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Her Vital Statistics
September 2016 -- Website Update: DoodleBug has been "reloaded" and has made the transition from rental boat to cruising boat. I have moved all of the 2015 "blog" to "trip logs" which you can accessing by clicking the catamaran picture to the right. I finally ADDED PICTURES to the trip logs. I also just completed updating all of the e-Books so that the pictures display properly when using Apple's iBook app. I have tested these on an iPad3.
January 2016 -- Website Update: We have bid Australia a sad farewell for a while and our Toyota Coaster RV HAS BEEN SOLD!!! Thank You Ray at Koolah Kampers!! (see www.koolahkampers.com.au). I have re-ordered the daily entries into time order, moved the trip-logs to a new page and ADDED PICTURES!!. You will find the link to the right (click on the white bus picture).
The logs of our sailing circumnavigation were moved down a level and you will find the link to the right (click on the S/V DoodleBug picture to get to the "old" web-site).
We have also "cleaned up" the sailing logs and reformatted them into .epub files, so that they may be downloaded and read at your convenience on an iPad or Kindle reader as "e-books". Because there are about 6,000 embedded photos in the original website, I needed to split the log of the cruise into 18 "volumes". To date, I have tested these eBook files on both a "Kindle Fire" and an "iPad3". Click right on the "books" icon to access the files for download.
I have also finished the task of converting the Australia "Walkabout" blog to 11 volumes of "e-books", also accessible here.
March 21, 2017
The forecast for Thursday has deteriorated and the optimum window for our departure we now decided is Wednesday. We notified the marina manager that we will leave tomorrow morning and confirmed the amount of our final bill. Once we had determined that the city electricity supply was good for perhaps 6 amperes, we had managed to move the electricity meter on this dock from 000000 to 000014, a total of 14 kilowatts in ten days, mainly by boiling water for coffee and tea.
After lunch we visited our final Santiago museum, the Museo de Clandestinidad, a museum celebrating the “fifth column” activities in the Santiago area during the Castro revolution. Like the other museums, everything was documented in Spanish and without translations. The exhibits were sparse and the museum a bit of a disappointment.
We shopped for souvenir tee-shirts and the like but these were surprisingly hard to find and had to make do with “ Yo (red heart) Cuba” baseball caps. We finished up our shopping at the fifth floor bar of the hotel on Cespedes square. We had waited patiently in the downstairs bar watching waiters ignore us and before walking out to ride the elevator. The top floor bar has a breeze, live music and equally worthless waiters. Annette walked over to the bar to place our order and then, when the waiter failed to deliver the tray of drinks sitting on the bar, Annette grabbed it and delivered it to our table herself, pursued by the embarrassed waiter. Pretty funny from my perspective. I tipped the musicians.
We had arranged to meet some Cuban friends for supper in town and this event wrapped up a truly enjoyable visit. Cuba will surely change dramatically over the next few years as the last few leaders of their revolution succumb to old age. Everyone expects a huge influx of tourists from Cuba’s giant neighbor to the west and the subsequent loss of innocence and charm. We will remember the frustrations of living temporarily in a society still trapped in the 1950’s but we will also remember the friendships and generosity of a proud and industrious people. Vive Cuba!
March 20, 2017
Isidro was waiting with his 1956 Chevrolet taxi at 0700 hours this morning and we departed for Holguin, the birthplace of the Castro boys, Fidel and Raoul. The trip began with light traffic on a four lane divided highway, reasonable surface, then went to an Autopista (freeway) for a limited run before turning north west across the tail end of the Sierra Cristal mountains. From here the road was two lane, often with major, axle breaking potholes, or a patch where the the roadway had been repaired with unconsolidated rubble but not resurfaced. The traffic was still fairly light, about one third of all vehicles being horse-drawn, a third passenger carrying trucks and buses and another third commercial trucks. We saw bullock teams harnessed to a plough and working a field, as well as multiple farm carts, loaded with goods and being drawn by a pair of oxen. As we drove, we caught occasional glimpses of the railway but the only time we saw a vehicle on the rails, it was carrying a uniformed track maintenance crew that our driver said was “military”. The land all around us was planted with sugar cane and much in the process of being harvested. I noticed that there were heavy trucks hauling two or three trailers, each loaded with cane, cut into small pieces. The harvesting was being performed by huge tractors, and these were dumping the shredded cane into the waiting trucks, just as we saw in the Bundaberg region of Australia and similarly, the root remains of the harvesting were disced under the rich dirt instead of being burnt as would happen in Fiji or Panama. The cane railway spurs looked operable, in poor condition and we assume have been replaced by the heavy truck / harvester combo we witnessed.
Although this was a rural community we were travelling through, there seemed to be people everywhere, walking the empty stretches of roadway, waiting in groups, we assume for transportation and sometimes just heading for the horizon across empty fields. What do they all do for a living? There seemed to be too many for a modern agricultural industry and no sign of the chopped up small holdings of a subsistence farm economy. We passed by men trimming the weeds and roadsides with scythes but machetes were the norm. No weed-whackers. People greeted one another and we saw that some of the men seemed to be delivering milk by horse and trap to the individual homes and chatting with the housewives. In their yards, people were growing vegetables, had chickens and geese and we saw no pigs.
The road was well sign-posted with speed limit signs, “no passing” zones, “end of no passing” zones and center line stripes. We noticed that all drivers seemed to obey these signs, even when trapped behind a donkey cart on an otherwise empty road. Whenever we saw bicycles or motorcycles, we noticed that the riders were wearing helmets. In the 84 miles from Santiago to Holguin, we passed some 4 police checkpoints, at least those I observed, usually a pair of officers with motor-cycles and upon our return, our driver was again stopped to have his documents checked. I can’t quite see the percentage here, when one considers the paucity of traffic and the density and frequency of document checks. Is this simply a “rice bowl” issue? (i.e. I go through the motions to get my rice bowl).
We saw few dogs, no cats and no road kill. There were no hawks, just four or five Black vultures drifting lazily in the sky.
We arrived in downtown Holguin before 1000 hours and after the necessary beer break, hit the first museum, the Museo Provincial La Periquera . Inside the doorway were two women, sitting at a table and ignoring us. I interrupted, asked politely, “La entrada del museo, esta alli o aqui?” “Si” was the answer. (I had intended to say – is the entrance to the museum here or further inside? and the answer was “Yes”). We asked how much and were told two pesos (pretty standard). After we handed them a five peso note, they insisted that they had no change and to leave and come back with the exact money. When we didn’t budge, they grudgingly handed us a three peso note and we entered.
This museum is supposed to have a good collection of post-Columbian artifacts plus is a “shrine” to Fidel. The first room we entered was huge and dark. There were a series of massive doors on two sides and all but the one we had entered were firmly closed. I tried the various light switches to no effect. A Spanish couple, currently living in Germany, entered the gallery to share our gloom and Annette returned to the two ladies and asked them to turn the lights on. They claimed there was no electricity. By now we had opened three more of the doors but when Annette opened a door to the square outside, one of the ladies, horrified, rushed over to close it. Annette gently took her by the elbow and positioned her on guard in front of the forbidden door, while she continued to take her pictures. This act provoked the ladies to remember where the breaker was for the electricity and magically all of the lights came on and the museum was illuminated. All of the doors leading off the interior quadrangle were closed and I ignored the ones that might have been labeled “library” or “office” and found a long gallery that was locked up but seemed to contain museum artifacts. One of the doors was sealed by a string across the jamb with a glob of wax at each end like a Shakespearian document. The seal was easy to break, the door unlocked and I soon found the light-switch. Annette and I perused this gallery at length and upon exiting, a third lady came up to us and exclaimed, “Are you by yourself? You have been in there? It is not possible!”. “No”, I said, ”It is perfectly possible, we have just done it.” She expostulated that the museum was closed and under reconstruction, besides, we would have needed to pay at the entrance. “Yes, we have already paid”, we told her. She took off at a near run for the entrance and we continued our tour of the museum. When the lady returned she was obviously flustered but managed to tell us that the building that housed the museum had once been occupied by troops and the multi-colored uniforms had caused the local people to name it the “Parrot House”. She also mentioned that the building was the site of the first movie to be shown in Holguin.
By now it was lunchtime and although the hotel restaurants didn’t open until noon, we found a local place that served us a quite pleasant pizza, beer and fried chicken. Our next destination was the Casa Natal Calixto Garcia, the birthplace of General Garcia who fought against Spain when this was a Spanish colony. Holguin is hardly Mexico City so the “Casa” couldn’t have been far from the main square and the museum we visited earlier. During our sojourn, we found ourselves passing the Centro de Arte Holguin where they had an exposition of Guadalupe Palacios’ work. The exposition was titled “Vivir” and was mainly numbered monochrome prints. Guadeloupe’s work was excellent and we were surprised that the gallery was not permitted by law to sell any of the pieces; for that we would have to contact the artist directly.
We continued our search for the mystery Casa Natal Calixto Garcia and just like the ephemeral Viazul office we searched for the other day, it kept moving around the city, always just tantalizingly three to four blocks ahead. Finally we just gave up and dropped into the Union of Cuban Artists’ building to look at their art and chat to the local artists there.
Overall this was a great day and Holguin is definitely the place to come to peruse and purchase some fine art.
March 19, 2017
Sunday in Cuba. We used the hotel internet to see if the museums in Holguin would be open on a Monday but all we could determine was that the “TripAdvisor” website claimed they existed. We also found internet queries that indicated the Crystal brewery in Holguin did not provide factory tours. The weather forecast is projecting higher winds next week-end and we have begun to plan for a Thursday departure to Jamaica.
We called our favorite taxi driver, Isidro on the satellite phone to see if he would drive us tomorrow and after a thoroughly unsatisfactory call with distortion and disconnects (why does it always go so smoothly for Jason Bourne?) felt fairly confident that he would at least pick us up tomorrow. Thereafter, we would just have to wing it.
Today’s highlight was a visit to the Teatro Marti for a performance of a Folkloric Ballet. This was awesome! The audience was small but the performers, singers and musicians top notch. The dancers were very skilled and possessed of enormous energy. The choreography too was excellent, the costumes of the girls very similar to those of flamenco dancers but the dance style itself made me think of a Polynesian Salsa with some Michael Jackson thrown in. The event reminded me of a Rachmaninoff concert we had attended in Russia back in the fall of 2000 in St. Petersburg. A lightly attended, shabby theatre transcended by the highest quality of performance from the actors and musicians.
March 18, 2017
Today’s goal was to take the local ferry boat into town, allegedly faster than the taxi because the former takes a direct route by water and the latter must weave around the perimeter of the various inlets for a 20 minute and 10 CUC trip. Once in town we head over to the “Viazul” bus station and buy / book tickets for a Monday morning trip to the nearby town of Holguin, before visiting the Museo de Clandestinidad, the museum of Castro’s underground struggle.
Well that was the plan. The ferry boat was supposed to arrive at 1200 hours, adjacent to the marina but didn’t in fact show up until well after 1230 hours. The local people all piled aboard and the departure was further delayed trying to find change for the 5 CUC note we presented. Our “tourist” fare was quoted at 1 CUC each and the locals all paid in CUPs, the “Cuban’s only” currency. In Santiago we fought our way to exit through the mob of people boarding at the terminus of the ferry route – no, that’s not true. There was a huge mob of people waiting to board the local ferry boats but just as we have witnessed with the crowds at the bus stops, there was no pushing and shoving, people wait patiently in line and part ways to let you pass.
We had been told that the Viazul office was very close and asked directions from a number of people. They all seem to have different ideas as to where this office lay although none disputed its existence. We followed the directions given and walked perhaps a mile up the steep hill into the city center, stopping to visit a couple of craft markets on the way. We found ourselves back at the Tourist Information office and asked for further directions. The girl within described the pedestrian walkway we had discovered a couple of days ago. “Is that the street with the “California” store and the “PanAmerica” store?”, we asked. She looked puzzled. “Do you know this street?” “Yes.” “What is it called?” “It is the same street”. We followed her directions and returned back downhill to the road near the ferry terminus. Here we asked for more directions and by now it had begun to rain. We must have asked another three people before we found the office, which we did at 1540 hours. Nobody we asked had mentioned the little fact that the office we sought was inside the main railway station, just down from the ferry terminus. There was a line to the ticket window and as we stood there, we studied the timetable on the wall behind us. The morning bus takes 3 hours and 40 minutes to travel the 134 kilometers (84 miles) from Santiago to Holguin, arriving in the afternoon.
This was not going to work. We could not visit Holguin and return on the same day and without usable power to the dock, we were going to have to shut off the refrigerators on the boat, since they run from the house batteries. We decided that we would instead travel to Holguin by taxi.
Just like a Las Vegas casino there was no clock to be seen anywhere at the railway station. We haven’t ever seen a moving train either, although there were real enough looking empty waiting rooms, guarded by bored looking security people. The railway station provided the only bargain to be found, 60 cents to use the toilet to take a pee. Most other places in town charge a $1. We has asked at the Tourist Info Bureau about taking a train to either Holguin or Havana and the people there had recoiled in horror at the prospect. “You don’t want to do that!”, we were told, “You will never get there with the train”. The “why” remains a mystery.
By now it was too late to visit the museum and instead wandered through town absorbing the lifestyle of the city. There is very little trash on the sidewalks despite a total absence of trashcans. One of the benefits of not having a packaging industry, I suppose. Most of the stores were sparsely stocked, in fact near devoid of stock. The few shoppers were monitored closely by the salespeople. There were several pharmacies and these were large stores but again, near empty. No racks of toiletries and cosmetics as in the rest of the world. Instead there were bottles of colored liquids behind the counter that made me think of medieval apothecaries. We did not investigate to see if these were herbal remedies or pharmacological presentations of common drugs.
The craft stores all sold the same stuff, walking sticks, wood carvings, Che tee-shirts, Che hats, Che posters. Fidel not so much but then the Bolivians didn’t shoot Fidel did they? I wondered if these products were locally made or produced in Indonesia.
The bakery gave Annette a bread roll and allowed her to take pictures of their interior. If we could keep this up we wouldn’t need supper tonight.
March 17, 2017
This morning we tried the internet at the marina hotel - one hour for $1.50, using their computer. The operating system was Windows XP Professional. The keyboard did not quite match up to the computer however. There were two “alt” keys, either side of the space bar. I finally discovered that the combination to get an “@” symbol was the right “alt” plus the “2” key. The “-“ sign was produced by the “/” key, thus it took me nearly forty minutes to get to see my e-mails. I had begun the morning with a plan to check e-mails, research tourist sights in the next town, check the bus schedules and browse the international news but had to make do with just checking my e-mail. By the time I had forced the browser to report tourist information in English rather than Spanish, my one hour internet usage coupon had expired. We could have purchased another coupon but life is short and there only so many hours in a day.
We visited “El Morro” also called “El Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca”. This is the imposing fortress that guards the entrance channel to Santiago. If I read the limited information correctly, its main use over the centuries was to provide some protection to the town from the marauding English and Dutch pirates who plagued these waters. The fortress was extensively rebuilt in the 1800’s but modern weaponry had rendered its defenses obsolete by the time it was finished. It thereafter saw use as a military prison. The construction was interesting in that it looked as though it was constructed of concrete but a closer inspection showed that the inner core was local rocks, pieces of coral etc. cemented together in a loose matrix. To prevent erosion of the mortar, the surface was then sealed with a kind of stucco. This was not the Chateau d’If. Edmund Dantes could have tunneled his way out of this place in way less than 17 years.
Back at the marina they were preparing for a large wedding and reception to be held at the marina hotel. While Annette was taking pictures of the bride, I chatted with the marina manager on duty. He had worked as a Russian translator in the days of the USSR and at that time there were thousands of Russians on the island. After the fall of the Soviet Union they simply vanished, as did his job. He hastily studied English in order to obtain his current employment. His English is very good and I found him knowledgeable on many subjects. He confirmed as we suspected, they are under a severe drought here, without rain for the past two years. He works a schedule of 24 hours on and 48 hours off. I assumed that he was on “standby” like a fireman, or hospital emergency doctor but he said that the marina provides no place to sleep or doze, “just chairs”. He stays awake for 24 hours and “chats” to the security guards. Physically draining for a 58 year old man. I asked if they had a kitchen for meals but he indicated again that there was nothing provided. He brings some crackers and something to drink from his home.
When we awoke this morning there was an American flagged vessel moored on the dock across from us. They had arrived in the wee hours and anchored. At 0300 hours, they had been visited by the doctor and immigration officials, so again, our intelligence about arriving or departing outside of daylight hours has been proven incorrect.
The local Cuban people we have visited have been very curious about life in the United States. What do we do on a week-end? What is our apartment like? Do we have broken cellular phones or broken computer equipment? What do we do with our broken phones? What do we eat for breakfast? Do you have lotion? Just as when I worked in the Soviet Union in the late 80’s, we found the questions people ask, tell a lot about their lifestyle. We have observed that two children seem to the norm and haven’t met anyone with a “large” family.
March 16, 2017
This morning I spent an hour or so diagnosing a problem with the autopilot. I tracked the power supply though the main breaker box, the fuse in the distribution panel and eventually found a burned out fuse in the control unit itself. It was a 5 ampere fuse and I had on board 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 but no 5’s. I have temporarily used a 10 ampere fuse and everything is working again. Over the past few months I have networked together three different generations of Raymarine electronics and am a little concerned that I may have overloaded one of the buses. The fuse is a common “plug in” type used extensively in automobiles and I could probably get it at the Santiago Walmart if such existed. I asked at the marina office if there was a car parts store and was told that they don’t really have parts stores. There are individuals around who can find parts however.
In the afternoon we headed for downtown Santiago in a local “unlicensed” taxi and on the outskirts of the city, a policeman signaled our driver to pull over. What happened next was interesting. Yesterday, we were in Isidro’s air-conditioned taxi when a police officer signaled him to pull over. He stopped, rolled down his window and handed the police officer about three different documents through the window. When we asked if we should produce passports, he shook his head and said that it was just a routine document check. After four or five minutes, the officer handed the documents back to Isidro and we set off again. Today, our driver stopped, jumped smartly out of the car and went to the rear. Within seconds he was back in the car muttering that now he had to pay the policeman something when he returned to the marina.
We visited the 15th century villa of the conquistador, “Casa de Diego Velazquez”. This was a huge mansion sitting on a downtown square and had been restored and filled with period furniture from the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. French, Italian, Spanish, German and English porcelains, Mexican silver and Cuban mahogany furniture filled the rooms. Several of the doors were original, including the original hinges. The various rooms had uniformed guides who pointed out the artifacts but none spoke English and we received the barest minimum of information in Spanish. The overall effect was that Diego Velazquez lived very well in a beautiful home.
We continued walking around the town and met our first aggressive street people. I was pelted with requests to change money, buy rum, buy cigars, take a taxi, take a tour, all within seconds followed by a gruff demand to “give me a present”. Instead I provided a suggestion on a physical act that was probably impossible. Annette realized she was being stalked for about two blocks by a small woman hovering a few feet away. She whirled and stated loudly, “No, gracias!”. The woman scurried away. These have been the only incidents when a polite “no” hasn’t worked, otherwise people here have been just delightful. We met Isidro, yesterday’s driver who was waiting in a downtown taxi rank, his car being the best looking of all. The streets were lined with amazing old Buicks, Chevrolets, Oldsmobiles, Ramblers, Jeeps just parked alongside the curbs. In the USA you would be charged admission just to look at them. We did find a pedestrian mall, including a department type store with the name “California”, although we did not explore the interior since it was getting late. Instead we had supper at an Italian restaurant on the mall. The only item on the menu was lasagna, thus we ordered lasagna. Three beers, one soda and two lasagnas came to $15.50.
March 15, 2017
We had arranged for taxi to pick us up and had discovered late last night and to our horror, that Cuba follows the stupid American practice of “daylight savings”. This meant a rushed breakfast before meeting our taxi driver Isidro in his 1956 Chevrolet. The car had been purchased new by Isidro’s father and had been lovingly maintained ever since. Isidro was educated as a mechanical engineer at the University of Santiago and had worked thereafter as an engineer in systems automation, before becoming fed up with his job and quitting to become a taxi driver. This car was not only near immaculate but had working air-conditioning (heavily emphasized in his advertising), driven of course by some flavor of diesel engine. Annette was delighted with the vehicle since her first wheels had been a ‘57 Chevy and at age 18, she had cruised the Las Vegas strip with the windows down and the radio blasting.
Our destination this morning was the art community of El Oasis, located east of Santiago. We first stopped at the Granjita Siboney, the house where Fidel Castro and his fellow revolutionaries plotted their first attack on a military installation in downtown Santiago. The house was pockmarked with bullet holes around the entrance where the Batista troops had belatedly sought the attackers. Inside the original furniture had been preserved, together with displays of the home made uniforms of the revolutionaries, plus some of the arms they had used.
We found the El Oasis art community a little strange, in that they had five active artists in the community but parked out in the sticks so to speak, miles from the City of Santiago. The artists were all well advanced in years and we assume retirees. Yesterday we had learned that retirees make 8 CUCs per month. A working doctor or engineer between 20 and 30 CUCs per month. It was hard to imagine survival on such an income and now perfectly understandable why an engineer would quit his job to drive a tourist taxi. The artist’s individual workspaces were tiny but their work was excellent.
Our next stop was at the “Valle de la Prehistoria”, featuring the three periods of Triassic, Jurrasic and Cretaceous with life size models of dinosaurs, mammoths, etc. The park was huge and considerable money had been spent developing it. The central pond with its rocks and waterfall was dried up and all around us, the concrete dinosaurs were decaying, needing both paint and patching. We were the only visitors and there were dozens of employees around. This is after all mid-week in March and we assume that during the summer school holidays the place would be bursting. What was fun was that there were horses (feral or otherwise – hard to tell) that were grazing amongst the prehistoric herds of horses and between the mammoths and adding an unexpected aura of reality. We looked for Ayla of the Cave Bear Clan but she was probably back in Hollywood organizing political protests.
The art community of Verraco was far more active than the El Oasis community and we visited potters and painters. The pottery workshop was extensive, a family run affair with lots of machinery and multiple kilns for large scale production of ceramics. We watched our guide skillfully cast a large pot on a wheel and it is always a pleasure to see a true artist create something from a rude chunk of clay. We were not in the market for ceramics however and moved on to the painter’s studio. Annette particularly liked the marquettes and studies in India ink by the artist “Bayola”, painted on the reverse of cardboard seafood packaging.
Lunch was at a beach restaurant at Playa Larga. Excellent food but again outrageously overpriced. It’s a general rule that when near strangers tell you that you are like family to them, you should clutch your wallet tightly.
Miscellaneous Cuba impressions:
We were surprised at the number of people with medical issues. One man we spoke to said he had been in a car accident, he needed surgery in Havana but it was too expensive to travel there for treatment. Similarly dentistry seems to be problematic and many people have bad teeth.
Most vehicles are of 1950’s American manufacture, including lots of Willy’s Jeeps. Other sedans were Russian Lados / Fiats; Chinese buses and trucks predominated. I could not determine the manufacturer of the replacement diesel engines and when I suggested “Isuzu” engines, I got a blank look. Our taxi had no working speedometer since the speedometer cable did not match the transmission. Fuel is about $4 / gallon, the same as Jamaica but “very expensive” to people on a limited income. The traffic is light with plenty of mopeds and lots of donkey carts. We also saw donkey cart taxis. Many of the roads have large potholes and even the wildest of our various taxi drivers have been careful to negotiate these and meticulous about stopping at stop signs, even on an obviously empty highway.
Their “Safari” type buses are based upon large trucks more like military transports, rather than the pickups found in other Caribbean islands. These require a really big step up to get into and we could see that they were very crowded. Our fellow sailors on the Swedish boat rode the buses but we didn’t. Unlike St. Thomas, the trucks had solid metal sides to within about 2 feet of the roof, and this gap is then covered with heavy bars. The roof too is metal and must be like an oven inside on a sunny day. The trucks are grim looking, bare metal and no decorations. There were no visible safety exits and I wondered if these could double as paddy wagons for transporting prisoners.
We visited a grocery store, and this reminded me of the USSR. There was a list on the back wall with pricing of the bulk items for sale, rice, beans etc. There were no aisle displays, the other food items shown behind a glass counter. We could see sacks of food stacked in a warehouse in the back. People lined up to order and pay for their food.
There were no sidewalk cafes or bars downtown. The bars that we saw / entered were darkened dives with hammering music. Alcohol here is cheap and at the downtown hotel it was $2 per beer or $1.50 at a downtown restaurant. The rum is also very cheap.
People have been friendly and helpful when stopped for directions. They were similarly helpful at the currency exchange and the post office when directing us where to go, which window to stand at etc.
Many of the villages / communities have small, near identical homes. Between the villages, the land is very dry, the grass cropped short and brown. We were told this is normal. The cattle we saw were skinny with ribs showing; ditto the horses. Sheep and goats were common and looked better fed. There were few dogs to be seen and just a handful of pigeons around the downtown monuments. There were plenty of fruit trees just about everywhere.
There are just a handful of boats in this marina and no other American flags.
March 14, 2017
Early this morning, Timothy (S/Y Aela) came to sell us some unused CUC’s (convertible pesos) and with this purchase we now owned enough for the taxi ride into town to the bank. Cuba has two currencies. There is a convertible peso pegged at one per US dollar, except that when you exchange dollar bills, there is a 3% charge for the currency conversion plus a 10% penalty charge for the US currency. The bottom line is that a bank will give you only 0.87 pesos or “CUCs” per US dollar. The second currency used here are non-convertible pesos “CUPs” and they exchange for around 24 CUPs to a CUC and are only legal tender for Cubans.
Our taxi was a Chevrolet of indeterminate vintage, the headliner was long gone and instead had crumbling domestic ceiling tiles (probably asbestos) glued to the rusting metal. Our driver drove at high speed on the near empty roads, honking his horn at anything that moved and throwing us from side to side of the vehicle as he careered around the bends. When we came to a village, he hurtled through the mass of pedestrians, children with footballs, dogs, chickens and donkey carts, blasting his way with his horn. If anyone stepped the wrong way they were gonna be toast. We gratefully arrived in downtown Santiago unscathed and he was crushed to discover that we did not need his services for the balance of the day.
We were waiting in line on the sidewalk in front of at a currency exchange office when the door opened and a handful of people were allowed to enter and again we stood behind a line, closely monitored by a security guard. When motioned to a teller booth, Annette and I stepped forwards, breaking the taboo that only one person at a time might approach the booth. Annette was swiftly ushered back across “La Linea”. I exchanged all of the Euros (no 10% penalty!!) we had obtained in St. Martin last year and we were now flush with cash and could order sandwiches and ride taxis at will.
This morning’s stock racer wannabe taxi driver had airily waved his hand in the alleged direction of our first desired destination of the Museum of Carnival but he had been visibly annoyed that we were done with him, despite the fact that our plans for the day had been explained to him a half dozen times. Nevertheless our Spanish was good enough that we soon located the building in question. This Museum was unexpected, the costumes quite different from those worn in Grenada, as Carnival here is a celebration of the feast of Saint Santiago, the patron saint of the city. Unfortunately all of the documentation of the exhibits was in Spanish and I believe that I translated correctly perhaps 80%. Just as elsewhere in the Caribbean, the freed slaves used the opportunity of the feast to celebrate their emancipation and in the early days were banned from participating. Throughout the decades, the Carnival continued to have political overtones and a newspaper headline was displayed that indicated that Fidel Castro was involved in a 1950’s Carnival event that resulted in more than 50 deaths. There is no internet at the marina to research this further and correct any mis-interpretations, so this will be a “later” project. We met a local artist “Ashe” and chatted to him at length regarding the Santiago art community. From him we obtained the name and phone number of one of main organizers of the Santiago Carnival, scheduled each year in July. We would like to see the costume making process if possible but this will need a fluent Spanish speaker with a cell phone.
For lunch we stopped at a large downtown hotel that was somewhat light on menu options. My ham sandwich consisted of stale bread with slices of ham, no condiments, mustard, mayonnaise etc. Annette selected the pork roast and had a similar experience but with tougher meat. On a positive note, the beer was good, it was cheap and with a good view of the harbor from the fifth floor of the hotel.
Annette still collects stamps and our next stop was the post office to buy used postage stamps, plus new stamps to mail her post cards.
