Saturday, December 02, 2006

Rodney Bay, St. Lucia

Rodney Bay is over a mile long. At the northern end, an artificial causeway connects Pigeon Island with the mainland, providing the bay with protection. And now there is an enormous Sandals resort there. This was once the main British navy base in the area and on the island was a fort, hospital, barracks etc. The St. Lucia National Trust conserves it as a wonderful park. There are two peaks, one with the fort and the other called Signal Hill. The first photo shows the fort taken from the hill and the second looks back from the fort. Scott and I motored over from the Marina in our dinghy on two different days. The hikes are great and there is a lovely sandy beach. After our hot hike, we jumped in that water very quickly and stayed in a long time. There was even a fresh water shower there to rinse off in afterwards

The Jambe de Bois restaurant is another reason to come here. This charming combination of bar, restaurant, art gallery, hip coffee shop and bookstore is run by a local animal rights activist - and the food is good. They have a jazz group on Sunday and after I fly back to the States today, Scott will be over there tomorrow. Actually he already has plans tonight to hit the local music scene with friends.

The choices for lunch are varied: stuffed potato with shrimp, seafood salad, French bread sandwiches, roti, grilled fish, lamb curry etc. We came prepared the second time with six books to trade as they have one of the best book exchanges we've seen. This is a cruiser specialty - marinas, restaurants and other establishments that cater to the boating community have shelves where people leave old books and pick up new.
The selection here was wide; classics, mysteries, science fiction and thrillers. The first three are my favorites and Scott likes the last. But this place also had non fiction, magazines, and foreign language books. This is a place where you can hang out for a long time. Of course the view outside isn't bad either.

Friday, December 01, 2006

James' Visit - St. Lucia

After that great evening we continued celebrating James' birthday by renting a car and driving down south to the Pitons. This area has been decalared a World Heritage Site. Two volcanic piers stand 2500 ane 2600 feet high only a short distance apart - tall and steep, they don't look as though anyone could climb them, although it has been done. Just before them the charming town of Soufriere spreads along a white beach. We drove down the narrow road from Rodney Bay and passed more hairpin turns than we've ever imagined.
   This first view was taken at a popular photo spot where many St. Lucians on vacation were waiting to have their pictures taken. The foliage is very green and dense with flowers everywhere. Once down off the mountains we stopped at a lovely hotel, The Hummingbird Resort, to have a cold drink and walk the beach. It was a Sunday and everyone was out, swimming and enjoying the beach. A little girl was building a sand castle with her father and I stopped to talk to them. James and Scott were up ahead walking (our next picture). The walk took us into the town where a big political rally was occuring. Being British, they have a parlimentary system and the government has been dissolved and an election is imminent. The two main parties are the Labor (ruling) "Red" and the Workers' Party contesting "Yellow". Hundreds of people in yellow and red shirts were milling around in town and a big march was forming. Since then we've had these rallies almost every night.

It was very interesting to us to talk to people about the election and everyone was very open about it. Vans were roaming the streets with election music and campaign speeches and many people were wearing the colored Tshirts with their party colors and slogans. Still most of the people we've really had talks with are discouraged with the existing partys and more pragmatic about what need to be done.
We have enjoyed being part of that process, but another destination was calling. We had heard about the Dasheen Restaurant at the Ladera Resort from many sources, but they all had been unanimous - it was fantastic. And so it was. Our definitive guide book says "it has the most awesome view of any bar in the Caribbean; just to walk in is unforgettable. And they are right. Added to this is the Sunday, all you can eat, Buffet and you've got perfection (especially for my meat eating men, Scott and James).

The table looked out on the two Pitons and the beach between them from about 1000 feet up. A wonderful local band of 70+ year olds who have been making music together for a lot of years played down below us. We had a nice discussion with them about the music and they had all, at one time or another, lived in the States. A buffet of salads, vegetables, and a lot of grilled meat was arranged out in front: a roast pork leg, lamb chops, pork chops, several fishes including tuna, and a host of various sauces - each more delicious than the last. After that the dessert table was spread out attractively.

