Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ruyam II Is On Land

We saw our baby’s bottom for the first time at 10:00 am on Friday. Thank God Culebra’s reefs did not harm her, save a few scratches!
On Thursday, Raquel told us to wait for instructions through VHF for the next morning, around 9:00 am. We were ready before then, so when she called we leaped into action. We reared into the travel lift, surrendered the four dock lines and left the boat. When Ruyam II was lifted out of the water, its bottom looked like a forest, with all kinds of vegetation and wild life growing on it. After heavy scaling, scrubbing and pressure washing for an hour, its paint showed itself. This was the first time that Al had seen it, since before buying Ruyam II (Amnesia then), he could not physically inspect it with our inspector because of heavy rains and flooding in BVI at the time. We relied on inspector’s report later on, which pointed out some small deficiencies that were supposedly taken care of by BVI Yacht Charters. One of the deficiencies was a missing sail-drive cover. This time when we looked, both of them were missing. It appears that instead of placing the missing cover, they took the other one off. Al was not impressed when he saw that, and thought of getting them to pay for the installation. The inside of the sail-drive, along with all the small outlets for dirty water, were coral reef habitations. When we cleaned them I thought the authorities would give us a fine for killing red corals. It was a wonder how any water was able to discharge through he clogs inside the through-hull fittings.
The lift then brought Ruyam II to her resting place for the summer, next to many catamarans. The guys brought us a ladder and a long hose for water. We are set for a few days to continue living aboard until Tuesday, at which time we are moving to a hotel room almost next to the airport for two nights.
We feel sad that we will not be able to jump into water from our home any longer, but hey, this too will pass. It was a good thing that I had made a mosquito net for our bed before coming to Grenada; otherwise we would be eaten alive at night, sleeping next to a forest with a small creek.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sails are Out

Yesterday (April 24th), a young islander (Mike) from Turbulence Sails came to look at our sails to give an estimate for some small repairs. While talking, Al asked him about some guidance for pulling the sails down, and he offered to help us do it for a small fee. It was a good thing too, since the sequence of the process is kind of important, and for the novices like us quite overwhelming. Al was very attentive while helping him unscrew the battens, and I took pictures as reminders for next year. You know, we are kind of losing our minds at this age, and most of the time require documentation. Then I took the battens down into the port hull, to store them in my daughter’s cabin (she only spent a few days with us last year, but the cabin is hers for life. My son’s cabin is up for grabs for any visitor, being the nicer one).
Anyway, I did some jousting with the battens, some as long as twenty feet, and laid them in the cabin/corridor. The sails were folded to be stored at the sail-maker’s shop until November, when we will be back. Ruyam looks bare without the sails.
Al went around the deck to tidy up all the lines, and secure the boom. Neils from Grenada Marine suggested that we take down all the halyards to prevent molding from rain in summer but we could not trust ourselves to do it right. If they get moldy, we might replace them in the fall. The big day for haul-out is Friday. That day we shall see the real picture of Ruyam II’s bottom, whether the grounding in Culebra did any damage or not. We cross our fingers until then.

Trick Against the Roll from Swells

The recent rolling due to southerly swells really got to us while moored at the bay. Wind is always from the east, which is quite welcome in the heat, but the swell that comes from the south around the corner was rolling us sideways. The poor mono-hulls are always much worse hit than us, they roll like pendulums, but nevertheless, we don’t like the on-and-off jerking, sometimes unpredictable. The remedy for it is tying the boat to the ball from bow and stern, keeping it at the port side instead of the front. Wind pushes the bow towards the waves pivoting from the side, so that the rolls become gentle ducking rather than swinging violently. We had seen one mono-hull in Marigot, St Martin using this technique, and realized its merits, but did not have the compulsion to practice it until a few days back. The first time we attempted it there was no wind, so changing the configuration of the lines to the moor did not make any difference in our position. It was the calmest night, we could not figure out the reason for the swells. Could be the tide coming in or going out according to the time of the day. Al was praying for some wind, but at night there were no trades of course. Anyway, nothing changed, so we went back to the original scheme. Two days ago however, the wind started to blow quite strongly in the morning, so we decided to give it another go. When there is wind, it is not easy to mess with the lines. I jumped into the water and practically threaded the eye, which made it easier for Al to secure the lines. Al made a third line in the middle, tied to the middle cleat. Now our bow is always facing south, while the others lie facing east. Works like a charm, as long as the trades continue. At night, we become one of the pack when the wind dies down, but no matter, we go to sleep then.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Telephone Companies in the Caribbean

Al made the biggest mistake in selecting a cellular telephone/internet access provider in St Martin by believing the attendant in Digicel, who did not want to deal with a non-French speaking client. She dismissed Al and said that Digicel did not have a pay-as-you-go program with internet access, so he had to buy more time on his French SIM card "Orange" , the most expensive program we had seen so far. We later found a cheaper one, UTS from Sint Maarten, but outside the island it only operates in the old Dutch colonies, like St Kitts, Nevis, Bonaire, Curacao etc. All through our journey, the first thing Al did after arrival at a new island was to see which of his multiple SIM cards would work on that island, so that he could send our new coordinates to family and friends. I was usually carrying our sim cards in my backpack, but occasionally they could be misplaced; or the signal would be weak; or that particular card would not have enough airtime at that moment. Our major occupation was establishing communication lines to the outside word at every island, sometimes not very successfully. And everywhere we went without fail, we saw the presence of Digicel. When we reached Grenada, Al dropped by the Digicel counter in St George’s and got a deal that was the cheapest and the most efficient among all the others that we had used! I curse that woman, who caused so much grief to us! Of course we will never be able to recover what we had spent on the prepaid cards. Since it is Al’s obsession to have continuous Internet access, he does not hesitate to buy airtime, without thinking if we can use it up or not. I think only with Orange 20 euros was almost all spent (in half an hour), then he smartened up and went to UTS. Unfortunately on French soil (Guadeloupe and Martinique) he was forced to use Orange, but very sparingly of course. Even there Digicel exists. It is a wonder how Orange can survive.