We spent much of the afternoon at the Emilio Bacardi Moreau Museum. The upper floor was fine arts and had a collection of portraits that had been sent from Spain to Cuba in the 1800’s. Interesting paintings. My favorite piece was a very large mural sized work showing people checking their lottery tickets versus the published results and this painting had been displayed at the New York Exposition in 1894. We were surprised that there were also several paintings of a political or social nature referencing the Cuban carnival and the disparity of social status in the 19th century. The lower floor of the museum had an extensive collection of artifacts ranging from the pre-Columbian Taino culture through to modern times.
As we walked back down town we stopped in to visit the rum museum and I learned that the “Ron” in Ron Bacardi is not referring to “Ronald the rum maker” but is the Cuban word for “rum”. I also learned that the Bacardi family had established a distillery here around the time of prohibition in America and it was naturally very successful.
By now we were getting tired and stopped off at a bar to get a couple of restorative beers but their music volume was set above the pain threshold, conversation impossible, thus we left and found a taxi. This taxi was a modified Willie’s Jeep. There was a red light flashing on the dashboard and the driver stopped at a gas station. I first noticed that he stopped at the diesel pump and then observed that after he had filled up, the fuel gauge which had been showing about a third full did not budge. By now the red light had stopped flashing and I concluded that this was the actual fuel indicator and the Jeep had been converted to a diesel engine. Our driver was ancient and drove calmly and sedately. We liked him.
That evening we took the advice of some local lads to eat at a “nearby” restaurant. We climbed into a Russian “Lado”, identifying it as a Fiat 124 derivative (Fiat sold the factory to the USSR). After ten minutes or so, our driver pulled over and we waited while he added gasoline to his tank from a one gallon plastic juice jug. We then continued on for another ten minutes to the local restaurant. The food was excellent, Annette ate octopus whilst I stuck with Red Snapper but there was nothing “local” about the price we were charged.
March 13, 2017
There seemed to be a fair amount of current in the channel between Cuba and Jamaica and we crabbed at near 30 degrees from the rhumb line to offset this. At midnight there were still rain cells roaming around but these died away and after about 0400 hours, we were close enough to Cuba that the rollers we had been suffering with as they hit near directly on the beam, died away leaving just a slight chop.
At 0800 hours we approached the narrow passage through the sea cliffs, dominated by the formidable fortress of El Castillo del Morro. I told Annette to let me know if she saw smoke from the Castillo, in which case we would turn and run for it. In fact as we neared land we could see that the cannons of the ancient fortress were not the true risk, instead these would be the modern camouflaged concrete bunkers just behind the beach.
At 0827 hours we dropped anchor at 19 59.0 N 075 52.184 W
By radio we had been told to wait about 30 minutes for the Immigration officer but it was around 1030 by the time he showed up. We handed him our passports, Jamaica clearance certificate, boat registration and he departed indicating that we needed to wait for “the doctor”. We had just sat down to eat our lunch when the lady doctor came aboard. She was wearing a tee-shirt bearing the legend, “Kiss Me”, bordered with a motorcycle fringe and silver studs. Her long hair was two toned, yellow and magenta and she sported inch long, intricately painted, acrylic finger nails. She had lots of useless forms to complete about de-ratification certificates, the number of deaths onboard and the like. She then asked for our yellow fever certificates and although they had expired some four years ago, didn’t seem to either notice or mind. She took our temperatures – both normal. Then she lectured us on mosquito safety, using Chlorox to sanitize drinking water and also to wash any fruits and vegetables. Finally she asked us for a “gift” of cash. We gave her a little cash. Then she asked for a beer. We were surprised by this one but popped a beer and poured it into a glass. She drank about half of the beer we gave her and as we learned from another crew, when they gave her a can of beer, she had slipped the unopened can into her bag. Annette offered her some candy, she took all of the proffered sweets plus the bowl they were in. Now we were more than ready to get rid of her! She then abruptly announced that we were to take her to the dock. I assumed that we were to launch our dinghy but no, she meant the whole boat. This precipitated a flurry of activity on our part as we deployed fenders, lines and powered up the instruments, so that we could read the rudder positions and water depths and then proceeded to raise the anchor. Annette and I were both very cognizant of the fact that the doctor was now on our boat unaccompanied by either of us and that bag of hers could hold a lot of stuff.
A little after noon found us tied up to the dock and after cramming the remains of our lunch down, (the doctor hadn’t confiscated this) we headed over to the Immigration office. Here we dictated endless pieces of useless information, duplicating just about everything the doctor has asked for, that were then meticulously typed into a computer form. Forms were printed, signed, more forms printed and more signatures. Eventually we were done and were passed onwards to the harbor master’s office to pay a cash balance of US$240 for clearance fees. By 1430 hours we were also “done” here, although we were warned that, “Agriculture might come tomorrow”.
I plugged our power umbilical into the dockside electricity pylon and began deploying our newly constructed fender boards to hold us off the rough concrete dock. Annette poked her head out of the cabin and informed me that the air-conditioner had just died. Bugger! I discovered that although the supplied voltage looked great, it crashed to nothing if you turned anything on. Back to Harbor Master’s office where he told me to “try another pylon”. This was a waste of time and although I did try two more pylons, this quest for power was doomed to be fruitless since all of the meters were reading 000000, meaning nobody had ever extracted usable electricity from them before.
The marina restaurant was open but we had no Cuban cash to pay with. “We will work something out”, said the Harbor Master. This seemed a little vague so I asked him if there was any place in the marina where we might change a small amount of cash? “Yes”, he replied. I did not press him further since I did not want his head to explode whilst I was standing close by.
Just before we were to leave on an exploratory trip to the marina restaurant, the Swedish crew aboard S/Y Aela, whom we had befriended in Port Antonio, dropped by to visit us. They reported that the marina restaurant sucks anyway, rice and beans being high on the list of haut cuisine. We ate aboard. A long and busy day.
March 12, 2017
Another rainy morning. We have “cleared out” of Jamaica but the trip to Cuba we estimate at 14 hours. The Cuban’s don’t like you arriving at night so our plan is to leave our mooring tonight at 1800 hours to arrive in Cuba at 0800 hours tomorrow morning. When it stopped raining briefly, we decided to wander back into town to buy an emergency case of beer. As we left the marina we ran into “Edgar”, a local born Jamaican who hangs around the marina hoping to find some kind of employment. When we told him we were just going to buy a case of beer, he tagged along with us, just because he has nothing better to do. The grocery store was one of the few establishments open on a Sunday and we made our purchase. On our return to the boat, we stopped to chat further to Edgar before bidding him farewell. There are few boats in the marina and even fewer of these are likely to be seeking a travel guide on a rainy Sunday morning. It seems such an act of desperation on Edgar’s part to hang around the marina all day in the hope of bringing in a few Jamaican dollars.
At 1710 hours, a whole fifty minutes ahead of schedule, I could stand the waiting no longer and we dropped our mooring and headed out to sea, bound for Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. The sky was overcast with scattered rain cells but we managed to avoid these and watched the full moon rise in the east before it plunged into the clouds. The forecast was for seas in the 3 to 4 feet range as we headed out, dropping later around midnight. The first part of the forecast was reasonably accurate but around midnight, the wind and seas began to build. The moon was hidden behind a layer of clouds but still cast enough light that you could probably read a book if such an archaic object was carried aboard.
March 11, 2017
This morning we began the day with pouring with rain and a series of loud “explosions”, much louder than mere gunfire. We had learned two days earlier that this sound is made by breakers / fuses, or whatever mechanism is used, to protect the Jamaica power supply system. Near the coast the overhead wiring, insulators and distribution systems become caked in ocean salt. When a heavy rainstorm hits, the fresh rainwater dissolves the salt and the resulting electrically conducting solution shorts out and overloads the power grid. Such a heavy downpour was heading right at the marina and we could hear the “bangs” of the electricity breakers firing as the wall of water became closer. This phenomenon meant two things for us. First, I had to stow power cords, water hoses and single up Doodlebug’s mooring lines in heavy rain and second, the diesel pumps where we had made arrangements to refuel this morning, would be without power and inoperable. Two hours later the power was back on and we took on diesel in our main tanks and also filled our 10 jerry jugs with “spare” fuel. We had arrived with less than 30 gallons remaining in the port tank and 38 gallons in the starboard tank, assuming of course that they originally held their advertised capacity of 150 gallons each. We motored about 68 hours since the last fill up, which works out to be 3.4 gallons per hour using both engines. This is 10 percent greater fuel consumption than when we first purchased Doodlebug but the hull and propeller are both fouled. Using these numbers, the extra jerry jug fuel gives us additional range of 125 miles.
We now have our exit documents, have paid up at the marina and are tied to a mooring. The wind is still blowing hard in the Windward Passage north of us but is forecast to drop tomorrow afternoon.
March 10, 2017
Two more cases of beer plus the last few groceries groceries and we are set to leave. In the evening we visited the “Fan Club”, a private facility where a local and dashing entrepreneur “Nino” hosts an eclectic gathering every two weeks, accompanied by live music and interesting conversation. Nino had invited us via Steve and it was a magical evening which at least a partially made up for last night’s disastrous attempt to celebrate Annette’s birthday (Annette had been gracious as usual but I had been pissed off).
March 9, 2017
This morning we visited the Alligator Head Foundation property. We visited with Denise but Annette’s true interest was to find a parrot fish “slime sac” on the sea shore. A single Parrot fish allegedly produces or rather excretes, about 800 pounds of coral sand during its lifetime, producing many of the wonderful “white coral sand” beaches that we associate with the tropics. What we learned from Denise is that Parrot fish “sleep” at night and to mask themselves from predators, they generate a surrounding slime sac like a bubble, that I presume hides their electrical field, or “scent” as others claim. In the morning, the fish “wriggles” out of its cocoon and continues nibbling on coral. Denise indicated that the discarded sacs often wash up on shore at their facility. Although Annette diligently combed the seashore, she found no Parrot fish sleeping bags and was mildly disappointed.
That evening we had reservations at the “Mille Fleur” restaurant associated with the Hotel Mockingbird Hill. The restaurant had rave internet reviews but there was only one other couple besides ourselves dining. The locals apparently rightly know that you never trust the internet.
March 8, 2017
Annette has been researching sand, land snails and bauxite (aluminum ore) and today Doodlebug had a visit from Denise, a marine biologist with the Alligator Head, Marine Biology research group. Annette had mentioned this interest when chatting with local dive operator Steve Wideneur, who originally hails from near Roswell, New Mexico (home of flying saucers and little green men – Steve is not green though) and Steve had kindly followed up by contacting Denise.
The Alligator Head Foundation (from their website) was set up to support the East Portland Fish Sanctuary, the Alligator Head Marine Lab and to assist the communities dependent upon marine resources for their livelihood......the foundation also works with contemporary art, digital media, food, culture and music production.......”
Wow! Did they leave anything out? The collaboration with the art community is through the Thyssen Bornemisza Art Contemporary Academy of Austria. Which leads naturally to 57 year old Francesca von Habsburg, an art collector and owner of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Museum. Francesca became an Archduchess after marrying the grandson of Austria’s last reigning emperor, Karl Habsburg-Lothringen. She was born in Switzerland to Hans Heinrich Agost Gabor, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kaszon et Imperfalva (he doesn’t receive many post-cards) and his third wife, fashion model Fiona Frances Elaine Campbell-Walter. Wikipedia reports that Francesca had a reputation for London partying in the 1980’s as an “It” girl. I had to look this up since I have never dared to call a girl “It”, at least not to her face. Paris Hilton might fit the description of an “It” girl and the Kardashian girls too, if they had any “real” money.
Anyway, Francesca has a place here in Port Antonio, Jamaica, donated the property the Alligator Head foundation currently occupies, kicked in $25 million to get things rolling and The University of the West Indies committed another $30 million to cover the salaries of the first three researchers for some number of years. A rough calculation indicates that these are US dollars values not Jamaican dollars. Not a bad start to a fledgling operation.
We had a wonderful visit with Denise as she is knowledgeable on many facets of Jamaican ecology.
March 7, 2017
A rainy, windy day spent on such delightful chores as servicing the shower pan filters, as well as conducting internet research for our scheduled trip to Cuba.
March 6, 2017
An early morning start as we had hired a taxi to drive us to Kingston for the day. The weather forecast was for worse offshore conditions today and we had added extra lines to Doodlebug before leaving her lashed down in her slip. The rain poured down and the wind howled as we headed west along the coast road. As we passed by the bays, the angry waves swept down on the beaches in a tumble of brown, muddy foam. At one point there were large rocks across the roadway, thrown up by the breakers. The edge of the road looked as though it was beginning to erode and the spray beat against the side of the vehicle as we edged carefully by. I wondered if the highway would still be here for our return.
The coast road was generally well surfaced but as we turned south to transit the mountain range, the road narrowed, became pothole filled and the heavy rain had waterfalls tumbling down the cliff faces and occasionally running across the road way. In places there were washed out sections where the holes had been filled with rubble but not yet resurfaced. The traffic on this section of road was light but our driver insisted on passing other vehicles in the most amazing places. Eventually the road plunged downhill into the early morning commuter traffic of Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, population around 700,000. Our driver continued to drive very aggressively but I relaxed knowing that any wreck would likely be at sub-lethal velocities.
Our first stop of the day was the Bob Marley Museum, located in Bob’s former residence in Kingston. This was an excellent tour and we joined an Argentinian girl, a couple from Holland and a German girl with our guide Ricky. Our fellow tourists were almost as interesting as the tour itself. The Dutch lady was wearing a very slinky, black evening gown with a thigh length slit and her partner had a very dark skin as well as large ear lobe inserts as worn by African tribesman. His features did not match his skin color however and Annette pointed out to me that his skin color was much lighter behind his ears and in the fold of his neck. Bob Marley might have related in that I learned that his father was alleged to have been Captain Norval St. Claire Marley, a white man, although the documentary “Marley” indicates that he was in fact a 60 year old private in the British army who impregnated Bob’s mother Cedella Booker when she was 16. The tour was well done and Ricky added a lot of interesting background information. Bob’s music success led to him becoming involved with politicians and politics, although I am unsure as to whether the former were simply exploiting Bob’s fame and popularity. One result however was an assassination attempt in 1976 when three gunman broke into his home, shooting Bob, his manager and his wife. The manager and Bob’s wife sustained major injuries but recovered. Marley however sustained minor injuries to his arm and chest. The bullet holes still pockmark the kitchen wall where this happened.
Bob Marley left behind an impressive collection of music and awards when he died at 36 years old of a melanoma diagnosed some 4 years earlier.
Our next stop was to tour Devon House, the residence built by George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first black millionaire. George was born in the 1820’s, son of a German Jew and his Jamaican housekeeper. This was not a time when mixed races were accepted by Jamaican society and George dropped out of school when he was 14 to apprentice as a carpenter. When he was around 20 years old, his father funded his start up shipping business and he began moving cargo between North and South America. He owned three ships and supposedly was involved in gun-running during the Cuban revolution. Around 1856 his ships were caught in a storm off the Venezuelan coast and destroyed, although George managed to swim to safety bearing some quantity of cash. This he used to purchase a mule and begin a new career as a peddler in Venezuela. He began trading gold and by 1873 he had built a large and profitable business. His wife Magdalene had remained in Jamaica but upon the death of his son, he returned to Jamaica to live. Magdalene and George enjoyed the house together, throwing elaborate parties until Magdalene’s death in 1892. After George’s death in 1896, George’s daughter and descendant’s lived in the house until 1922 and then the property was purchased by the Lindo family, who brought elaborate dinner parties back to this wonderful property. The house briefly housed the Jamaica National Museum and the home has since been restored with both original and replica period furniture and artifacts. After a great lunch, we toured this magnificent house in company of an elegant and knowledgeable lady guide. We noted that several members of the British Royal Family (including Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip) have toured this property and wondered if they also wrapped up their tour with a scoop of rum raisin ice cream from the Devon House ice cream store as did we.
The return drive to Port Antonio was equally exciting as the drive out. We had to detour around the section of the coast road which had been partially blocked this morning and was now impassible. Doodlebug was still afloat and waiting for us upon our arrival.
March 5, 2017
I was feeling somewhat better today so joined Annette in kayaking over to the nearby Navy Island. The weather had deteriorated with a near gale blowing offshore and although we were sheltered from the wind in the lee of the island, we had to cross the waves that had entered the narrow channel separating the island from the main island of Jamaica. The waves were not breaking, otherwise we would not have attempted this but still provided some adrenalin to paddlers sitting atop kayaks. We landed at a beach behind a decaying dock and lifted the kayaks onto the bulkhead and clear of the waves. The dock led directly to the remains of a large hotel the jungle was in the process of reclaiming. The concrete walls and intermediate floors were intact but the roof was missing in places and about to collapse entirely in others. The lobby walls of the hotel bore painted names referring to Errol Flynn and the Bounty. I did not know that Flynn had acted in the Mutiny on the Bounty and Wikipedia indicates he didn’t. Flynn made his screen debut playing the part of Fletcher Christian in a 1933 movie called “In the Wake of the Bounty” that was more in the style of a documentary with some acted out vignettes inserted.
Errol Flynn had owned the island but never lived here, although he moored his yacht “Zaca” in its lee. He had constructed a thatch roofed structure around an existing tree and this was the alleged scene of “wild Hollywood parties”. Why are all Hollywood parties described as “wild”? Why do you never hear about quiet parties where they discussed neo-colonial architecture or knitting patterns? I presume that such “wild Hollywood parties” means that there was a considerable amount of alcohol consumed followed by or accompanied with, some degree of sexual coupling - pretty much standard fare for college campuses.
After Errol Flynn moved on, a California developer purchased the island to build a high end hotel plus rental villas but this was never completed as he ran out of money. The project was taken over by the Eiler’s, the first family of home builders here. The hotel was completed and operated as the only private island resort in Jamaica. After five years of operation, Eiler’s fired a local employee for stealing funds and he and the entire staff then took over the island, commandeered the two ferry boats and held the Eiler’s and guests for ransom until they received their termination pay. The Eiler’s left within a week and the project faded into extinction.
Despite other claims, Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond thrillers, never set foot on the island however Captain Bligh used the shallows facing the current marina as a “careening station” but I haven’t read anywhere that the Bounty itself was ever careened here.
There was an overgrown trail that led east from the hotel complex and we followed this through the jungle and past ghostly, jungle draped buildings, drainage culverts and leaning retaining walls that spoke of past homes, past dreams and past lives. We were alone on the island as we wended our way to the easternmost point that had an ancient gun platform for the battery that commanded the entrance to Port Antonio harbor. As we approached the cliff’s edge, we were exposed to the force of the offshore wind, plus blown spray from the crashing waves that were hurling white foam over 40 feet into air. We gazed across the narrow channel where we had made our nighttime entrance and whose navigation markers were now pitching in a maelstrom of waves. Awesome!
March 4, 2017
Slow day. Took my antibiotics and chilled.
March 3, 2017
Annette was washing bedding today, off using the marina laundry facilities and the stripped beds promised clear access to the machinery beneath. The job of changing transmission oil isn’t particularly hard and an hour or so later it was done. Our engines should be good for another 250 hours, equivalent to 2,000 miles of passage.
This marina has been the first place we have stayed since Grenada, where there has been a good international mixture of cruisers. These cruisers are also “serious” passage-makers and many are headed from here to Panama, through the canal and beyond. Jamaica lies on the traditional path of circumnavigators and the month of March is the traditional time to pass through the Panama canal, in order to be in the southeastern Pacific Ocean around May, say in the Marquesas islands, signaling the end of the southern hemisphere hurricane (cyclone) season.
Several of these cruisers had recently returned from Santiago de Cuba, our next destination. When I queried them as to marina conditions there, they confirmed that the dock we need to come up to, has rough concrete sides. This intelligence was the reason Annette and I were over at the lumber yard in the afternoon, looking for a length of 2 by 8 timber. The yard manager was very pleasant to chat with and insisted that his worker find us a “knot free” piece of lumber. We now have two five foot long “fender” boards that are hung over the side of the boat, on the outside of our inflatable fenders and provide a sacrificial surface between our hull and whatever we are laid alongside.
Annette kayaked over to Navy Island, formerly owned by Errol Flynn, in her non-stop quest for sand samples, whilst I was mentoring the young crewman off the next boat who was seeking advice on circumnavigating. “First you need a boat.....”
March 2, 2017
This morning I decided (BTW Annette really decides these things!) that I needed to go to the doctor and get something for my cough that had been getting worse over the past couple of days. I Googled “health clinics” and found one nearby within walking distance. We soon found the place but were told that only the gynecologist worked today. I’m pretty sure that at I’m too old to be pregnant and after being informed that the doctor isn’t in until tomorrow afternoon, asked if there was another nearby. The receptionist reluctantly gave us the information that there was indeed another doctor, officed on the opposite side of the street. We found the office, signed in and waited perhaps 40 minutes to see the doctor. He checked my blood pressure – good; stabbed my finger with a pin and tested my blood sugar – good; listened to my chest and then wrote me out a prescription for antibiotics and expectorant. I paid cash for the visit, equivalent to 21 US dollars. Back across the street was the pharmacy and after dropping off my prescription, I paid the equivalent of another US $20 to the cashier, walked back to the drop off window and picked up my drugs. No waiting, no copays, no paperwork, forty one bucks total. What a system! We should get a Congressional task force to fix this.
On the way back to the marina we found the auto parts store and bought ATF fluid for the transmissions, the last engine related items to be serviced.
Back at Doodlebug, I decided that I was going to call in sick today and spent the balance of the morning and afternoon reading and lazing around.
March 1, 2017
Today is Ash Wednesday, a public holiday in Jamaica and the streets across from the marina looked deserted. I began the day by changing the engine oil in the second engine, a process that I expected to go much smoother in that yesterday’s oil canister dance didn’t have to be repeated. It would have been smoother too, except that I dropped a full gallon jug of dirty oil in the cockpit, splashing some (but not all, thank goodness!) dirty oil over the white fiberglass decks and white bench upholstery. Then the “on engine” oil filter decided to vomit black oil all over the engine compartment. Fortunately, it all stayed in the engine room as this lies beneath our bed and bedding.
One of the dock workers had wandered up to our boat and yelled, “Good morning Captain, how’s it going?”. I said, “I’m working! Work, work, work. I don’t get the day off for a holiday like you guys!” Jamaican’s do have a sense of humor however and he offered to haul off the five gallons of dirty oil and dispose of it. That was an easy decision.
I next walked walked into town to the gas station, one of the few businesses open and purchased 6 liters of diesel fuel. Back aboard Doodlebug the on-engine fuel filters were replaced (you have to fill the new filter with clean fuel before installation otherwise your engine won’t run) and the on-line Racor fuel filters serviced. These filters separate contaminating water from the diesel fuel and have a clear plastic bowl that is supposed to be inspected daily and drained of water if necessary. From our first purchase of Doodlebug, our filters had contained a thick black sludge of anaerobic bacterial growth that made this inspection impossible. I had purchased the necessary gaskets in order to service the filter bowls a year ago and the day had finally arrived! By evening we were done. Annette had completed her sand project and I had all of the engine servicing completed, ready to rumble. I still need to service the transmissions (the gas station didn’t stock automatic transmission fluid) but that can wait for another day.
February 28, 2017
The marina here sits almost in downtown but is walled off by electronic gates and security guard patrols. We had walked through town yesterday, seeking ATM machines, post office and the like and today repeated the procedure to check out the various grocery stores and purchase an emergency case of beer. Everyone we have met has been friendly, helpful and outgoing but we cannot help but note the level of security in the various stores.
Annette dove into a frenzy of bread making, laundry, sand collection processing and organizing, while my major task was to service the two engines and associated fuel systems. The process was made more tedious and complicated than it should have been, after we had earned a credit for unused and returned bottom paint in Nanny Cay, Tortola last year. The vendor could not provide a cash refund, thus one of the purchase items we had made to use the credit was a five gallon drum of engine oil. This stores well but is not exactly convenient to use as it weighs fifty pounds or so. I won’t do this again. The logistics are that each engine contains 2 and 1/2 gallons of oil. The dirty oil has to be extracted from the engine and replaced with clean oil that comes from the single five gallon drum. I searched Doodlebug for empty one gallon plastic jugs, decanted clean oil into some whilst filling others with dirty oil. The deck was soon scattered with oil cans everywhere with me trying to remember which was which. By late afternoon I had managed to change oil and filter on one engine and had shuttled the 2 and 1/2 gallons of dirty oil into the emptied five gallon drum. The next step was to obtain a couple of pints of “clean” diesel fuel to service the two fuel filters on that engine. The last time I did this, I had several jerry jugs of fuel stored for “emergencies”. I had then become concerned that this fuel was getting “old” and had poured it into the main tanks. Today I had planned on using a manual pump to extract a little diesel from the main tank into a small container. The manual pumps in question are already permanently installed on the two fuel tanks but I had never before tried to use them. Needless to say, neither worked. Try again tomorrow.
February 27, 2017
Our rhumb-line route took us almost parallel to the northeast coast of Jamaica and the lights ashore began to separate into individual buildings or streets. It also began to rain, reducing both our visual ability and clouding the radar picture. We were again looking for fishing floats and unlit skiffs and both would be nigh impossible to spot in these conditions. As we passed near Folly Point, it was raining hard and we were surprised by a bright blue / green flash of light from ashore. This was repeated twice more and we identified this as a laser. The radio remained silent however and we ignored the possible signal. It could only be something like a bored Coastguard officer at 0230 hours and in weather like this.
At 0300 hours we began our turn into Port Antonio. It was raining even harder and we had dropped and zippered the forward “window” on the flybridge. This was to be a full instrument landing. We slowed down to around 5 knots and with the radar at a 1/4 mile range to pick out the navigation markers, we edged landwards, turning into the narrow channel behind Navy Island. We then turned again to head deeper into West Bay and Annette rolled up the forward vinyl window. Despite the rain we needed better vision for what lay next. There were two darkened yachts ahead of us and Annette spotted mooring balls. We edged up to the first but there was no pigtail to grab with the boathook. The same was true of the second we tried and then the third. These were obviously to be attached by someone in a dinghy. Annette lassoed the third ball, we tied on and turned off the engines. We soon had our dinghy launched (even remembered to reinstall the hull drain plug – useful to prevent sinking!) and attached a line through the shackle at the top of the mooring ball. We had arrived! 0335 hours (actually 0235 local time, we are in the next time zone) at 18 10.8 N 076 27.3 W, Jamaica mon!
February 27, 2017 later........
After a blissful 3 hours of sleep, my bladder hurled me out of bed in retaliation for the two celebratory beers consumed at 0400 hours. It was light. I blearily looked outside to see what everything looked like in 3D color rather than as a 2D radar image. It looked different. There was a man paddling a bamboo cane raft, termed a “bili-bili” in Fiji and called a “raft” in Jamaica (no sense of cultural connectivity) and another fishing from a skiff (referred to colloquially as “fishing”). I called the marina on both of the published hailing channels and received no response. By now Annette had similarly dragged herself upright and after restarting the respective cardiac systems with caffeine, we dinghied over to the marina. They were horrified that we had left the boat without clearing quarantine and the like and insisted that we immediately move to a slip. No worries mate. We returned to Doodlebug, motored over to the slip, backed in and tied up. The marina office girl had given me a stack of forms to fill out and as I labored over these, Annette worked at restoring a sense of order to the interior as we expected multiple inspections. The Customs, Immigration and Coast Guard guys showed up but said we had to be cleared first by Quarantine. The latter official was on another boat but would be with us in five minutes or so. Around noon, we had been waiting for almost three hours when the quarantine man showed up. We signed more forms and he left. Another hour had passed and I tried again calling the marina on the radio, still without response. One of the marina workers who had caught our lines came by and asked if we were checked in. We had tipped him generously earlier but whether this was an issue or not, he took off to search out the missing officials and returned about twenty minutes later with Immigration and Customs. More form signing, the passports were stamped and they left. We were just imagining that we were through, when the missing Coast Guard official showed up. He asked what time we had arrived and I explained that our arrival on the dock was 0920 hours but our arrival in the harbor had been around 0300 hours and in the pouring rain. He then admitted that he had watched us arrive on his radar. I asked if he had shone a laser at us and he admitted that he had. We chatted about AIS (they don’t have a receiver) and he said that they only have a VHF radio. If he had called us I would have talked to him. Anyway he was pleasant, as were all of the other officials. He left and at 1400 and something hours, we are legally here. Only took five hours.
