Thursday, February 25, 2010

Arawak Divers, Carriacou

George Schmitt and Connie Hagen run Arawak Divers located in Tyrell Bay, Carriacou. There website is, phone number (1-473) 443-6906 or 8312, and their email Scott did his Open Water PADI Certification with Connie back in 2006 on our first trip heading south to Trinidad. Carriacou is part of an English speaking country which includes big sibling Grenada and little Petit Martinique.

Georg has been here diving since 1994 and Connie joined him in 1999. Connie is a talented photographer as well and all of the underwater photos are hers, taken during our dives. She has kindly allowed me to post them here.

They are charming and hard working, Scott's instruction with them was very thorough and lots of fun. I was unable to join the class as I admitted to high blood pressure on the initial form. Without a doctor's note, I couldn't participate. Later, when consulted, my doctor gave me a enthusiastic thumbs up, so I did my certification in Bonaire the following summer. We've been looking forward to returning to Carriacou to dive with Connie and George together!

We scheduled a whole week there and did five dives, three individual and two one memorable day over on the south side of the island. Our first one was just south of the entrance to Tyrell Bay and a good chance to practice our skills again after four months away. This is a round reef at the most 60 feet down and we circled it easily seeing some beautiful coral and lots of fish.
The scorpion fish above sat in the sand and let us examine him closely. If you don't know what you're looking for, ie you don't have Connie with you, he can be hard to spot as he looks like a piece of coral or vegetation. We also saw several good size eels, but it was later on our fourth dive that we saw the mother of them all - the largest one we've ever seen.

His head was the size of a medium sized dog and if he'd left his cavern, he'd have been as long as Scott - imagine! His photo is above right. He is really totally the green color here seen only on his edges. Some colors change underwater with the camera and depending on the distance away and use of the flash. Two good examples of that here are the two versions of the scorpion fish above and the varying hues on the lobsters shown here, in the distance with me (the lobster is in the bottom left corner) and close up with the flash. The flash really shows the colors we see, also only close up.

Our second dive was to the north of our anchorage and around a deep rock. There was some current up near the surface but not on the deep sections. We circled the rock, at first down at 70 feet and then rising later. Here we saw our first turtle - always a thrill (but on the last dive, we saw five!). Connie has been diving so long she can spot things even on a microscopic level. Some of the creatures here are no longer than an inch!

The third dive was more ambitious. We went out further to the Sisters, two large rocks further off shore. Waves crashed around and the current was heavy. We went much deeper today, around 100 feet so the dive was much shorter. I ran through my air quickly - unusual for me. Two days before I dropped the dinghy stern on my big toe and knifed through the nail mid way.
It hurts to put pressure on it so swimming with the fins is difficult. I found it hard to keep up with the others swimming against the current, but I managed, but used a lot of air doing so. The coral was amazing here, we saw lots of rare black coral. We searched every overhang and cavern for nurse sharks - often seen here sleeping but no luck. At least 25 hungry looking barracuda circled us however!
Scott and I decided to do a two tank dive our last day. This meant we were able to go much further in the boat, over to the other side of the island and windward. A series of lovely islands off shore make this a very scenic spot. Our first dive was on a rock and reef system well off the shore. We went down to 100 feet and then slowly up.
This time we went with the current and I could enjoy a leisurely dive. This is where we saw that huge moray eel and many of the small creatures whose pictures you see here. That peppermint candy one in the pink coral above is a brittle star - rare anywhere but we saw them twice with Connie!

Next we motored over to Saline Island and anchored. After a dive it is necessary to wait until it is safe to dive again. Our second dive would be much shallower. We snorkeled around this calm lovely bay and saw huge numbers of brightly colored sea anenomes. After a snack and lots of water, Kenneth (he drives the boat, took the pictures of us on it and is shown above also with Georg in the Arawak Divers shop) dropped us off at the up current end of a long shallow (30 feet) reef which we drift dove slowly down.

Connie had a float on a line which showed Kenneth our progress. We flew over the reef with the current, weightless and feeling like space explorers viewing aliens on a distant planet. The two charming porcupine fish below and the little Queen angel fish, up several pictures on the right, are curious types and followed us for a while watching us. When we emerged we were near the huge rock island you see here. The close up shows the crystal like patterns in the rock.

We are sad to be leaving Carriacou and Connie and Georg. Hopefully we'll be back some day to do much more diving. Come and dive with them!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Top Ten Lists

I've always been a sucker for these. Yesterday I picked up "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" (Patricia Schultz, Workman Publishing, 2003), some one else's bucket list, from a book exchange. First thing I did was check all the ones I've done - 204. Not bad, but the number would have been much higher if I stayed in fancy hotels, more than 10% of the items.
So I got thinking about other top ten lists I've compiled, top ten movies for one, and considered some boat related topics. Top Ten Discrectionary Items for the Boat have been discussed in several boating magazines, so I put together my own list, along with the next ten runner ups. We're assuming here that you have usable sails, a working head, at least two big anchors and plenty of chain, a GPS receiver and a VHF radio. In the galley you should have already a stove and at least a ice box. What next?
1. A Chartplotter and digital maps for your cruising area (we just bought a new one with a big screen!)
2. An electric windless for pulling up the anchor
3. Refrigeration
4. A Wind Vane or Auto Pilot (we have the latter)
5. Canvas Dodger and Bimini, full coverage over the cockpit
6. Radar
7. A center double bed (ours is Queen)
8. A Computer
9. Generator
10. dinghy davits (we need to pull up the dinghy every night so easy is good)