We ate are all too much but the lovely endless edge pool beackoned. We inquired from the hostess and spoke to the manager, and were allowed the use of the pool. We all changed into our suits, jumped into it and then laid out in the lounge chairs facing the view - and ordered expressos. What a life! By the time we left it was late and it was hours before we returned back to Rodney Bay.
 On the way through Castries we saw a wonderful sunset. It also marked our last night with James and it was bittersweet.

The next morning was hard. We woke up early and had a good breakfast. Although we thought we'd left early, the "rush hour" traffic was much worse than expected. We arrived barely on time and James was rushed into the gates. We know that it will only be a few weeks before we'll see him again. But the hardest part of what we do is missing our family and friends.

James' Visit - Thanksgiving and a visit to a Pirate Lair

This was the first Thanksgiving we had on the boat but it couldn't be other than traditional for me. So we had a whole small turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, squash, cranberry sauce, salad, and apple pie - all made with two burners and a small oven (our generator is on the blitz, which means no microwave). I believe the turkey was the last one in any of the islands. All of our other friends here went out to dinner but I've never been to a restaurant for Thanksgiving (yet). It was a rainy stormy day so we sat around the boat, playing cards, backgammon and dominos. James and I particularly had running games for two weeks of gin and canasta.

We had forgotten to check out of customs that day and so had to wait to leave until after they opened the next morning. With that late start we decided to stop in St. Vincent for the night. This is a beautiful island but has a bad reputation for theft. With it's steep and wild terrain, it was one of the last to be settled by Europeans. The Caribs (called so by Columbus) were in residence when a slave ship wrecked off the coast. They attempted to subjugate them and managed for a time but they revolted and took Carib women with them and formed a colony, calling themselves the Black Carib. They put up a fierce resistance to British settlement. Finally, in the late 18th century, they were defeated and shipped en masse to Honduras. There are a lot of terrible deeds done in these islands for sure.
Natural Arch off Wallilabou Bay, St. Vincent
As soon as you approach, island men in very small row boats come out to "help" you anchor. These "boat boys" are only trying to make a living but they've put off many cruisers from coming. We refused assistance until we were close to the moorings and realized we needed help with our stern line. So we chose Sean. The anchorage area is small and everyone wants to be close to each other and the restaurant for security purposes, so you take a mooring and then have a stern line tied to either another mooring or the shore.
The harbor of Wallilabou has much more recently been famous as the principal location for "Pirates of the Caribbean". Much of the stage set is still intact and the restaurant was remodeled for the movie as well. We had a lovely lunch there under the Styrofoam and plywood arches, painted to look like stone. After we had sat down our (boat boy not our youngest son) Sean came to our table and asked to borrow our dinghy to bring the police out to the large catamaran near us. Their dinghy motor had been stolen the night before. Needless to say we locked everything down tight that evening. We have dinghy davits and can bring our dinghy up each night and tie it down well.
Restaurant and pirate lair at Walliliabou Bay
Before that though we motored out to the natural arch at the end of the bay and snorkeled around the rocks. There was a wide variety of fish and colored vegetation. Early the next morning, 6:30AM, we took off for St. Lucia and as there was very little wind, motorsailed the whole way - 55 miles. Luckily we had a very positive current with us and pulled into the Rodney Bay Marina by 3:30PM. It was James' birthday and after perusing the guide book, he decided on "Razzamatz" for dinner. This was a terrific traditional Indian restaurant and they sang a rousing Happy Birthday afterwards.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

