figured that we’d stop at Turkshead Brewery (designated on the Visitor’s map) for a cold one.  When Google Maps just couldn’t get us there, winding our way through the warehouses near the airport, we went “old school.” We stopped at one of the open garage bays, and Suz walked in to inquire about the brewery.  “Oh, they just brew it there-no tasting room.”  With thirsts unslaked, we motored back to the ranch, stopping first at the IGA for fresh veggies and fruit.  In our perch above the marina, we enjoyed a couple of cold ones, served up by our favorite bartendresse, Nevarde.

It looked like the weather would cooperate, and the still-raging winds calm down on Friday.  That was a good thing, as we were finished touring here, and wanted to get down the road.  (Also, staying another day would require us to buy a cruising permit for $300, an instant-replay of the scenario in the Bahamas).  We spent Thursday doing boatchores.  Suz cooked meals for what (if the weather cooperated) could turn out to be a two-and-a-half day passage straight to Puerto Rico.  I attended to more mundane pursuits, mainly polishing all of the stainless steel rails and trying to stay ahead of the ever-looming rust spots.

This morning, Friday the 2nd, the winds were down to about 13kn, the sun high, and the humidity through the roof.  De Customs( $50 enter & exit), and de Immigration($30/p entry & $15/p exit) men came for their exit donations, and we were off on the 11h00 high tide.  (Yeah, we checked out the depth of the “channel” on the dinghy the other day-it was three feet in some spots).  Right now, we’re cruising southeast across the Bank.  The winds are steady at around 14kn from ENE, and the wind waves are 1’-3’.  If we get cell coverage as we pass Great Sand Cay early this evening, I’ll try to bounce this off into space, otherwise,

-Later

Hiya,

Saturday morning, another cloudy day.  Wind still blowing at around 19kn.  Chris Parker (our weather router) did another forecast for us last night.  Instead of reinforcing our decision to go, the new forecast is throwing doubt on the proposition.  As I sit staring at my computer, I’m feeding this growing pit in my stomach.  Am I trying to put a spin on what I’m reading because we are on a (gasp!) schedule, or is the passage doable?  Finally, I decide that it’s probably the plane tickets in Puerto Rico talking, and by 06h00, I’m crawling back in bed, knowing that we won’t have another window for at least a week.  Suz asks me what’s going on-I read her the forecast.  C.P. says that the weather and seas will be rough for the first three hours of the trip, as we beat up to the northern tip of Long Island, then should moderate throughout the day.  After that, the prediction gets a little murky.  If a Low forms along the TROF currently preceding the Cold Front moving our way, it will probably bring with it Squally conditions, with winds of 40+kn, and seas to 7’.  IF we can thread the needle between the Low and the Front, we should have tolerable conditions.  Okay, here comes the disclaimer.  He says “If my forecast is wrong, you could have considerably worse conditions.  If you run into the backside of the Low, you’ll run into the squalls.  On the other hand, if the Cold Front catches you, you will lose the suppressing effect that it is having on the winds.”  At any rate, he says that we MUST be in to the Turks and Caicos by Monday morning, as the winds will be significant for the rest of the week.  His last shot was to the effect of “Fortunately, you’re in a well-found, stabilized boat.”  Suz added “At Home On Any Sea”, Kadey Krogen's corporate slogan.

This is the part where it’s good to be part of a team.  The Admiral breaks it down:  Let’s stick our nose out.  If it’s too bad, we’ll turn around and come back; When we turn the corner at the North end of Long Island, if the beam seas and wind have not moderated, we’ll come back down the lee side to Salt Pond (a 3 hour backtrack); If conditions head south later in the day, we can head in to Clarence Town on the South end of Long Island (at night); After that, we’ll be on our own until mid-morning on Sunday when we could duck into the Bight at Mayaguana Island.  It all still sounded pretty “iffy,” but it was a plan.  By 06h32, the anchor was up, and we were on our way.