February 26, 2017
An uneventful night. The unseen island to our north, perhaps forty miles away was Haiti. There were no fishing boats to be seen and only a couple of freighters passing to our south. There had been no moon and the stars occluded by rain clouds as dawn approached. Later that day we could see the Haitian coast and the tall mountains lying beyond. We also noticed the smell of woodsmoke on the air. Our track took us close by the Ile a Vache and Pointe Carrefour at the southern tip of Haiti. We could now see buildings and hamlets ashore and could see the dry, desert look of the hills. What we have read is that the hills have been denuded of trees, the wood used for cooking fires and the rains now cause excessive erosion of these hillsides. Hard to confirm these claims with binoculars from five or six miles away but certainly, the land looked quite different from the Dominican Republic to the east, sharing Hispaniola as they do.
We now headed into our second night at sea, clear of land and exposed to the Jamaica Channel. The winds and seas did begin to build in the late afternoon and early evening but again died away, leaving seas in the 2 to 3 foot range. This would not be a full night at sea as our speed has been slightly better than expected and we have run consistently about 100 nautical miles per twelve hours with both engines running at 1,900 RPM. By midnight we could see the lights of Jamaica ahead of us.
February 25, 2017
0700 hours and we were ready. The dinghy had been raised on the davits and lashed down, the sun shades rolled, folded and stowed or whatever was appropriate. All movable objects, stowed, navigation loaded into the chartplotter, anti-nausea pills swallowed, sandwiches made, bagged and stowed. Then we waited. At 0810 hours I called the “Marina de Guerra de Las Salinas” on the VHF radio. No response. Twenty minutes later and after multiple hails, I called the hotel across from the sand dunes and chatted awhile with the owner. I then waited whilst he searched “social media” for the phone number of the hotel we are anchored off. Next I called the owner of our hotel. No, he didn’t know how to contact the Dominican Navy, or the Immigration people. I would have to go back to the “port”. Turning the air blue with admonishments, we relaunched our dinghy, grabbed the boat documents plus rain jackets and tore down to the boat yard at the other end of the bay. We again tied up our dinghy between huge tugs and barges and again determined that the immigration office was still locked. The adjacent office was not however and the occupant within made a phone call and told us to wait five minutes. Sure enough five minutes later, a scrawny individual arrived who knew nothing about out departure plans. He could stamp our passports, yes but how do we get the departure documents for the boat? Back to the English speaker, office neighbor to the Immigration office and back on the phone he went. This time he announced that the port captain was waiting for us at the hotel next to DoodleBug. The Immigration guy demanded our passports. I handed them over. He laboriously stamped them with an exit stamp and demanded $20. I handed him a 1,000 peso bill. He smiled, we were done; we jumped in the dinghy and screamed back over to the hotel. Here there were four individuals in uniform, standing around an abandoned bar at the dock end of the marina. They filled out lots of forms, agonized over the registered depth of Doodlebug, debated fiercely over the net tonnage, all of which are clearly listed on the US registration document. Eventually everyone was satisfied and I had signed perhaps another half dozen documents that I had made no attempt to read. They needed $60 now, presumably for overtime pay. I handed over 3,000 pesos and smiles and handshakes broke out. Vowing eternal brotherhood and friendship, we jumped back in the dinghy and tore back to Doodlebug, instantly raising the dinghy on the davits and lashing it down. The anchor bridle resisted being detached from the chain but this too was overcome, the engines fired up and at 0931 hours, only 91 minutes later than planned, our anchor lifted from the seabed and we set sail for Port Antonio, Jamaica, 355 nautical miles away.
The sky was cloud covered with just occasional glimpses of blue and active rain cells all around. We enjoyed the forecast light winds and the seas were in the two to three foot range as we headed southwest towards Cape Beata. I had wanted to arrive at our waypoint at the entrance to Canal de la Beata in daylight. The canal separates Isla Beata from the cape of the same name and is about 3 1/2 miles wide. As you approach, the water depth goes from 2500 feet to 16 feet in about a half mile. I expected the hazards of fish traps and unlit fishing skiffs but when we arrived at 1700 hours, we found empty seas that had perhaps a 1 foot wave action. Empty lands lay to the north and south of us with little evidence of human presence. A single ketch lay at anchor on the northwest tip of Isla Beata where we had originally wanted to stop for the night. An hour later we were back in deep water, night was falling and Jamaica lay directly 285 miles to the west as we motored on.
February 24, 2017
This morning we caught the bus to the nearby town of Bani, the nearest source of ATM’s and a post office. “La oficina postal” does not seem to be heavily used in the Dominican Republic because we have usually found such to be empty of customers and further, nobody seems to know where they are located. As we waited on a bench outside the hotel, the bus pulled up on the opposite side of the road and the driver jerked his head to indicate we should board. This we did, even though he was traveling in the opposite to our desired direction but we knew the road had nowhere to go. The bus toured the village of Las Salinas before coming to a halt and the fare collector (conductor) informing us there would be a wait of “quince minutes”. Thirty minutes later we set off in the direction of Bani but by now the bus was nearly full as we picked people up and dropped others off, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The bus also seemed to operate as a delivery service for sandwiches, bags of groceries and the like. It would stop outside a small roadside store and the goods would be handed to the conductor who would also disappear for minutes while he delivered one of the several packages traveling at his feet. The bus was a Toyota Coaster and we travelled down memory lane since this was the same type of vehicle we had owned and driven across Australia. I had to force myself to stop coveting the upholstery buttons and paneling clips as we didn’t need them any longer.
When we arrived in Bani, we walked through the busy downtown for five or six blocks until we found the seeming deserted edifice that was the post office. We wandered the empty rooms calling out, “hello” until we found a girl in an office who indicated that we should return to near the entrance, which then separated us from her by a window and a counter! This made it official and after payment of about $4, for which we have not a clue as to the purpose, she hand franked Annette’s postcards and we were dismissed.
We stopped at a restaurant for a lunch of some unknown fish. Bad idea! We ate the tostones and drank the beer so it wasn’t a total loss. Then by a sheer quirk of fate, we passed a Scotia Bank and were able to use the ATM. Both goals achieved we then somehow caught the bus for the return journey to Salinas. A seemingly mundane couple of errands that still occupied us for four or more hours.
The afternoon was waning and this morning’s cast of the weather forecast entrails predicted heavy weather for Monday onwards, as competing cold fronts and gales battled for dominance. Saturday and Sunday alone predicted favorable conditions for our journey west. Our plan had been to spend two or three days here, then wander some 30 miles or so to the town of Barahona to check out of the country, before illegally stopping at Isla Beata, a sheltered anchorage about 50 miles further on. We could then leave Isla Beata in the wee hours of the morning for a run to Jamaica. Today’s forecast, if accurate, indicated that we should split early tomorrow and “straight shot” the 355 miles to our destination or Port Antonio, Jamaica. If we were fortunate, we would beat the onset of strong winds and big waves by an hour or two.
We drove our dinghy over to obtain departure documents to a “port” consisting of a floating dock, several rusting barges and some tugboats. The workmen who were busy welding or whatever, were puzzled by our approach but one individual indicated that he knew where the immigration office lay. We tied off to a rusty barge, crossed its debris littered deck and jumped ashore, stepping over the power cables and jetsam of a commercial boatyard. The immigration office was locked. A minute or so later, an officer in uniform showed up and said the immigration guy had gone home, come back tomorrow. This wasn’t going to work! We hung in, explained that we needed to sail by 0700 hours because of “weather” and negotiated until the soldier said he remembered our arrival. He insisted that he would arrive on our boat by 0700 hours, with the immigration guy in tow and we could leave by 0800 hours. OK then (yeah, maybe!).
We parked our boat documents back aboard, ran our dinghy back to land and then walked perhaps a mile to the entrance to the National Park, Monumento Natural Dunas de las Calderas, alleged to be the only sand dunes in the Caribbean. The park entrance booth was empty but a young girl ran across the road from the nearby hotel and gravely and laboriously wrote out a receipt for the fee of $4. The park was scheduled to close within the next twenty minutes. Finally we were free to pass within the gates and we walked over several dunes until we could see the sea and beaches on the Caribbean side of the bounding peninsula. Annette took a sample of “dune” sand and we headed back to the main gate which had been padlocked in our absence. We rattled it and a man crossed the street from the hotel to allow our exit. Impressive security but whatever there might be to steal, had already been stolen (about four ounces of sand) and was residing in Annette’s handbag.
The final quest for the day and we walked to the salt mines of Las Salitas, or rather the salt evaporation ponds. When we had taken the bus excursion this morning, enroute to its terminus, we saw a front-end loader scraping up the top layer of salt from one of the dried ponds. Evening was now approaching fast and the workmen were loading their product into hoppers, a view straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. The loaded hoppers were pushed along a narrow gauge rail track and then a steel cable was attached to pull the cars, in pairs, up a ramp. At the crest of the ramp, the cars were “caught” by three men who then manhandled them along a perpendicular track before manually dumping the hoppers to a pile of salt product near the road below. The salt cars ran on rails, all heavily corroded by the salt and the wooden ramp and trestle certainly looked as though they had seen better days, perhaps as a film location for a Zorro movie. As we watched a load of two hoppers being cabled up the ramp, the lead car derailed, toppling precariously. The three men strained to lever it back onto the tracks, whilst a small boy played unconcernedly directly below. In the event, they were successful and the child lived. A hard existence.
Annette asked the workmen for a sample of the salt which they cheerfully agreed to. Loaded down with sand and salt, we prepared Doodlebug for her dawn departure.
February 23, 2017
At 0305 hours we raised anchor and set sail for Las Salinas using radar, chartplotter and flashlights to miss the Swiss vessel who were floating just above our buried hook. As we eased out of the confines of the anchorage, we narrowly missed a mooring ball that did not show on radar but which Annette spotted with the flashlight. We gradually increased speed and within minutes had to again go to reverse engines, changing course to avoid an unlit fishing skiff that showed up on radar directly in our path. Finally we were in deeper water and the threat of unlit skiffs diminished. The moon had not yet risen and Annette counted shooting stars while the Southern Cross hung well above the horizon to port and the Big Dipper pointed the way to Polaris on the starboard side.
Annette was on watch when we hit an unlit fishing buoy with the starboard hull. These are impossible to see in darkness and starlight just enables you to see what you are about to hit, without providing the opportunity to take avoiding action. We were beginning to long for dawn, which wasn’t showing up until near 0700 hours. The radar now showed a large and heavy downpour ahead of us plus an AIS target, soon to be identified as a 105 foot power yacht on a reciprocal course and heading for the BVI’s. We looked as though we would all arrive at the same spot in the ocean at the same time and indeed we did. At 0730 hours, the chartplotter crashed and rebooted, the second time it has done this. We hope that this behavior does not become a habit.
Dawn showed us the coast of the Dominican Republic and after we passed by the capital of Santo Domingo, we began to see ranges of mountains behind the coastal plain. The shallow waters off Punta Palenque attracted fishermen and again we began seeing fishing floats ahead of us in the water, some single floats and some in a sort of drift line. We have always wondered how these “work” and assume some kind of anchored fish “trap”, based solely on the fact that we have seen these being loaded onto boats at the various ports and marinas.
At 1422 hours we dropped anchor in the Bahia de las Calderas off the village of Las Salinas at 18 12.9 N 070 32.7 W. Our anchorage lay close by a somewhat run down looking marina attached to a hotel. Just about all of the marina slips contained yachts but the streamers of torn canvas and absence of deck hardware spoke of owners long departed.
We began to prepare to launch our dinghy when a skiff appeared off our stern bearing multiple men in uniform. They asked where we had come from and after we handed them our “despacho”, they departed, telling us to come and see them at their office when we decide to leave. That seemed simple enough but I felt lost without my piece of paper with an official stamp on it.
February 22, 2017
By 0900 hours we had paid our bills, received our departure document or “despacho” and were ready to head out. When I called on the radio for assistance on dropping our bow lines, we were told that the marina crew were busy helping a “super yacht” to dock. No helicopter on deck, therefore not a “super yacht” in our book but these guys obviously hold to a lower standard. Forty minutes later a pair of dinghies zipped over to us and untied our bow lines that were knotted to some unseen undersea anchors. By 0940 hours, we were free from the dock and headed over to Isla Catalina, anchoring off Punta Perez at 1045 hours, at 18 21.4 N 069 01.4 W in a fine patch of white sand. We had obviously judged the best anchoring spot because an hour or so later, we were surrounded by charter boats, dropping off their hordes of snorkelers for their twenty minute swim.
I too donned snorkel gear in order to inspect our hull in a shark free environment. I also dove to the sea bed to gather sand for my bride, who had meanwhile kayaked to the beach on a similar mission. A Swiss flagged cruising boat with 7 people on board anchored very close to us and Annette was outraged that several of the “old people” on board were sunbathing topless and within a stone’s throw. I was similarly outraged that the pair of young, lithe, blond goddesses they had aboard were not.
February 21, 2017
Another slow day since our planned cigar tour hadn’t panned out. When we went to apply for exit documents we were told to return tomorrow. About the only successful task we managed to accomplish was to return the intact rental car.
February 20, 2017
A slow day. We had planned to take a tour of the local cigar company, a huge plant on the outskirts of La Romana and a major local employer. These tours are only available on Tuesdays and I had attempted to make an internet reservation without receiving the promised confirmation “within 24 hours”. A couple of phone calls later, I had still failed to contact an English speaking representative of the cigar tour operation. Grudgingly we dragged our weary bones to the marina concierge to see if they could make or confirm the reservation. The Tuesday tour was “all filled up”, the response.
We drove back into the town of La Romana and visited a couple of giant supermarkets. The traffic circulation was diabolical but if you made it to the parking garage entrance tunnel, you entered a different world. A multi-story car park, well lit with plenty of parking spaces, plus ramps and the like to enable the shopper to push a loaded grocery cart right up to the trunk. Pretty civilized really, you just needed to own a car.
February 19, 2017
Sunday in the Dominican Republic and it was raining. We managed to waddle over to the supermarket to buy a few groceries for a BBQ lunch but overall this was a laze around day.
February 18, 2017
We again left the coddled womb of the Casa de Campo resort complex and headed west, to visit the World Amber Museum in Santo Domingo. Greater Santo Domingo has a population of around 3 million, making it the largest city in the Caribbean. We first travelled north from the marina to pick up “Highway 3”, a major east-west, divided highway with a smooth, pot-hole free surface and well designed, modern on and off ramps, etc. Just as we began to wonder if this was to be a toll road, we arrived at the first pay booth. Would this system have an express lane for electronic payment and if so, does this rental car have a transponder, we wondered? Yes to the first question. We rolled into the cash pay lane and attempted to ask the toll booth attendant, in our broken Spanish, if our rental car had a transponder. The security guy bearing a military style, semi-automatic rifle wandered over. “You pay now!”, he growled. Annette and I both burst out laughing. He began to smile. They had understood absolutely nothing of our elaborate query! We paid the toll of $2 and headed west while Annette called the rental company. Her conversation with the representative was only marginally better but the word was, “pay cash”.
The four lane toll road had light traffic and was in much better condition than anything we had experienced in Puerto Rico. During the two hour drive, we passed lots of motorcycles and motor-scooters driving in what we would consider the “crash” lane. Sometimes these would be counter flow but most these were wisely hugging the shoulder. The speed limit was posted at 60 mph (100 kph) although a significant number of vehicles passed at well over 100 mph. weaving between cars, passing between and around the sane traffic. The internet reports that the Dominican Republic boasts the highest mortality rate by traffic accident in the entire Western Hemisphere and we can well believe it. The only country where we have experienced a higher concentration of inept drivers would be Egypt. The freeway passed through several urban areas where there were private driveways exiting directly into the roadway and where there were also pedestrians trying to cross six lanes of high speed traffic. Downtown Santo Domingo was naturally crowded and we were grateful we were making this expedition on a Saturday rather than a work day.
The amber museum was well laid out and after viewing the exhibits, I chatted with the owner and founder, Jorge Caridad while Annette browsed the various articles for sale. We wandered down to the Plaza de Espana on the banks of the Rio Ozama for an excellent lunch before braving the return trip to Casa de Campo. This is a fascinating town and one that we could spend more time exploring.
On our return journey, it was impossible to be unaware of the cane fields we were transiting, the stacks of the industrial plant nearby, belching black smoke was indubitably a cane processing operation and we passed huge trucks bearing towering stacks of the cut cane, the roadside littered with pieces that had fallen off the various loads. In general the roadsides were almost trash free, presumably a benefit of the multiple work crews we passed. They couldn’t all have been DWI offenders.
We could see the coast to the right of the freeway and noted that it was undercut limestone cliffs. The town of Boca Chica is where the Santo Domingo “chicas” go to show off their bikinis and we made a detour to visit the “Playa” to collect a beach sample, whilst a policeman watched us warily from outside his nearby police station. Annette waved gaily at him as we walked by and just before her sand sample bag burst, dumping the contents at his feet. A second plastic bag was produced, the precious sand scooped up and we escaped before he could call for reinforcements.
February 17, 2017
The marina ATM machine had puked up our card thus our first quest for the day was to find a working machine. We drove our rental car into the town of La Romana, population around 130,000. We had rented a cellular “hot spot” from the car company and Google Maps gave us confident directions on how to find the Scotia Bank. Driving in other countries is always exciting, as you don’t really know the rules. The roads within the 7,000 acre (11 square miles) complex had broad white stripes across them at intersections. Similarly they were divided by a solid yellow line. In many counties these markings mean “stop” and “don’t pass” respectively. We noticed that they were uniformly ignored by the other drivers and still don’t know what their significance is. As we approached town we saw many traffic lights that were flashing combinations of amber and red as well as amber and green. We believe these to be warnings. We stopped for the “solid” red lights although these were routinely ignored by the motorcycle and scooter drivers, who also ignored the one way street system. We never did work out the rules for “right of way” at the mostly unmarked intersections in the downtown area, we just used the “Istanbul” system of boring into the traffic until someone blinked and let us pass.
Overall the traffic flow was reasonably good and the driving not too wild. We parked at the Bank and tried their lobby ATM – still no luck, before walking across the street to a small shopping mall. We were impressed that everywhere were heavily armed guards. Even the Bank parking lot attendant carried a 12 gauge, pump action shotgun.
Fortunately we still carried US dollars so we abandoned the ATM game and headed for the village of Altos de Chavon, a replica of a 16th. century village, high on the banks of the Chavon river. This is inside the 7,000 acre Casa de Campo property and our immediate problem was getting past the front gate. Unlike Puerto Rico, few Dominican Republicans speak English, thus there was ample opportunity for misunderstandings. Eventually we convinced them that we had a boat at their marina and no, we weren’t going to pay a $25 daily entrance fee. The Altos de Chavon village was fun, with restaurants, a theatre and multiple gift shops. They also had the best museum we have seen of the Pre-Columbian Taino culture.
The Casa de Campo complex seems a little strange to us. The security is everywhere evident and we drove between multi-million dollar “second” homes with sweeping driveways, exquisitely manicured and landscaped yards, past the golf shooting range, the skeet range and the polo fields, then back to the marina where even more security checkpoints lay. We met a couple who were staying here and who had described their staffing of cook, gardeners and maids. These Eloi’s could have been describing Victorian England. The downtown areas showed us an entirely different Dominican Republic but I suppose that this is also true to a lesser extent when you compare the downtown ghettos to the suburbs of large city America.
That evening I called our bank using Skype and confirmed that they had put a “temporary” hold on our ATM cards. We should have filed “travel plans”, we were told. When the agent attempted to do this for us, she was surprised to find that this had already been done and our “plans” already included the Dominican Republic. Who’da thunk?
February 16, 2017
Yesterday afternoon we had checked in with the marina office and told them their passarelle sucked. We had then exchanged the wooden one that was discharging shards of timber for a solid alloy version that was slick like glass if it got wet. Yesterday we had also learned that the reason the lads had yelled at me to desist from using the engines to straighten up Doodlebug against the cross wind while docking, is that they had managed to get a marina line around our prop. The assistant Harbor Master arrived early this morning with a diver in tow to remove the offending line. We asked the diver how much he would charge to clean our hull and props of marine growth. He described how badly fouled the hull was (it has been in the water since mid-November – just three months!) began by asking $400 and then dropped the price to $300. We considered this but decided it was a little too rich, particularly since we carry our own dive system aboard. In fact, the reason I have been reluctant to get in the water myself is that the sports fishing boats around have been filleting their fish and dumping a bloody slurry into the water, right off the dock next to us. In 2009, we had watched a Bull shark in the Bahamas, feeding from just below such an operation.
An hour or so later, “Gilbert” the “boat boy” who last night had cleaned Doodlebug like a mad-man until well after dark, asked if we had any work for him and his buddy. He said that they had nothing to do that day and offered to clean the hull and props for $200. We agreed and told him to be careful.
February 15, 2017
Yesterday we had made it into the mooring field past the jagged rocks but could we reverse the process this morning? There was zero water visibility, with the sun not even above the horizon at 0655 hours when we dropped our mooring. We had waited until the unlit range markers were at least visible and removed the sunscreen from behind the steering position. There was almost no wind and we carefully maneuvered Doodlebug parallel to the beach until the range markers were in line, turned to put them directly over the stern and then eased out really slowly, as though we were approaching a dock. The rising sun was lighting the sky behind us in streaks of red but was still hidden behind the limestone cliffs of Mona, when the depth sounder began to indicate that we were through the reef gap and in open water. We headed out to the west with continuing light winds and waves in the 2 to 3 foot range behind the starboard beam.
By 0830 hours the waves had built to the 3 to 4 foot range, four eighths cloud and there was a long line of rain cells a few miles off to our south, as though we were just on the northern edge of a weather system. At 0900 hours the chartplotter crashed and rebooted itself. This was a new event. I restarted the navigation, turned the radar back on and waited. The plotter continued to operate normally. We have an iPad with navigation software and internal GPS for backup but we don’t need any surprises on “final approach”.
Two liquid’s carriers and a container freighter passed us close by. The Mona Passage seems to be a popular route for commercial shipping. By now we could see the east coast of the Dominican Republic near Punta Espada and the binoculars showed flat land and sea cliffs, similar to the limestone mass of Mona Island. By 1100 hours we were off Punta Cana at the east end of Isla Saona and changed course to the northwest to the Marina Casa de Campo.
We had been instructed to contact the marina on VHF channel 68 and then contact the Dominican Navy on channel 16 for clearance permission. There was no response from the marina and I “may” have been talking to the Dominican Navy on Ch 16, who kept asking for the name of the vessel. After the fourth attempt to pass on the vessel name and the second attempt to spell “Doodlebug” using the International phonetic alphabet (Delta, Oscar, Oscar, Delta, Lima, Echo etc, etc.) they went completely silent. When we were a mile off the marina entrance, the marina responded that they would contact the authorities and we should wait at the “buoys” for a dinghy to guide us. There were buoys everywhere, red, green, white, whatever. We entered the marina, turned into the wind and drifted in the calm waters, ignoring the yelling in Spanish from the nearby dock. The long awaited dinghy did arrive, the lads in the dinghy changed minds three times as to our dock location but eventually waved at us to follow them, which we did. They wanted us to back up to a long and high concrete pier. OK, not ideal but there was nothing to hit except the pier and we backed in. Annette worked feverishly with the dinghy guys to attach bow lines to hold us off the dock and I tried to hold us straight until we could get some stern lines on. The wind was blowing from the port beam and a yell from the dock indicated I should cease to use the engines. A second dinghy pushed us back into position and Annette threw stern lines (she is so tough!) and we were tied up at 1430 hours about nine feet away from the dock. What now? “Do you have a passarelle? I was asked. This is a long boarding ramp. “No, why the hell would I carry one of those?” Stalemate. Finally the marina folks left to “find a passarelle”, leaving a couple of guys behind who were looking for work, such as cleaning the boat. We agreed with “Gilbert” that he would clean the topsides for $100. After fifteen minutes of waiting, he left, to return shortly in a golf cart bearing a passarelle, which barely bridged the gap between boat and dock and was in the process of disintegrating.
Thirty minutes later, two more golf carts showed up, bulging with officials. They considered the disintegrating passarelle, plunging at a steep angle from the dock to our stern, somewhat dubiously. “You can be the first to try it”, I invited cheerfully. They did all arrive on board Doodlebug without falling into the sea, all wearing boot covers to protect our decks (!!) and I was surrounded by four or so officials, pushing forms at me (all in Spanish) and demanding my “firma”. I signed everything they had. When our passports had been returned, there was a crisp $50 bill between the pages. Whoa! I assumed that I had somehow managed to get this mixed up with the passports and hadn’t noticed. Now the Immigration lady said that it was hers and it had been a mistake. I said that I thought it had been a present for me, a statement which seemed to amuse everyone. Finally they all left. We are legally here in the Dominican Republic!
February 14, 2017
We awoke early as we had made arrangements to borrow the marina pick-up truck for a last minute run to the ATM. We will need physical cash to pay for our visit to Cuba as American ATM cards, credit cards and the like, are not usable there because of the ongoing embargo. Our bank limits the amount of cash that we can withdraw on a daily basis, thus we had to wait until after midnight, California time to make the final pass. A final run to the bakery for breakfast pastries and we were done. We slowly backed Doodlebug off the dock and tied up at the fuel dock to top up with diesel and fuel for the dinghy. At 0848 hours we dropped our lines and headed west, skirting the southern edge of the “Las Coronas” shoals. Two hours later, we passed over the shallow bank north of Bajo Gallardo where our depth sounder showed 28 feet of water and we could clearly see the sea bed below. We had perhaps one eighth cloud cover, a sunny day with light winds from the east and 1 to 2 foot of wave action. Great conditions for the Mona Passage!
By noon we had perhaps three eighths cloud cover and could see scattered rain pods in the distance. The seas had risen to the 2 to 4 foot range with a swell off the starboard beam but we could now see a long, flat topped island, protected by vertical sea-cliffs and directly ahead.
At 1306 hours we were orbited by a orange painted helicopter that then continued to overfly Mona Island and ahead, on the south side of the island, was a large white vessel with the familiar, diagonal red bow stripe of the US Coast Guard. Mona Island has been a favorite dropping off point for illegal aliens / refugees, or whatever is this morning’s PC term. I had wondered if this was still the case since outgoing President Obama had rescinded the “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy of the United States, the week before he left office. Just behind the Coast Guard cutter was a heavy rain cloud and another over the island itself as we passed its southern point, Punta Caigo. We changed course to follow the coast around towards Punta Arenas on the western shore and the Coast Guard Cutter reversed course to parallel us, still a mile or so away. It then fired a large white flare into the air. If the flare had been red, I would have radioed and asked if they needed assistance but white could mean anything and thus we ignored it. We were automatically transmitting our position and vessel details on our AIS system and even the Coast Guard gets a couple of radio receivers.
We had been passing by the amazing cliffs of Mona Island. They were near vertical but with the bases undercut by the sea. The sea bed all around is coral and three miles off the island, the bed plunges to 2,000 feet deep. Thirty miles north of Mona Island the entrance to the passage drops from around 100 feet deep into the abyss of the Atlantic Ocean at 16,000 feet deep. Mona must therefore have been formed by continental shift, yet we don’t see vulcanism, in that the cliffs do not have the black, columnar look of cooled basalt. We have no internet here so I can’t look it up (yet!).
At around 1420 hours we turned in towards the shore as we had been told that there were range markers to guide us into a small bay. We had also been told that the entrance gap in the reef was extremely narrow, perhaps two boat widths. They were not kidding! We found the range markers and eased in carefully since they seemed to be guiding us directly over a jagged reef. When we were right on top of the reef, we saw that there was indeed a gap and its width had been correctly described. We drifted in at just over two knots, occasionally using reverse thrust on the engines to maneuver. The sky was helpfully overcast and it began to pour with rain just as we grabbed a mooring ball. Fortunately Annette had taken the precaution to wear her rain jacket as the rain bucketed down and without let up for the next three hours.
We moored at 1430 hours at 18 05.387 N 067 56.313 W in 6 feet of water, half a boat length away from a decaying concrete dock. Our arrival had been made even more exciting by the presence of a couple in a kayak, plus multiple swimmers, all helpfully and directly in our path. Once we were tied up and looked around, they had disappeared without trace, like a bad dream.