So what's not on the list, but we have;
11. SSB radio (for long distance communication, weather, cruiser nets, email while at sea)
12. Bow thruster
13. wind generator (we have two of them)
14. inverter (means you can use the 110 electricity without turning the generator on)
15. AIS (automatic identification system - shows on the computer on chartplotter where other boats with AIS are, how fast and where they are going. Will even show how close you'll be if continuing on present course AND in our case, as we have sending capacity, we show up on everyone else's screens)
16. Tons of kitchen stuff (useful; microwave, blender, bread machine, toaster, good pans. not useful;we're taking home the food processor)
What is on the wishlist;
17. Heat/air conditioning - this worked for five years but finally couldn't be repaired. We bought new units and will install them in the U.S. this summer
18. water maker (there was one on the boat but we've never managed to get it working despite a lot of trying)
19. solar panels - hopefully we'll get these installed also this summer. The big problem is where to put them!
20. a second head (we have one and when the first one breaks, which of coure it does, you don't have to use a bucket)

PS Thank you Judy and Bill for your comments below. In addition a number of cruisers have remarked on our exclusion of a freezer in this list. We do not have one on board and don't plan to install one. It takes a lot of energy to run, has to be emptied every time you leave the boat, and we just don't miss it. An ice maker came with the boat and we replaced it once, but when it failed again, decided to forget it. It certainly wouldn't make anyone's top twenty we assume.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Carnival in Trinidad

The famous Parade of Bands and the big final event of Carnival came almost as anti-climatic after a week of activities. The thousands of people, fabulous costumes and unrelenting Soca was as expected, but it was harder to be involved. Security persons with ropes surrounded the bands at many places and the crowds made it often impossible to get up close.

We sat at first in some bleachers near the first of the three judging stands at Adams Square. For several hours we watched Bands pass and saw two of the big groups there; "Resurrection of the Mas" and "Jewels of the Caribbean". The first was amazing and ended up winning that day so we felt lucky to have seen them performing.
Let me explain first what happens at the Parade of Bands.

First, a Band isn't a musical group. It may have a live band on a truck participating but most had huge sound trucks instead. For example the winning Band, owned by Brian McFarland, had more than ten trucks. They all play one song, in this case "Palance". The winning song is the one played by the most Bands.

"Palance" won by a land slide, having been played by over 400 Bands that day. Are you getting a hint of the size of this thing? So a theme is chosen by each Band. "Resurrection of the Mas" was inspired by the historical costumes of the period between 1880 and 1930, and rendered mainly in gold, bronze and copper colors. The Old Time Mas (that is the Trini word for Carnival) has a series of characters that represent historical figures or archetypes. The plantation owner's wife (above left) is one of these and her figure is an exageration of the classic T and A (tits and ass for those not familar with A Chorus Line).

Every Bands has it's own King and Queen and the latter is a classic example of this character. The Baby Doll is another figure representing the slave mistress of the owner and their child. The owner himself is all dressed up in formal wear, the overseer carries a big whip and the devil is not far behind. Sailors were a big part of early island life and they are in almost every band, if not the whole theme. The Fancy Sailor is almost unrecognizable as a historic or current figure. Only bits give you a clue, often the hat or the buttons, especially the women. Indians are a big component and of course lived on the islands before the Europeans came, but the ones in Carnival are American Indians from our own Wild West Shows - due I expect to the endless possibilities for costumes. The slave types themselves are also represented, usually in their Sunday best with turbans and parasols. And then there are conquistadors and african witchdoctors too.

Each of these types formed a sub section of the band and had between 25 and a 200 participants. So the whole band can have up to 3,000 members. Just one band out of hundreds.

The Parade starts early in the morning and didn't finish until late that night. Brian McFarland said he wasn't going to participate next year because he was fed up with the poor organizing.

His people were in costume by 7 AM, through the first judging stand by 10:30 AM and still didn't get through the third and final judging point until 8:30 that night. This means he lost a lot of his participants before the final and most important judging. And I suspect his was one of the most motivated groups.

One of the reasons for the drop outs is the other important trucks accompanying the Bands; the refreshment trucks. Bands such as McFarlands are all inclusive bands. That means all you can drink (and they also have Pee trucks with them - with port-a-potties lined up on the truck beds). A top Band like Brian's costs about $800 to join. For this you get a costume (it's not clear to me whether you can keep it or not) and all you can drink. Only those in top shape (of some sort) can manage to walk (and dance) for twelve hours or more. Or they leave for a rest and then try to return later. That isn't always easy as in between the judging spots the bands take different routes, trying to keep moving. So as the day wore on the bands intermingled.

It was frustrating watching all this from up in the stands so we took off to walk the streets. At times we would be next to a band and just outside the security ropes. Most of my better pictures happened then. Other times the band would be by and nothing would be following, so we'd walk around the back streets. There we would encounter many multi color costumed participants enjoying some food and drink, sitting on the sidewalks and in the parks.
The sun was hot so we purchased bottles of water and beer along the way. For lunch we had roast chicken with rice and some stir fried veggies from a stand outside a Chinese restaurant. Most vendors had made up lunches in styrofoam containers and anywhere you could possibly sit, someone was sitting.

And as the afternoon drew on the whining stepped up. Whining is a "dance" movement where the man (or sometimes woman) steps close up behind a woman and they begin a bump and grind to the music. Lamada but from the rear!

Two couples here demonstrate the process. It appeared that not all the participants knew the person approaching them - it's just a friendly gesture I guess. Sometimes this turns into a group manuver with three or four stacked up. The song "Palance" had a number of other dance moves called for in the lyrics. Hands went up, then the group moved to the left and to the right with the leading leg lifted. One of the photos near the top on the right shows one of the white sailor costumed ladies leading a group of devils in this step.

One of the sayings about Carnival is "Baccanal is Carnival and Carnival is Baccanal". We left at 4 PM so I'm afraid we saw the family rated version. As the night went on we suspect that everyone lossened up considerable. To be honest the real fun is being one of the participants not the audience!