Inland Grenada Where Acrobats Drive Cars

Today (Friday, April 20th) Francis, the owner of a six-car rental outfit drove us to the Police Station at St George’s to obtain a temporary driver’s licence for Al, and surrendered his Toyota mini-van to us around 10:00 am. During the drive from St David’s to the main city, we talked about the bad driving habits of the drivers of the mini-van collectivos etc. I made a remark which seemed hilarious to Francis; about the fact that although for the people of Caribbean there was no need for making any haste for anything in life, as soon as they sit behind the wheel, they start running at a mind numbing speed. And the roads that they fly on are a different phenomenon. The cars in either direction brush each other while passing, there is no shoulder at either side, one side is usually on a thousand feet cliff, the other is at a wall carved out of the mountain. But the scariest part of the road is the trench, nicely made of concrete, about four feet deep, cut between the road and the wall, no shoulder. Anywhere else in the world with these conditions most of the pedestrians would be killed and one of every ten car would be totaled. Not here, so far in the week that we had been on the roads, we saw no accidents. The difference is the attitude of the drivers; they are patient, courteous and respectful! They don’t seem to be selfish or having a need to prove to others that they are smarter. We were in the city when Al took the wheel (right hand side of the van), driving on the left, English style, and I was sitting on the left seat. I got so scared looking at the trench, almost under my seat, while cars coming towards us from the other direction and random pedestrians were walking in front of us or leaping towards us, I could not stop myself from screaming at Al to slow down or stop every second. He got angry and told me to trust him. If I can help it I don’t like nagging, but the conditions have to be a little better to be able to trust anyone. Thankfully Al had driven on the left several times before; he had spent three months in Indonesia, and drove a van in similar conditions (twenty years ago by the way) and two days in Trinidad, four years ago, when we rented a car and saw the country side with Bahadir and Christina, just before our sailing trip at St Vincent and the Grenadines and again in the BVI last year. However, the roads in Trinidad were much better, although the drivers were kind of similar. None of us had been scared in Trinidad while Al was driving. However he admitted that on most other occasions he had driven American style automobiles, driver’s seat was on the left. This was the first time that he drove an English style car for a while, wheel by right hand, shift by left; signal by right hand, windshield wiper control by left. Thankfully it was an automatic car; he did not have to deal with a stick shift on those slippery and winding mountain roads. Anyway, the first thing we wanted to do was to check out the airport and the areas close by, such as Point Salines, in order to find a place to stay on our last night, since our direct flight to Toronto, Canada is starting at 7:30 am. Al cannot trust the taxi drivers in the Caribbean in general, so wants to be close to the airport for such an early flight. We drove around and inquired at two places. One was a pretentious resort, almost across the road from the airport, but the asking price seemed too high to me. We first thought we could have lunch there, but did not like the looks of the restaurant area, and left. The second place (Grooms Beach Villas & Resort) was much more reasonable, so we made a reservation for May 2nd. We learned that they only served breakfast and dinner, but a nice restaurant on the beach below could be an option for lunch that day. So we left the car at the resort, and walked down the road for five minutes. The weather was rainy/cloudy until then, but somewhat cleared when we got there, so we saw the beach with all its majesty. I really liked the setting and the atmosphere of the place called The Beach House, the grounds of which ends at the beach. I am thinking of starting early on the 2nd, and spend the day there at the beach.
In the afternoon, we drove on the west coast of Grenada for a couple of hours, to see the harbours and anchorages marked on the map. I was so scared of taking my eyes off the road, I could not look down. Even if I did, there was nothing to see from that height, but the thick forests clinging on the cliffs. We had some glimpses of the edges of the shoreline, but did not see any boats anchored along the way. It was raining cats and dogs most of the time, rainwater filling the trenches and overflowing to the road, making it even more treacherous and slippery. After a couple of hours, we came back to Grand Anse, the nicest beach in Grenada on the south west coast, to have a drink and to find a place to spend the night. As we had rented the car for two days, I wanted to stay around there, before returning to St David’s Bay. I felt so tired from the stress that started to feel cramps in my stomach and neck from tightening my muscles. I told Al to stop somewhere to have tea, but all along the coast we had not seen a place suitable for stopping the car, let alone find a coffee shop. It seems that islanders hang around small huts in the countryside where they drink alcohol and cook some food. Especially Friday nights, they gather and drink/eat/sing all night long. But the concept of a coffee house must be foreign to them.
We drove on the way parallel to Grand Anse Beach, and passed by the gates of some resorts, lining it. None of them seemed suitable for our budget. When we reached the Mount Cinnamon Beach Resort, I also reached the end of my patience, and I asked Al to stop to check it out. It was a very nicely decorated place, but of course out of our price range; however we stopped there for half an hour, to have a drink. I had tea which calmed my nerves, so was able to continue, to search for a room. On the way there, we had passed by a Best Western Hotel, a chain we know from North America, which usually provides a basic clean room for a reasonable price. This hotel looked dark and deserted from outside, but a sign showed that they were open. So we parked the car and went to the entrance. It was almost pitch dark inside, but there was a young girl sitting at a concierge desk, in the middle of the area surrounded by shops, all of them closed. When we asked, she came around and took us up two flights of stairs, and introduced us to a middle aged islander, George De Bourg, sitting at a desk in the middle of the corridor, after showing us a bright and airy room. It turned out that George was born and raised in Scarborough, Ontario (Canada), and lately returned to Grenada to get acquainted with his roots. It appeared that his family owned the commercial building housing the hotel, and he was trying to revive the business after being closed for some time. We did not ask why the shops on the two floors downstairs were closed, and he did not say. He only mentioned that he was trying to keep costs down, and turning on power only when needed. No air-conditioning when a fan would do the trick etc. I said what I needed at that moment was a hot shower. That was available in the room, for 135.00 EC dollars (US $50.00 dollars) plus tax. Sold!
It was a very pleasant night. We walked down the road to a grocery store and bought some snacks. Came to the room and made tea in the provided coffee machine (standard in every hotel in North America). This room also had a mini fridge and micro-wave oven, as well as some plates and cutlery. No need to go out for dinner. We were beat anyway, so went to sleep as soon as it got dark. We slept like babies the whole night. Next morning we had breakfast at another small resort we had seen earlier, and came back to check out the beach. The weather was cloudy but warm, so we had a long walk on the white sand, and swam in the clean waters. We also checked out the crafts market located next to the beach. We bought something from most of the small shops selling spices and small trinkets. All the vendors were elderly ladies, very talkative and nice. It is always a joy to shop at those places, for the interaction it provides. I think the second day of driving around was a bit easier for both of us, since Al learned his way around town. Nevertheless I suggested we park the car at the hotel after checking out, and take a collectivo to the town centre to do more shopping. It was Saturday and there was a cruise ship on the dock, so the market and all the streets were full to the rim. We returned to the tranquility of Ruyam II around 3:00 pm - what a nice feeling to be away from all the stress. Thankfully we were able to park the car in the marina without any incidents. Tomorrow morning Francis is going to come and pick it up from here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Grenada Welcomes Us