Annette fixed a fabulous Valentine’s Day lunch / supper of bacon wrapped, BBQ’d chicken, baked potato, tomato / olive salad, the repast wrapped up with cherry cobbler and when it finally stopped raining, we donned our swim gear and swam ashore. There were a couple of turtles that were swimming up to our stern and when I launched myself into the water, they swam over to take a look at this curious creature. The anchorage itself is amazing. It is small, with just five closely space mooring balls inside the reef and behind the broken dock are some faded park service signs, warning the reader of dire penalties if they introduce alien pathogens to the island’s flora and fauna. To the south of the dock, near hidden amongst the trees, were a series of buildings and we saw a couple of uniformed men emerge in late afternoon and stare at us with binoculars. They did not approach us and because it was already late, we treated them as white flares. Since we did not appear to be discharging dozens of brown bodies onto their beach, we suppose were determined to be, “mostly harmless” and thereafter ignored. If it hadn’t been raining earlier we would have wandered over to say “hello” but the sun was now setting to the west amongst the towering rain clouds. There was plenty of chicken left and we would have shared.
February 13, 2017
Our last day before departure and we had a heavy schedule as always. M/Y Texas True had arrived in the marina the previous evening and we invited its crew of Dennis and Donald to join us while we ran errands in our rental car. Donald is Canadian and Dennis, who hails from East Texas, said that in his youth, he was so tough, “he could stomp a bumble bee with his bare feet!”. Apparently this is how you impressed East Texas cheerleaders in the 60’s. Both crews needed to checkout with Customs for departure documents from the USA (we would need these for entry into the Dominican Republic - the officer just stamped and signed a blank form and told me to fill the rest out myself), the necessary beer run, plus a bank run to the ATM for cash. Sadly we turned in our bright yellow rental car and became pedestrians again. That evening we ate at a local restaurant with the crew of S/V Cloud Street, which we will always think of as Doodlebug “One”. A merry evening.
February 12, 2017
Sunday in Puerto Rico and we each had a list of necessary chores to prepare Doodlebug for a departure on Tuesday. Annette inventoried her supplies and I checked the engines and engine rooms, discovering in the process that the port engine room bilge pump was not operational. It did not take long to determine that the pump itself worked but the float switch and its associated wiring were bad. This is the second float switch to fail in a week. These are not expensive items but I have already used my spare and will have to wait until Monday to purchase a replacement. The only real problem is access, as it is mounted in front of the engine and near impossible to reach, at least for normal sized human beings.
Walmart was open on Sunday and although I did find marine bilge pumps for sale in the sporting goods section, there were no float switches. Late that afternoon, Bill and Jennifer of S/V Address Unknown stopped by with their burly crew and hauled off our “old “ liferaft, handling its 200 pounds of deadweight as if a child’s toy.
February 11, 2017
Daughter Marian went home today and we spent most of the day driving to and from the airport. In early evening we learned that she had made it safely to Houston, together with Annette’s surplus inventory of sand samples. I had wondered why her suitcase was so heavy.
February 10, 2017
The goal for today was a walkabout, or rather a “driveabout”, to visit various sites in southwestern Puerto Rico. Our first stop was at “Casa Pueblo” in the town of Adjunta, located in the mountains north of Ponce. Casa Pueblo is a non-profit, environmental group. Most “environmental groups” I find to have more in common with the Taliban than modern society. Their ludicrously exaggerated claims destroy any possible credibility, plus their proposed solutions to modern problems are usually such to make the Luddites proud and generally leave me cold.
The Casa Pueblo organization was formed around 1980 and ran a successful campaign to prevent pit mining for gold in the Adjuntas environs. We had seen pit mining in the empty desert lands of Australia and it makes perfect sense there, both economically and with the real environmental impact. However, in a relatively densely populated and mountainous island such as Puerto Rico, subject to frequent hurricanes and torrential storms, the impact of pit mining with its risks of storm runoff and the leaching of toxins into the water supply represents an entirely different ball game, particularly when we are talking about a commodity as commercially useless as gold. The Casa Pueblo folks were very pleasant people to visit with and we found them mostly sane.
We met one of the founders of the group and she recommended a lunch stop at the Tierra del Frio restaurant, just off the main square of Adjunta, a good call. The afternoon was waning when we set out once more to look for the Cascada Las Garzas waterfalls. The GPS found the spot but although we found a beautiful little stream, there was no sign of waterfalls.
We made the return drive along the scenic “Ruta Touristica”. This was not for the faint of heart. The narrow road had some impressive potholes, plunged steeply up and down ravines and ridges, ran through tunnels of towering bamboos and really had some wonderful views. On the negative, it was easy to see why many of the cars here have dented hoods and fenders since Puerto Rican drivers can be a little casual about which side of the road they drive on. We continued to be amazed at how friendly everyone remains when they halt, blocking the narrow highway, in order to chat to a friend. Overall a fun day.
February 9, 2017
A fairly slow day running a few errands. The early excitement of the morning was receiving an e-mail from the US Coast Guard granting us a permit to enter the territorial waters of Cuba for an educational visit. I forwarded this permit to our insurance company who have previously stated that they would extend coverage to Cuban waters if we obtained such a document.
That evening we had arranged to meet Joe, Tracie, Kyra and Marian, crew of the Amel Super Maramu S/V Cloud Street for drinks and supper at the marina restaurant, together with Rachel and Paul Chandler of S/Y Lynn Rival. Tracie and Bob had met the Lynn Rival’s crew at the Customs and Immigration office when they went to check in. We were amazed to hear that Rachel and Paul had been seized by Somali pirates in 2009; see:- http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2223979/Paul-Rachel-Chandler-Kidnapped-pirates-Tortured-held-hostage-desert-hell-388-days-IS-couple-setting-sail-again.html
They had been held hostage for over 400 days. After a ransom was paid, themselves and their boat S/V Lynn Rival at least somewhat rehabilitated, they had set off sailing again. In the article above, when Rachel was asked what they would expect if disaster struck again, she is quoted as saying, “Lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice”. Here we all sat together, the crew of the former Doodlebug and the crew of the new Doodlebug. We had made the passage through the pirate country in late 2006 aboard Doodlebug “One”. Life is full of strange coincidences, usually caused by glitches in The Matrix. Doodlebug “One” had been struck by lightning 5 hours after we purchased her in March of 2003 and struck again by lightning at the repair dock 80 days later. We sincerely wish Paul and Rachel fair winds and a safe passage after their terrifying and life-changing ordeal.
February 8, 2017
This morning we received an e-mail from Tracie and Bob aboard S/V Cloudstreet, an Amel Super Maramu that arrived yesterday. They had noticed a power cat on the dock with the name of “Doodlebug” – us of course and wondered if by some freak of coincidence, we had once owned an Amel. Tracie and Bob have owned S/V Cloudstreet for the past three or four years and she was formerly named, “Northfork”. Before she received this latter name, she had been named “DoodleBug”. We are in fact the original owners! We walked over to the dock where she was moored and introduced ourselves. It was so great to see the original Doodlebug again and such a strange feeling. We sailed her and loved her for six years before selling her in 2009 and hadn’t seen her since. Bob showed me the maintenance logbook, still on board with entries in my handwriting.
That afternoon we dropped Marian off at the local cemetery in order that she could take photographs of grave markers and whatever (I cautioned her there was to be “no digging up”). She telephoned around 4:30 hours to say that she was ready to be picked up and I drove over to discover the cemetery gates already chained and padlocked. Naturally she was inside somewhere. The bartender across the street directed me to the main gate (also locked) and provided me the phone number of the groundskeeper with the gate key. Fortunately the main gate had two side pedestrian gates, similarly padlocked but low enough that they could be climbed over fairly readily by a young lady wearing a mini-skirt. We left before the police showed up.
February 7, 2017
We rented car from the marina this morning and set out for the salt flats near Cabo Rojo. Two hours later the photographers were finally through taking pictures of salt (??!!), we were all starving and decided to leave the hike to the lighthouse for another day. We ate lunch at the shopping mall in Mayaguez, the third largest in Puerto Rico. It was home to all the usual culprits of Walmart, Sears, Office Max and the like and a sharp contrast with the laid back lifestyle of Puerto Real. When we returned to the marina we witnessed a minor miracle in that our new liferaft had been delivered. The old raft was due for its annual recertification at an estimated cost upwards of $1,000. It is rated as an ”Offshore” model, meaning that it contains supplies such as water and food and weighs in at 200 pounds. Marian and I struggled and spent perhaps twenty minutes getting it out of its locker, leaving it sitting on the deck. Annette and I could never have launched it in an emergency situation and even if we had, such a raft depends upon the weight of multiple occupants for its stability. The new replacement raft is sized for 6 persons and weighs in at around 70 pounds. It cost around $2,000 and requires recertification every three years. Hopefully, we will never see it inflated.
February 6, 2017
Monday morning and we raised anchor and moved into the nearby Marina Pescaderia, tying up at the dock and hooking into the umbilicals of city power and Wi-Fi. We plan to stay here for a week before heading across the Mona Passage to the Dominican republic. The marina sits in the middle of this small town / village and we walked from the marina parking lot into the narrow main street that was lined with small bars and stores selling fish. Lots of fish. Perhaps the name “Marina Pescaderia” - the “Fish Shop Marina”, might have provided a clue. We stopped in the nearest bar for refreshment and chatted with the proprietor. The bill was $2.50 for the two beers. Annette bought two red snappers from one of the stores while Marian took dozens of photographs of the scaling and filleting process that seemed to occupy the balance of the day. That evening we ate a fine meal of barbequed fish, reminding us of past fishing adventures when we were together in Fiji.
February 5, 2017
This morning the wind was blowing hard and it was overcast as we raised our anchor at 1300 hours. We followed our inbound GPS track in the reverse direction to exit the mangrove ringed anchorage behind Cayos de Cana Gorda. The light was poor for reef spotting but the crashing waves clearly delineated the gap of the narrow reef entrance as we exited to the Caribbean Sea. We immediately turned west, following the southern coast of Puerto Rico, putting the wind and waves on our stern. Doodlebug does not track well under these conditions and she weaves back and forth as the rollers push the stern from side to side. I typically meddle with the response setting on the autopilot to ameliorate the worst of the wannabe broaches and sometimes, motoring either faster or slower seems to help a little. The weather forecast had called for light winds and yet we were seeing whitecaps atop the steep waves. We passed near La Parguera and and saw a large white blimp tethered closely by its nose to the ground. The internet reports that this is part of the “Tethered Aerostat Radar System”, used by the US Customs and Border Protection as an effective means of spending taxpayers dollars. I am sure that balloons were the latest high-tech devices when first flown in 1782 and I further suspect the customs agents alert each other by semaphore flags when they spot a suspicious aircraft flying by.
The lighthouse we could see in the distance was growing larger when a pod of dolphins visited us and played around our bow wave for five minutes or so. This lighthouse marks the point of Cabo Rojo, the southwestern “corner” of Puerto Rico. We swept around this point to head north and the waves died away, leaving us to motor into the bay at Puerto Real in near calm conditions. We anchored at 1612 hours at 18 04.2 N 067 11.4 W.
February 4, 2017
There had been two other vessels at anchor in Cayo Puerco but we were alone the following morning. We raised anchor at 0725 hours and set sail for “Gilligan’s Island”, passing through the reef pass at Cayos de Ratones and back into the Caribbean Sea. Like yesterday, a few scattered fair weather cumulus, sunshine and following seas in the 3 to 4 foot range. At noon we turned through the reef gap at Cayos de Cana Gorda and dropped anchor at 1203 hours at 17 57.0 N 066 52.3 W inside another mangrove ringed harbor.
We dinghied over to the nearby ferry dock and then walked over to the Gilligan’s Island Resort, a large and sprawling enterprise but obviously very popular. A constant stream of boats ferried day-trippers to and from the nearby “Isla de Gilligan”, a mangrove ringed islet with warm shallow waters over white coral sand.
The resort restaurant was closed and we walked back to sample the famous empenadas served by the ferry dock restaurant. We noted that you could order food to be delivered to the island by the ferry boat crew. As we ate our empenadas, washed down by local beer of course, the ferry boat docked and the small bar was swamped by returning day trippers, singing to the loud music playing in the bar, hauling their ice chests and beach chairs and looking like they were having a really good time. Puerto Ricans really know how to enjoy life!
February 3, 2017
We arose moderately early, raised anchor at 0654 hours and set sail for Cayo Puerco, on the south coast of Puerto Rico. It was a pleasant sail, a little bumpy on the eastbound leg to clear the islet Cabeza de Perro but becoming more comfortable as we turned to the southwest. We had about one eighth cloud cover, a sunny day with 3 to 4 foot waves on top of the swells. For the first couple of hours we were transiting shallow waters, zig-zagging between fishing markers. At 1130 hours Marian was thrilled by the visit of a pod of dolphins.
An hour later, we passed through the reef gap at Boca del Infierno and the waves and swells died away almost instantly. We dropped anchor at 1249 hours at 17 55.9 N 066 14.4 W inside Cayo Puerco, a shallow and quiet bay ringed by Mangroves.
That afternoon we launched three kayaks (Annette in the “youth” kayak favored by seven year old Lincoln) and explored the mangroves. Even though the bay lay mill-pond still, Annette managed to fall out of her kayak in the eternal quest for sand samples. I assisted in her rescue with my kayak and she swears she will never again step into mangrove mud, making muttering noises about the “African Queen”.
February 2, 2017
We had ordered a replacement liferaft for Doodlebug and on Monday had called the freight company to check on the clearance procedure. They did not respond to my e-mail but when I telephoned, the lady exclaimed that they had been wondering how to get hold of me (perhaps call the contact number listed on the shipping form?). The raft had arrived on Sunday and needed to clear the “Import authorities”, even though of course it was manufactured in the USA and was shipped to Puerto Rico on a US carrier. For the tax dance we had to hire an agent and this had all been taken care of via multiple e-mails of scanned copies of passports, boat registrations etc. etc. Yesterday it had cleared the import authorities and the shipping lady had promised me that it would be delivered to the Puerto del Rey marina around noon today. We raised our anchor at 0817 hours and set sail on a reverse course back to Puerto del Rey. The waves were in the 3 to 4 foot range with added swells but daughter Marian remained unaffected by the motion. At 1047 hours we dropped anchor outside the entrance to the marina at 18 17.4 N 065 38.1 W and prepared to dinghy ashore so that we could leave an envelope with a payment check for the clearance agent, to be retrieved by the liferaft delivery driver. I had e-mailed earlier to see if they would give me a delivery time but received no response. I now telephoned and the shipping lady placed me on an extended hold before breathlessly informing me that the driver had forgotten to load the liferaft on his truck and had already left. Pretty routine really.
No point in getting mad so we negotiated that the raft would be delivered next week to our destination marina of Puerto Real at the west end of Puerto Rico. We ate lunch in the marina restaurant and tapped into their WiFi as we lay at anchor. It was too late to make the jump to our next anchorage, thus we settled in for a quiet afternoon and evening aboard Doodlebug, cheered by the thought that at least we weren’t paying the marina $100 / night for the privilege.
February 1, 2017
Marian spent most of the day taking photos but has been plagued by camera problems. Her recent pictures are often out of focus and we struggled with tests and diagnostics to locate the problem.
That evening we went on a “Bio tour”, a heavily hyped tour by kayak of the adjacent shallow bay, where the attraction is an alleged large concentration of bioluminescent creatures in the enclosed waters. When disturbed by a dipped hand, a kayak paddle or the passage of a fish, these plankton emit a burst of light. For the tour that night, we dosed ourselves liberally with insect repellant and after being handed a greasy and aged lifejacket, were instructed on how to hold a kayak paddle. So far so good. We were then assigned kayaks and although the sales pitch had emphasized that we would use, “safe and stable” two person sea kayaks, as the only party of three on the tour, we were assured that these kayaks could comfortably carry three. Not! The middle kayaker, in this case Marian, was not afforded a paddle and we were so cramped there was no room for the stern paddler (me) to use his paddle. In addition, Marian was partially sitting on my ankles and ditto my ankles were digging into her hips / butt. Either the moon was too bright or the plankton took the night off but we have seen better light shows when we have flushed the sea-water toilet on Doodlebug. After an hour and a half of cramped torture, we were more than ready for dry land. I usually avoid any enterprise that uses words such as “Eco” in its name (this is a Greek word meaning “no air-conditioning”) and have now added “Bio” to this list.
January 31, 2017
This morning we were in non-stop action, returning our rental car, settling accounts at the marina and taking on fuel. At 0950 hours, we set course for the town of Esperanza on the south side of Vieques, anchoring at 1230 hours at 18 05.6 N 065 28.4 W. The town boasts a series of beach front bars and restaurants and we wandered towards the east end of town where there are several ruined buildings. There were feral horses grazing amongst the ruins of the more modern looking buildings. I say “more modern” based upon the sophisticated graffiti that adorned the few standing walls. The older red brick building that stood nearby, looked at though it dated to the Danish colonial period and its lack of machinery spaces suggested that it had not been used for the harvesting and processing of sugar cane but more likely as a seafront warehouse serving the various plantations. Both Google and the locals we asked remained mute as to its history.
We made reservations for a “Bio tour” of the adjacent bay for tomorrow night and for supper we decamped to the “El Blok” hotel for a meal almost as memorable as that we had enjoyed here in November, 2015.
January 29 - January 30, 2017
Sunday was a slow day as Marian recovered from her travels. On Monday we were fired up and after the excitement of getting our propane tank refilled (I may write a book about the various experiences!), we headed into San Juan to tour the fortress of El Morro and San Juan “Old Town”.
January 28, 2017
Today and after an epic boat washing effort, we drove to San Juan to pick up daughter Marian.
San Juan airport is a little odd. From the parking lot you jay-walk across several lanes of traffic to the arrivals area. Here there is a ladies’ toilet accessible from the “street” but the “juan” for the caballeros is inside the terminal. The automatic doors refused to open from the street side. As we pondered this, an airport employee used a security card to open the doors and we walked inside with her, accompanied by her glowers of concern. The security exit from the terminal had some quantity of limo drivers holding up signs for their arriving clients but we bypassed these in our search for a bar and refreshment. None to be had. All food and drink is the “other side” of security. We discovered a single elevator that connected the flight check-in level with the baggage claim area and chatted with one of the flight check-in employees who was on break. Apparently we had wandered aimlessly through two security barriers against the traffic flow, without realizing such, or being stopped and there is not supposed to be exterior access to the baggage claim area.
At the proscribed time we waited patiently at the baggage carousel bearing the airline name, flight number and city of origin of Marian’s flight while she and her bags were arriving on an entirely different and unlabeled carousel, some distance away. Thank goodness for cellular telephones!
She is here and we all made it safely back to Puerto del Rey marina and Doodlebug!
January 27, 2017
Amongst today’s goals was to unbox and test the dehumidifier we purchased yesterday. We ran the unit for four hours and it produced over a gallon of condensate from its test location in the starboard hull. This makes one realize how useless the pots of moisture absorbing chemicals really are. These are sold at marine supply stores to prevent mold growing aboard your stored vessel and we had used these in Grenada after we failed to find any on-island supplier of dehumidifiers. In addition, the chemical pots and their refills cost way more than the purchase price of a commercial humidifier. The obvious problem with the latter is that it requires a supply of electricity to make it operate. We queried the folks who operate the on-the-hard hurricane storage facility at this marina if they could provide power for a dehumidifier and were told that they could not because of the “risk of fire” amongst the stored vessels.
We next made a run back to the Fajardo West Marine to buy courtesy flags but they had none in stock and didn’t offer to order them for us. The whole world has gone to internet shopping – all you need it a delivery address and the necessary time!
On our return to the marina, Annette spotted a “Super K-Mart” and a search of the furniture section produced bean bag filler! We now need a windy day so that we can feed our emaciated bean bag chairs on the front deck.
January 26, 2017
I began the day with my “final” attempt to remove a solar panel. Four of the six panels we purchased last year have stopped operating and the wiring terminal blocks are accessed from beneath the glued down panels. We had originally discarded the idea of using the recommended adhesive for the panel installation and instead chosen to use household silicone caulk on the mistaken belief it would be easy to remove if ever needed. Ever had now arrived and that stuff should have been used for the heat shield tiles on the space shuttle! Even with a hammer and broad bladed chisel I made no progress and realized that this will be a project for the next time the boat is stored on the hard.
We “Googled” the internet to find the nearest Home Depot store but I failed to notice that the store distances displayed were in fact “helicopter” distances. We set off for the town of Cagua instead of that of Carolina (they both start with “Ca”) at almost double the highway distance but were rewarded with a view of areas of Puerto Rico not previously visited.
We also made a “final” attempt to contact the real estate lady we had called a couple of days ago. It is odd that people won’t say ,“Sorry, I’m too busy”, when you ask for advice / help but instead say “Yes”, promise an immediate e-mail response and then refuse your further communication attempts in perpetuity. We have experienced this phenomenon before from businesses and have always taken it as a clear warning of the kind of service you would expect to get if you had a serious transaction to perform.
January 25, 2017
The propane fueled stove / oven aboard Doodlebug has an electronic lighter and last week the latter had refused to function. We had back-up BBQ lighters of course but the childproof locks were problematic for those of us suffering from arthritic hands. Yesterday Annette had watched Youtube videos on how to make the flames bigger but sadly, not on how to defeat the mechanical interlocks. I had performed surgery on a couple of lighters and although you cannot defeat the mechanism entirely, since the ignition sparker and the gas valve are on separate buttons, I was able to remove the return spring from the gas valve to make it easier to operate.
Today the goal was to repair the stove itself. The stove is the exact same unit that is “gimbaled” on the sailing versions but on a catamaran is screwed solidly in place. The igniter, associated batteries and wiring are all installed conveniently underneath the unit, thus the stove has to be removed, or at least raised for access. Three hours of cursing, blood loss, frustration and four cans of beans as jack stands and it was done! Annette got to clean out the accumulated centuries of “rental” grease and dropped food from beneath the unit and I eventually found a corroded spring that was preventing the sparker unit from receiving power. All back and working again just in time to visit Jay and Sandra aboard S/V Long Reach for sundowners.
January 24, 2017
We picked up a rental car this morning and despite our GPS snarling driving directions at us in Spanish, such as “Heya stupido! Mas rapido!”, we managed to find both West Marine and Walmart. Annette has been doggedly searching for bean bag filler for the past several months as we have travelled north from Grenada. When I suggested “frijoles plasticos” at the various establishments, this provoked laughter but no word in Spanish for filler was substituted. “You have to describe what it is for”, we were told. We also contacted a real estate lady for suggestions for an overview of rental / lease properties in the area. She indicated that she understood our constraints and requirements and promised to e-mail some listings to us.
January 23, 2017......continued
When we arrived at the marina we discovered that the marina uses golf carts to shuttle people and goods along the long narrow concrete dock. The golf cart drivers wear life jackets, an “OSHA” requirement we were told, but the passengers are expected to swim for it or just have to take their chances I suppose. The marina boasts a marine supply store but it did not stock the necessary “courtesy” flags, needed for our proposed route westwards. The marina restaurant was also closed for a Monday but back at DoodleBug, over our delicious peanut-butter sandwiches, we had a slow and fractious internet connection that did work occasionally, thus we began to catch up on the various projects that have been hanging around.
January 23, 2017
This morning we raised anchor at 0840 hours and headed further westwards towards Fajardo, Puerto Rico. We had reservations for the marina at Puerto del Rey and arrived there three hours later, tying up at the dock at 18 17.4 N 065 38.0 W. The marina called us when we were in mid-passage and warned us that we needed to check in with Customs and Immigration. When I responded that we had already performed this task in Culebra, they sounded surprised and demanded the 18 digit clearance confirmation number. This I provided. I hope I copied all the numbers down correctly.....
January 22, 2017
Sunday in Culebra and the place is dead. The hammering salsa music died away sometime after 3.00 a.m. and the dancers and drinkers are presumably sleeping it off. While Annette sorted out the laundry and supplies, I checked the engine fluids, condition of the anodes and the steering fluids. I tested the bilge pumps and exercised the engine room through-hulls. Everything checked out “good” and we are ready to cruise! Naturally we toured Ensenada Honda by dinghy and collected multiple sand samples. I am thinking of applying for a UNESCO grant.
January 21, 2017
Brian and Penny flew home today and we will miss them of course, as it is so much fun catching up with far flung family. We ate a final lunch together before turning them loose in a taxi for the airport. We in turn prepared DoodleBug for sea, stowing the dinghy and setting up the navigation for the island of Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands. We raised our anchor at 1325 hours and set off to the west with 1/8th cloud, sunshine and waves in the 1 to 2 foot range on top of the residual swells coming from the north. We arrived in Ensenada Honda, Culebra at 1615 hours and anchored in shallow water at 18 18.4 N 065 18.0 W. We immediately called the Border Protection people because although they claim that you are in the United States in the US Virgin Islands, when you meet up with the next pod of federales, you discover you are not. I gave the immigration officer all of the information over the phone as to passport numbers, boat statistics and registration number as well as the number of our 2017 flavor of the $27 Customs sticker. By some miracle we actually found the thing. He then announced that were back in the United States and said the Customs guy would call us. About ten minutes later the Customs guy actually called and we made more declarations about not having either pets or firearms on board. He then gave us an eighteen digit clearance number that I dutifully transcribed to my log book. We are mostly cleared into the USA at this point. The same process took four and a half hours when we cleared in at Ponce, Puerto Rico and is part of the reason why we cleared in here instead.
January 20, 2017
Today was set aside for a “walking tour” of Charlotte Amalie and clutching our tourist map we set out. The first stop was the Seven Arches Museum, a former Danish artisans residence that supposedly featured seven arches to support the staircase. It was remarkable in its absence or at least anything that identified it as a museum. Annette went in to the governor’s residence next door and the plain clothes security guard explained that it had moved “somewhere else”, “some time ago”. When we asked if we could have a tour of the Governor’s pad, he explained that the Governor didn’t actually live here, even though his car was parked in the designated spot. The building was used for offices and we were welcome to visit the lobby. The lobby was nicely furnished, had a couple of Pissaro’s on the wall (poorly illuminated though) as well as a flat screen TV showing the presidential inauguration in DC. It was also nicely air-conditioned and we determined that if we got some chicken and a couple of six packs, we could settle in here for the afternoon. But we didn’t. Instead we continued our search for Bluebeard’s castle. When we located same, the man painting the wall outside informed us that it was closed for “no-ship” day. Ditto the rum tasting “museum” next door. In fact the only places we found that weren’t closed were the restaurant where we ate lunch and the post-office.
January 19, 2017
At 1000 hours we dropped our mooring and set course for Long Bay, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, anchoring at 1140 hours at 18 20.3 N 064 55.6 W. Today was a “ship” day meaning that a couple of cruise ships were tied up at the West Indies Company Dock. After lunch we hired a taxi to take us on a tour of St. Thomas and we circumnavigated the island, stopping at most of the scenic overlooks. It was well that we did this today as tomorrow is a “no ship” day and the majority of the tourist sites are closed.
January 18, 2017
After a slow morning, we dropped our mooring at 1310 hours and towed our dinghy around to Maho Bay, taking up a mooring twenty minutes later at 18 21.6 N 064 44.8 W.
January 17, 2017
The mooring field at Waterlemon bay was reputedly both popular and “full” since it offers some protection from northerly swells, thus we dropped our mooring at 0815 hours and set off again on our counter-clockwise circumnavigation of St. John’s. At 0958 hours we took up a mooring just off the beach at 18 21.8 N 064 43.3 W. This is another great anchorage, quiet, calm and with great snorkeling on the surrounding reefs. We dinghied ashore and then hiked the trail up to the ruins of the Annaberg sugar mill. It is always hard to imagine the chaotic jungle covered hillsides sprouting uniform stalks of sugar cane. The winds have dropped away and Waterlemon Bay lay calm and serene, the perfect conditions for kayaking. While Brian and Penny explored the bay, Annette and I began our preparations for our next leg of the adventure, hampered by the lack of either cellular or internet access in this place. This is the reason we have not stopped here before and we plan to move around the hill, “Mary Point” to Maho Bay, where we know there is connectivity.
January 16, 2017
This morning we headed ashore to hike from the beach to visit the petroglyphs off the Reef Bay trail. This rock art is believed to be the work of pre-Columbian Taino people. The Taino tribes were at war with the neighboring Caribs and the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors pretty much sealed their fate. They had no naturally immunity to the European and Asian diseases such as small pox and by 1548, their population had declined to less than 500. A few minutes after we arrived at the petroglyphs, a park ranger showed up with about 30 or so tourists in tow. She proceeded to explain how the site had been dated by carbon analysis of pottery shards (really? I never knew that fired pottery contained carbon) and went into detail about the customs and beliefs of the Taino peoples. This too was amazing information about a culture that had declined to less than 500 individuals some five and a half centuries ago and had no written records.