During the first leg up to the end of Long Island, we beat into 17kn winds and 2’-4’ seas on 5 second intervals-nothing that we hadn’t rocking-horsed through on the Great Lakes.  As we changed course from NE to SE, we began to have a beam sea, and the waves moderated to 1’-3’ on around 7 second intervals-NICE!  Of course, all day we were waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Toward the end of the day, the seas went to around 2’-4’ on about 8 seconds, with very little wind chop.  When I came on watch at 00h30 on Sunday morning, the conditions were about the same, and stayed that way throughout the night, with the exception being the seas near the Plana Cays.  I had plotted our course a little too close to the islands, and as the depth changed from thousands of feet to one hundred, the waves stacked up accordingly.  As The Girl changed course for deeper water, the steep waves abated.  Rounding Mayaguana Island, Suz woke up, and we decided to continue on under lowering skies, the wind picking up slightly, and the radar showing rain all around us.  With the windometer creeping up, we decided against our original plan of heading to Blue Haven on the north side of Providenciales, opting instead for the South Side marina, and the relative safety of the Caicos Bank on the south (and lee) side of the island.  We figured our ETA would put us through the reef, and on the Bank well before dark, and possibly, even to the marina before all light was gone.  Well……….” The best laid plans.” For the next three hours, the wind and seas crept higher.  We were still seeing rain on the radar, but the cells all dissipated before we hit them.  We now had steady winds in the upper teens, with gusts into the twenties.  The seas were up to 4’-6’, but not uncomfortable.  Then the squalls hit us.  As we passed through each, the winds would rise into the 30’s, with the tops blowing off the now 6-8 footers.  In between squalls, the wind would drop back into the 20’s.  Never scary, but a bit uncomfortable.  We could only imagine what was going on behind the Velcro tie-wrapped doors of the cupboards as we listened to the crashes emitting through their louvers.

A couple of nervous “Hee, Hee, Hee’s,” as we entered the unmarked break in the reef and rode up onto the relatively calm Caicos Bank three hours later.  Our ETA now shot to heck, we arrived at the turn which would take us a mile-and-a-half over very shallow water into the marina in near darkness.  This was a story in itself, but suffice it to say that Bob, the owner of South Side Marina, talked us in over the cellphone (another story), and we never saw less than 6’ 3” of depth.  By 19h30, we were safely tied at the dock, and by 20h30 we were dead asleep.

This morning we had visits from Customs and Immigration.  Both were smooth, although a little late.  That was okay with us, as it gave us time to wash the salty Girl.  We chatted with Bob, an expat who has lived in the Islands for some 40+ years.  He chuckled when he said that it was almost a good thing that we came in at night, ‘cause we couldn’t see how bad it was.  (Both of us had sensed the tension in his voice when he had talked us in last night).  We’ll get the bikes down, and do some exploring this afternoon.

-Later

Good Afternoon,

Day broke as we ran due east over the Bahama Bank, just south of Highbourne Cay.  As we passed familiar anchorages heading south in the Family Islands which comprise the Exumas chain, memories from last year flooded back.  We exited the Bank into Exuma Sound around mid-afternoon, and immediately got the lines in the water.  The only rewards that we got for our efforts were a small Barracuda, and a little Skipjack.  As darkness fell, we began to question the wisdom of pushing on, having to enter the reef to our Stocking Island anchorage at night.  And night it was.  With the moon not scheduled to rise until around 00h00, it was dark as a pocket as we threaded through the reef at 20h00.  Of course, (it’s the Bahamas) the sole lighted buoy on the way in was extinguished.  Always a little unnerving to hear waves breaking on both sides of you when there’s 4 feet of water under the boat.  We breathed a sigh of relief as the breaking waves receded behind us.  Approaching our old familiar anchorage in Monument Bay, we discovered that the boat wouldn’t come out of gear as we headed towards shore.  We did a one-eighty, weaving through other boats anchored in the pitch-dark bay, and got the Girl back into deeper water, Suzanne driving while I scrambled around, looking for a reason for our troubles.  Everything looked good under the helm and at the transmission.  Fortunately, the controls at the upper helm responded, and we got the anchor down safely.  (The next day, I bled the hydraulic lines to the shifter, thinking that maybe small bubbles in the lines had coalesced and caused a blockage, subsequent to some work that we had done in Solomon’s).  At any rate, the controls now work, so we’ll see.  By the next morning, the Cold Front that had been chasing us caught up, and the wind was howling, and did so throughout the week.  Morning light revealed that the trawler lying next to us was “Privateer”, a Krogen 52 belonging to Greg and Lisa Smith, delivered just the month previously.  We had met Greg and Lisa two years ago at the Krogen Rendezvous, when they were still Krogen wannabees on a fifty-four-foot sailboat, “Chasseur”.  We enjoyed their company during this past windy week, and shared Thanksgiving dinner with them aboard “Alizann”.