On Sunday, the 15th at 7:00 am sharp, we weighed anchor at Carriacou for the last time this season, and started our passage to St David’s Bay from the windward side of Grenada. We motor sailed the whole way, since the wind was 5 knots at the most, but the current was in our favour, so we made good time and reached the bay ahead of schedule. There were a few mooring balls at the entrance to the marina, so we got one and jumped into the pristine water to swim. Then we celebrated our safe deliverance to our destination.

It is a very narrow bay facing south, having reefs at the western side, which opens up into another bay. So the entrance is a bit tricky, but well marked by faded red and green buoys at both sides. Water is quite deep and clean, and the shore is covered with lush green vegetation. The only signs of life are the marina, a few cottages of the small resort called Bel Air Plantation at the side, and the birds. My kind of place for a while.

Monday morning we met with Raquel, the office manager for Grenada Marine, who is very personable and efficient. We got our estimates for haul-out and summer storage, which were reasonable for the peace of mind they will afford. We also saw the yard where many tied-down boats were lined up. Some people are camping in their boats, which seems hard to us, but we might have to do the same for a couple of days, after Ruyam II is hauled out on the 27th. Al is not crazy about that idea, but we have five more days until our flight back to Canada.

In the afternoon we hopped into a collective (van instead of a bus - dolmus in Turkish) and traveled to the capital of Grenada, St George’s, which was twenty minutes away. It was bustling with cruise ship passengers, in other words abnormally crowded. In such places, when the street vendors try to sell to us, we say “look at our colour, we are not from the cruise”. They laugh with us and leave us alone. It is such a pity that the streets are full of the same kind of junk clothes made in India, at every harbour that the cruise ships go. No place have any character anymore, or display any local art or artisan work. It appears that the customers are interested in that kind of cheap, shapeless, one-size-fits-all dresses. The only thing that recommends them is the comfort they provide in hot weather. So I bought two in St Kitts, and have been wearing them when it is not too windy outside. Any whiff of a wind takes it around ones head in no time.

Anyway, we looked about a bit, but got tired easily and came back to the bus stop. It was around 3:30 pm, children and teenagers were in their uniforms (snow-white shirts; dark green or beige thinly pleated skirts, crisply ironed; same colour pants for boys, also ironed; neck-ties for both girls and boys). I am amazed by the cleanliness of the young people after a day at school. I remember my children coming home from school, covered in dust, knees grated and muddy, shoes untied. Most of the school children we saw here were kind of serious and polite, but so warm and cheerful in a tamed sort of way. Most of them have smiling and beautiful eyes, tall bodies. Al and I could not take our eyes off the young people. I like their confidence and spirit which tell something about the easy-going lifestyle of the island. But they must take education seriously, which is apparent in the number of schools and colleges around.

It was a very hot afternoon, and we got crammed into the van, waiting to be filled to the rim. There were all kinds of people going home after work; school children, young adult males and females, older ladies etc. After a few minutes I started to sweat in my frilly dress, as all the others I’m sure, most of whom were wearing tight jeans and suits. However, there was no bad odour in the van. My nose is very sensitive, and I know how confined spaces can smell in hot climates. When we were in Genoa, Italy we had taken the subway, at about the same time of the day. As I smelled the body odours, I remember thinking that if Italy is like that, of course Turkey has no chance. Grenadians must be doing something right. I also like the way they treat each other. We saw a truck driver coming down his seat to show the way to an elderly lady, who could not understand what was said. I was amazed by the patience and deference he showed to her.

We are spending time leisurely around here, and exploring the city slowly.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Roundabout Way to the Final Country

When we asked, the Customs officer declared that the best place to clear out of the Grenadines was Union Island, which is in the middle of Mayreau and Carriacou Island, which is a part of Grenada, along with Petit Martinique.

April 12th, Thursday we let the mooring ball go, and motored out of Salt Whistle Bay, Mayreau. As we had visited Clifton Harbour, Union Island in our previous trip, to get water from the Clifton Beach Hotel, we knew we could dock the boat close to the Customs office, which would save time. We set the route carefully, since the entrance of Clifton is a bit tricky, since it is located at the east of the island, entrance of which is surrounded by reefs. I remembered that the reefs were well marked, so did not get too scared; however when we went underway, we saw that the current and the strong wind were pushing us onto the reefs. We were pointing towards the east of Palm Island, which marked the eastern end of the channel. By the time we reached Palm Island, the current brought us to its west side, close to the point to turn west and into the channel to go around the reefs.

Instead of getting ready for docking, I was watching the markers as well as calling the Hotel on VHF several times, to alert them that we were coming to no avail. When I looked up, I saw an older islander in the tell-tale wooden boat, trying to sell us a mooring ball in the harbour. When I told him about our docking intention, he took us to the dock of the Bougainvilla Hotel instead, which was much lower and kind of make-shift. In the short distance in the bay, I had to tie the fenders (I have to practice more to learn the right way) in a jiffy and give the lines to the multiple men waiting on the dock to help. The wind was pushing us onto the dock, so getting there was easy. When the guys learned that we did not need water or other services, most of them left. Al took off for Customs, and I sat in the boat to keep watch. A little later he came back after clearing the boat out, and said that we had to leave immediately, since there was another boat waiting to dock to get water. So he started the engines, and we left the dock, but he was hesitant to leave Union Island, since he had not been able to get our passports stamped, since the immigration officer lady who had just arrived at 9:00 am did not have the keys to the office. She suggested that Al walk to the Airport to get it done. Al asked me if we should get a mooring ball and do it, and I refused. Since the boat is already cleared, I did not think that it was necessary to also clear immigration since on some islands they did not even care to stamp our passports.