It was a great hike shaded by trees for much of its length and providing spectacular viewpoints of the bays and distant islands as we crested the ridgelines. We took a side trip to visit the decaying mansion of a Danish sugar plantation owner. The buildings were extensive and must have required considerable staff. The structures themselves were deteriorating as the jungle moved in around them but had received some maintenance or human interaction in the not too distant past, at least judging by the weathered PVC water tanks sitting on rusting angle iron frames at the side of the building. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have PVC in the early 1800’s. The plaster sheath of the “Doric”columns at the front of the edifice had flaked off in places, revealing their inner construction of fired red bricks. We haven’t seen any sign of red clay in the Caribbean thus concluded that these were manufactured in Denmark. We pondered upon the age of the abandoned buildings. Emancipation of the slaves here was in 1848. If we assume that the sugar industry had already collapsed and the various substitute crops such as cotton had been attempted and discarded, the economy must have been in the tank for a while before the “moral” decision was made to “free” the slaves, or at least stop feeding and supporting them. This would mean the buildings we were viewing were at minimum 200 years old? Maybe.
Annette was going to hike with us but was distracted by a “bat” experiment near the Tektite museum. She spent the morning trying to track down the researcher performing the trapping experiment but discovered that the previous night was the last night of the effort and the researcher had already departed St. Johns. Her morning was not wasted however and she collected even more beach sand samples.
January 15, 2017
At 0700 hours we dropped our mooring and headed out of the shelter of Virgin Gorda Sound into the wind and waves of the Colquhoun passage. The rough waters were only experienced for ten minutes or so until we made the turn to the west past Mosquito Island and Mountain Point. Thereafter it was smooth sailing with the wind from astern. We anchored in Cruz Bay and slid our dinghy in front of the arriving Tortola Ferry in order to clear Immigration and Customs before the crowd debarked. The folks at the National Park headquarters confirmed that the mooring fields on the north side of the island were still plagued by large swells thus we hit the microbrewery for lunch and continued our voyage, counter-clockwise around the island. We picked up a mooring in Great Lameshur Bay at 1352 hours, position 18 19.1 N 064 43.3 W. This is a beautiful, quiet bay, nestled in amongst the trees and the site of the 1969 and 1970 Tektite experiments.
The Tektite program was a so called “scientists in the sea” and was a habitat built by General Electric’s space division. The habitat was placed at a depth of around 50 feet and occupied by four scientists from the US Department of the Interior for 58 days to study the effects on the human body. In 1970 some ten additional missions were run, allegedly with the goal of studying the psychological effects of scientific teams working in a close environment. The project has some NASA funding but the timing I find suspect. The Apollo program was coming to an end and saying “NASA” was the 1970’s equivalent of saying “studying global warming” – mandatory for getting your project financed. The Wikipedia description of the project suggest a government program that was funded in the heyday of the space race but by the time the habitat had actually been constructed, the proposed experiment had been overtaken by other events. Nevertheless it was interesting to think that this quiet little bay had been the site of some grand project, probably with hundreds of workers involved.
January 14, 2017
Our free Wi-Fi sailed off this morning (so thoughtless of them!) but the weather forecast shows wind speeds dropping and the wind direction veering to the northeast. We plan on leaving tomorrow and heading for St. John’s. Brian had provided Penny with the gift of a conch horn and the estimated sunset event was punctuated with the lowing and growling sounds of practicing “Pu” aficionados.
January 13, 2017
We moved from our anchorage to a mooring at Vixen Point at the “Sand Box” resort, hoping to get WiFi. Although the resort advertised WiFi for $10 it was not operating. Nevertheless this is a sheltered spot and we managed to pirate WiFi from a nearby chartered vessel which conveniently broadcast an unprotected signal. Brian and Penny went ashore to explore Prickly Pear Island whilst we did laundry, ran the water-maker and caught up on business.
January 12, 2017
It was still blowing hard but we made it to the Bitter End Yacht Club by dinghy without shipping too much water and caught the shuttle to Gun Creek to connect with our rental car. Our first destination was the National Park of the “The Baths”, named for the batholithic geologic formations found here. Our approach was through “the Caves” and although the beaches had been closed to swimming, it was still possible to transit the rock formations along the beach. This trail involved wading across flooded sections made even more exciting by wave action hurling extra water through the narrow passageways.
After lunch we toured the abandoned copper mine on east side of the southern point. The mine had been opened in 1837 and the shafts sunk to around 250 feet with workings out below the sea. The copper ore was extracted and shipped to Wales for processing and the returning ships would carry Welsh coal to power the steam engine used to pump water from the mine and to raise the ore. The rusting cylinder of the boiler was still on the site but the beam engine had been relocated.
The wind is still blowing strongly from the NNE but with just a few rain squalls.
January 11, 2017
Last night was relatively quiet, not much wave action, just the remnants of swell coming through the gap in Cactus Reef. The air was cooler behind the cold front but by no means sweater weather. We dinghied over to the Vixen Point resort and then hiked a trail across the island. On the north side of the island was an empty beach with beautiful golden sand and nary a footprint. Annette gathered a sample of course and grumbled at the absence of sea-shells. Not enough flotsam for a dedicated beach comber!
January 10, 2017
This morning the forecast swell had waves breaking far up the beach at the old Custom’s house we could see across Francis Bay on Whistling Cay. Although there was little wind where we are moored, all vessels have swung during the night and are now facing north. The frontal system has arrived! We dropped our mooring at 0645 hours to catch slack water in “The Narrows” and were soon motoring the length of Sir Francis Drake Channel with some choppiness plus four foot swells from the beam. We normally take the pass off Anguilla Point as our entry into Virgin Gorda Sound. This entrance is narrow, bordered by reefs, has a shallow water bar and is off-limits to rental boats. This morning the reefs guarding the pass were easily identified by the huge, crashing surf of the swell and we decided to give the pass a pass and continue around to the northern entrance. We anchored off Gun Creek, checked in with Customs and Immigration who charged 50 cents for the form used and then moored at the Bitter End Yacht club for lunch. The mooring field here was near empty as most boats headed for the sheltered area behind Prickly Pear Island. We too motored over and tried a couple of spots but wound up too close to other vessels. We finally anchored at 18 30.3 N 064 22.4 W. No Wi-Fi anywhere close and just a little swell wrapping around and coming across Cactus Reef. We dinghied over to Saba Rock to use their WiFi and might have had a couple of drinks too.
January 9, 2017
Monday morning and the cold front is still forecast for Tuesday. We raised anchor at 0730 hours and set sail for Maho Bay, St. John’s, taking up a mooring at 0845 hours. Our guests got to walk the beach and swim in the warm sea as opposed to hanging around in airports. We decided that Virgin Gorda Sound should afford protection from the forecast strong northerly winds and associated north swell and that will be our destination tomorrow.
January 8, 2017
Brian and Penny had spent the night in New York and their flight to St. Thomas was supposed to land just after lunch. This morning we watched the internet flight status updating their ETA until they eventually took off, two hours later than scheduled. Isn’t flying fun these days! This evening we finally had all safely aboard DoodleBug.
January 7, 2017
Today we were supposed to meet brother Brian and his friend Penny at the airport. He had texted me yesterday to say that KLM had conveniently cancelled the first leg of his flight from Birmingham to Amsterdam. I texted him back a note querying the parentage of all Dutchmen but the bottom line is that our guests are delayed a day of their visit.
As usual, the weather presents some concerns in that the cold front that swept over the lower 48 last week is slowly approaching the eastern Caribbean. From Tuesday onwards we are forecast to have strong northerly winds as the front stalls out. The problem for us is that the majority of popular anchorages in the Virgin Islands face north and will be at best uncomfortable and at worst untenable. There are south facing anchorages and we will need to make a fast decision as to which will fill our entertainment needs best.
January 6, 2017
It has become an amazingly difficult world in which to obtain cash from a bank account. Back say in the 60’s, cruising boats would need a safe aboard plus several thousand in cash. You needed to have traveller’s checks when you stepped outside your immediate environs and the TV ad’s would exhort, “Don’t leave home without them!”. For you kids, be it known that traveller’s checks were a pain in the derriere, in that Bank’s would often refuse to honor them and the only reliable place to cash one would be a large grocery store. The banks who sold the checks charged a purchase commission (1% was common), plus they got to use your money for free; that is until you cashed the check and often “unused” checks would lie around in some forgotten desk drawer after a holiday. You signed the traveller’s check when you purchased it and signed it again when you cashed it. In some countries, a traveller’s check with two identical signatures was traded between merchants as though it was cash. Then came the wonder of ATM’s. You used to be able to travel to just about any country and stick a card in a machine to instantly access money from your bank account. Traveller’s checks became a forgotten anachronism and the need for the safe full of ready cash dissipated. Then came debit cards and the POS economy. The banks took a commission from the merchants and they didn’t even have to “loan” the money, it had already been extracted from the user’s bank account. More and more banks throughout the world converted their ATM’s so that they would only use debit cards and the old style ATM card that we carry, is no longer accepted. When we visited the island of Bequia recently, there were no ATM’s which would accept our card and I was forced to ride a ferry to the next island to find the correct flavor of money dispenser. Here on St. Thomas (which the locals insist is the United States – except when you have to fill out a custom’s form to mail a package to California), it is a tourist economy with cruise ships and all of the restaurant and jewelry store paraphernalia that is somehow associated with being a cruise ship tourist. There are ATM’s everywhere - in the cruise ship terminal, at the airport etc. The bust is that they almost all have a $200 withdrawal limit for a fee of $5. I make that a 2 1/2% commission to access your own money.
The miracle of the internet allowed us to locate a Scotia Bank ATM on the island that did perform like an 80’s style ATM – i.e. more than $200 yet still for the outrageous fee of $5 and that was todays’ big achievement. If Scotia ever go out of business, we will be reduced to carrying around cowrie shells and beads for trade.
January 5, 2017
Today was the day I decided to install an alarm system on DoodleBug. I bought the thing from Amazon last September and since then, it has been sitting at the bottom of the locker, growling at me occasionally when my hand got too close. The main hang-up as usual was running a power supply and I had run out of excuses to procrastinate over this. I had purchased the necessary wire a month or so ago and it too has been hiding in a locker and I had even labeled a breaker for the power take off. While Annette defrosted her freezer / fridge (boats generally don’t have frost-free refrigerators) after she discovered three penguins and an orca living in the freezer, I dismantled the rest of the boat to gain access to all of the hidden spaces. It took two hours but I finally gave Annette her kitchen back and restored most of the cabinetry to its original condition. I now had a power outlet where I needed it and the rest was straightforward since I had already played with the options of where to place sensors etc. In the past, we have never really felt the need for intrusion protection but the balance of the season’s travel plans call for us to go to some locations with a higher crime rate. Might have prevented the theft of our refrigerator trim cover in Grenada, though.
January 4, 2017
We began the morning with a stint of rock and sand collecting. That is, Annette transferred from the dinghy to a kayak off a rocky beach on the windward side of Jost Van Dyke and landed. I then oriented the dinghy towards St. Johns and paddled aimlessly for the next thirty minutes or so, while chanting, “I want to come to America”. This was to prevent becoming a dinghy castaway on the rocks beneath my lee and I got to wave carelessly at about a half dozen boats that passed me by and gazed curiously. They were probably wondering where the porta-potty sail was. Annette then bravely managed to launch her kayak through the surf and I started the dinghy motor and rescued her from more physical exertion than she had planned. I then paid last night’s mooring fee at the nearby bar / restaurant and a man in a dinghy arrived minutes later demanding his fee. I explained that I had already paid and he insisted that I had paid at the wrong place and should pay again. I stated that my rule says I only pay once and it was his problem. He left angrily.
At 0930 hours we dropped our mooring and headed to Crown Bay Marina at St. Thomas in order to collect a batch of Annette’s laundered bedding, plus top up on diesel and water. We then checked in with US Customs and Border Patrol who of course insisted that we do the whole entry procedure of Customs and Immigration. It was a slow afternoon anyway.
January 3, 2017
Our lethargy is over and we raised our anchor at 0905 hours to head over to Little Bay, Jost Van Dyke. Here we had arranged to meet Neil and Janet aboard S/V Imaloa, plus six of their friends from a Pensacola sailing club. We have been corresponding by e-mail for several months and it was great to finally meet up for a pleasant evening chatting with fellow sailors about all things marine.
January 2, 2017
The third rainy day in a row! We made a necessary beer restocking and trash unstocking run but the highlight of the day was a trip to the movie theatre to watch “Rogue One”, the recently released Star Wars movie. This was a fun flick and the movie theatre here is conveniently adjacent to “Cost-U-Less”, a sort of “Costco” clone. St. Thomas is big on “cooking” sherry but drinkable quality is hard to come by, however at Cost-U-Less, we struck the mother lode of Graham’s Port and cleared the shelf. We now consider DoodleBug properly provisioned and ready for sea.
January 1, 2017
Sunday in the Caribbean and New Year’s Day. Needless to say this was a slow day. Annette made her second attempt to “cook” eggs with her solar cooker. This was supposed to provide the equivalent of “hard boiled” eggs within an hour. Unfortunately, it was again cloudy with lots of rain showers and I even ran the water maker to delay our need to head for a refueling / watering dock. The first egg cooking attempt can be judged a total failure but the fish might have been happy with the “test” egg. One of the major flaws of a “solar energy based” economy is now readily apparent. The second batch of eggs were left for about six hours of cooking instead of the claimed “one hour” and were then both cooked and edible without using the hydrocarbon based backup system referred to as a “kitchen stove”. The weather forecast had confidently predicted clear sunny skies for this week.
December 31, 2016
A rainy day. I am still going down the “fixit” list although we are now down to items such as, “repair screw-hole in starboard plastic sunscreen rail”, a job I have been procrastinating about for over a year. Annette in turn did her “small items” laundry while I began to catch up on the usual end of year financial items. Annette also chose the single worst day of the week to test her “solar oven” in an attempt to cook “chili”. This is an elaborate affair of reflectors, temperature gauges and black silicone pans that of course requires sunlight to function. She used the kitchen stove to finish the cooking attempt and although the chili tasted great, I couldn’t tell if it was 50% solar, 75% or zero %. Tasted just like chili.
I went to bed early, awoke at 2325 hours and then went back to bed on the assumption that any mid-night celebration would awaken me again. It was 0300 hours when next I arose and Annette said that there had been fireworks and someone beating a tin drum. I don’t believe her.
Happy New Year!
December 30, 2016
We have checked the engines and generator for departure readiness and continued with our boat chores. In the afternoon we took a trip to the doctor for some prescriptions. I managed to get sick the day after we left St. Thomas with our guests. I would have gone to an Urgent Care clinic, if one had actually existed nearby, for a course of antibiotics, prednisone and an asthma inhaler, all of which were I had safely stored in my bathroom in Santa Fe. Now back in St. Thomas, the site of the nearest clinic, the doctor I visited prescribed all three items. I always trust doctor’s who agree with both my diagnosis and treatment plan.
December 29, 2016
A new day and we headed over to Crown Bay Marina to drop off the accumulated laundry and finally picked up “Slim” our missing crew member. Slim has been losing weight since Halloween and is a five foot tall plastic “pirate” skeleton with a gold tooth, wooden leg, hook on hand and skeleton of parrot on shoulder. We needed him here two weeks ago to help with the treasure hunt.
I faced the usual stack of boat repairs. Of the more serious deficiencies was the collapse of the “hold open” strut on the forward starboard bow locker. These locker lids are heavy and can do serious damage if they fall upon an unprotected extremity. By a minor miracle we already had a replacement strut on board. I had ordered a new strut for the anchor locker lid and the company had shipped the wrong unit. I could not find a copy of my original order, so I kept the part and re-ordered the correct unit. The current broken strut was so badly corroded that its provenance and labeled dimensions were impossible to determine. I discovered that my “new” stored part was the same length, switched the end fasteners and tested it. Perfect! Sometimes you win one.
December 28, 2016
A final lunch together ashore at the “Fat Turtle” and the restaurant provided a “floor show” in that the chef emerged from the darkened depths of the kitchen to promise to show the kids “something special” and then re-emerged about five minutes later bearing a tray of Mahi-Mahi trimmings. He fed the pieces slowly into the harbor waters and we all watched as first the smaller fishes fought for the scraps and then the huge tarpon arrived, four feet long and shoving the smaller fish effortlessly aside. The next to arrive were the yellow jacks and these were so fast, they had snatched the food morsels and were gone before the large tarpon had turned around. Great entertainment!
All too soon it was time to make the run to the airport where we were soon separated by the security screenings. We returned to an empty and quiet DoodleBug.
December 27, 2016
This morning we hauled all the water toys aboard and lashed them down, raised the dinghy and made ready for sea, dropping our mooring at 0915 hours. We then sailed to Charlotte Amalie and anchored in Long Bay, arriving at 1055 hours, position 18 20.3 N 064 55.6 W. We dropped the crew, save Maddox, onshore to wander through the downtown flea market and then Maddox, Annette and I made the dinghy trip to the “Mail Stop” at Crown Bay marina to pick up our missing crew member “Slim”. These are the same morons at “Mail Stop” who dropped and shattered the marble sculpture she had purchased in Curacao and they had sent Annette an e-mail in response to her enquiry regarding the status of her current shipment. This morning they claimed that described package had been collected by a “different boat” and that she had been notified of such by e-mail “several hours earlier”. Bullcrap! We left fuming. Maddox was thrilled however as we passed within feet of a container ship that was being unloaded by crane.
Next was lunch ashore with the whole crew and then back to DB for packing. That evening we again loaded everyone in the dinghy and drove in the narrow canyon between a moored super-yacht and a huge cruise ship, bound for the dinghy dock at Yacht Haven Marina for our final dinner ashore. The cruise ship was attempting to leave and hundreds of passengers waved at us while our crew waved back yelling, “Happy New Year!”. I am sure that the cruise ship captain was cursing us as he couldn’t use his thrusters until we were clear.
December 26, 2016
The wind was still blowing when Matt and I made an emergency run to Cruz Bay for beer. This was becoming a very rough ride in the dinghy and we were headed “downhill”, meaning it would likely be worse on the return journey. The waves grew as we approached the narrow passage between Ramgoat Cay and the rocks at Hawksnest Point, with its conflicting, swirling currents where the Windward Passage is compressed. It is times like this that you bless having a pair of heavy diesel engines instead of a single spluttering outboard motor. At Cruz Bay we stocked up on vital beer, plus less vital milk and dinghy gas before making the return trip to DoodleBug. On our return the wind had picked up strength, Matt’s hat was snatched away from his head, lost instantly amongst the waves and we made the return passage through the Ramgoat Cay pass with waves over six foot tall, towering when you are in a dinghy. Now we could see Maho Bay ahead of us and the wind and waves stayed high until we were within a hundred yards of DoodleBug when the shelter of America Hill asserted itself and we were in calm waters once more.
While we had been away, Annette had baked fresh bread and fixed an amazing gumbo that she has been “developing” the recipe for over the past few weeks - the color of the roux and proportions of seafood and okra requiring precise adjustment. The kids had spent the whole day swimming and playing on the beach, thus supper was well appreciated by all.
December 25, 2016
Christmas Day! Somehow, Santa had found DoodleBug during the night and presents for the grandchildren were stacked on the salon table around an eighteen inch high, red foil Christmas tree. After the opening of presents and breakfast, all (save one) climbed aboard the dinghy and we cruised slowly parallel to the beach at Maho Bay, looking for a man dressed like a “pirate” who had been spotted earlier carrying a sack and a shovel. As we rounded Maho Point, lustily singing “Jingle Bells”, those of us more perceptive than others spotted Annette, running like a demented elf and trying to be inconspicuous on an empty strand while wearing a bright red Santa hat. We continued our offshore search along nearby Francis Bay beach before returning to where we had spotted Annette earlier. Here we landed the dinghy and the pirate crew were met by a huge (“dinner sized”) crab that waved his “fighting” claw threateningly and stood his ground on all eight legs. After he had been photographed to near extinction, the crew then set about searching for tracks on the beach that might indicate wherever the mysterious man had buried his loot. Several spots along the beach were examined and test holes dug but the excitement grew when a large “X” was found (made from black duct tape) on the sand. The possibility that it was made from tarred human skin was never even considered as it was roughly cast aside and an excavation begun on the spot.
The hole was becoming remarkably deep when finally a shovel hit something solid. From the hole a large purple bag was withdrawn that contained not one but three treasure chests. Even more amazing was that the chests bore names that matched those of our grandchildren!
We had earlier cancelled Xmas dinner at Foxy’s restaurant on Jost Van Dyke and substituted “made from scratch” pizzas, washed down with champagne, at least the big children got the champagne. Merry Christmas!
December 24, 2016
I awoke at 0400 hours and found the party ashore at Foxy’s still in full swing. After breakfast we quizzed our crew on how everyone was doing and the ladies felt that Jost was “too buggy” in the early evening, particularly “no see ums”. A rapid decision and we determined to cancel our Christmas dinner reservation at Foxy’s and head over to St. Johns.
I was soon ashore with all of the passports and exit papers and had always walked in and out of the Customs and Immigration office here. This morning there were eight or so crews ahead of me, checking “in”. I waited patiently as the various Captains, all of whom were operating charters, were discussing the bad weather and rough conditions they and their guests had experienced. Finally I made it to the front of the line and within minutes was cleared and bound for Cruz Bay, St. John.
Unlike the BVI’s, where only the Captain may leave the vessel when clearing in, the USA requires all crew members to show up. We anchored just off the Cruz Bay channel markers and dinghied the crew over to the Customs and Border Protection dock where we were admitted back into the USA. We were soon up-anchored and bound for Maho Bay, heading into a stiff wind and choppy sea. We picked up a mooring close to the beach and were in another world, with placid water and only a light breeze. As we approached the mooring buoy, grandson Maddox had exclaimed, “There is nothing here!”.
This observation was not entirely true and after sunset we were visited by a half dozen or so dinghies containing Christmas carolers. They seemed to know only two carols but were very welcome nonetheless.
December 23, 2016
Early this morning we motored over to the fuel dock to refill our water tanks and then returned to the same mooring. The balance of the day was spent “playing” on the beach in Jost. There is little vehicle traffic on the sand road along the waterfront, several bars and snack bars providing refreshments, plus a couple of gift shops. All the ingredients to satisfy children of all ages. After a lunch ashore I managed to misplace my wallet for a couple of hours, until it decided to reappear as a sort of Christmas present.
December 22, 2016
We made a leisurely take off this morning for a “downhill” run to Jost Van Dyke, dropping our mooring at 0910 hours and motoring through the gap in Colquhuon Reef before turning east, passing north of the “Dog” islands and the north coast of Tortola.
At 1153 hours we took up a mooring in Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke at 18 26.6 N 064 45.1 W. Great Harbour is well protected and we were close enough to the beach that we could turn the grandkids loose in their kayaks.
That evening we ate at the famous Foxy’s restaurant, famous for it’s food and party atmosphere, although less well regarded for the swiftness of its service.
December 21, 2016
Today we rode the 9:00 a.m. resort shuttle back across the Sound to nearby Gun Creek, where we had arranged for a rental van. Our destination was the famous “Baths”, a series of huge boulders on the southwestern tip of the island. The boulders are resting upon each other and are scattered out into the sea, surrounded by white powder sand beaches and crystal clear water. This is a National Park and a popular tourist site. Today it was so popular, that after the grandkids had expended some of their energy in the sea and sand of the Baths”, we discovered that the route into the Caves had been converted to a “one-way” system requiring us to hike back uphill to the parking lot and then down an alternative trail to the south entrance of the Cave trail. The Cave trail is a tortuous route between the huge boulders with all sorts of side passages and opportunities to paddle or wade through the water. Perfect for grandkids to scramble and explore because even when they inevitably fall off the boulders, they are landing either in soft sand or shallow water.
We ate lunch at “Hog Heaven”, a barbeque restaurant perched high on Fanny Hill with spectacular views to the north and east and where daughter Helen had visited on her honeymoon in 2003.
We had received multiple recommendations for “Spring Bay”, a natural swimming hole adjacent to “The Baths”. Again we found huge boulders to climb and explore but without the crowds of “The Baths”. A delightful spot.
As the sun crept lower in the sky, we reluctantly gathered our crew for a fast drive back to dock at Gun Creek, where we abandoned our rental van with about four minutes to spare to catch the 5:30 p.m. shuttle back to the Bitter End Yacht Club. An excellent day.
December 20, 2016
Although we had stowed and lashed most of the loose gear the night before, it was still a rush in the morning to get eight souls ready for an early departure, some needing breakfast, some needing sea-sickness meds and some just more sleep. As it was, we did manage to set sail at 0745 hours, bound for Virgin Gorda Sound. It was with great relief that we discovered we had correctly forecast the current. We shot through The Narrows with minimal wave action and headed out into the St. Francis Drake Channel. An hour and a half later we had passed Road Town Harbour and the wind and waves now picked up considerably. We “tacked” over to the shelter of the south end of Virgin Gorda to avoid driving directly into the steepening waves and then, after rounding Mosquito Point with its spectacular rocks, foam and crashing waves, we passed through the shallow channel between Virgin Gorda and Mosquito Island, with the depth sounder showing 4 feet of water depth. Exciting! We draw three feet so we should have had a whole 12 inches of water beneath our keel. I carefully matched the GPS track we had made last year on the assumption that if we hadn’t run aground then.........
At 1047 hours we anchored at Gun Creek, Virgin Gorda at 18 28.453 N 064 22.943 W and dinghied over to Customs and Immigration to check in. We had taken the precaution of picking up the necessary forms from our visit at Soper’s Hole and I was able to present 8 passports together with the completed Immigration forms and the Customs form. The officer charged me one dollar for the proposed visit and I certainly didn’t argue. By 1155 hours we were moored at the Bitter End Yacht Club at 18 29.9 N 064 21.6 W and were heading for the beach bar to find lunch.
December 19, 2016
This morning I attached a pair of “beach wheels” to the dinghy. This would be their maiden voyage although I had attached their retaining bolts nearly six months ago. “Beach wheels” are a pair of wheels that bolt on to the stern of the dinghy and which you lower when coming up to a beach. They are intended to make the process of hauling the three hundred pounds or so of dinghy, up the sand slope of the beach and clear of the sucking waves, just a little easier. I had made the mistake of ordering the “quick release / removable” version of these wheels and discovered that the manufacturer required NASA level tolerances for their assembly but with the assistance of a hammer and a large crowbar, I was determined to make them fit. It was almost a success on the first attempt, except that the port wheel collapsed when the weight came on it. The dinghy was bodily lifted and this time the locking catch was properly engaged on the “drop down” undercarriage. Thus we made our first wheel assisted landing and tied the grounded dinghy to a tree, just in case we had badly misjudged the tide.
Next we waited for the “Safari Taxi” to take us into the island hub of Cruz Bay to visit National Park Center, gift shops and the all important microbrewery. The wait would normally have been intolerable for the more active amongst us but the discovery of fallen coconuts, noni trees, termite nests, lizards and crabs provided more than enough distraction.
This morning we had carefully examined the horizon by binoculars and it looked very choppy with steep, closely spaced, possibly breaking waves. We had also watched a couple of vessels in transit, pitching and rocking violently in The Narrows between St. John and Great Thatch Island, BVI. The chart shows 3 knots of tidal current through this pass and with winds of 25 knots or so against this current, it was no wonder the they were experiencing such a punishing ride. I checked the tide tables and saw that low tide on the morrow was at 0730 a.m. This should mean that we would have about an hour of slack water plus another hour of light current that in combination should put us well clear of the worst of the rough water.
December 18, 2016
The weather forecast remained grim for non-sailors but Wednesday’s forecast of easing of conditions did not look too different from today. One feature I had noticed last night was that the forecast wave direction for early morning was from north of northeast, rather than the typical easterly trade wind driven waves. We only need to make the first five miles upwind, perhaps sheltered by the landmass from the forecast wave direction and then the balance of the route to St. John’s would also be partly sheltered. We had already raised and lashed down the dinghy thus in the darkness of an overcast and rainy morning, we raised our anchor and eased carefully between the moored vessels, heading out to sea. As it was, the waves were less than expected and the transit of the normally rough Pillsbury Sound was a non-event. We arrived in Maho Bay and picked up a mooring at 0742 hours, position 18 21.6 N 064 44.8 W where Annette immediately began cooking breakfast for our sleepy guests.