James' Visit - Moonhole

From Union we went directly to Bequia. There were a lot of islands in between, the wind was up and it was a lovely sail. We had originally planned to spend time in the Tobago Cays - a group of small deserted islands protected by Horseshoe Reef. But the constant strong sun had taken its' toll on James. As a red head and very fair he's always had a problem but living on the boat made it more difficult: he had a bad case of sun poisoning. So we decided to head to a larger island and do more sightseeing. Bequia like many of these islands has a seafaring, fishing and boat building population but one thing is unique. The island has an active whaling station and by IWC agreement, local whalers can take four whales a year, although in some years they don't get any. Few people are left with the skills necessary to hunt them - a daring feat in an open sailing boat, using hand thrown harpoons. The Japanese have been active in all the Carribean islands building parks, schools etc. looking for support for their whaling interests.
We anchored in Admiralty Bay off Princess Margaret Beach (a famous visitor). On the way there we passed the homes at Moonhole and were very curious. Luckily friends had arranged a tour and we were able to join them. We traveled in two jeepneys, first on paved roads and then on a barely passable dirt path.
No - we're not on safari in Africa!
When the late American architect Tom Johnson built the first home here in 1963 under the Moonhole arch, there was no road and or good anchorage. His home grows out of the rocks without straight lines or right angles. All the homes have huge arches, fantastic views, lovely patios, and most windows are open to the elements. They are not connected to the electric lines but some homes have solar panels or wind generators.
Tom's son and his wife, Jim and Sheena Johnson, live there today and showed us around their home and the original house, now abandoned. A huge boulder fell from the arch and landed in one of the beds. Fortunately no one was there at the time. The home reminded us of the Ancient Pueblo Indian dwellings we saw at Mesa Verde, especially from the sea. Built in a series of levels with single rooms and terraces, their favorite spot was a pyramid roof under which still sits their deck chairs facing the sea.
There was quite a crowd of us on the tour
We finished the tour at the Johnson's bar with some of her famous rum punches. They have three pet turtles that roam around. They love to scratch their backs on whomever sits in the hammock. Many of us gave it a try. We wished we had a chance to see some of the other homes, but most were rented or their owners were in residence. Their are 18 in all and have the whole peninsula to themselves.
In this shot it looks like the turtle is holding someone up!
The steep path led along the cliffs and past many of
the house.
The original moon hole home under the arch with the pyramid topped
meditation space

James' Visit - Grenada to Union Island

Our son James flew into Grenada on November 13 from New York City. He lives in Brooklyn and is working at the River Cafe while he studies for the LSATs and applies to Law School. Luckily he was able to take two weeks off and sail with us north through the Grenadines. We only had full day in Grenada so we toured St. George's, had lunch at "The Nutmeg" and then swam and snorkeled off the boat in Prickely Bay. The next day we sailed up to Tyrell Bay in Carriacou. Carriacou is a Carib word meaning "island surrounded by reefs" and the following morning James, Heather and Scott had a chance to see them up close and personal. Scott did his PADI certification course here with Georg and Connie at Arawak Divers. James and I took their introductory course and did a shallow dive in the morning and then a deep dive that afternoon. We went down to 41 feet and stayed down over 40 minutes: pretty good for a first try. We both had some problems with equalizing our ear pressure but resolved it (although it was several days before Heather's ears completely cleared). The variety of fish and coral was wonderful and the time went by so quickly.
Scott joined us for the dive and we all celebrated that night with our friends from "Nereia" and "Seacycle". Jaime and Dan had their boat hauled out there and rented a great cottage nearby. They invited us over for drinks and appetizers - really dinner, there was so much. The next morning we were off again, this time to Petit St. Vincent and Petite Martinique. A squall came in half way and blocked all visability for awhile but it cleared off and the sun came out as we anchored off the PSV resort in crystal clear water. This beautiful elegant hotel has cottages scattered along the beaches with lots of privacy. If you want room service, you send a flag up your flagpole. We had a drink in the bar but decided against eating there after we looked at the prices. We weren't suffering on the boat as I'd provisioned with filet mignons for several meals (with bernaise sauce no less).
We took the dinghy over to Petite Martinique and walked around the community, very local and no tourist development at all. The inhabitants live by boatbuilding, seafaring, and fishing. In the old days, says our guide, they were also smugglers. Children were playing dominos, a variation where you slap down the domino when you play it - a lively scene. Other men were untangling fishing nets and mending them.