I won’t bore you with the details of our stay in George Town.  You were here with us last year.  Let’s just say that it’s one year and one hurricane older-nothing much has changed.  (Except, our old beer-and-a burger, freewifihangout “Red Boone” burned to the ground last week under suspicious circumstances.)

It’s Friday afternoon.  The wind is still cookin’, but it is supposed to moderate for 48 hours, starting in the morning.  Seas are projected to drop to 4’-6’ at 8 second intervals before the next Cold Front arrives on Monday morning, whipping up the wind and waves again.  It’s about a 35 hour ride to Providenciales, in the Turks and Caicos, so we’ll make a run for it starting early tomorrow.  The wind and seas will still be up then, but by the time that we reach the north end of Long Island and head out into the Atlantic in late morning, they should be diminishing somewhat.  (At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.)  We should be to Mayaguana Island by midmorning on Sunday.  If it’s really dogmeat, we can duck inside the reef there to wait out the weather-probably until late next week.  If not, we’ll continue on to the Blue Haven Marina in the T & C.

-Until next time

Pages

Captain's Log

Au Revoir, Martinique.  Hello St. Lucia.

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

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

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

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

-Later

Bonjour,

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

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

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

There are plenty of other attractions to visit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We may be back.

-Later

Hellooo….

So, let me say a few words about Marigot Bay.  This is an extremely sheltered, nearly round bay surrounded by tall headlands rising to nearly 600’.  The narrow channel leads out to an anchorage which has a few mooring balls, and room to anchor.  The inner harbor has many mooring balls and a dock running along the shore with room for about 25 boats to Med-moor (stern-to, bow tied to a lead line away from shore).  Both the moorings and the dock are owned by Capella Resort, which is adjacent to the bay.  The good news is that as a marina customer, you have access to their two swimming pools and spa.  Dockside power is European (240V, 50Hz), but they had a small converter which allowed limited power for 2 or 3 North American boats (220V, 60Hz).  This allowed us to keep our batteries charged, and run the A/C in our stateroom at night.

Day two dawned bright and sunny.  The Admiral went for a ninety-minute massage while I chilled at the boat, taking care of some odds ‘n ends.  John’s brother and sister-in-law flew in from England for a 3 week visit on board Seamantha.  The afternoon had me peelin’, slicin’, and dicin’, while the Admiral handled the skilled job of prepping food for our Thanksgiving celebration the following day.  Aboard Seamantha, Paulette was continuing her preparations, which had already been in process for a few days.  Later in the day, the rest of the U.S. Thanksgiving gang cruised in.  Randy and Theresa, along with their two boys Ryan (12 years old) and Ronan (10 years old) docked their 54’ SeaRay, “Pilot’s Discretion” down the way.  John and Paulette had met them a couple of years before when docked in Grenada for the Summer.  Randy is retired from American Airlines after serving stints as Bob Hope’s, then Clint Eastwood’s private pilot subsequent to a stint in the U.S. Coast Guard.  Theresa is an attorney on sabbatical, as they have been cruising for 3 years.