I in turn launched four kayaks and hauled out the snorkel gear. That afternoon the forecast winds blew hard and we could see the whitecaps out in the Windward Passage but Maho Bay lay quietly in the shelter of “America Hill”, the verdant jungle slope rising almost directly from the beach.
December 17, 2016
The weather has been great all week with just the briefest of rain showers and balmy breezes. Because our guests arrive today, the rain too arrived, together with high winds. The forecast is for 25 to 30 knot winds with 8 to 12 foot waves offshore. This is also forecast to persist for the next three days - such perfect timing! I had been watching this scenario closely for the past few days and saw that early tomorrow morning might be a “not too bad” as opposed to a “really bad” time to subject non-sailors to passage conditions. We hurriedly raised and stowed the dinghy, set out fenders and lines and motored over to Crown Bay marina to top up our tanks with fresh water before returning to Long Bay and re-anchoring in the same spot. A final shopping run and we were done and could begin checking the fiction that is United Airlines flight reports. We knew that their flight was an hour late taking off when we made our way to the airport.
When we arrived at the airport, United was not showing an arrival flight on the screen behind the check-in counter. We asked the attendant for the estimated arrival time of the Houston flight and she folded the paper Annette proffered her without even glancing at it. She confidently informed us that the flight had been cancelled “due to weather”. “Well it took off”, I informed her. “It did?” she exclaimed. She would have looked surprised if there had been the slightest glimmer of intelligence behind those eyes, which then studied a half page printout for the next ten minutes. I wanted to snatch it out of her hands since I could have manufactured the paper and written the bloody contents myself in the interval. “Fifteen minutes”, she finally announced.
They are here! All kids, grandkids and luggage successfully retrieved and transported to DoodleBug, minus a pair of flip-flops that never made it out of the car in Houston plus a kid’s jacket that was probably left in the car at the St. Thomas end. We have the balance!
December 16, 2016
Our new generator had stopped a couple of times and last week, I had disconnected the exhaust temperature sensor at the telephone suggestion of the St. Thomas dealer’s mechanic. This had been a successful test. On Monday last I had called for a warranty service call to replace the faulty sensor and each day we had waited patiently for the mechanic to show up. “He will be there in twenty minutes”, “He is tied up but should be finished in an hour”, “He hurt his back and doesn’t want to ride a dinghy”. Since the promises were involving longer wait times, rather than shorter, yesterday I had made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. If they gave me the part, I would install it myself. At 0805 hours this morning we received a breathless call from Ashley, the “voice” at the other end of the phone, she would meet me at the dock in twenty minutes. At 0930 hours, I called to ask where she was and she was “still coming”, “half an hour at most”. At 1030 hours we made an firm appointment to meet on the land at 1100 hours. I stood in the sun and after ten minutes called her again. She was “leaving the office”. She did in fact show up at 1200 hours but I had been hanging for an hour in the sun and was further not impressed that she expected me to pay for the warranty part. If she had been a blind date I might have checked her into a drug rehab facility and then deleted her contact info.
Annette was not similarly tortured since she was buying groceries across the street and checking on me by phone, since she often chooses not burden herself with cash or credit cards.
December 15, 2016
We continue the marathon shopping effort in St. Thomas interspersed with some boat chores. Following the rebuild of the steering rams, we topped up the steering fluid in the hope that all air bubbles had finally been purged from the system. We also worked on a method to attach some navigation lights to our dinghy. It is SOP for dinghies to run around at night without any form of lighting but this is both illegal and dangerous. If the can catch you, the Coastie’s in Florida will bust you for doing this but enforcement in the islands is a little more casual. The problem from the cruiser’s viewpoint is threefold. First it is quite difficult to attach any form of device to an inflatable rubber tube and the versions that glue on, generally last several seconds before falling overboard. Second, if you go for the “all round white light”, it destroys your night vision so that you can’t see the mooring balls and unlit navigation markers, let alone the unlit vessels. Finally, a nice set of navigation lights are just crying out to be ripped off by thieving locals or skylarking kids.
Our latest attempt at navigation lights cost 13 bucks for the pair of red and green LED’s and came with a “lifetime warranty”. I didn’t bother to read the warranty card but would bet a six-pack that the warranty does not include “shipping and handling”. At 13 bucks, how can you go wrong? The lights are made from a sort of monolithic chunk of silicone rubber and I have no idea how you change the batteries but the $13 included a spare set of batteries! Today’s experiment was to buy some PVC fittings and glue them together to improve the mechanics of the light mounting method, rather than simply clipping them on the dinghy straps as we had tried earlier. The “new and improved” mounting method seems to work reasonably well but has added another $4 expense to our investment.
December 14, 2016
The wind has dropped a little overnight and we began the day with a dinghy run to Crown Bay Marina, a stopping off destination for mailing beach sand samples and for visiting Ace Hardware. The real reason for the visit was to rent a postal address at the “Mail Stop” facility for a month. Annette had purchased a heavily discounted and life sized plastic skeleton on the day after Halloween and daughter Marian had mailed it to us since we didn’t want to purchase another airline seat. Lunch at the marina restaurant was a typical island experience. After waiting 30 minutes in a near empty restaurant for a burger and fries, we just paid for our beers and left. Who knows what the problem was.
In the afternoon we rode the $2 per person “Safari Bus” “up-country” to “the big” K-Mart followed by a taxi ride home with our immense load of purchases. As we arrived at DoodleBug with our brimming dinghy, we were approached by another dinghy-load of sailors seeking clearance information. This was the crew of S/V Nepenthe, a 65 foot Bruce Roberts ketch that had just made a 10 day passage from Florida. We told them we had cold beer on board and after their wasted trip to Customs and Border Protection, this statement enticed the return of John, Tom and Kyle for a merry evening discussing sailing. Part of the floor show were the airborne antics of a large Manta ray that leapt from the water a couple of times just off our stern.
December 13, 2016
0935 hours and we dropped our mooring and headed west to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. It was already raining and the sky ahead promised more of the same. When we crossed the open waters of Pillsbury Sound, the the confused seas quickly built into 6 to 8 foot waves and we blessed the fact that most heavy objects were lashed down fairly securely. The shelter of Great St. James Island provided a respite from the violent motion and then we were again exposed to the wave action that had developed over the week-end we were hiding out in Maho Bay. To add to the entertainment, a large and dense rain-squall hit and Annette was dispatched below to close the doors and windows that were open to the wall of water coming from behind. I grabbed a rain-jacket which made little difference to how wet I had become but did keep the wind chill off. As we approached Packet Rock, a favorite scuba destination, I marveled at the antics of large catamaran that was cutting across our path and seemed to be attempting to become completely airborne. The deck was filled with people looking positively miserable and probably wishing they were safely back aboard their cruise ship.
At 1105 hours we dropped anchor in Long Bay at 18 20.3 N 064 55.6 W. This already felt like a hard day but we nevertheless launched our dinghy for an emergency beer and milk run, the first of many re-provisioning trips in anticipation of our guests.
December 12, 2016
The boat has been cleaned, the beds made, food lockers inventoried and repacked and we are just about ready for guests. Of course there is a quantity of “stuff” that is still un-stowed and I suggested to Annette that we simply smuggle it onto someone else’s boat during darkness. We still have five days before the kids and grandkids arrive and have already determined that they have outgrown last year’s lifejackets. Another round of shopping needed!
After lunch we fired up the Hookah dive compressor and I cleaned the propellers with some steel wool while Annette chased Jack and Jill around with her waterproof camera. Since remoras usually attach themselves to large sharks, I am wondering where their regular hosts are.
December 11, 2016
A beautiful quiet morning as we awoke in Maho Bay with the sound of waves lapping along the shore and the calls of a handful of sea-birds. This is a sheltered spot and we had determined to hang here for a couple of days whilst the forecast “blow” expended itself. I had also determined that today I would make a serious attempt to remove at least one of the dead solar panels from the flybridge roof. Since the wind was gusting, I lashed my step-ladder to the flybridge roof support so that it might still be there when I attempted to descend and clutching a variety of tools, wasted the next couple of hours with this task. I had always been a little worried that these panels could blow away in a storm. Not a chance! They had been glued on with silicone sealant and each corner additionally held with a screw. The screws were the easy part. I used a sharp knife to try to ease the tiniest separation between panel and roof and then tried both a cheesecutter (see assassination scene of Luca Brasi in “The Godfather”) as well as a small spatula. If I had no concern about damaging the solar panel this would be relatively straightforward job but I was trying to achieve the result of having both the fiberglass roof and the solar panel intact. I gave up. I need a different tool or abandon the idea of saving the panel.
We snorkeled during the afternoon and upon plunging into the water, couldn’t fail to notice a pair of remoras in the four foot long range, who have taken up residence below DoodleBug. They seemed curious about us, unafraid and seemed to lack large and sharp teeth. That evening Annette barbequed steaks and threw overboard the remains of some steak she didn’t want. The water boiled as “Jack and Jill”, our remoras, instantly devoured every morsel. What a great dinner show! Next went some bread and it was equally appreciated. We were now scrounging around to see what else they might eat when Annette found some tortillas. She offered a piece of the tortilla in her hand and it too was snatched away. The remoras seem to have tiny rough teeth, like a cat’s tongue on steroids. At least this is what Annette reported since Ed’s mommy didn’t raise a stupid baby.
December 4 - December 10, 2016
We continued to work on our various projects in a leisurely fashion. Annette has mailed postcards to a Houston first-grader to assist her “gingerbread man” geography project (an inevitable inherited liability when one has a teacher as a daughter) and has been researching on how to collect sand from below a vessel at anchor without resorting to dive apparatus. She has been experimenting with buckets, tin cans with fishing weights and has received a plethora of advice e-mailed from top sand experts from around the globe. She already has an article reviewing her microscope purchase, published in the “Sand Paper”, a quarterly publication of the International Sand Collectors Society and the editor has suggested that her submarine sand collection activities might form the basis of another article.
I am still drilling down into my solar panel issue and will attempt to repair the existing panels. I have now decided that the failure in my panels is at their “junction box”. This is the bit where a pair of wires attaches to the flat composite of silicon solar cells. Unfortunately, to gain access to the “junction box”, I have to get underneath it. Three panels are still working and three are dead and all six are “glued” to the flybridge roof. I need to positively identify a couple of “bad” panels to see if I can remove them without major damage - all of this without messing up the pair that are still producing electricity. Since I can’t directly access the panel output to determine the zero output panels, I will perform a negative by identifying the “live” panels. As Admiral Josh Painter famously quoted, “Russians don't take a dump, son, without a plan. And senior captains don't start something this dangerous without having thought the matter through.” For me this meant that a sequence of steps, definitively locating a couple of dead panels before attempting to remove them from the roof, followed by a dissection autopsy to see if I can determine the cause of death. For my plan I needed black trash bags and masking tape. The latter I had but raiding Annette’s supplies produced only white trash bags – project deferred!
I have also been addressing the installation of “stuff” I purchased months ago in the USA. One issue to be resolved is that the “Autopilot” doesn’t communicate with the “Chartplotter / GPS” system. It might have once but digging into the wiring on this boat leads to the discovery of multiple abandoned and orphaned cables. I had laid out a block wiring diagram a year ago when we first purchased the boat and were adding the radar, AIS and Autopilot remote systems and we just lacked one more connection from a first generation “Raymarine” device to a third generation connector. This was amazingly complicated and required that I build a third generation data bus, power it and then add two spur cables with the appropriate flavor of connector. At the level I was currently working however, I needed two blocks of plywood and some epoxy glue. While Annette filled the boat with the delicious smells of freshly baked cakes, I filled the boat with the stench of chemicals as I mounted my plywood blocks into position beneath the flybridge console.
On Tuesday morning we raised anchor and at 0923 hours set course for Soper’s Hole on the island of Tortola, British Virgin Islands. It was a clear sunny day and a pleasant sail through the islands. At 1104 hours we picked up a mooring just across from the Customs and Immigration shed and dinghied ashore to check in. In the past we have preferred to check in at the nearby port of entry, Jost Van Dyke because the officials there are so laid back and friendly. Today we got the “full bureaucrat with an attitude” treatment. When the Immigration guy complained about the quality of my handwriting I said, “That is arthritis and at my age, it ain’t going to get any better. Thank God for keyboards and spell checkers”. He relapsed into silence. The Customs “lady” slowly ate her sandwich in front of the dozen or so sailors who were waiting for clearance, sighed, scrupulously examined my paperwork and then demanded that I change the entry for my place of birth from “UK” to “United Kingdom”. And so on....
At 1310 hours we dropped our mooring and motored east along the coast of Tortola to our destination of Nanny Cay Marina where we tied up at 1410 hours at 18 23.8 N 064 38.2 W.
Wednesday morning and while we waited for the mechanic to arrive to service the hydraulic rams of our steering system, both of which were leaking fluid, I installed the Raymarine “bus” onto its plywood block and similarly added a power distribution block. When I threw the breaker, the Chartplotter recognized the autopilot, the AIS targets showed up on the radar display and all was well in the world! A small victory but it means that we can now set a “track” and the autopilot will guide the vessel along a programmed course, automatically correcting for course errors caused by currents or wind.
The hydraulic expert arrived, removed the steering rams and reappeared an hour later to reinstall them. Then began the tedious process of trying to bleed the air out of the system. This involved having a bottle of oil at the flybridge console, connected by a plastic tube to the steering pump and inverted as though to supply a “drip feed”. It isn’t intended to be a drip feed but the fools who designed this system neglected to include an oil reservoir. The bleeding process then involves turning the steering wheel from lock to lock, pausing to allow air bubbles to escape to the drip bottle.
I serviced the generator, which just meant changing the oil and filter. A busy day with much accomplished. The following day, Thursday, the steering system was still burping air bubbles but in addition, was showing another disturbing symptom. As the steering was worked from lock to lock, the rudders gradually diverged from their initial parallel position until the steering was near frozen. The hydraulic expert reappeared, bled the two rams and disappeared again. We spent most of Thursday washing the boat and turning the wheel on the steering to little useful effect.
Friday morning our deadline was that if the steering wasn’t working correctly by 0900 hours, we would extend our stay a day. 0900 hours came and went but by this time we had used the emergency steering tiller, to prove that the port ram was leaking oil past the cylinder piston seals and reported this intelligence to the repair company by e-mail and phone message. By mid-afternoon our mechanic showed up, removed the offending cylinder and disappeared to his workshop, together with my spare set of seals. He returned shortly thereafter and reported that the offending piston seal had been “nicked”. The restored steering ram was then bled for air and immediately began working as designed. What a relief! The prospect of entertaining guests with a partially working steering system was not an attractive one.
While at the marina, we have enjoyed touching base with friends from multiple boats we had previously met in locations scattered across the Caribbean. We were trashed by three days of boat work and more than ready to meet everyone that evening at the nearby Mulligan’s bar / restaurant.
Saturday morning it was bucketing with rain but we did our last “air bleed” of the hydraulic steering system, rigged for sea and paid our marina bill. We eased gently out of our slip at 0915 hours and maneuvered around the other vessels at the dock without hitting any, before heading over to Soper’s Hole for the Customs and Immigration checkout. The officials there were more polite than last time and the ethnically, gender and gravitationally challenged Immigration official, actually apologized for failing to see me standing three feet in front of her for ten minutes or so, whilst wearing a neon green tee-shirt.
At 1115 hours we dropped our mooring and set course for Cruz Bay on the island of St. Johns, anchoring just off the channel at 1148 hours. The check in with USA Customs and Border Protection was painless and after hitting the grocery store, we again set off at 1300 hours bound for Maho Bay. At 1337 hours we had picked up a mooring at 18 21.6 N 064 44.8 W. What a beautiful place! We will hang here for a couple of days until a forecast blow has passed us by.
November 29 - December 3, 2016
Our first week in St. Thomas began of course with a check in with the US government! I had logged into their site to retrieve my float plan number since when I had filed the latter in St. Martin, I had been sitting at a noisy curbside bar trading beer for internet. When I arrived at “my float plan” page, there had been a message to the extent that all previously filed plans had now “expired”. OK then, I would just wait until after 0800 hours and call the Customs and Border Protection. “What is your float plan number?” the officer asked. I explained that it had disappeared from their website and offered my Federal boater ID. “No, you have to come in to our office and fill out the paperwork.” Another successful government internet program; no on-line check-in but the good news is, I probably obtained an Obamacare “Platinum plan” valid in North Dakota.
Annette has inventoried her groceries and supplies and together we have made several pilgrimages to various grocery and hardware stores and have begun filling up the the food storage lockers. I in turn have been attacking a series of mechanical issues such as relocating the dinghy fuel can into the dinghy bow locker (a non-trivial operation!) plus drilling down into our solar charging problems. Anyone who believes that solar power is the future of humanity, could use a little education here. Fortunately we have our new, beautiful diesel generator that we had hoped to use only occasionally for back-up but is now our primary source of power. With luck and some work, we will relegate it back to its former status.
On other fronts, daughter Marian (aka Claire) is doing a photography show (www.thesteeleshutter.com) in Corpus Christi and we had our ninth showing of the house we are trying to sell in Santa Fe (http://www.santafeproperties.com/listing/201601524-66-three-rock-road-santa-fe-new-mexico-87506/). The last set of prospective buyers want to know who maintains the access road – possibly a good sign!
We will likely slip across the waters next week to Nanny Cay in the British Virgin Islands, to get some hydraulic servicing work done on our steering system. Would be nice to have the boat go where you point it.
The kids and grand-kids arrive in two weeks time and the excitement is building!
November 28, 2016
0400 hours we were ready to sail. Two mugs of coffee / tea imbibed, the anchor bridle removed and stowed, radar, VHF radio, AIS, chartplotter fired up. The navigation was entered and the navigation and steaming lights turned on. Annette had taken her anti-nausea medication and we were both wearing life jackets with automatic strobe lights in the hopefully unlikely event we went overboard in darkness. I started the port engine and checked the coolant water flow from the exhaust. Annette stood ready at the bow to raise the anchor. The starboard engine would not start. Chrymixphthwzz!**#!! The battery voltage dropped to less than 10 volts when I hit the starter and you could hear the start solenoid “buzzing”.
We fired up the generator and tried to charge the battery but nothing doing. It would show a full charge but crash as soon as it was under load. We shut down the radar, instruments and the like; Turned the navigation lights off and the anchor light back on. Let out another 30 feet of anchor chain and then tried to nap for a couple of hours.
At 0700 hours I gave up the attempt to nap, unlashed the dinghy, launched it, connected up the fuel tank and tested the outboard to see if it would run. By 0800 hours I was at Budget Marine (French side) to buy an new battery. The major excitement of the early morning dinghy run was when a squid “flew” across the dinghy, missing me by inches. It was about 8 inches long and had stretched out some short, stubby and near translucent “wings”. Two large dark patches were on the anterior surface and I supposed these to be eyes. I don’t think that I have ever seen their flight before although we have collected their dried out little bodies from the deck during long passages.
Fifty minutes after eight, the new battery had been installed, charged up a little more by the generator, the dinghy re-hoisted, re-lashed and stowed. The boat again made ready for sea and .... the starboard engine started instantly. At 0850 hours we raised anchor and set sail for Charlotte Amelie, St. Thomas, a distance of 105 nautical miles. We were now nearly five hours behind our planned departure and would arrive in darkness.
By noon we were still motoring along at near 10 knots running the engines at 2,200 RPM, about 25% faster than we would typically run but the waves were from the rear quarter and I was hoping that we would both make up some passage time and perhaps the boat would steer a little better than the zig-zag path she seems to prefer in a following sea. The problem is that the water at the crest of the wave is travelling faster than the boat, as if the boat was going in reverse. This means that the rudder is pointing the opposite direction to the water motion and the autopilot detects the “slew” and makes the matter worse by turning the rudder in the wrong direction for the actual water flow. At the trough of the wave, the water slows down, the boat is going faster because it has just run “down hill” and so it overcorrects the “slew” by a violent turn in the opposite direction. When it is just about back on course the process repeats. To make the voyage more tolerable, I set the autopilot to its slowest response setting, sort of like having a helmsman who is stoned. The rain continued to pour down from an overcast sky but with light winds from astern, it was mainly vertical rain rather than a horizontal fire-hose and we could stay moderately dry.
As we approached the mid-afternoon, the wind began to build creating whitecaps and the seas correspondingly built into the four to six foot range. There were still rain pods all around us but also hints of blue sky ahead. We saw very little shipping although we were visited by a largish pod of dolphins and by now we could see Virgin Gorda, and Norman Island to starboard, with just the tips of the mountains of St. Croix to port. Annette had her USA cell phone on and announced that she had a signal when we were about 15 miles off St. Johns in the US Virgin Islands.
2030 hours and we eased slowly into Long Bay, Charlotte Amelie, St. Thomas and anchored in the middle of a group of sailing vessels, aided to no small degree by the street lighting of the waterfront. Our position is 18 20.3 N 064 55.8 W. We are here!
November 27, 2016
Sunday is typically a slow day in the Caribbean when half the island is just getting to bed and the other half are off to church. We checked the engine fluid levels and the like for departure tomorrow and headed ashore to use the internet. The primary need for internet was to use the US government Small Vessel Reporting System (SVRS) in order to “file” our float plan for Monday. This is alleged to obviate the necessity to make the arrival pilgrimage to the office of Customs and Border Protection, or whichever flavor of alphabet soup is currently extant. The government website was obviously written by the same clowns who “built” the world renowned Obamacare website. A clue as to how it was going to perform was when it required your “type” of departure point. It could be a boat ramp, a marina or a residence but there was no option for a bay or an anchorage. Then they needed the zip code, just in case they needed to mail us a change of address post-card I suppose. When we had filled it all out, we hit the exit button and instead of a pop-up window saying something like, “great job, your confirmation number is XXXX; please write this number down since you will need this when you report in upon arrival” , you get a warning stating that if you continue now, you will lose everything you have just put in. I tediously filled out this crap but somehow managed to file two float plans for the same trip.
We ate our final French breakfast (Annette had the lobster crepe), mailed some postcards and collected some more Euros from the ATM to fund our proposed Cuba trip next year. (Dinner and drinks with Fidel has been cancelled for some reason or other). We are all set, dinghy hoisted and lashed down and all aboard primed for an 0400 hours departure.
November 26, 2016
Saturday and there were several Cruise ships visiting Sint Maarten. We joined Patrick and Alicia in riding the bus from Marigot Bay to Philipsburg on the Dutch side of the island. This is “tourist central” and there were dozens of booths selling tee-shirts, souvenirs and the like and a boggling number of stores selling jewelry, watches, high end clothing, shoes and handbags. Do people really take a cruise ship to buy a watch or a diamond necklace? Do people even wear watches anymore? There were touts pushing boat rides, deck chair rentals (two chairs, a bucket of beer, towels, free shower and wi-fi for just $20!!), casino specials and so on. There were also shoulder to shoulder bars and restaurants lining the beach and we enjoyed a leisurely perambulation through this chaos, window shopping and bar hopping. A very pleasant diversion.
November 25, 2016
An early morning visit to Budget Marine (Dutch side) produced the expected results. While we waited and only after I provided them with the listed telephone number I had obtained from the internet as the main contact number for the solar panel supplier ApolloFLEX, they placed a call to the company in Germany. There was no answer. Since the manufacturer is unresponsive, we therefore have no warranty and are screwed. This took ten days, four e-mails, three satellite phone calls and four store visits to determine. The Budget Marine manager insisted that they have no technical support and their customer responsibility is strictly limited to passing through to us any warranty support provided by the product manufacturer. However, he did offer me a discount if I buy additional replacement panels from them.
We stopped in at the Budget Marine store on the French side of the island and checked out for a Monday departure. The forecast is for high winds for this afternoon and tomorrow and then light winds on Sunday and Monday.
Annette was now on a mission and we trekked over to the super-market to buy groceries for a dinner party. She couldn’t find what she wanted in the display cabinets and requested a conference with the butcher. The young French butcher didn’t seem the least insulted while she showed him where she wanted the pork cuts to come from by indicating the area on his back. It certainly worked because the tenderloins she barbequed that evening were memorable. I am pretty sure it was pork.
November 24, 2016
We ate breakfast ashore so that we might access the internet at a waterside café and then determined that to ride the local ferry to nearby Anguilla, transiting the 4 mile body of water that separates the two islands, would set us back US$106, about what Southwest would charge to fly us from Houston to Dallas. We had stopped in Anguilla in 2009 and Annette decided that a couple of hundred bucks for a return to collect a sand sample was just a bit too rich.
Right after noon, we called Budget Marine (Dutch side) to find out what they had determined regarding our solar panel issue. The phone extension I had been provided rang without being answered. Back to the operator and the lady informed me that the man I had made an appointment with for my 12 o’clock call does not work today. OK then, the back-up man was Errol. No, he doesn’t work today either. I asked for some help on the warranty claim status and the lady went back to Tuesday’s story, they were waiting for the likely bankrupt, UK dealer to contact them. I asked for the manager. He doesn’t work until tomorrow. Tomorrow then.
Back aboard DoodleBug we put on our snorkel gear and cooled off with a swim from the stern. I checked the rudders, props and anodes and Annette dove for sand on the seabed below us. We were now both wet and there was a beach near the canal that cuts through from Marigot Bay to Simpson Bay and which we had already determined was inaccessible from the land as it was fronted with private residences. We drove the dinghy near the beach, tied it off on an ancient mooring and then Annette snorkeled to the land whilst I monitored our dinghy position close by a lee shore. Success! She now has two sand samples!
The forecast still looks good for a Monday departure bound for St. Thomas, the major unknown being whether we can get any warranty support from Budget.
November 23, 2016
Annette tackled the Herculean task of reorganizing the kitchen lockers and I went back to my repair list. When we had returned to DoodleBug in Grenada, the obvious problem with the boat was the failure of the solar panel charging system but another minor problem was that the freezer would not function. When it was turned on, it would operate for a few seconds and then the circuit breaker would “pop”. This means that either the breaker is faulty, or the compressor for the freezer is drawing too much power. Yesterday I had removed the groceries from the locker above the freezer and determined that the freezer control was not showing diagnostic warning lights. Today I decided I would try swapping out the circuit breaker. I had also looked up the installation instructions for the unit and noticed that the manufacturer specified a 15 ampere breaker instead of the 10 ampere unit installed and for the first time ever, the nearest marine supply store actually had a 15 amp breaker in stock. We purchased same and shot back to DoodleBug to install it. We then threw the switch of the “new” breaker and waited. The freezer light came on and stayed on. Ten minutes later, the remote thermometer in the freezer showed a temperature drop of two degrees. We have freezer capacity! Now I won’t have to trek upstairs to the flybridge to get ice for Annette’s beer (don’t ask!) .
Lunch, ATM machine, grocery store – the usual round. We get an internet connection at the lunch stop and this allows a quick check of e-mails plus a scan of the headlines. The media are still howling over the election results and we basked in the glow of their misery. Back to Budget Marine to check on the status of our warranty claim. The lady we had dealt with yesterday was somewhat snotty and said, “Weren’t you here yesterday? I already told you “she” (whoever she is was not defined) has tried to contact the supplier.” “Exactly”, I responded, “that is why I am here today, to see if there has been a change of status.””There has been no answer”, she insisted. “So that’s it then, you are done? I am out three grand?” By this time the temperature in the store had risen, we had three employees involved and I assured them after driving a boat for 43 hours from Grenada, just to visit their store, I was not going to wait around both patiently and indefinitely. Thirty minutes later we agreed that if Budget had not successfully contacted their solar panel supplier by noon tomorrow (Thursday, US Thanksgiving – BTW, not a French holiday), then Budget would service the warranty claim themselves - whatever that means.
The wind has picked up in this part of the Caribbean and the waters of Marigot Bay are decidedly more choppy. It was a bouncy ride back to DoodleBug but the forecast shows lighter winds after the week-end and we will likely run to St. Thomas on Monday.