We sailed next over to Morpion, a low sand island with a thatch shelter that sometimes gets washed away. Actually it's amazing that it's there at all. At high tide there is almost nothing above water, but it's a beautiful spot - my photo doesn't do it justice. We snorkeled and swam there but when we tried to pull up the anchor we found it was wound around a rock and we were stuck. Scott got his air tank and hookah out and tried to go down and untangle us but the air hose wasn't long enough. He could have tried to do it using the dinghy but meanwhile good Samaratins from a nearby catamarin in full scuba gear came to our rescue and in just a few minites we were free.

Our next stop was Clifton Harbour, Union Island with a what looked like a tricky entrance surrounded by reefs. It turned out not to be that difficult as there were channel markers and the reefs themselves was very obvious in the clear water. We were all tired from too much sun (and Scott had gone through a lot diving the stuck anchor) so we went out to dinner that night at the West Indies Restaurant and had a terrific French Creole meal.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Goodbye to Crew's Inn, Trinidad

We arrived in Trinidad and tied up at the Crew's Inn Marina on June 22 and aside from our five weeks back home and two brief trips to Grenada and Tobago, it's been home to us. We sometimes feel like we're living in a condo rather than a boat!

And this condo is located in a luxury resort. Almost every morning Heather swims laps in the great pool (shown here) and Scott works out in the gym. There is a lovely restaurant called The Lighthouse where we occasionally treat ourselves to breakfast or dinner. On Thursdays, like tonight, there's a pot luck BBQ that's always fun. We bring something to grill and a dish to share. We've made so many good friends here and saying good bye is going to be very difficult. Still we hope to run into everyone in another port at another time - "down the way" as we say.

This shot shows our dock in the distance and "Scott Free" is the second boat, between a catamaran and a big power boat. Hills surround the bay and are part of a national park. This area was a huge U.S. military base during the second World War. Over 30,000 troops were stationed here. The area supports large numbers of pelicans, vultures and frigatebirds, which ride the thermals like dark kites. After her laps Heather likes to float in the pool and watch them circling overhead.

These last two shots shows the views from our stern and bow at sunset. Behind us are rows of docks and the lighthouse and in front, the harbor. A group of islands provide protection at the mouth of the bay and many boats are anchored out or moored there.
Tommorrow we will visit Customs and Immigration, check out of the Marina, fuel up nearby and then head north. It is about 85 miles to Grenada through the Boca de Monos and should take us about 14 hours at an average of 6 knots per hour (we often make better time but currents can be difficult on this trip). We will probably leave in the late afternoon and arrive in Grenada early Saturday morning. Our son James is flying into Grenada on Monday for a two week visit. We are really looking forward to seeing him!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Finishing up repairs in Trinidad

This summer has been an opportunity to accomplish many upgrades and repairs to our boat. Trinidad is known for it's wide variety of vendors and reasonable rates. We were particularity concerned about our rigging as it was over sixteen years old (the date the insurance ceases), as we hope to be crossing the Atlantic in May 2008. As soon as we arrived we had a rigging survey done by Nils at Budget Marine Rigging. Surprisingly he found cracks in our bow sprit and dinghy davits, but thought our rigging would be all right for a few years. We're heading for Panama next summer and the timing will be tight after that to be positioned for our trip west, so we decided to go ahead and replace the rigging as well. We hired Mitchel from West Coast Fabricators (photo to the right in red) to build the new bow sprit, swim ladder and dinghy davits and Nils to replace and tune the rigging. Despite having four months to accomplish this, we almost didn't complete the job in time to leave Trinidad in time to pick up our son James in Grenada next Monday. Murphy's law was in full force throughout. One hurdle after another appeared and suddenly Nils was leaving for vacation on Friday night and it was Friday. Happily swarms of workers surrounded the boat and at 6:30PM Nils shook our hand and raced to the airport - job competed.