We motored all the way to Carriacou in about an hour, and anchored in Hillsborough Bay around 10:30 am. The wind got stronger in the bay, probably because of timing, while the trades pick up speed until noon. It is a very rolly harbour, the whistle of the wind and the waves do not let up, even late at night. Tomorrow morning we will try the Tyrell Bay, located at the west of Carriacou.

In the afternoon we had visitors on the boat; our Norwegian friend Marten from Fajardo, Puerto Rico came with his family and a young friend, Eva. Apparently they did the same voyage like us, but stopped at the same islands at different times, and reached Hillsborough yesterday. I had seen the old style red ketch while we were anchoring, but it seemed small for some reason. So when they came over, we got so excited, just like seeing old friends. In this vast ocean of loneliness seeing familiar faces is so reassuring!

We learned that Marten encountered a problem with his gear-box in his engine; he can only go forward, but cannot maneuver the boat without his sails. Such a scary thought. He is obviously a very good sailor, he had been able to take his boat out of the shallow and reef infested Tobago Cays two days ago, and dropped anchor here. He told us that he had left the Grenadines without clearing his boat, but did not have any problem explaining his predicament to the Customs officer in Carriacou. I am glad that we did not waste time for the stamp in our passports.

The night was so rolly that the next morning we escaped to Tyrrel Bay, just around the corner but facing west. There was a world of difference between the two bays, so we left the boat as soon as anchoring, and went to shore seeking laundry facilities. The sail guide mentions two places, so we chose the Yacht Club because of its nice dinghy dock. Inside we learned that it was laundry service, the only drawback was the need to wait until late the next morning. Oh well, we could spend two nights here, life is quite laid back and tranquil, and the people are extremely friendly and warm. We did our produce shopping without any incidents this time, thank God.

Carriacou is only two hour away from the Grenadines, but it is a world apart when the people are concerned. I did not see any Rasta people around here. I hope they will stay away, since the attitude they project is not conducive for real life, where some working might be required.

Anyway, we left our laundry with a very nice islander lady called Tracy, who also served us lunch, which took about two hours. When we went downstairs to pay, Al started talking to the elderly gentleman sitting behind the counter, while an elderly lady taking Al’s money. They were short of change, so Al gave a donation to their charity for children. Since the money transaction took a long time, I came to my patience’s end, and started strolling in the nice shaded garden next to the marina with haul-out facilities and a lot of trash dumped around. When I came back, Al was talking and laughing with the gentleman, Trevor. When I kind of rushed him out of there, he told me that Trevor was a very interesting character. Apparently Trevor politely asked Al where we were from, and when he learned our Turkish origin, he got very excited. Trevor was a football (soccer) player in England in his youth, and was almost transferred to Fenerbahce team in Turkey, but it fell through. Al and Trevor had discussed the Turkish teams, and the fact that the Turkish President Gul had attended Hakan Sukur’s (famous football player in Turkey) wedding. When we returned to the place the next morning for pick up, Trevor asked where we were headed. As soon as Al mentioned Grenada Marine at St David’s, he relayed a message for its manager Jason (Fletcher). I think we are covered; Jason has to be nice to us!

Later in the day we saw the teachers and students of the sailing school for juniors, first getting the lesson, and then the practice, in their wooden optimist sail boats which look like toys. It was a calm day today, so they progressed slowly around us. What a nice sight.

Tomorrow early in the morning we will be undertaking our last passage this year. We decided to pass on the windward side of Grenada, since we want to stop at the marina, which is at the eastern end of the south coast. We want to make the arrangements for the haul out and work, then we might go to other places for exploration.

I am inclined to return to Canada as soon as possible, since I missed my children and friends, and have some business to deal with.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Al had been dreaming of Salt Whistle Bay at Mayreau Island ever since we reached St Vincent. We had been there in our previous visit, so we had to come again. The passage was very pleasant, about four and half hours, except the very last bit, while passing by the Catholic Islands. The current was in our favour, winds strong and steady, while sailing on the highway between Bequia and Mayreau. It was funny to see that many boats were on a collision course with us coming from the other direction, but gave way to us probably because we were on the port-tack.

When we came close to the Catholic Islands, which had visible reefs extending towards the mouth of Salt Whistle Bay, a storm cell reached us, which changed the wind strength and direction. As well, strong currents started to push us onto the reefs. First thing to do was to drop the already double reefed sails. Waves were chirning like in a washing machine in that small area. Then we reached the lee of the island, and entered the bay, which was quite full. A boat-boy helped us get a mooring ball. We got used to getting this service lately; I did not fish for a ball for so long.

This bay is what the posters about Caribbean show; a light blue water, white sand, palm trees. The tip of the island is so narrow that windward side is two minutes away. One can see the raging waves on the other side while swimming in the calm water of the bay. Despite the concentration of the boats, the water looks clean, so we did not hesitate to swim, like all the other boaters. We are amazed about the chartered boats being full of children; it must be because of the Easter holiday. It is so entertaining to watch the children having fun in the water and on the trampolines of the catamarans, and listen to their laughter.

Al learned from the boat-boys that we could top-up our telephone sim-card at the village in Mayreau, which was supposed to be “twelve” (not ten or fifteen) minutes away, so we started. One of the young boys warned Al that the way was hard, but we did not falter. It was a concrete road going straight up to the mountain, so we were a bit out of breath at the top, but after sitting so long in the boat, it was a welcome change. However, when we got to the top, we saw that the village was close to the other bay, the road going sharply down. We passed some bar/restaurants, but could not see any grocery store, where the telephone cards could be sold. I saw a decent looking restaurant, and went in to ask about the place to get the card. It turned out that the owner of the place was selling them. Luck or sixth sense, I always know whom to ask! The young and cute islander girl told Al that the owner was not there at the moment, but she could ask her by phone. When Al gave his telephone number, which he had obtained in BVI, the lady first thought she could not help us, but after learning that it was a Lime (Caribbean supplier) number, she tried again and did it. Al was ecstatic!
That was the highlight of our first day here. We might spend another day, then pass to our destination, Grenada, the country of which starts at Carriacou Island. Al sent an e mail to the Grenada Marina located at St David’s Bay, Grenada to reserve a storage spot during the summer months, and immediately received confirmation. Their prices look reasonable, especially for the work we need done on the boat. First and foremost, we have to get the bottom of Ruyam II painted. We shall see.