November 22, 2016
Laundry and chores day! While Annette ploughed through our accumulated laundry I ran down my chores list. I had brought from the USA enough LED bulbs that I was able to switch all of the overhead lights from halogen to LED bulbs, a marked improvement in light output and far more efficient of power. I “installed” the new “Stars and Stripes” on our stern in readiness for Thanksgiving. The old tattered banner was both faded and shredded and we couldn’t tolerate a French flag on the bow in better condition than the American flag flying from our stern. No turkey dinners out here bro’!
We dinghied ashore to get an excellent lunch and then headed over to “Dutch side” Budget Marine to check on the status of out warranty claim on the solar panels. The sales reps we spoke with claimed that they could not obtain a response from the UK vendor either by phone or by e-mail. Not good. We will allow them another day before ratcheting up the pressure.
At 1600 hours we headed over to S/V Xenia II, for sundowners with Patrick and Alison from Victoria. An enjoyable visit.
November 21, 2016 ......later
I can’t believe that we were up and about at 0830 hours! It simply isn’t realistic to drink celebratory arrival beer and then expect your bladder to allow dreamless sleep!
We launched our dinghy and headed ashore to get breakfast (cheese and ham crepes with that wonderful French bread!) and make a quick check of the internet. No response to our warranty question from the solar panel vendor, even after I had stated I will be on their premises this morning. We motored over to Budget Marine, St. Martin to use their computer to check into French Customs and Immigration. The only challenge here is that the keyboard is not a QWERTY keyboard and the names are all in French. “Etats” is relatively easy to remember for the United States but I always misspell “Isles” instead of “Iles” – the French spelling. Anyway, when you have filled out their on-line form and printed it, a store employee checks your passport numbers and the boat registration for accuracy, then stamps your self generated inbound clearance. That’s it! We are legally here, no snarling or dour government employees involved! No TSA goons dropping knuckle hairs all over the boat, as they drool and grunt whilst dragging their specially designed government black rubber boots leaving a generous trail on our white fiberglass decks...... but I digress. Our next port of call was Budget Marine on the Dutch half of the island, where we had purchased our solar panels some 14 months ago.
This experience was better than expected in that after apologizing for not answering my e-mail, a sales rep looked up the receipt from our original purchase, printed a copy for me and promised to file a warranty claim with the manufacturer this very day. Now we must wait to hear the response.
The other exciting task for the afternoon was to change the oil in the generator. According to the manufacturer, the engine was shipped with “special break in oil” and this needed to be exchanged for 30 weight oil after the first 50 hours of operation. First I needed to buy some “straight” 30 weight oil as it is not a common item. Several stores later I had a couple of gallons and was ready for the next task, to install an oil drain hose on the unit; relatively straightforward to do since we had brought the parts with us in our suitcases. This is the first time I have changed oil on this particular engine and the procedure is always a learning process, to avoid making a total mess with dirty oil and the like. By the time it was all done and cleaned up, I was through for the day and ready for a good night’s sleep. A busy day but useful.
November 21, 2016
We altered course to pass between the anchored shipping and the northbound vessels and then turned slightly to aim at the west end of St. Martin, whose lights lay ahead of us, with the lights of Saba (former home of Hiram Beakes – Annette’s favorite pirate) passing by on the port side. Just after 0330 hours we began a sweep around Pointe du Cannonier and entered Marigot Bay using the radar to find a gap in the anchored vessels, most of which were unlit. We dropped anchor at 0407 hours at 18 04.2 N 063 05.7 W. We are here! St. Martin!
November 20, 2016
Our first night at sea and a half moon rose above the horizon, dodging the few clouds that had been lurking. We could now see that the seas were still in the 3 foot range, although the motion of DoodleBug as she motored on, told us that. A beautiful dawn and the sun rose to the east, blotting out the stars.
We could now see Guadaloupe to starboard, as a grey shadow 50 miles away on the horizon. At 0910 hours our position was 15 37.8 N 062 22.3 W. We had run 197 miles in the past 24 hours, with the engines at half throttle. Around 1100 hours a small powerboat crossed our bow and the chart showed the island of Aves, claimed by Dominica, some 60 miles to the west, although the boat in question seemed to be continuing on to Guadaloupe.
By early afternoon we were off Montserrat with near clear sunny skies and waves in the 2 foot range. Although we were just 30 miles to the west of the volcano, we saw no evidence of activity and the wind continued to drop, producing a glassy swell.
1640 hours there was a bang, followed by shuddering of the hull. The port engine dropped slightly in RPM and the shuddering stopped when we moved the transmission to neutral. Now what? Had we picked up another rope? We checked the engine compartment and saw a slowly rotating prop shaft and everything else as normal. I tried reverse on the engine and then forwards. The vibration disappeared and we were off again! Whatever we had caught had either spun off, or had made some accommodation with the drive train.
By sunset, we were passing within 20 miles of Nevis with the lights of St. Kitts just off the starboard bow.
2110 hours put us at 17 12.5 N 062 54.4 W, 296 miles run in 36 hours as we headed into our second night at sea. From Grenada north, the islands swing in a long arc and we had cut across the chord of this arc, in a direct course that had taken us out into open waters and along the path less travelled. We were now keeping a more careful watch for local fisherman, as we approached the shallower coastal waters of the island chain. As it was, there was no shipping of any kind until we were passing close by Sint Eustatius. This Dutch owned island boasts a fuel transfer / storage facility and six tankers were in the process of discharging cargo, taking on cargo or whatever, all brightly lit up like refineries at night. A cruise ship, “The Freedom of the Seas” passed close by, as did an unknown cargo ship.
November 19, 2016
This morning we drifted carefully into the fuel dock and tied up, just as the dockmaster approached. We have a 300 gallon tank capacity and we took on 110 gallons of diesel to bring us up to full. We also took on some additional drinking water but the flow rate from the hose was like watching ice melt. At 0912 hours we were paid up and done and we set out for a 360 mile run to Marigot Bay, St. Martin with 4/8 ths. cloud cover and light rain showers. As we cleared land the showers decreased, the clouds dispersed and the wind and waves were just on the beam with waves in the 4 foot range producing an uncomfortable and jerky side to side motion. We were running just about due magnetic north and as forecast the winds began to lighten slightly towards the afternoon with the seas dropped to the 3 foot range. In late afternoon we were visited by a pod of dolphins, presumably hunting the flying fish we were scattering ahead of our motion. Boobies cruised by us expectantly but I never saw them actually catch anything. A large turtle watched us pass; of shipping, the seas were empty. We passed by a shadowy St. Vincent to the east but St. Lucia was too far off to see. No other sails or vessels until late evening when we altered course to avoid a small craft directly in our path. It appeared on radar at 12 miles but showed a single dim light, visible only when we were within 3 miles.
At 2110 hours our position was 14 02.2 N 061 57.2’ W and we had run 99 miles in 12 hours.
November 18, 2016
Annette wanted sand samples (surprise!) and the nearby beach looked challenging for a dinghy landing. We therefore launched our kayaks as they are much easier to handle in rough surf. You ride a wave into the beach to land, holding the kayak as straight as possible and when the wave recedes, you jump out and run up the beach dragging your vessel before the next wave hits. To depart, we simply sit in the kayak and wait for a big enough wave to float us, then paddle like hell!
Although the beach looked light colored coral sand, the color was but a few grains thick, laying on top of black basalt sand. The cliff behind was columnar basalt with as yet unidentified white cement between the cracks and interstices. All sorts of interesting flotsam but not too many unbroken sea shells. We next paddled to second larger beach but it was more of the same. We met a fellow sailor walking the strand and he had explored inland from the beach but found no way to breach the steep hillside. We mentioned a hanging rope in a chimney formed in the cliffs on our first beach although he seemed unenthused with the prospect.
At 1227 hours we raised anchor and set sail for Tyrell Bay, Carriacou and after experiencing a rough beginning to the passage as we cleared the lee of Ronde, conditions then became calmer and we anchored in Tyrell Bay at 1349 hours at 12 27.351 N 061 29.264 W.
That afternoon we dinghied ashore and checked out of Customs and Immigration for a 0900 hours departure on Saturday morning. At the same time we scouted the fuel dock, determined that it opened at 0800 hours and obtained a permit to buy duty free fuel. The quoted price was US$2.47 / gallon versus US$5 in Grenada. In the Customs office there was a poster detailing the permitted season to hunt and take sea turtles and Annette asked if she could take a picture of the poster. The Customs official indicated that it was permitted but demanded the reason for Annette’s interest. Annette said she had never seen a sign before giving a turtle season. “Well we don’t drop bombs on people”, the official retorted. OK, then.
Tomorrow will begin a two day passage to St. Martin.
November 17, 2016
At 0800 hours we dropped our mooring in Prickly Bay and set sail for Dragon Bay, Grenada to pick up a mooring at 12 04.766 N 061 45.680 W, next to the Underwater Sculpture Park in the adjacent Flamingo Bay. We are really not quite in the sailing groove because although I have sworn in the past that we will NEVER tow a dinghy, we towed our dinghy from Prickly Bay to Dragon Bay. The departure from Prickly Bay was professional enough, we “shortened” the tow lines so that they could not possibly be sucked into the props and let them out again as we motored away. Unfortunately we did not perform the inverse of this procedure as we attempted to pick up a mooring again. Annette waved at me from the bow that I needed to “go right” and I hit reverse on the starboard engine. The terrible screeching sound that followed signaled that we had forgotten to shorten the tow lines and further, the starboard drive was out of action. We drifted with the wind and I could see that we might pass over the next mooring buoy in line, if I played a bit with the port engine. Annette hung way over the bow like a pro and caught the mooring tether as it passed. The boat hadn’t quite stopped moving however and the momentum of 17 tons of boat was catching up to Annette and her boat hook. I arrived to add my more substantial mass to hers and we just held it and tied on. OK then, we weren’t moving now but we still had a line around the prop.
We were here to snorkel anyway and our snorkel gear was all laid out ready, thus I was in the water with a dive knife in short order. The tow lines were heavily wrapped and the prop solidly immobile. Pulling on the lines did virtually nothing and neither “end” would unwrap. It needed to be cut. I began cutting but this is hard to do whilst holding your breath. The next option was to send Annette to find the “Spare Air” emergency scuba rescue system. This is somewhat bigger than the one James Bond used in the movie “Thunderball” but the principal is still the same. You just put it in your mouth and breath underwater. The catch is that you can only do this for a couple of minutes. I needed to test the device anyway and sure enough, I could breath underwater as I hacked away at the lines jamming the prop. Three or four minutes later I was making progress, when it became hard to breathe. I was out of “Spare Air”. This time I surfaced and we hauled out the “Hookah” diving system. The compressor engine fuel tank had gas in it and it fired off on first pull. By now I was wearing a weight belt and was connected to the air compressor by a 50 foot hose. The salvage job became a much easier proposition with an unlimited air supply – at least until the compressor engine ran out of fuel. I hacked and cut away at lines and finally the prop was clear and turned easily.
Annette changed into her snorkel gear and we dinghied around the point into the next bay where the guide book promised us “a hundred” underwater sculptures. The recommendation was to tie up to a red “dive” mooring and swim from there to the beach. This we did and although we swam up to the beach, saw nothing but fish and corals. Were we really in the correct spot? We re-boarded our dinghy (with some difficulty since we had forgotten to take our “boarding” ladder) and motored over to a passing fisherman. He stared at us blankly when we asked where the sculptures lay. A large tourist catamaran was also closing our position and we shot over to motor alongside and ask for directions. “We going there in a while, man”, was the response. Did that mean “now”, we wondered. Apparently it did and we tied up again to another red mooring ball but further north of our original choice. This time we found the sculptures and they were an amazing sight, although many had been knocked down by storms and lay prone. To add to the wonder of the silent figures, most standing in 30 plus feet of water on the sea-bed, there were giant shoals of small fish that swirled around us, sometimes so thickly we lost sight of the sculptures below. Tuna and barracuda were hanging around this potential feast looking for stragglers. There were also lots of jelly-fish and although these were not the lethal varieties of the Australian seas, we were feeling enough small stings that we decided to call it a day and remember to wear our “stinger” suits on the next snorkel adventure.
At 1230 hours we were back aboard DoodleBug with the dinghy hoisted on the davits, setting off for our next destination of Halifax Harbor. This was a rather challenging anchorage, indicated on the on-line cruising guide as having two set of overhead power lines (well above our fly-bridge as it turned out) and located next to the island dump, providing smoke from the burning trash as well as the attendant flies. Again fortune smiled upon us, the smoke was being blown the other direction and the flies never found us. We anchored at 12 06.595 N 061 44.825 W alongside the rusting hulk of a wrecked work-boat. This lay close by the wrecked hull of a sailboat, casualties of some forgotten storm.
With DoodleBug firmly anchored, we launched our dinghy and motored about a mile north to an isolated beach, accessible only from the sea and called appropriately “Black Bay”. The black sand beach was steep and if the swells had been any larger, would have been a formidable place to land. As it was we were able to beach the dinghy and drag it up the beach a little. I held the dinghy in the surf while Annette rapidly grabbed a sample of sand and searched a nearby rock outcropping for a suitable selection of pebbles. A successful launch and we paddled our dinghy into deep water before firing up the outboard and scooting back to DoodleBug.
1353 hours and we were again at sea, bound for the island of Ronde, that lies about two miles east of the active submarine volcano, “Kick ‘em Jenny”. We were headed for “Corn Store Bay” at the north west end of Ronde and we passed between the main island and the outcroppings of “The Sisters” to our west. These stark igneous rocks form the eastern edge of an ancient caldera and we anchored inside it, off a sand beach at 12 18.762 N 061 35.261 W, dropping our hook at 1556 hours.
We had the beach and anchorage to ourselves and watched the Boobies fishing off the shore while puffer fish swam up and peered curiously up at us. The sand beach lay in a curve around the bay, backed by a low cliff, 20 or 30 feet tall and then jungle vegetation. The cliff rocks were stained white with bird droppings and we could hear the excited pipings of the various colonies as dusk approached. Grenada now lay south of us with brooding clouds and rain pods moving west with the trade winds. The barbeque came out of its locker for the first time this season and we ate the best meal we have had since arriving in Grenada, garnished by the added bonus of unforgettable ambiance.
November 16, 2016
Another busy day but we managed to get the essentials completed. First we needed to return to Clarke’s Court marina to retrieve the spare set of boat keys we had failed to pick up before yesterday’s launch. We bummed a ride on “Shademan’s” shuttle that was picking wannabe shopper’s up from the various marinas and transporting them to the marine supply store. Next we hit the grocery store and bank and made it back to Prickly Bay in time to pick up Annette’s order of baguettes from the French baker plus my order of four cases of Carib beer from “Fast Manicou’s ” delivery service. We now have the rudiments for maritime existence. French bread and beer! Does it get any better? We sail on the morrow!
November 15, 2016
By the promised launch time of 8:00 a.m. we had four lines ready, fore and aft, the power umbilicals had been disconnected and stowed and we were ready to roll. A workman came by and told us that we were indeed to be lifted at 8:00 a. m. Thirty minutes later a man with a clipboard came by and said they had a technical issue with their tractor. I suggested adding diesel to the tank and turning the key but he assured me that this was not the issue, he insisted it was already running. Around 9:15 a.m. the tractor showed up and began backing its lift trailer underneath DoodleBug. Annette and I had just about given up, we had already drunk the last two beers aboard and and had rooted around the food lockers for something edible. We now decamped from the boat, continuing our impromptu picnic at the yet to be completed marina restaurant and when we looked up, we saw DoodleBug was already at the launch dock. The workmen indicated that we needed to board, which we did and the tractor pushed us down a boat ramp and into the water like a giant dinghy. The engines fired up immediately and after a quick inspection of the bilges to make sure that we weren’t sinking, we cast off the lines and backed out into Woburn Bay.
It was 10:00 a. m. and we were underway! A brief voyage around the coast as we monitored instruments and the like and we arrived in Prickly Bay to pick up a mooring close by the marina office where the WiFi antennas live. We attempted to eat a truly disgusting lunch at the marina restaurant and then shopped for “real” cheese, meats and bread at the nearby French “Boucher” store. We also negotiated a crate of emergency beer from the now closed liquor store and settled back aboard DoodleBug for a well earned nap. A busy day but successful. We are sailors again.
November 14, 2016
The final work day! The battery charger showed 14 volts on all three battery banks and although there is no sea water coolant, I fired up the engines for a few seconds to see if they would run. Both engines caught and ran instantly and the starter batteries seemed to hold their voltage levels. Maybe we have dodged the bullet and we don’t need to replace them! Since we now have battery power, we could untangle the anchor chain which had exhibited a couple of twists and would “jump” on the windlass chain gypsy. We lowered the anchor to the ground, unshackled it and then I hauled the chain away from the boat in 50 foot loops as Annette drove the windlass above me on the deck. This was the easy part. By the time we had retrieved the chain, untwisted it and re-installed the anchor, I was certainly filthy and ready for a beer.
Unfortunately as Annette had noticed yesterday, the beer had been stolen from the flybridge refrigerator in our absence, as well as the refrigerator door trim panel. Yes! The brushed stainless door was now “baby-shit” brown with tape marks. Someone had stolen our trim panel and replaced it with another. This is going to be both expensive and tedious to correct.
We are however as ready as we are going to be for the launch tomorrow. Our fenders are placed ready, our flags are flying and if it isn’t all stolen by tomorrow morning, we should be on our way.
November 13, 2016
Now using a different taxi driver, we arrived relatively early at the boatyard and soon had the “big” transformer hooked up to DoodleBug and the battery charger doing its thing. I found the iPod and we managed to get some music playing while Annette tackled the packing away and inventorying of boat supplies and in turn, I checked the oil levels of the various engines, tested the bilge pumps and worked the through-hull shutoffs to make sure we weren’t going to sink when we are “splashed” (re-launched) on Tuesday. By noon the engine starting batteries were up to 11 volts, still not good and an overnight charge was still necessary. The dinghy had been stored beneath and between the hulls and was now reattached to the stern davits. Similarly the outboard motor was wrestled from the cockpit back to the ground and reattached to the dinghy. We still have a list of chores to accomplish but the biggie is still the starter batteries. Are they damaged or will they recover enough to start the engines? Tomorrow will tell and by then the marine supply store will be open in case we have to buy new units.
November 12, 2016
A busy day! We had a lot to accomplish today and we skipped breakfast to facilitate our “early start”. Then our taxi driver showed up an hour late. We could have enjoyed a leisurely repast and even a couple of beers if we had but known how much he was prevaricating when we telephoned him. Nevertheless we did arrive at DoodleBug by 10:15 a.m. giving us two hours of work time before our afternoon appointment.
Annette dove into washing the accumulated muck from the stern of the boat whilst I tackled a diagnosis of the electrical charging problem we had observed. We had left DoodleBug with a single refrigerator running, connected to 600 watts of solar charging to keep everything up and happy. The solar controller now showed that very little power was going to the batteries and a status LED showed red i.e. a near discharged condition of the four large house batteries. The next step was to check the terminal block of the solar panels themselves that are independently fused. I was shocked to find that only two of the six panels were producing power. The panels are wired in three series pairs so I separated the two non-working pairs and tested the panels individually. Of the four panels, only one showed power output. This means that we have a 50% failure rate of these panels which were installed at the end of August, 2015, fourteen and a half months ago.
The engine starting batteries were showing “zero” voltage on the remote meter and I assumed that this was incorrect since they haven’t been connected to anything for the past three months. A check at the battery terminals themselves showed two volts instead of the expected twelve volts. Not good. Until this is corrected, we are unable to start the engines. I also checked the generator start battery and it was charged up ready to go. If DoodleBug was in the water, we could fire up the generator and charge everything but without coolant sea-water, we can’t even test run any of the engines.
By now Annette had moved inside the cabin and was packing away all of the goodies we had brought and putting our floating house back together. However I needed power to restore the house battery charge level and see if the two starting batteries would take a charge. Niels, the yard manager loaned me a transformer and extension cord to convert the yard power from 220 volts to 110 volts but unfortunately I needed a conversion from a standard USA three pin plug to the “twist lock” 30 ampere socket that the boat expects. The marine supply store had no such converter but did carry the required receptacle. Our taxi driver had promised us that he would pick us up at precisely 1210 hours and I was now down to 20 minutes. By some miracle I found an extension cord that I had used last year when diagnosing air conditioning problems and which had the “female” end cut off. This was soon wired into the receptacle and although I had no “box” to install it in, dangled it gracefully across the liferaft, so as not to electrocute anybody. Plugged it all in and threw the switch. We have power! I turned on the battery charger and watched as it began to pump out charging current. Then it switched off. The battery charger pulls about 1,400 watts and the transformer is only rated at 1,000 watts. Bummer! We were now out of time and we rushed across to the marina entrance to meet our taxi. Again the guy was late. While we fumed and waited, we began chatting with George of S/V Wild Cat. George admitted that he had the “other” yard transformer that had a higher rating than 1000 watts and suggested we could get it from him on the morrow. A plan then!
As we rode in the taxi, Annette called ahead to the hotel restaurant to order a “take away” lunch and we hurriedly changed into our “Hash” clothing and met “Shademan” driving the “Hash” shuttle bus, who was punctual as usual to the minute.
This was a fun hash although it bucketed with rain and we were thoroughly soaked. I was carrying rain jackets but we didn’t bother to put them on since we were sweating so copiously, scrambling uphill through the muddy brush and jungle. The “hash” route lay through the canopies of a former plantation with tall stands of bamboos, huge ancient trees and hidden gems of cultivated fields of callaloo (taro), sorrel, cocoa and of course bananas. The group of hashers, numbering upwards of two hundred, forded rushing streams and thrashed their way through back yards and between homes, watched by bemused locals. We chatted with local pig farmers at the terminus of our run and Annette was gifted a bag of sorrel fruit and a bag of “golden apples” or ambarella fruit. Hashing is such a great way to meet the residents of Grenada in a social and relaxed setting, all covered with mud and imbibing large volumes of beer as we were.
November 11, 2016
Last night, the crew of DoodleBug arrived back in Grenada after a series of uneventful flights – just the way we like them! We had been warned by other crews of the gauntlet of Grenada Customs officials we would face. Several crews had their luggage essentially “confiscated” upon arrival and were told to return the following day with a Customs Agent, plus reams of “International commercial invoices”, in order to determine and pay import duties on whatever might be squirreled away within. We were gratified to find all three of our suitcases had made the various flight connections and had been advised to avoid the crush at the Customs exit from the terminal by proceeding instead to the “Red” exit, meaning we had goods to declare. We had been further advised that if you voluntarily declare a couple of items, they won’t bother to cavity search you for whatever else you might be hauling. Accordingly I declared a dinghy outboard motor lock, a flag and a couple of drinking water filters. There was a single official at this exit and she asked me for invoices (which I had ready) and then charged me a little over US$50 in duty. As predicted, she never looked in the other suitcases. Outside the terminal was a taxi driver holding a board with my name on it – another good sign and we were soon at our hotel room, dumping our 250 pounds of luggage and heading for the bar. Here we met Steve, an airline pilot who had just flown in from Columbia. We soon determined that we were all three “deplorables” and toasted the success of the new President-elect.
This morning we staggered into consciousness and stepped outside the air-conditioned room. The warmth, humidity and whistling of hidden frogs assured us that we were still in Grenada. Several cups of tea / coffee later and we assured the hotel staff we were not in fact checking out, before loading our bulging suitcases into a taxi and heading for Clarke’s Court Marina where DoodleBug was waiting. We managed to unpack the bags and stow the empties plus confirm our launch date of Tuesday before heading back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. Real work begins tomorrow, interrupted by a “Hash” run in the afternoon.
August 6 - August 13, 2016
This week began with a vague report, gradually fleshed out during the following days, of an attack on a cruising couple, Mark and Sue, who had been anchored off nearby Hog Island. Mark had been walking their dog ashore when he was kidnapped by a couple of men with a handgun. They demanded that he transport them in his dinghy to his nearby yacht and then insisted that they raise anchor and sail to Puerto Rico. As they were leaving the bay, they ran aground on a coral reef and were unable to free the vessel. The men assaulted the couple and then left in the dinghy with the Sue, “as a hostage” to return to the main island. Here she was raped and assaulted for several hours. The men were at large for a week and then captured by police. The attack was a dreadful occurrence that the locals would like to pretend never happened.
We realize that a there is a level of crime just about everywhere throughout the Caribbean but there is a big step between the accustomed petty theft and physical assaults. This is one of the several reasons why Annette and I prefer the Pacific islands. A Google search on crime rates puts the overall murder rate in the Caribbean Islands around 30 per 100,000 population. By comparison the USA comes in at around 4 per 100,000, Samoa and Fiji at 1 or less. The usual excuses about poverty and lack of opportunity evaporate when compared to Pacific Islands where crushing poverty also exists and yet people neither steal from each other nor kill each other. Both societies are predominantly Christian but the Pacific lacks the Universal and Perpetual excuse of having experienced a slave economy 150 years ago.
Annette put the finishing touches to her current painting whilst I updated the website by adding pictures to the blog. I also began the task of converting our Australian “walkabout” tour to eBooks. We are leaving next week and searched the various hardware stores for art shipping tubes before settling upon a section of 4 inch diameter drainpipe. Annette carefully removed her works from their frames and the painted canvases were separated with wrapping paper, courtesy of the local butcher, before being rolled and placed inside the plastic drainpipe tubing.
The packaging of sand samples has been problematic as it is obvious that she has over 50 pounds collected. In addition to the logistics of hauling a suitcase full of “dirt”, there is the problem that the USA Customs controls the import of “soil”. The proposed solution is to use the US mail to ship the bulk of the sand samples after Doodlebug next reaches the Virgin Islands. Annette has discovered that one of her fellow members of the sand collectors society specializes in “ant” sand – that is the sand that ants bring to the surface of their nests. Naturally Annette wanted to collect some Grenada “ant” sand for him and finished up with 14 bites when the Grenadian fire ants objected.
Monday was the start of “Carnival” proper and this began around 4 a.m. with “Jab Jab”. The participants, or at least the younger set, strip down to near nudity, smear their bodies with used motor oil and wear horned “devil” masks and the like, sometimes with chains and padlocks around their feet and parade through the streets accompanied by hammering reggae music. The meaning of this depends upon who you hear it from. There are multiple internet references to slavery, the revolt burning of the cane fields and plantations. Supposedly the slaves were not allowed to participate in Carnival before emancipation and Jab Jab was a form of protest. The revelers traditionally fling dirty motor oil and paint at anyone and everyone and old clothes are highly recommended. We decided that this was not for us and instead traveled downtown to see “Pretty Mas” in the early afternoon. This is another parade but here the marchers / dancers are wearing the scant and gaudy costumes that had been under preparation for the past year. We noticed the road surface was coated with a thin layer of fine sand in attempt to soak up some of the earlier broadcasting of dirty motor oil. This parade was a family affair and we had learned that you could purchase a ticket to march with a particular band and would be provided with a matching costume. Early afternoon near the equator is both hot and humid and we were impressed that the dancers moved non-stop. Not all were as energetic however and we saw one young man, presumably an earlier Jab Jab participant, fast asleep in the cab of one of the trucks bearing the sound system as it came by. These trucks bore huge electric generators and were lined with monster speakers to ensure that even the inhabitants of the local cemetery could enjoy the music.
We tried to find a source for a dehumidifier to run whilst the boat was in storage but struck out here. We will just have to rely on the use of packs of deliquescent crystals that will then need to be traded out every couple of weeks. To do this we contacted Denise, who runs a local yacht services company. Denise was just recovering from an attack of Zika. We have met several couples recently who have suffered the same fate.
Just as we were packing up in anticipation of our departure, the port toilet pump began making noises of a terminal nature. I noticed that there was rust stains on the floor beneath the pump and assumed that the seals had gone allowing sea water to leak into the motor. Fortunately I had a spare pump and it was quickly replaced. I always intend to rebuild the “old” pump but every time I have removed one of these pumps, I have promptly pitched it into the trash can and vowed to buy a new one. Then I washed my hands.
Of course the big event of the week was when we left the dock on Wednesday and motored about five miles to drop anchor in Woburn Bay. We somehow managed to get our suitcases packed and the following day, DoodleBug was hauled “onto the hard” at Clarke’s Court marina. It was late afternoon before she was settled into her assigned parking spot and we spent the night at a hotel near the airport. We returned the following morning to do all the fun tasks such as stowing all of the fenders and lines, cleaning out the fridge and the like but by afternoon it was done and we are officially land-lubbers.