Another great addition is new canvas work around our cockpit. We had a new bimini made, a transition piece designed that attached between the bimini and the dodger, and see through side curtains that zip to the bimini and tie down to the stays, enclosing the cockpit. This provides sun and some rain protection. The last large project was varnishing and cleaning the boat. We hired Ronnie (shown here to the left) to do most of the work but also teach Heather. We stripped, sanded and varnished the handrails, companionway, coming, cockpit table, and various sections of the interior. Then we cleaned, compounded and polished the exterior fiberglass - deck and sides. In addition, we had the sails repaired and checked, bought an inverter charger and spinnaker pole, and had new curtains made for the salon. Our retirement savings are dwindling fast but the boat looks great!

Provisioning is a constant and easy here in Trinidad. These last few weeks Heather has been shopping at various markets, including a Pricesmart (very similar to Cosco). Most cardboard boxes are then removed and the contents put in zip lock bags, labeled and then stowed away somewhere. An inventory list of contents is taped to the back of the doors or lids of the storage areas, which have all been repacked and inventoried this month. After visiting Customs and Immigration we'll be able to shop at the duty free store and purchase beer, wine and liquor at pretty reasonable prices.
At the last minute we'll make a trip to the fruit and vegetable market and buy fresh produce. Although we can restock in Grenada, it's a lot harder to do when you're at anchor - ferrying everything in and our by dinghy. After Grenada, the Grenadines are a collection of very small islands and food shopping will be minimal and expensive. We do not have a freezer so keeping fresh food for any length of time is challenging. I have meats frozen and packaged in air tight pouches, then I pack them near our cooling unit. Vegetables are trimmed and put in zip lock bags. Most root vegetables will last a month or more - green veggies are more perishable. I've become familiar with the local produce and try to use that.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Caroni Swamp Tour

The Caroni Bird Sanctuary is a reserve within a mangrove swamp covering 40 square miles. Just before sunset flocks of glowing, fire engine red birds start appearing, first by the dozens and then by the hundreds. They roost on the mangrove islands and are joined by snowy white egrets and herons. Soon it looks like a Christmas tree with white and red ornaments.
The scarlet ibis is the national bird of Trinidad and despite being a protected species since 1962, its' numbers are decreasing. They get their brilliant red plumage from their diet of crab, shrimp and snails.
Jesse had arranged a guided tour of the swamp especially for a group of our friends. Fourteen of us traveled by maxi taxi and then by boat into the swamp. We had an excellent guide and happily Jesse joined us too. We brought "sundowners" and appetizers to enjoy as we watched the scarlet ibis return to roost.

The boat followed a winding course through the mangroves. There are four different kinds here - red, white, black and buttonwood. We saw two large snakes sleeping on branchs overhead. This one woke up with all the noise and looked at us quite intently. We looked back just as fascinated (but were careful not to get too close!)

The sight of the spectacular ibis, egrets and herons flocking as the sun set created the oohs and aahs usually reserved for fireworks shows among our group. As the darkness settled in we motored our way back through the narrow mangrove channels and our adventure was over all too soon.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Divali Celebration, continued

The first picture here shows Kathleen and Roland with their dinner all arranged on leaves.

After dinner we walked throughout the village for hours. This is a popular town for viewing Divali lights and many people from all over the area come here. Everyone is dressed up and those of Indian descent wear their traditional costumes. These two young girls are a charming example.
A combination of electric "Christmas" lights and lighted clay lamps decorated almost every home and the streets themselves. Sections of the village coordinated their displays with arches of lights over the streets or rows of lighted lamps along the sides. Bamboo frames are built to display the lamps, which are glued on at the joints. Our photos of the lights are very poor I'm afraid. One shows a fence frame along the street and another a lovely home lit with lamps with the family sitting out front to welcome guests. We talked to many people and were given gifts of sweets in small bags. The most popular was a farina, ghee and honey dough, at it's best warm and fragrent with what I thought was cardomen. The bags also contained frest sliced fruits and other candies.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Divali, the Festival of Light