In the second afternoon, we watched people coming to the bay to anchor, and got appalled by the mistakes some of them make. All the mooring balls are taken, so the newcomers try to anchor in the small spaces in between, or close to the reefs that line both sides of the bay. We saw one hitting a moored boat without any damage, thanks to the quick thinking wife of the owner who put a fender to its side, seconds before the impact. The same boat was almost hit from the other side, this time by a chartered boat with a hired skipper. The same lady came to the side and said something to the skipper (I presume she asked the skipper to change the position of the anchor or something), but he shrugged his shoulders, and just put a fender to the side. I could not believe that people could be so irresponsible. I really felt sorry for that lady, who became extremely uncomfortable, standing at the side to keep a watch. Moments later a big mono-hull appeared on our starboard side, almost touching us. It was Al’s turn to run for a fender. Both of us shouted that it was not a good place for them to anchor in such close proximity, but they laughed and promised to monitor it. Then I took a picture of their boat to have a reference, capturing their name. I think that scared them, because they left immediately afterwards. I do not want to stay here anymore; we need peace of mind while sleeping.

The Grenadines

Early in the Sunday morning (the 8th) we asked two sailors in a dinghy to release our rope tied to the pier, and we went underway at 6:45 for the short passage to Bequia. It is a three hour trip with the most conservative standards, while Bequia is in visual distance at all times. It was the most pleasing passage so far, enough winds and no seas! We covered it in two and half hours, and motored into the bay which we know from our previous visit. However, the sight was much different; the bay was almost full to the rim with sail boats. There were some interesting looking red markers in random places around the bay, and small sail-boats roaming the outside shores, which made us to believe that a regatta was underway. After we found a good spot near the Tony Gibbons/Princess Margaret Beach, we jumped into the water, first time in a while. New boats kept on coming to the already crowded beach area, and filled every spot around us. Apparently the Easter week-end was Bequia’s festival, which explained the concentration of islanders and visitors in the otherwise very tranquil small town. Islanders whizzed by in their wooden boats, and unloaded hundreds of people to a beach a bit further down, where they partied until the small hours of the night. Unfortunately their idea of a festival is drinking hard liquor without eating much, while listening to a high volume music with only one beat, and getting drunk and out of commission in a stupor around 2:00 pm.

We had to visit the Immigration office or the police station, so took the dinghy to shore, under the Gingerbread House Coffee Shop. We know this place from our previous experience with our friends Deniz/Zeynep/Mehmet and Bahadir/Christina, where we had to ask the proprietor lady who had been eating her cake at the side, to make some coffee for us while we waited. She had shown some reluctance, since we were the only customers in sight, but eventually humored us. In the next morning we had breakfast there, which turned out to be quite good.

This time we could not stop there, after taking a turn in the town, we sat at the Frangipani Hotel, hub-nub of people. We decided to wait for the Customs office at the port to open at 3:00 pm, according to the intelligence from a vendor lady across the Revenue Building, enclosing all the government offices, including the Post Office.

At 3:00 pm sharp three young guys opened the doors, and we became their first customer to get the stamps in our passports. In the five minutes that we waited there, other boaters started to fill the waiting area. We were lucky to be the first in. By the time we went back to Ruyam II we were beat.

Next morning we had made arrangements to get water and diesel from a distributor moving from boat to boat in a barge. I think it was an excellent service, expertly executed; however pricing was negotiable. When Al called the day before to arrange it for 9:00 am, he obtained the unit prices; a gallon of diesel 16.00 EC dollars, water .85 cents. A litre of diesel comes to roughly US$1.50 dollars, which is reasonable, considering the lack of effort on our side.

Anyway, when we got what we wanted, the young guy gave Al a receipt asking for 18.50 EC dollars for diesel, but the original price for the water. Al said “I am sorry, but the lady told me 16 yesterday.” Oh really? It should be 16.50 then. I guess Al did not argue, he was prepared to give him a tip anyway. Al’s new style of haggling involves giving a beer to the guys when he reduces the outrageous amounts asked in the St Vincent area. Sometimes the guys are a bit ashamed of themselves, and cannot look Al in the eye, but just whisper what they want. They must think that we are made of money.

Al got into a fit at the Bequia market. As always, I am constantly seeking fresh vegetables and fruits, but my passion is for tomatoes. I found some and asked Al to pay, while I was looking at other stuff. Then I heard Al arguing with the vendors, who were quite aggressive in their sales techniques. Several of them surround the customer and almost hold him/her hostage, then ask a price that could buy their whole inventory. We had been to many markets in St Martin, Nevis and Dominica, but never seen such aggression in the vendors. Al argued and got really angry, and refused to buy half of the stuff that the guys were pushing into my hand, so I got quickly out of that place. What a pity.

St Vincent, Unfulfilled Fears

We had sailed in this area four years earlier, and saw many of the Grenadine islands, so Both Al and I had not read the guide until we were about to undertake the passage. When I read the part about St Vincent, I was surprised about the description of unexpected wind acceleration around the north shore, which might reach 30-40 knots. The guide warns about the sudden hit of the wind especially while sailing north, in about five miles off the north shore. We thought same should apply coming south, so when we came close to the island after a long and arduous passage, Al started the engines to be prepared, and furled the genoa in, however we saw no sign of any increase in the wind strength.

When we had started from St. Lucia on April 7th, before 7:00 am, the sea was dead calm, with some choppy patches between the Pitons. So we pulled the sails up to take advantage of the wind, and motor-sailed until we were out of the lee of St Lucia. In the wide open, the wind picked up along with high swells, however we could not make much progress due to the strong current against us. We realized that we have a current gauge; the speed-o-meter of the boat usually shows one knot less than the GPS. We usually disregard the speed-o-meter; however when there is a current against, both start to show the same speed, since Speed-o-meter measures the speed of water running against it, while GPS measures the actual change in our position. Eureka!