It wasn’t Thanksgiving with the family and Detroit Lions football on the tube, but it sure weren’t bad.  Appetizers and sips started at Noon, and we pushed away around 16h00.  John started us out with some French white pop.  Smoked salmon (brought by John’s family from Scotland), Paulette’s homemade Spanakopita, and steamed shrimp got the party started.  Then the real fun began.  I’ll just give you the list:  Roast beef; Turkey; mashed potatoes (of course!); roasted vegetables; roasted Brussel Sprouts; roasted Sweet Potatoes; Onion casserole; Cranberry and Orange sauce; gravy and stuffing, all washed down with a red(?) Sancerre.  Dessert put us over the top:  Pecan pie, Chocolate cheese cake; ice cream; and stewed fruit with whipped cream were all on the menu.

We didn’t waste a minute during our weeklong stay at Marigot.  The day after Thanksgiving, John and Paulette arranged for Curt Joseph (a.k.a. Island Man) to take us on a tour of St. Lucia.  He picked up John, Paulette, Michael, Wendy, Suzanne and I at 09h00, and we didn’t return until after dark. We visited Tet Paul Nature trail first.  There, our guide took us along an easy trail, identifying local plants and trees along the way, culminating in a spectacular lookout which overlooked The Pitons (Gros and Petit), two extinct volcanic cones, which are St. Lucian geologic icons.  Next stop was the Diamond Botanical Gardens, where we spent a couple hours strolling the paths.  Our guide did a superb job of identifying and describing the uses of the myriad of plants there.  We took a late lunch at “Fedo’s” restaurant, located on one of the back alleys of Soufriere.  We never would have found it on our own, but Curt said that he wouldn’t eat anywhere else.  After lunch, we could see why.  Then, it was off to the Soufriere volcano.  We were the only tourists there, as it was late in the day, so we had our own personal guide.  We walked the boardwalks over pits of boiling mud through tendrils of sulfur-laden steam which had bubbled up through the Earth’s crust.  Cool.  Afterwards, we visited the “Volcano Museum”, which provided some rudimentary facts.  At sunset, we walked the beach outside the town of Soufriere, viewing Gros Piton one last time, from a different angle.  It was a long, sleepy ride home.  We all agreed that Curt was the man.  He picked us up early enough that we were ahead of the busses filled with cruise ship passengers, timing lunch so that they could pass ahead of us, and finished our tour after they were on their way back to their ships-perfect!  The next morning Theresa and the boys led Suz and I on a hike that almost literally went straight up through the forest to a 630’ peak overlooking Marigot.  As we were scrambling up the path, at times aided by ropes strung along the side, and starting mini slides of loose stones, I have to admit I was worrying about how we’d get back down.  The view from the top was well worth the climb, and a different path, this one winding down another face of the peak took us back down.  We enjoyed pizza and a few sodas while the boys played pool at “Doolittles” before taking the little ferry boat back to our side of the harbor.  That evening, Suz and I had dinner at “Masala Bay,” an exceptional Indian restaurant located right at the marina (the Seamantha and Alizann crews managed to wedge in 2 lunches there during the week too).

It’s funny how inertia can grab ahold of you.  When Suz and I are on the move, we can’t wait to see the next anchorage.  When we pull into a marina and stay for a while, it gets tough to move along.  I guess that we just get used to the routine……… Anyway, it was time to get on up island.  On Tuesday morning, the crews of Alizann and Seamantha pushed off for the 5 hour hop to Martinique.