Divali (or Diwali) means "rows of lighted lamps". The Hindu diaspora celebrates in the form of lit deyas (clay lamps) the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, and the return of Lord Rama after 14 years of exile in the forest. Homes are cleaned and windows opened to welcome Laksmi, goddess of light, wealth and beauty. This is held on the last day of the year in the Hindu lunar calendar but because there is no universally accepted Hindu calendar, the date varies in different parts of the world. It is always held sometime in late October or early November. This year is Trinidad we didn't know the date until weeks before the event.
This is an occasion for new clothes and a big family feast. During observation of Divali, as a form of sacrifice, no meat is prepared. There is a wonderful wide variety of traditional vegetarian dishes which are served on a fresh large green leaves. After the meal, it's an easy cleanup! Some of the dishes are curried channa, aloo (chickpeas and potatoes), pumpkin, mango chutneys and hot sauces. These are all served with roti, a light flat bread (similiar to pita) which is used to wrap around the curried vegetables with your fingers.

We left the marina on a series of buses and maxi taxis to the village of Felicity in the center of Trinidad in the late afternoon. We were guests of the temple there and enjoyed performances of Indian dance and Tassa drumming.
Click on the square below to be connected to You Tube and see a brief composite of several snippits of the performances from our digital camera.

After the show, we had dinner in the temple hall of traditional divali vegetarian dishes - all delicious and we had fun eating with our fingers on the big leaves. More to come on another blog entry.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Guapo River Gorge Hike

Our second major hike was a combination of that and canyoning. We hiked up to the top of a series of gorges where the Guapo River descends from the mountains and followed the river down. We waded, swam, floated and jumped. It was a lot of fun.
But we had all been very nervous before starting this trip. Jesse and our guide Snake had warned us in advance that this was a very strenuous trip and might be canceled at any time. These gorges are steep and through many parts it is impossible to get to higher ground, so a flash flood could be pretty dangerous. The heavy rain on the way up the trail added to our anxiety. But when we reached the river the water level was down and the sun came out. Snake gave us the go ahead and we were off. Our first obsticle was a narrow gap and drop into another pool. We had to jump the 12 feet down but land six feet out. We all did it but there were several big pauses and white faces afterwards. This is not Disneyland folks.
But we all had faith in Snake. He has done this many many times and he gave us all courage. Pretty soon we were hooting and hollaring. Lying on my back (we all wore life jackets) and floating down the stream was heavenly. The scenery was amazing and Jesse pointed out all the bird life around us.
We had our lunches sitting in the sun by the side of the river - jumping in to cool off once in a while. Basically we spent most of the day wet. This is a good thing in a hot climate! It was a great group and lots of fun as our photo here indicates. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Asa Wright Nature Center (continued)

.The park like surroundings of the center are planted with flowers, bushes and trees that attract birds of all kinds. Some are indiginous, others brought here years ago to adorn the estate's gardens. Bamboo for example was originally planted to stabilize roads and hillsides but now has become an invasive species and found all over the islands. Miles of trails intersect in every direction, some easy and broad, others steep and rugged.

We managed to cover almost all of them. There are several intersections with a lovely stream. One section, with a waterfall, has been dammed up and rimmed with a stone wall to make a swimming hole. There's even a changing room!

It is so hard to chose pictures to publish here. We took over a hundred ourselves and our friends hundreds more. We all share our photos, passing around discs to copy. The flowers shown are an orchid, a protea, heliconia and in the last a powder puff plant with a hungry hummingbird.

We started the morning at 6 AM out on the veranda watching the birds, then a short pre breakfast hike (that's Honoree playing Jane on the vine!), and another after breakfast - both with guides. We were luckily included in a trip to see the oil birds in the afternoon - this only happens once a week. There are very few colonies of these birds and this is one of the most accessable. The other locations are in Venezuela. They nest in caves or gorges and are nocturnal. The hike into the steeply sided gorges was beautiful. These birds were boiled down to produce oil many years ago and had dwindled in numbers. They are now protected and are making a good recovery.
After a late afternoon swim to cool off we had tea on the veranda. At 6 PM rum punches are served, a tradition Asa Wright herself started, followed by a wonderful dinner. After that we took another walk with our guide to see night birds. What a fantastic day!
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