Although we made real slow progress for about two hours (4.5 knots average motor sailing), our speed increased afterwards, and measurements went back to normal. Good, the current against diminished.

Both the chart and sail guide warn about strong westerly current, so the advice is to point toward east, and let the current take one to the actual destination. We did, but we must have overestimated the current, since Al was complaining about getting farther away from the rhumb-line shown on the extension of his hand (his smart phone); however our angle was more favorable against the swells, so we made small adjustments as we approached St Vincent.

Although the total distance to Wallilabou, St Vincent is about 34 miles, the northern tip of the island was only 24 miles away. The sailing guide warns about the two northern bays as hotbed of crime, and suggests Wallilabou for an overnight stop, although it is almost at the middle. It’s one advantage is the availability of a customs officer to clear the boat in, who works there only for an hour, between 5:00 and 6:00 pm, and cannot stamp the passports. One has to go to the near-by Keartons Bay or we can have passports stamped at Admiralty Bay, Bequia for Immigration.

Along the sailing guide and the chart, we also read the blog of Dylan and Sally, whom we had met in Dominica during our land tour. They had started their journey in Grenada a few weeks ago, coming north, and like us, were writing about their impressions and experiences. Sally really complained about the boat-boys in Wallilabou in her episode of St Vincent, confirming the negative implications of the sailing guide. I was apprehensive of reaching the island and our destination, and could not enjoy the trip, to tell the truth. I think I felt the impact of the swells more, while the moderate winds started to fly us after the current turned in the right direction, and became more worked up getting closer, first expecting vicious winds, then vicious people. How wrong can one be!

After we reached the lee of the island, the seas subsided as well as the wind, so we calmly motored the hour and a half. Wallilabou is a small bay well tucked in, so the only land-mark showing its southern tip is the Bottle and Glass Islands. They are interesting two little islands looking from north; one stump with some trees close to shore, one thin and long extending towards west in the sea. The first sailors who gave names to the islands around here were easily reminded of women or booze it seems.

When we came to the mouth of the bay, quite close to the shore, we saw one man in a row-boat approaching us. There was nobody around, so I learned his name as Eli (Elay/Elai), and asked him to help getting one of the three mooring balls in front of the Anchorage Hotel/Restaurant. He did that and more, since we needed to tie a stern line to the remnants of the jetty close-by. We did not have small change, so I gave him 50.00 EC dollars (about US$18.00 dollars), and he became our major helper, without asking for more.

I was so tired that I told Al to go to the Customs office alone, so he got a ride from Eli, and left. I stayed on Ruyam II to unwind a bit, but as the time passed, I started to get a bit worried. Al came back after a very long time, just before sun-set, and complained about an old geezer in front of him, who had been stalling the clearance process by hitting on the young female officer. Al was at the end of his patience, and after the guy left, congratulated the officer for her’s. Apparently she just laughed and said that she was exposed to all kinds of people, but she had to be professional. My hat to her! I am glad that I was not with Al there; I might have said something to the geezer.

Anyway, Al was tired, so we decided to eat at the Anchorage, which had been one of the back-drops of the film called “The Pirates of The Caribbean”, featuring Johnny Depp. They still had the props and costumes left behind, so it was kind of interesting, but almost deserted, save the people from three boats moored in the front, and a few anchored at the side. There is not much of a village there, all the islanders come from Keartons to work, in their row-boats; and leave at night.

We have been so worked up about crime in this area that we locked all our hatches and doors, and opened the small port-holes for air. In the morning, I saw some black drop marks on the foot of the bed and the port-hole, and alerted Al. He saw same kind of drops on the floor and the facing wall, as if somebody had filled a balloon with black water and threw it at the port-hole. When we looked at the side of the boat, we saw a big black mark oozing towards the water line form the port-hole. When Al tried to wash the side of the boat with de-greaser, it did not work, showing that it was not a spurt of diesel from a passing boat. We wracked our brains but could not solve the mystery of it substance and origin.

The Pitons

Winding down for two days in the marina and visiting Castries, the capital, by bus it was time to see the southern part of St Lucia. We cleared the boat out in Rodney Bay, and told them that we might be staying two nights in the Pitons area. Customs lady gave our clearance, but Immigration refrained from stamping our passports. I don’t know what that means, but we cannot go to Soufriere Bay just for that. It is the Easter holidays anyway, everywhere would be closed.

On Friday, April the 6th, at 7:00 am we left the marina. The channel coming into the marina is rumored to be a bit tricky, so we followed the line shown in the GPS. According to the sailing guide, the usual route going south would pass from the inside of a small rock called Barrel of Beef, close to the southern tip of Rodney Bay. I never think it a good idea, since the rock was quite close to the land and the depth was around sixteen feet, with a fast current going around. I was a bit excited, but not hysterical, so Al did not change the route. Thankfully we passed the rock without an incident; but we kept a look out for the fish traps, and spotting a few, made some slaloms. After a while, I realized that in the excitement, I had not taken our fenders in, and lost one of the ball-shaped ones on the way. We both felt awful; Al blamed himself for not reminding me as the skipper, I blamed myself; but nothing can be done at this point. At least I saw it before we lost all of them.

Coming down the lee of St Lucia was a thrill, because tide was with us, and the accelerated wind came down from the valleys at many points. We got the sails up, and flew down the 18 miles in about three hours.

The sailing guide warns about some criminal activity close to the town of Soufriere, so we chose Malgretout, where Harmony Beach Hotel/Restaurant is advertised to have moorings, while offering many services to the visiting yachts. We had called earlier, and reserved a mooring.

When we spotted the Petit Piton Mountain, we thought that Harmony was located at its south side, so we headed towards the bay between it and the other mountain, Gros Piton, jutting out. While getting closer to shore Al called Harmony and asked where to come. They described their building as having a blue roof, along with some homes at the back. We looked, but could not see anything like that, except a luxurious looking resort at a grand beach at the north corner of the bay, and some other none-descript buildings. Then we saw a boat-boy, and asked if it was Harmony. It turned out to be Jalousie Beach, and the nice guy directed us towards the Soufriere Bay. Apparently Malgretout is another indentation along the big Soufriere Bay, very close to the south end, marked by Petit Piton.