Our final “hash” was Saturday and we rode “Shademan’s” bus north to the town of Victoria. The “hash” began from the beach where we had examined the Petroglyphs a couple of months ago and turned out to be a “Goldilocks” run – not too far, not too steep, not too muddy, not too hot. A couple of stream crossings and a pleasant route winding between ancient bamboo groves, banana and mango plantations. We even managed to be far enough ahead of the crowd that we had to do some route finding rather than just follow the mob. A pleasant event to wrap up our Grenada visit.
July 30 - August 5, 2016
This has been a slow sort of week. We attended the “hash” on Saturday which was enjoyable and not too strenuous. These events are such a super way of meeting local residents and seeing parts of the island we would never see as “tourists”. People will set out on their stoop or garden wall and watch as a couple of hundred strangers walk across their property. They are invariably polite and will offer water, directions, or silence their dogs as appropriate. We were passing one house when the lady ahead of us stopped to talk to one of the householders. She began by explaining where on the island she lived, thereby establishing her bona fides as a local. As we passed, I heard her say, “We go up, we go down, we go behind!” Presumably she had been just been asked what was she doing, wandering around with what is decidedly a diverse crowd and I thought her explanation was admirable. I don’t know the exact demographics of the Hash club but I would estimate they about 20 percent cruisers and 80 percent locals. The locals are split about 70 / 30 between “native” Grenadians and ex-patriots.
We also attended the “Mango Festival” that was held at the National Stadium in St. Georges. This was a delightful family affair, with stalls selling mango themed food, booming music from a disc-jockey, parades and competitions. We watched the mango sucking (means “eating”) competition where three adult ladies competed to eat three mangoes in under 60 seconds. The winner was nicely dressed, with makeup and jewelry but the fact that she was carrying a towel was a dead giveaway that this was a professional, probably a ringer from Trinidad. She devoured the mangoes with ten seconds to spare, an amazing performance. Around us there were stilt-walkers and a group of thirty or so children in costume and masks who wore some kind of heavy boot, or at least footwear with enhanced stomping ability. They stamped around the stadium facility in tight formation and were obviously enjoying the attention immensely.
I tried the mango ice-cream and declared it delicious. It was too. Poor Annette had to watch me devour it as she ranks amongst the lactose intolerant, so I let her eat some of my sugar cone as a consolation.
When we left the stadium, we transited the highway to the beach front and perambulated a highway bridge across a rank and smelly stream that disgorged its suspicious contents into the bay. Annette had spotted “beach glass” from the vantage point of the bridge and we found a small gap in the wall where we were able to work our way through the bush and down to the beach, with Annette scouring the beach for treasure whilst I was looking for dead bodies and axe murderers, lurking like the troll, fol de rol, below the bridge. This was indeed the mother lode of beach glass, the difficulty of access plus the distinct possibility of sewage contamination having scared off any normal scavenger.
Although there was transportation organized for the cruisers, we chose to take the local bus to the downtown bus terminal and walk from there. We had not visited the bus terminal before and when we saw the Number “1” bus unloading, we were encouraged to board. What we learned is that the driver was supposed to join the end of a long line of buses, rather like a taxi rank at the airport. He used our presence to bully his way past the line of waiting drivers as though he had to look after these dumb tourists. He drove along the lane bypassing the parked buses and then parked blocking the lane so that he could a buy a bottle of beer from the bus station kiosk. By the time we hit the road his bus was packed with other passengers and we found ourselves stuck in a traffic jam in downtown St. Georges in airless conditions. A passenger at the back yelled out, “Driver, give it cold man!” The driver leaned forwards and turned the air-conditioner on while passengers slid the windows closed as though they were part of a drill team. This is the first and only time we have enjoyed air-conditioning on these buses and I had assumed up till this point they were inoperative.
The first tropical disturbance of the season had formed just west of the Cape Verde Islands and we carefully watched its progress as what was to become hurricane Earl headed towards us across the Atlantic and passed by to our north. The forecast area of high waves and high winds extended through the Grenadines but never included Grenada. We are currently tied up to a “fixed” dock by a network of six lines but these lines are necessarily slack to allow for a two foot tidal change, plus the two bow lines are attached to submarine anchors of unknown integrity. The bottom line is I would not want to be at this dock dealing with even a two foot swell, let alone with what a hurricane might bring. Our “hurricane plan”, filed with our insurer, states that if we are floating at the time, we will run to either Trinidad or Tobago in the event that Grenada is directly threatened with a tropical storm. Our plans in fact call for us to be “lifted” next week and stored “on the hard” at the Clarke’s Court marina where we travelled to use their crane for the generator swap-out out a couple of weeks ago.
Last night we experienced the passage of a “tropical wave” with lightning and some rain. Since we received lightning damage three times in six years aboard the original “DoodleBug”, we tend to be a little wary of such conditions but this event was but a “moon cast shadow” of the real thing and I slept through it.
July 23 - July 29, 2016
On Sunday morning we were leisurely drinking our respective morning coffee and tea when the VHF sprang to life with a call for a medical emergency. The boat name was S/V Adagio and from the tone of the caller, the situation was past dire. The cruising community responded instantly yet it still took an hour for an ambulance plus doctor to arrive. In the meantime volunteers had attempted CPR, raised anchor and brought Adagio to the fuel dock alongside DoodleBug. We helped with lines, fenders and the like and provided water to the waiting volunteers but the 65 year old captain was obviously dead and had been for some time. This nightmare is one that we all face but it is still hard to contemplate the inevitability.
Annette continued to paint this week and is working on a canvas themed around the Grenada Carnival celebration. I spent some time analyzing the undocumented add-on wiring for the generator compartment exhaust fan, before discovering that the fan itself was corroded into immobility. It took a couple of days to find a replacement fan and install it. The unit still didn’t work and since I had previously tested the wiring and relay, the only remaining issue was the power supply. Sure enough, the wire that was supposed to supply juice, dove back somewhere inside the boat in the direction of the house battery bank. This was silly, the obvious place to get clean power was from the generator alternator and its battery connection, just a few inches away from the relay. I abandoned the original wiring, ran a new power line and the fan worked!
The Grenada Carnival is celebrated next week and we joined a tour of one of the junior “pan” bands that is performing and competing during the parades. The “pan” band is what we call a steel drum band and these kids were awesome! We learned that this group has competed in 38 national and international competitions and have won 33 of them. We can well believe it. We listened to the band practice their competition number and then they performed a short concert for us. We learned that the drums, that can cost around $1,500 apiece, are limited to two simultaneous notes, since the drummer has but two arms and drumsticks. Most musical chords have three notes and the chords are achieved by another section of the drum orchestra playing the missing complementary note. There was obviously considerable skill involved in adjusting the various sections to finely balance the necessary volume and we could surmise that this band director is a perfectionist. We also toured the facility where volunteers were assembling the hundreds of costumes that the celebrants would wear, an explosion of colors, feathers and bling. This was a great tour and we really enjoyed the music.
July 16 - July 22, 2016
On Monday we left the dock and motored a little less than five miles, to drop anchor in Woburn Bay. This is a quiet little bay to the east of Prickly Bay, where we have been roosting for the past month. The anchor launched itself with just a little grumbling from the windlass. The new chain has acquired some twists and we will have to straighten these out at sometime in the future. We have read of sailors who have lowered their anchor in deep water, to allow the chain to untwist naturally and then discovered that the vertical deadweight was beyond the lift capacity of their windlass. We won’t do this.
We launched our dinghy and scouted the boat yard, visiting with the yard manager on the procedure for tomorrow’s arrival. We followed this with a visit to Palm Tree Marine’s office to check on their schedule. The operation manager was still at the St. George’s dock awaiting the release of the generator. We determined that we will just proceed on the assumption that everything will “somehow work out”.
The Clarke’s Court boatyard is still under construction and the restaurant and bar have yet to open for business. We dinghied across the inlet to the opposite side to visit the Whisper Cove Marina. At their dinghy dock we met “Bob”, who was attempting to lift 4 large batteries from his ancient dinghy onto the dock. We stayed to help him and after Annette had rustled up a pair of dock carts, I hauled a pair of batteries up the steep slope to the Marina office whilst Annette and Bob hauled the second pair. By this time we were more than ready for our beer and invited Bob to join us.
Bob is 78 years old and had circumnavigated the globe at least once. When he mentioned anchorages in the Indian Ocean, we asked him if he had stopped at Cocos Keeling and further, if he knew Bea and Diane on S/V Sortilege. He said, “You mean that small white catamaran?”. I had received an e-mail from Bea and Diane the previous week regarding Bea’s new book that has just been published (“Yowie Country”, “Jungle Rescue”[the sequel] and “Metamorphosis” by Robin Freeman). Bob insisted that they would surely remember him as the single hander on S/V Tasmine who broke his shoulder in 2003 and sailed "back" for four or five days to seek medical care at Cocos Keeling. This is surely a small world.
The following morning we tied up at the Clarke’s Court dock and waited for the arrival of the crane. The latter showed up just before lunch and by 1:30 p.m. the old generator had been lifted from DoodleBug and the replacement unit craned into place. The only anxious time was when the mechanic began cleaning underneath the old generator whilst the latter hung directly above his head, all of its 600 pounds of iron suspended from a single rusty shackle. There is no way I could have done this, I have too much imagination. The crew continued to leisurely hook up the various hoses and umbilicals but seemed more interested in the painting that Annette was working on in the cockpit. Meanwhile I attempted to find some power for the night, that would allow us to run our bedroom air-conditioner. I “hotwired” an extension cord to our power cord and plugged it into a yard transformer that dropped the Grenada voltage from 220 volts to the USA standard of 110 volts. When I threw the switch, the dock power went off. The yard electrician disappeared for some minutes and the power came back on. I tried again. As I watched the input voltage carefully, the voltage began to fall and the amperage correspondingly increased until I was forced to switch the air-conditioner off to avoid damaging it. A miserable hot night, as the yard is infested with no-see um’s who found their way inside and were seemingly proof against any normal concentration of insecticide.
The following morning the generator install crew were back aboard and by noon had completed the installation. We motored off the dock and anchored again in the Bay with the new generator and air-conditioners going full blast. A definite improvement on last night and by morning we were almost refreshed when we raised anchor and motored back to Prickly Bay to tie up again at the dock.
The new generator is very pretty in its pristine white sound enclosure and there are just a couple of minor items to correct, one being that the compartment exhaust fan is not running. There is always something!
July 9 - July 15, 2016
This week was the annual chore known as “the boat insurance renewal challenge”. The insurer requires you to outline your cruising plans for the next twelve months and this necessitates you actually having some intentions, or at the very least, creating the fiction of some goals. Then they require a detailed hurricane plan. This is trickier because they want specifics on items such as the thickness of mooring lines and the contact information on the party claimed to be looking after the boat when the owner is absent. If you fabricate this information, they could deny the claim in the event of a mishap. This year however, no inspection or survey of the vessel was demanded. The latter would have involved considerable expense as well as the aggravation of finding an appropriately licensed surveyor, plus arranging for a haul-out so that the hull could be inspected. A typical boat inspection can easily cost as much as the annual insurance premium.
On Saturday we again signed up for the “HASH” (see previous posts if you don’t know what this is) and headed “downtown” St. George’s to their national stadium where a couple of hundred hashers stood around chatting and visiting. This was a diverse group (a heavily overused word that means entirely different things to different people), ranging from those carrying babes in backpacks through ancient people like us. I have no idea how many nationalities were represented but conversations were ongoing around us in French, German, Spanish and Dutch plus the local patois of Grenada Creole. There were dogs on leashes and dogs running free, families with children and some very serious looking lycra-clad running types. The organizers had scoured the crowd looking for “virgins” (people who had never “hashed” before), particularly those with new running shoes. The victims had a single shoe confiscated and were invited to stand in front of the podium where the hash leader explained that the shoes needed to be tested before they could be allowed on the course. On this particular day there were three young Grenadian girls who looked on with initial puzzlement and then shock as a bottle of beer was poured into each shoe to test them for “leaks” followed by the admonition to “drink it or wear it”.
The hash course ran from the stadium, across a park and then near vertically up a steep muddy hillside towards the prison perched atop Richmond Hill. If the steep slope wasn’t muddy enough from the recent rains, the single file passage of a couple of hundred hashers guaranteed that the “hike” was a muddy scramble, pulling on any branch or twig that might possibly bear weight. We had taken a couple of one inch diameter dowels (used for flying Annette’s kites) to use as hiking sticks and these turned out to be invaluable as they could be thrust into the mud to act as anchors or jammed between trees for handholds. For a time we followed a less than athletic Venezuelan lady who had been told that this would be a pleasant walk. She was now perched high on a muddy hillside with a line of people both ahead and behind her, struggling to get up a hold-less slope whilst muttering dire imprecations in Spanish. At one point she was straddled across a log when she toppled backwards and slid headfirst down the hill until arrested by a tree-stump. Annette helped to her feet while quizzing her. “Are you broken, are you bleeding?” A shaken negative and Annette assured her, “You have both earrings, you’re OK”. This was a tough “hike” needing more upper-body work than footwork and the clumsy folks were easily identified by the amount of mud on their clothing and bodies.
That night it rained heavily across Grenada putting nearly four inches of water into our dinghy. I can only imagine what that hash would have been like either during or just after such a rain.
Our current plans call for us to cruise in the Caribbean next year and since we had now settled the insurance issue, we decided we will park DoodleBug “on the hard” next month and spend late summer in Santa Fe. We are still expecting our generator to be replaced next week at Clarkes Boat yard, located a couple of bays east of where we are now. Just finding dock space to enable the generator to be craned out of its locker has been a problem and similarly catamaran lift capability and storage space is hard to find. We did eventually make arrangements to be lifted at the same boat yard a few weeks after the generator swap-out.
July 2 - July 8, 2016
In the morning we generally listen to a “cruiser’s radio net” that begins at 0730 hours and generally runs for 45 minutes or so. The “net” is run by volunteers and after the call for “emergencies” medical or otherwise, begins with a marine weather forecast. I usually don’t pay much attention to this because I have already researched this a couple of hours earlier but this particular morning the local weather report gave the humidity at 94%. Wow! I used to think that Houston was humid.
Annette has been producing more paintings and is currently experimenting with “minimalist art”. I don’t pretend to understand but I do know that her version involved painting with a brush made from rubber bands and she is constructing another brush using dog hair. I mentioned that using the whole dog would be more efficient but this suggestion was “brushed off”.
Yesterday we participated in the Grenada Hash House Harriers event known as a “HASH”. For the uninitiated, the concept of a HASH was founded in 1937 by Albert Gispert, an English chartered accountant who had been transferred by his employer to Malaya and is based upon the centuries old game of “Fox and Hounds”. The Malaysian authorities required that organizations be registered with the government and since Albert’s buddies typically ate at the Selangor club, not famous for the quality of its food and derogatorily referred to by the members as the “hash house”, his club was registered as the “Hash House Harriers”. “Hash” clubs are scattered all around the globe and the reader will likely find one in whatever town they are resident.
The “Fox” is given a start of some number of minutes and takes off into the bush / jungle laying a trail of shredded paper (or flour as we experienced in Micronesia). The Fox can set false trails that terminate in an “X” and when branching trails are experienced, it takes some casting around by the “Hounds” to find the correct trail. It is debatable whether the the point of the game is to catch the “Fox” or simply to to imbibe a large quantity of beer and get a little exercise in the process. To arrive with the lead “Hounds” it is usually not necessary to be the swiftest runner since the lead harriers will be searching for the trail markers and backing up when they are lost. The “lost”parties yell out, “Are You?” and when the trail markers are spotted, the lead “Hounds” yell, “On! On!”. Annette and I stayed up with the main body of the group until we found a trail split with an arrow sending the “runners” in one direction and the “walkers” in an another. The walkers thinned out in the thick brush and we were alone, having to find our own trail markers instead of following the mob and enjoying the scenery. There was a short section where the runners rejoined the trail we were following and then a second trail split that almost all of the other “walkers” missed. Now we were truly alone with no sound of shouts either ahead or behind us. We were also both ready for a beer as the trail wound on and on through dense undergrowth and several times we had to cast around in wide circles to pick it up again. We would have likely shortcut back to the terminus of the run if we hadn’t been so thoroughly lost. As it was we just continued to follow the clumps of shredded paper in the fading light. We came upon a steep road under construction and the workers halted the operation of their diggers and the like to allow us to pass down the steep muddy incline beside their idling equipment. We weren’t the last people to arrive at the finish but not too many folks were behind us. We felt superior however in that we may have been the only “walkers” to have followed the “correct” trail, due of course to our superior aboriginal tracking skills derived in part from watching old Crocodile Dundee flicks.
Wednesday was “shopping bus day” where a special bus is laid on to take shoppers on a swing through banks, supermarkets, pharmacies and the like for about US$5 per head. As we waited for the bus, Les and Louise of S/V Bali walked by and invited us to join them on a private bus charter to visit the Grenada chocolate factory (www.grenadachocolate.com). We hastily swapped out our shopping bags for cameras and headed off up the west coast of the island to the village of Hermitage. Here we toured the only chocolate manufacturing facility in a cocoa producing country.
The facility was a surprise in that this was a real manufacturing operation tucked away in a tiny village off the main drag. Chocolate manufacture is a complex process – here I am talking about “real” chocolate, not that brown waxy crap that Cadbury’s and Hershey sell. We began our tour by visiting the sheds where the cocoa beans are “fermented” before being dried, roasted and ground. The various machines for the processing of the dried beans were a curious melange of vintages and origins. Some were made in the USA but there were also ancient Italian and British devices that might have originated in a museum. In spite of the age of the equipment, the whole set-up looked very businesslike, well laid out and obviously a source of pride to the local community. Of course we tasted the chocolate and declared it to be excellent. A really interesting tour.
Later I was looking on the internet and discovered that the enterprise was begun in 1999 by owner and founder Mott Green with the note that he was formerly “David Friedman”. Huh? This bore further investigation. Mott Green was the son of Staten Island physicians who decided to cast aside his life of privilege, dropped out of college and became an anarchist / squatter / environmentalist in the early 90’s and who nevertheless was able to afford to move to Grenada, build himself a hut somewhere and equip the latter with sufficient solar power to run his stereo system. The internet reports that Ella Fitzgerald was on his playlist. He and friends put together the machinery and had all shipped to Grenada to set up operations. The business was supposedly financially in the black after a mere 14 years of operations, a few months before his accidental death of electrocution whilst repairing some solar powered equipment. I learned that the Grenada chocolate is the darling of the environmental industry with all sorts of international awards and a documentary narrated by Susan Sarandon underway at the time of his demise. He was just 47 when he was killed and with his business finally beginning to take off.
The week ended with a truly spectacular fireworks display at the marina. The display was allegedly for a private birthday party for the American Ambassador to Grenada but the State Department website gives the ambassador’s birthday in October. Maybe they really wanted to celebrate on the 4th. but were hunkered down behind sandbags and S.W.A.T. teams that day. We are tied up on the dock here at Prickly Bay and the fireworks were being launched from inside the marina grounds about 40 yards from our fly-bridge where we were sitting, beers in hand. I researched “fireworks displays” to see what they might cost for a private party ($3K and up) and discovered all of the lengthy permitting rules as well as the admonition that the firing point must be at least 50 yards from any people or structure. Apparently this particular rule is not applicable to Grenada.
June 25 - July 1, 2016
The Brexit vote was last week on the 23rd. so the bulk of the week’s international “news” consisted of cloned articles echoing the same speculations of possible repercussions. That and the European soccer championship pretty much wrapped up the outside world. This is the first time we have stayed aboard our boat during hurricane season and interacted with the cruising community. In past years i.e. with the previous “DoodleBug”, if we were parking the boat somewhere during hurricane / cyclone season, we had left the boat and returned to the USA for a few months to take the kettle off the stove and let the cat out.
We gave up our rental car after the first week and have been riding the local “buses”. These are mostly Toyota vans that manage to cram 19 people inside, with five rows of seats including the driver. The bench seats will each seat three people but the port armrest folds down to create “space” for a fourth person. Of course there is no way you can exit these vehicles unless the folks sitting on the “fold down” seats get out of the van first. To add to the overall ambience of the experience, they never use air-conditioning and they play rap music at truly ear shattering volume levels that the famous rock band “Disaster Area” would be proud of. The driver usually has a partner who handles the cash (2.50 EC dollars per trip – just over 90 cents US) and acts as a spotter for potential riders. They do have a route and there is a number on the front of the van designating the route but this is more for guidance rather than a rule. The spotter would notice us coming out of a store and yell across the road at us, “Number one?”. With an affirmative wave they would then hold up traffic so that we could cross the highway and board. Pretty neat really.
We continue to take care of a few boat chores and as the list whittles down, we have the boat in about as good a shape as it’s going to get on the anniversary of its purchase. Annette has begun painting again and has a large 36” by 48” canvas under construction that I have already titled, “Chagos Sunset”. I have offered it to sale to curious by-passers for a discount price of $18,000 but haven’t had any takers yet.
My last “major” upgrade was to swap out the 40 ampere battery charger for a new 100 ampere unit. In its previous life, renters would run the 9 kW generator just about non-stop during the period of their charter and the 40 ampere unit drawing a mere half of a kilowatt, acted as a sort of trickle charger to the batteries. We added 600 watts of solar charging last August that on most days provides sufficient juice for lighting and to run the three refrigerator / freezers we operate. We only use the generator for air-conditioning and also to boost the batteries after a couple of cloudy days have impacted the solar output. What had irritated us was the use of only one eighteenth of the generating capacity to perform this function while burning generator diesel and we were about to rectify this with the new unit. I knew this would not be a simple swap-out with just a couple of wires involved. The battery charger is connected to the house batteries via a giant fuse buried behind intimidating cables. In addition it is also wired to the engine starter batteries and is “paralleled” to the solar array which kicks out a not inconsequential amount of power delivered at 36 volts. The swap out job began with disconnecting all of the house battery terminals from their respective batteries, removing the in-line fuses in the engine compartments to isolate the the engine starter batteries and similarly isolating the six solar panels by removing their fuses. The work-space for the charger is tiny and involved considerable contortion and a whole lot of cursing. Four hours later it was all installed and re-connected. I threw the input power breaker to the new charger and watched the monitor as it began to churn out nearly 90 amperes of charging power. My elation lasted about sixty seconds when the breaker popped. I knew this might happen and just hoped to get lucky. The respective manuals claim a recommended 6 ampere input breaker for the “old” unit and a 16 ampere breaker for the “new” one. This would be a “tomorrow” project.
The following morning I opened up the A/C power panel and found the installed battery charger breaker is rated at 10 amperes. Sitting next to it was a “spare” breaker, unused, already wired in and rated at 15 amperes. Sometimes you do get lucky! I swapped the output wires and powered up the new charger. It ran and produced lots of power until I shut is down a few hours later to let the solar panels do their work.
June 18 - June 24, 2016
Last week we had moved from a mooring onto a slip at the marina dock. This means we not only had a viable internet connection but “on demand” city power for air conditioning! Our generator could also provide this power but requires diesel fuel to make it hum and unfortunately, when the air conditioner cycles “off”, the unloaded generator has more of a death rattle than a “hum”. We decided to take this opportunity to call around to see what a new generator might cost. We also slowly attacked our “to do” list of boat chores, the chores you put off because you either don’t want to do them, or they are remarkably tedious. We finally found a replacement LED anchor light bulb that fits the socket and in addition replaced more of our interior lighting with low power draw LED’s. I also tackled the chore of calibrating the refrigerator thermostat. It’s particular crime is that it is too cold and there are few more spirit crushing events we suffer in this life than discovering your beer is frozen and won’t come out of the can.
We checked around on the price of anchor chain and discovered the best deal, on this island at least, was at the Budget Marine store across the bay. This meant we could drop the “old” chain into the dinghy, motor it across the bay to Budget and they in turn swapped this for new anchor chain to be loaded again into our dinghy. Removing the old chain had been entertaining in that the “boat” end of the chain was spliced into a length of nylon rode that I needed Annette to cut with a dive knife. I was underneath the catamaran at the time of cutting, holding the dinghy in place whilst the “old” chain lay in swathes on the floor around my feet. The last time I asked Annette to cut a perfectly good line was during a 2004 emergency and she couldn’t bring herself to do it until too late. Again she needed multiple affirmations that it really needed to be done in this decidedly non-emergency application. In the event, it was very hard to cut, thereby indicating we really need a sharper knife for emergency line cutting.
I had serviced the windlass and taken the chain gypsy over to Budget to ensure that the new chain was really going to fit but it was still a huge relief when the new chain was sucked up from the dinghy into the boat and the anchor re-attached. I looked up the internet on how to make the chain to nylon rode splice and with the help of a non-frozen beer was able to make this splice myself instead of hiring someone to do this for me as I have in the past. The advantage of this splice over the typical “mixed rode” application is that my work is safely buried under 300 feet of chain so my workmanship is nigh impossible to criticize.
We took this opportunity to donate the old 45 pound anchor that was on the boat when we took possession, as well as its 145 feet of chain. We now have an 88 pound “self setting” anchor on 300 feet of chain, enabling us to anchor just about anywhere in the world we might want to go. Typically sailors use a “5 to 1” rule that the anchor chain deployed should be at least 5 times the water depth. To complicate this, the anchor and windlass are mounted five feet above the surface of the water so that in 20 feet of water, we would actually need 125 feet of chain to anchor safely, about what we carried previously. The new set-up will allow us to anchor in nearly 60 feet of water.
We did make a deal to buy a new generator and will hang on this dock for the full month whilst it is shipped from the manufacturer.
June 11 - June 17, 2016
We decided to spend at least a week at Prickly Bay, Grenada to “regroup”, catch up on boat chores and see the island.
Our first step beyond the act of renting a car was to set out to investigate various boat storage options, thus we found ourselves in the island capital, downtown St. George’s, trapped in their one way street system. Several of the the narrow streets were unlabeled as to the direction of traffic flow and in the absence of parked cars as an indicator, it was easy to find oneself on a one way street, headed against the oncoming traffic. More by accident than design, we found ourselves in the close proximity of Fort George, the citadel that overlooks the town and its harbors. We pulled into the parking lot at the fort and discovered it is currently used a a training academy for the Grenada police force. The policemen who were loitering on the sidewalk indicated that it would be fine for us to explore the facility and we wandered around the old fort with it’s ancient rusting cannons and its sweeping view of St. George. The courtyard where we had entered bore a memorial tablet to Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and his cabinet members who had been shot during a coup. I then realized that I knew little about Grenada other than the fact that US Marines had invaded in 1983.
Grenada was occupied by Carib Indians from the South American mainland who displaced the earlier occupants, collectively referred to as Arawak Indians. The Caribs were fierce fighters and wiped out early attempts at European colonization until the French managed to gain a fortified foothold on the island in 1649. The driving force for colonization was again the production of sugar cane for the manufacture of alcohol and as in other places, the local Caribs were unsatisfactory as a source of labor and thus replaced by African slave labor. The discovery and implementation of northern latitude sugar beet agriculture in the mid-1700’s wiped out the Caribbean cane industry and the Grenada plantations similarly collapsed. The British and French squabbled back and forth over the island until 1783 when the island became British once more. Once the economic requirement for slaves had evaporated, slavery was abolished in 1834 but unlike other islands where the former slaves were essentially abandoned to fend for themselves, nutmeg had been introduced here in 1843 and the island had become a global source of the spice.
In 1974 Grenada became independent of Britain with a Parliamentary system of governance. This lasted 5 years before a military coup put a Marxist group in control. They held power for the next four years until they fell out amongst themselves and began shooting each other. The Cubans had begun extending the runway in Grenada for all of the tourists who naturally flock to islands run by a bunch of armed thugs but Reagan believed that the Cubans, as surrogates for their masters the Soviets, intended to use Grenada to project military power throughout the Caribbean. Reagan organized a military incursion backed by US troops which the association of kleptocrats, dictators and psychopaths called the “United Nations” roundly denounced. The Grenada military and their Cuban allies were swiftly defeated, the US troops departed a few weeks later and a democratic government restored with elections in 1984.
Today the economy is described as 11% agriculture and 20% industry. The island still is a large exporter of the spices nutmeg and mace and there is also some degree of manufacturing. I noticed that Wikipedia has a chart showing the breakdown of exports and an astonishing 8% of export is claimed to be household quality toilet paper. The balance of the economy is tourism and services. The GDP per capita of over $14,000 certainly explains the overall look of prosperity of the island compared to some of the other places we have visited.