11/25/2006, Rodney Bay, St. Lucia
This picture shows off our new flag, appropriately a whale since this boat model is called a Whaleback. Flags get a tremendous amount of wear on the bow and we have shredded a few already. Since we only intended to spend the night here, we decided to make a "yellow flag" stop. Upon arriving in a new port, the usual custom is for a foreign flag vessel to put up a yellow "Q" flag, indicating to the harbor authorities that the vessel hasn't officially cleared in with customs and immigration. Usually you are expected to clear in within a day or so, and after clearing in a small courtesy flag of the host country is flown instead of the Q flag. During a "yellow flag" stop you don't actually clear in because you are leaving quickly. In other words you sneak in and out before anyone notices (you hope!).
We experienced the reverse situation in Guadeloupe when we tried for four days to check in at Deshaies, but never found the office open or even a sign stating when they would be open. So we finally checked in when we got to the next port in a larger town.
Clearing in and out of the various Caribbean countries has been an interesting experience. Most places are very relaxed about the process, although the paper work often seems extremely complicated and labor intensive. It's not unusual to visit three different offices to deal with immigration, customs and harbour authorities, each with their own complete set of fees and forms which need an official stamp. We have been asked more than once if we had any stowaways or illegal substances on board. I have been totally amazed at how often carbon paper is used, not even the self copying forms. Usually, someone actually inserts pieces of carbon paper between the forms! I haven't seen carbon paper used in the states for years, but it is alive and well in the Caribbean.
A recent experience leads me to speculate that all this may be changing. The Immigration office in Antigua scanned our passports into a computer, which we were told was connected to US Homeland Security! When Paul made a comment about Homeland Security giving these countries computers in order to keep tabs of all of us, he was informed that they had to purchase the computers themselves! In spite of this recent technological addition, they still had us filling out multiple copies of several forms and giving us hand stamped receipts. The whole incident illustrates how often new and old ways mix and mingle in the Caribbean. To be honest we were sort of embarassed that our government had insisted small Caribbean countries purchase computers for the convenience of Homeland Security.
The following day we "upped anchor" and discovered a big surprise. We had dug into a huge piece of living coral and managed to lift a small bolder-size chunk out of the water with the anchor. Because our anchor is shapped like a large scoop, Paul had a difficult time getting it off the anchor and finally succeeded getting rid of it by prying with a piece of 2x4 wood after unsuccessfully beating on it with a hammer.
11/09/2006, Tobago Cays, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
The Tobago Cays are one of my favorite places. In addition to the great shorkeling and good company here, our visit was memorable because I succeeded in taking some underwater pictures that were in focus! A few even included fish!
Our daughters had given us a new camera with a very fancy case for taking underwater pictures. The case even has an instruction booklet which includes such helpful information as warning that the camera case shouldn't be used as a personal flotation device! Honest. It's there in black and white. I really wonder who writes up this stuff.
After learning the basics of the new camera and case, I was eager to take some underwater pictures in the Tobago Cays. I immediately encountered an unanticipated problem in that I wasn't able to wear my bifocal glasses under my shorkeling mask and therefore, I couldn't focus on the image in the view finder. I had to simply snap pictures and hope for the best. I would see someting I wanted to film, aim the camera in the general direction, press the button half way down, wait about 10 seconds and click. The camera has a feature that tells you when the area in the small box visible in the middle of the viewfinder is in focus. It turned out to not be too useful because I couldn't focus on the small square. In spite of all that about 30% of the pictures were in focus and several actually had fish in them. What an ironic problem. So far I haven't come up with a good way to fix this problem. If anyone has any ideas, I would really appreciate them.