When we came to the right bay, we found Edgar from Harmony waiting to help us to get the mooring ball. The shore looked very rugged and green; the town is not in visual distance, only the numerous yachts stationed along the northern coast of the bay, which is the Bat Cave, could be seen from our vantage point. I was a bit surprised to see all the yachts at that end, and none at the Harmony corner. We were the only ones for some time, then a party boat came along, with a lot of people and loud music. The boat came very close to the beach, anchored and took a line to a tree to secure it. The sea was swelling, and hitting the beach with a vengeance. It seems that going to shore for the night could be risky, since there was no dinghy dock, beaching the dinghy in the dark is out of the question. We asked Harmony, and learned that we would have to take a water taxi to town and a taxi on land back, to get to them. A bit complicated.

Al is a little weary of leaving the boat alone, since I offended a boat-boy by asking how much he would charge to take us to shore. He did not give a price, asking how much I was willing to give. After back and forth several times, I gave up. He then grunted that we had lied to him earlier while coming in, and told him that we were going south. Since we thought we were going to the other bay, we had waved him away when he had approached us earlier. Oh well, do we have to justify our movements to the boat-boys? It seems that we are obligated to use their services, whether we needed them or not.

I was thinking of staying here two nights, and visiting the volcano, Soufriere Mountain, where some hot springs were located. One of them is mentioned in the guide, as having been built by Louis the 16th. I wonder if he used it himself. However, it does not look likely that we will stay here more than one night. Maybe next time.

To tell the truth, I am not much impressed by this bay. First of all there is a constant smell of sewer in the general area, as well as some debris and foaming on the sea. Unfortunately the water was not at all inviting. Even its colour is an unlikely green, which made Al speculate that the raw sewers of the town is coming to the bay, but turning around and around, without going anywhere because of the strong currents forcing them back in. We followed the foams going in circles for hours and that was exactly what seemed to happen. I hope not, but we could not swim there.

Theory proven; we threw two aluminum cans and some fruit peels at night, and watched them go around in circles close to the boat. I was afraid that we would find them in the morning, but they must have sunk after a while.

St Lucia was a disappointment. We are off to St Vincent and the Grenadines tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

St Lucia

As usual we checked the charts and the guide and the multiple GPS devices to find any hazards on the way. Found no hazards, but an advice in one, for motoring around the island towards St Anne at the south east corner of Martinique; and then turning south to have the wind advantage. We thought to give it a try, so we made a way point a little south of the Diamond Point (Pointe Diamante), somewhere between the lines given in the chart for starting from the west of the island, or St Anne.

There was only one catamaran going the same direction in front of us at that early hour. While we motor-sailed to the first way point, the accelerated winds around the island faced us; but no matter, our friend the trade winds were to come in about an hour. Since we had our sail up while anchored, we unfurled the genoa, and got underway towards St Lucia, which was visible in the mist.

Al saw the other catamaran, which had headed towards St Anne stopping, while both its sails were up. Al turned on the VHF, to see if they needed any help. He even thought of turning to get close to them ask, but I did not see the point. What could we do? If they needed help they would ask the coast-guard. As well, I thought that keeping the boat in one place while the sails were up required special skills, like heave-to, and would be on purpose. Who knows?

We kept on going, but our progress was slow, we could not do more than 4.5 knots on average, even motor-sailing. Around 9:00 am we cut the engines, and sailed for an hour, with an average 4 knot speed, even though the wind was around 10-13 knots. We thought there must be a strong current/tide against us, which did not let up until we came close to Rodney Bay, St Lucia. However, it was a very easy ride, since the waves were mild. Slowly but surely, we made it towards the twin peaks mentioned in the sailing guide.

Al was looking at his smart-phone (the main GPS that he trusts), and trying to keep the rumb-line by constantly pointing up, since the wind/current/tide were pushing us west. When I spotted the peak of the Pigeon Island, which was different than the others, Al could not believe me, since the red-roofed buildings were seen to its east. Pigeon Island was supposed to be at the northern tip of the Rodney Bay, so seemed unlikely from our vantage point.

When we got to Pigeon Island, which looked like a sitting lion to me, the entrance to the bay opened up. Al had read on the Imray chart that Sandals Resort which was built at the cause-way to Pigeon Island had blue roof-tops, so I was looking for it to no avail. There were red roofs everywhere, including the cause-way, bluish gray ones at the middle of the bay. When we got close enough, I saw that Sandals actually had red roofs (they must have changed lately). OK, we were in the right place!

There were many boats anchored close to the mile-long sandy beach, so we picked a spot and I let the anchor go; however our yellow ball did not come up to the surface. I was worried that it would become a hazard for the passing traffic (quite a lot of it, with para-sailing speed-boats, fruit vendors, sail-boats, fishermen, you name it). Al dived to check the anchor and saw that it was set in a kind of well in the sand, which was much deeper than its vicinity, which was the reason for the anchor ball not showing.

After a short break, we got into the dinghy and went to the Rodney Marina to clear in. According to the guide, only the skipper of the incoming boats was allowed to touch land for that purpose, so I waited in the dinghy while Al dealt with it. It was quite hot at 2:00 pm, and the dinghy dock did not provide any shade, but I put my head to the dock, and closed my eyes for a while.

When he came back, we checked the marina office for their prices, and found them reasonable. We will be staying here for a few nights. It is a newly renovated facility it seems, very clean and modern, and well used, but having some spots for transients (like us). It seems that the slips with electricity were harder to find, since their first question was related to that. When we made it known that we did not need any, it was easy to get an end slip facing another catamaran. I asked the guy if they could help us to tie, and he said no problem, just call on VHF.

When we approached the marina, I had a conversation with the marina office, mentioning the slip number that we were coming; and the attendant said proceed. We proceeded, but could not see anyone on the docks, not even other boat owners, who could help out. It was up to me to jump down to the low dock, and tie the back line. The dock was so low that most of our fenders were dangling high up, especially the balls. I had to reach up to lengthen the front ones, while pushing the boat away from the dock. It was a good thing that the water was dead calm, even though there was some wind helping me.

I think I am shaking the fear of coming along and tying on to the docks without any outside help. When you have to do it, you have to do it. As soon as the first line was tied up, Al came down to do the rest, while I brought down extras for tying the spring lines. After the whole ordeal was over at 5:00 pm, we realized how tired we became. We were ready to check out the multiple restaurants/bars lining the marina office!