-Later

Bon jour

Reluctantly, we upped the anchor in Chatham Bay, Union Island at 09h00 on the 15th of November.  An hour later, we entered the anchorage at Salt Whistle Bay on the north end of tiny Mayreau (population 250), another island of the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines archipelago.  It’s a very popular, but small anchorage on the northwest corner of the island.  If it was full, we planned to head a few miles south, and toss down the hook in Saline Bay, at the south end of Mayreau.  That wasn’t our first choice, as the ferries and small cruise ships use the commercial port there.  As luck would have it, a boat was just dropping a mooring ball as we entered the harbor (it also happened to be the one that we would have chosen if the whole mooring field had been empty.  Our “Boat Boy” du jour, “Fifty Cent” guided us in and took our lines, helping us to secure the Girl to the mooring.  (Of course, we could have very easily secured ourselves, but the Boat Boys plying the anchorages in their little pangas really need the work on these islands where there’s very little opportunity for employment.  They really hustle-good for them!)  The bay was separated from the Atlantic by a low, sandy spit covered by palm trees.  We had a nice breeze, but virtually no waves.  We brought the dinghy to the sandy shore and anchored it in 3’ of water.  Crossing the spit, we had a nice mile-and-a-half walk down the deserted sand beach on the windward side.  The remaining few hours of the afternoon afforded me the perfect opportunity to give the Girl a good bottom cleaning.  Two hours, and one broken putty knife later, her backside was smooth as a babies…  The next day, it was time to stretch our legs.  We walked the island loop, which took us over the top and down into Saline Bay.  High above Saline Bay, we stopped at the Catholic church.  On the walkway looping behind the church, we were treated to a beautiful view of the Tobago Cays, some seven miles distant.  The first part of our walk was on pavement (although we never saw a vehicle).  The way home took us past the island dump to the windward (and uninhabited) side of the island.  The trail wound along the coastline, meandering through grassy highlands, rocky shoreline and mangrove groves.  Not a well-travelled path, we backtracked several times to find our way, and bushwhacked through deep growth, finally ending up at the end of the beach that we had tramped the day before.  After 5 miles in the hot sun, we lolled in the knee-deep water off our anchorage’s sandy beach in bathtub calm, 85-degree water.

After two days at Mayreau, we were off to our old stompin’ grounds in Port Elizabeth, Bequia (another island in SVG).  We were looking forward to meeting up with our friend, Donnaka (See hiking in Bequia from April or May 2017).  We also had a load of swim suits and goggles for the Bequia swim team which we’d hand off to their coach, and our friend, Tyrell Olivierre.  Well…..the four days in Bequia went quickly.  We met up with Donnaka, who regaled us with stories from his recent two-month walkabout in South America.  It just fanned our already simmering fires to spend some time there next year.  Our friend Ken (“In Dreams”-from Grenada) arrived, so we spent some time bangin’ around with him.  We did a couple of dives with “Dive Bequia,” enjoying a couple of surprisingly nice sites, accompanied by James, our boat driver, and Max, Divemaster.  The morning dive, it was just Suzanne and I, in the later dive, just another guy and his daughter.  Max and I speared a dozen-and-a-half Lionfish, giving us enough for a nice dinner, leaving a dozen for Max.  I say that the dives were “surprisingly nice” because I had read a review online that said that the reefs here were disappointing.  Not so.  The corals appeared to be as vibrant and healthy as any that we’ve seen here in the Windwards.  The number of lobster that we saw was off the charts.  We met up with Ty and the swim team and they were delighted with their new goodies.  Ty confided that the girls especially were embarrassed at their competitions, as they didn’t have (couldn’t afford) proper racing suits.  Well, they’re gonna be stylin’ now.  Suzanne picked out the most colorfully patterned Speedos that she could find, in a variety of sizes (Ty sent us size requirements in an email during the Summer).  Four days went too quickly, but it was time to get on up to St. Lucia to join Paulette and John (aboard Seamantha) for Thanksgiving.  We had the turkey in our freezer, so our absence would’ve been noticed.  Before we left, I got out the pressure gauge, and handheld tachometer, and got our recalcitrant hydraulic oil cooler into spec.  (It wasn’t).  I figured that the next leg would be a good test.

The anchor was shipped by 05h35 for our anticipated 8-hour trip to Marigot Bay on St. Lucia.  On the way, the Girl got a nice salty coating from short period, 2’-4’ seas on the starboard bow.  We caught a little (24”) Blackfin Tuna along the way.  More importantly, we had NO hydraulic system overheats.  Maybe we’ve got it licked (knock wood).  At 14h15, we backed into our Med-moor slip between Seamantha and another vessel, under Paulette and John’s watchful eyes.  After a quick washdown of boat and crew, we joined our pals for sips and stories, as it had been nearly 7 months since we had seen each other.

On to Thanksgiving……….

-Later

Time Flies.

We glided into Clifton Harbor at 13h25 on the 7th of November.  Within minutes, we were at “our spot” in the northeast corner of the anchorage near “Kiteboard Beach.”  Well…. not exactly “our spot,” as there was a rather ratty-looking catamaran parked right over our old GPS fix from the previous Spring.  As usual, Suz was driving, I was handling the ground tackle on the bow.  I came inside to confer with the Admiral on the next best spot to drop the hook, when Suz said “Did you see that?”  “Yeah, those guys are right in “our sp……”.  Really?  None of the four guys sunbathing on the deck had a stitch on.  After a quick conference, we decided to drop our anchor at their midships so that The Girl would lay well off the German Nature Boys’ stern (their boat).  We tidied up the boat and got the dinghy deployed about the time that the Canadian couple on the sailboat behind us returned from shore on their tender.  After an animated discussion between the two of them, he came out to his bow, pacing in an obviously agitated manner.  Uh Oh.  I went over for a chat, and was informed that I was anchored on top of his chain.  When I asked him how much chain he had out, he growled “40 meters”.  One hundred twenty-five feet in ten feet of water?  Seemed rather excessive to me.  We had fifty feet out, anchored in a sandy bottom, behind a sheltering reef.  I told him that I really didn’t think that we had a problem, but that I’d be happy to swim his anchor, then mine to make sure.  As he glowered from his foredeck, I did just that.  Our hooks were around fifty feet apart, neither upwind of the other.  Somewhat mollified, he semi-stomped back to his cockpit.  Time to clear Customs, so we stopped at their boat to introduce ourselves and ask them if they needed anything from shore.  Curt “No thanks,” no names.  Sometimes it’s just that way, even here in paradise.

Over the next five days, we resumed our kiteboard lessons, graduating from the shallow waters off Kiteboard Beach to the deep water off Frigate Island.  The first and second days, we progressed nicely.  Suz took the third day off to rest.  I thought that I had some catching up to do, as she was learning quicker than me.  BIG MISTAKE!  I was tired too, but didn’t realize it.  I backslid bigtime.  By the end of the session, I was totally ready to quit.  (I’m not sure that I’ve ever quit at anything).  Next day, Suz had a morning lesson.  She had the deep water starts perfected, and was going well in one direction, pretty good in the other.  I was happy that she was progressing so well, but had to tell her that I was more than a little bit jealous, and pretty upset by the difference in our progression.  We had lunch on the shore with a bunch of younger boarders, as well as the owner of the school, Jeremie.  They all praised Suz for her accomplishments, and offered me some “buck up” anecdotes (they had all been watching our lessons for the past few days).  I had determined that I was done with the boarding thing, but hadn’t told anyone yet, when Jeremie (the JT Pro Kiteboarding owner) took me aside.  He shared that it took him a long time to get going at first (probably a lie).  More importantly, he told me to just relax.  He related that men had a tendency to use too much muscle and try to overpower the kite and board, but that women learned much faster because they just “went with the flow”.  Okay, I could see that.  I’d seen that learning how to snow ski at age 32.  I was still in a funk, and was going to quit anyway, when a French guy who was doing aerials, and all kinds of tricks earlier gave me the talk too.  He said that his wife was up and boarding in three lessons, whereas after his eighth, he was just starting to get up on the board.  Well, with all those folks in my corner, I couldn’t just walk away.  Zen kiteboarding won the day.  Everything suddenly got easier, and we ended the afternoon in smiles.  I don’t look pretty (but then again, I never have), but I’m driving the board in both directions, and we’ll be back.  Suzanne and I think that our instructor, Butter, and our boat driver, Marlin, are the best.  Jeremie, we’ll be back.