We slept like babies on our first night in the marina. It feels good to be able to touch ground without using the dinghy once in a while. Especially at night, getting in and out of the dinghy, walking precariously on the poorly made dinghy docks, unlocking the combination pad-lock, tying/untying the “painter” (dinghy line for people who didn’t know, like me), and finding Ruyam II in the dark sometimes get to me.

The Nightmare of Fort De France

Clearance was easy, but getting to Fort De France was a nightmare! The guide mentions a ferry running from Anse a L’Ane to Fort De France every half hour, which turned out to be once every hour; and buses going around the island connecting the small communities in the bays along the coast. Since we were anchored at Grand Anse D’Arlet, we decided to use the bus and the ferry on our last day in Martinique. We asked somebody who spoke English, and learned that the bus was passing through the main road, starting around 7:30 am, schedule unknown. We got ready early in the morning, and got to the road around 8:15. Al saw two elderly islander ladies, and asked if the bus would come soon, and how much it would cost. She said in less than twenty minutes, and 1.20 Euroes. There was nowhere to sit to wait, but the road side was under the shade of tall trees. So we waited, walked up and down beside the road, looked at the beach etc. After about half an hour, we saw three buses going in the other direction, but nothing coming for us. At last a bus came, but when we asked he shook his head, and said that the bus we were waiting for was to come at 9:40 am. It was hard to believe, and I had gotten tired of standing up in one place, so we started to walk on the road until we saw a covered bus shelter with a bench, which seemed like a better place to wait than the side of the road. I sat down, and Al walked about, then we saw a couple who hauled their luggage close to the stop, and sat on the side walk. We thought that they must be going to the airport, which should be close to the city, so Al went and asked. They turned out to be very nice people who were going to Fort De France to catch a large ferry to Dominica. I suggested hiring a taxi and sharing the fare, but the guy laughed and exclaimed that finding a taxi around here was harder than catching the bus, because the distance was not long enough to make it worthwhile for the driver’s effort.

Anyway after waiting longer than an hour, the bus finally came, and took us to the small town across the bay from Fort De France. It made sense why they had the ferry at this bay, the distance being the shortest. Before we came off the bus, Al asked about the last bus to return to our town, and he said midnight. We definitely would have a bus to come back.

We saw a group of people sitting on a long bench at the dock, obviously waiting for the ferry. When we asked about the expected arrival time, the nice islander lady shrugged her shoulders, and said “whenever it would come”. Not a good sign, but at least many people were still waiting. After a few minutes we saw the ferry approaching from the other side. That was quick; we were just in time to catch it. Embarking/disembarking took a few minutes, and we reached the big city in about half an hour. We had learned earlier that the ferry ride was 6.00 Euros per person, so Al gave exact change to the collector, but he asked for one more Euro for both of us, and gave two tickets. I saw some people presenting tickets, some paying, and asked Al to get return tickets, but communication is a problem. They do not understand even if you try your hand in French, so even Al got discouraged. We paid and got the tickets without any explanation, but Al discarded them as soon as we were out the boat.

The clearance is still done at the Sea Services Chandlery. All one has to do is to fill the form on the computer, and got it printed. Since the same form is used in all points of entry to French soil, we had two copies of it from St Martin and Guadeloupe. I gave one to Al to use as a guide (the questions were in French), and he finished filling it in five minutes. The only hardship was finding our next stop in the drop down menu of countries, presented in no logical order; however, Al found it after trying many spellings of Saint and Lucia. We did some shopping at the chandlery, and were out of there before 11:30 am.

We walked up and down the street running along the docks, and turned inside on a promenade among the shops, found a place to eat with free WiFi on the second floor of a building, where we also saw John and Anita, whom we had met at Dominica. It was quite pleasant. The owner of the restaurant, who was a warm and friendly man, turned out to be from Palestine, so Al had a nice chat with him as well. We did some grocery shopping at the Carrefour at the kitty-corner, and went to the docks to wait for the ferry.

There were three docks where people were waiting for ferries. Of course there were no markings about the destinations of the multiple sized and shaped boats that were coming there. After asking, we found the dock for ours, and started looking at the small town across the bay for the boat that was supposed to come to take us. We had learned that our boat would come at the half past each hour, so we kept a look out when the time approached. We did not see any sign of the boat until it was very close to the dock.

Anyway, it did come almost on time, and took us to the small town across. This time the ferry attendant asked for Euros, apparently the tickets we discarded were actually for our return. Since we had no proof we didn’t even bother mentioning it. The ferry ride was easy, but the last leg of the eight/ten miles after it was kind of dubious, since we had no idea about the schedule of the bus. We found the bus stop, and started waiting, along with an islander girl, who was at the ferry with us.

We waited, and waited, and waited some more. It was hot, and the stop had a shelter but nothing to sit on. I was tired from the whole trip and had lost all hope of going back home. The islander girl made some calls on her cellular, and after a while got into a car that came for her. Standing up in one place is almost impossible for me, so I walked up and down, and then I saw a fair sized grocery store around the corner, where I thought a taxi-stand might be found. There was a rent-a-car office, but no taxi in the parking lot. On my way back, I saw a local gentleman using the ATM machine at the corner, and I asked him if I could call a taxi. He shook his head, and remarked that taxis did not exist there. When he leaned that I was headed to Grand Anse D’Arlet, he said that he would take me. Al was still at the bus stop, so I waved to him to urge him to come quickly. Al came but started gesturing his questions. I just said “taxi”. Then he turned to the gentleman, and asked “combien?” The man was incensed, and exclaimed that he was no taxi. I pretended that I had not understood as well, and thanked him profusely. I guess he was going that way himself. He was a man of few words, he only asked why we were going there, and I said “to our boat” with my excellent (!) French. “Ah!” That was the extent of our conversation, and he let us out at the base of the docks. I was really relieved, and congratulated myself for my instinct for picking out the only person who could help us. Al was not impressed; he still had hope for the bus to come eventually. Yes, but it would be dark by that time. As it was we returned to Ruyam II around 4:00 pm. What a total waste of a day for me.