It wasn’t all work and no play in Clifton.  Onshore, we went back to “Yummy’s Bakery” for Rose’s Roti, and Zoey’s (Jeremie’s wife) “Snack Shack” for a wonderful lunch.  The open-air market supplied us with fresh fruit and veggies.  Cocktails happened a couple of evenings at the “Anchorage Yacht Club”, and “Bougainvilla”.

On the 15th, we moved up the west side of Union Island to Chatham Bay.  What an idyllic anchorage.  A crescent-shaped beach rings the bay, and there is good holding for the anchor throughout.  We dropped the hook away from all other boats (there were 8 in an anchorage large enough for 70, easily).  Soon enough, we were approached by a guy in a panga hawking his restaurant on shore.  He also told us that we’d be getting some swell during the night if we remained anchored here.  He motored on, and after a bit of discussion, the Admiral and I hauled anchor.  Seckie reappeared, and led us up to a spot in the northeast corner of the bay, and indicated a good spot to drop the hook.  Uncharacteristically, he didn’t hang around for a tip, just motored back to shore.  Long story short, we radio’d him on the VHF, ordered two grilled Red Snapper dinners, and headed in to the beach an hour later.  We met Seckie’s girlfriend, Vanessa.  In her small kitchen(?), she cooked the sides, while Seckie grilled the fish over an open hearth.  Their power was supplied by a generator, as there were no power lines down to this isolated bay.  The food was delicious.  As it turned out, Vanessa was a jewelry artist, creating necklaces and bracelets from beach glass and sterling silver.  Suz picked out several (it’s almost Christmas), and asked Vanessa to hold them until we could come back tomorrow with more $$$.  Nope.  She said take them and come back tomorrow when we get here.  Next day was a hike day.  We got to shore and hit the trail after a false start which took us down a rutted, muddy road.  Elton, a local fisherman, called out to us, and directed us to a path through the bush that would take us out of the wet lowlands and up a steep trail through the bush to the peak of the mountain.  He did want a tip, and wasn’t shy about asking for one.  We scrambled up a mile-long trail that rose some 600 feet.  On the way up, we met “Shark Attack”, who was walking down to his shack on the shore of the bay.  For the next twenty minutes, standing on the steep trail in the middle of the rain forest, we had a spirited discussion on the politics of SVG (I guess I should say that we mostly listened while he talked).  As we broke out of the bush onto the paved road, we continued on our 5-mile jaunt, which took us up to the Digicel tower, the village of Ashton, and out to the point overlooking our bay, (where we met “Bushman”, another local figure along with “Shark Attack”, about whom we had read in the cruising guides), eventually ending up back on the beach, where our dinghy was tied to Seckie’s dock.  As I crab-walked down the steep, gravel-strewn trail form the tower, I rubbed my hand against a piece of plant lying on the rocks-oooh!, that kinda burned.  When we got to the bottom, Suz reported that she had brushed her leg against some brush with the same result-thought that she’d been bitten by a bug.  After a half hour or forty-five minutes, the burning subsided.  Even though we were on a paved road, we never saw a motorized vehicle.  Another trail took us on a circuitous path back down to the bay.  We walked the beach to Chatham resort at the south end of the anchorage.  It’s a secluded, exclusive resort, with a total of 3 little guest villas, all made of stone.  With a small swimming pool and the beautiful beach, the resort would be the perfect “get away from it all.”  We had ulterior motives.  After 2 Cokes, we had secured the WiFi password, giving us coverage on the boat.  Alas, we were too far away to connect, even though we could “see” the network.  The $10 glasses of Coke tasted good all the same.  Walking the beach back north, we passed the dinghy, heading to Shark Attack’s shack to inspect his collection of wood carvings that he was selling.  He is really quite talented, but the boat will only hold so many knickknacks.  More political commentary ensued, and we learned that the 15 or so people living on the beach were all squatters, and that sooner or later, the government would probably sell this gorgeous waterfront land, and give them the boot.  BTW, we showed Shark Attack a picture of the nasty plant that we had encountered.  He identified it as “Burn Bush”, as he had ministered to many crying young victims over the years.

Lotsa talkin’

-Later

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