Welcome to the Caribbean
17 February 2016
Virginia and Dennis Johns
Wed Feb 3 As we mentioned in our prior blog post, the Atlantic Odyssey rally had arranged a Rum tasting tour for the group on Wed, which we missed having only arrived that morning. But late in the day a group of locals paraded down the pontoon where all the Odyssey boats were moored with one of the colorful and musical parades that were happening all over the island for the start of Carnaval.
Thu Feb 4 We were able to participate in the Discovery Day activities the following Thursday. We took a bus to Trois Ilets, a museum site that depicted a typical slave savanna. A slave savanna was a small residence that was established by former slaves after slavery was abolished in 1848. We then went back to Le Marin and had a typical Creole lunch at a small restaurant on the beach. Following that we were invited to participate in sailing traditional Yoles - big wooden canoe style hull with a brightly colored square sail which is steered by humans shifting their weight from one side to the other and some sitting on poles extending about 6 feet out the side of the boat. There wasn't much wind, but the locals got two of the yoles going - each full of willing participants of all ages. Our crew, Steve and Jim, represented Libertad.
Thursday night, the rally organizers and the Martinique Office of Tourism provided a farewell party at the Mango Bay Restaurant, a short walk from the marina. A sumptuous, three course meal was served followed by speeches and an awards presentation to every rally participant. Virginia received a special award for becoming the single, default SSB net controller as all other controllers travelled faster and moved out of range of most of the SSB net participants. Her sweet voice over the radio waves enticed other Atlantic crossers who were not in our official group to join our net after tuning in each morning. We finally met some of them after arriving in Martinique.
Sun Feb 7 was the start of Carnaval. Colin on Persevere arranged for a bus to pick us up at the marina and take us to the ferry where they then took us across the bay to Fort du France for the opening ceremonial parade. Unfortunately our crew had left on a flight very early that morning so they missed out on the fun. The parade went on forever. They had several floats, lots of bands - mostly drums, lots of dancers. It was very colorful and festive. The parade was so long we had to work our way back along the route (towards the ferry dock) to see the bulk of it and avoid missing our return ferry. There were costume shops all along the street and many in the crowd were decked out in Carnaval dress. The big thing was neon colored items -net ballet skirts and gloves, leg warmers, hats, and ties - all being worn by women and men alike, including the ballet skirts. Virginia had recently purchased some of these same neon items for an 80's theme party back in Santa Barbara and was wishing she had them along. As we worked our way towards the end of the parade, it became clear that all those who were previously sidewalk-anchored spectators, were collapsing into the street and dancing along with drum bands either ahead or behind them. It rained, but very lightly and very briefly. We took the ferry back in the evening and the bus was waiting to deliver us back to the marina.
Mon Feb 8 For the next few days we prepared for our trip south to Grenada, emailing Spice Island Marina Services to confirm our reservation, doing a bit of provisioning, catching up on bill paying while we had internet, checking the weather. We had several group dinners aboard Libertad, saying farewell to friends - some of whom we hope to catch up with next season.
Thu Feb 11 We left the marina around 0930 heading south to Grenada. We originally developed a route with just three legs of 50-60 nm each. But for some reason the first leg really exhausted us. We sailed the windward side of St. Lucia to an anchorage on the south end and had good wind for sailing, but also a lot of those confused Atlantic swells. We might have been missing our extra crew to help with the sail changes and such as we were both exhausted and Virginia had gotten a bit nauseous - a rare occurrence these days. Also, we departed a little late for a 60 mile leg and arrived at the anchorage just after sunset. The anchorage was a little rolly with a strong wind blowing through, so we weren't guaranteed an uninterrupted evening. We actually re-anchored at midnight and Dennis was up a few more times during the night on anchor watch. So in the morning we revised our plan and designed a route with shorter legs. We posted a position and short blog post at each anchorage so we won't repeat them all here.
The trip south to Grenada gave us a feeling for what sailing in the Caribbean will be like next year. On the windward side of the islands you are in the Atlantic and since the trade winds are generally coming from the east you get consistent wind to sail and swell. On the leeward side of the islands you have variable wind. We had nice steady sailing winds when making a passage between islands, some gusting and change of wind direction at the ends of islands, and no wind at all if it was a tall mountainous island and was blocking all the wind. While there might be some chop, we had no swells to speak of on the leeward side.
Mon Feb 15 we arrived in Prickly Bay. We spent two nights at the small Prickly Bay Marina preparing the boat to be hauled. The first night we ate ashore at the marina restaurant as they were having pizza night and had good free wifi. We took a taxi to a bank in town to get the local currency EC$ (eastern Caribbean) and to drop by the boatyard to get a better idea of the location of the lift. We primarily are on the boat doing all our 'storage' chores, making lists of what we need to take home and what equipment we need to order and bring back with us, and using the internet to arrange flights home. We'll have to tour Grenada and all the islands we anchored at enroute here next season when we return.
Wed Feb 17 We are hauling out Libertad at Spice Island Marine Services yard this morning at 10:00.
Fri Feb 19 We will be flying back to California (Grenada to Trinidad to Miami to Houston to LAX).
Atlantic Odyssey II 2016
16 February 2016
Virginia and Dennis Johns
Sunday, Jan 3 We did an overnight run from Lanzarote to Tenerife - no wind, motored the whole way. When we checked into the marina (5 days free stay for Odyssey participants) we immediately ordered fuel and they said they would deliver it right to our slip. Virginia had a moment of panic when she returned from an errand to see no boat in our berth, but quickly discovered that Dennis had been asked to move Libertad as the fuel truck's hose would not reach to our berth. Silver Lining: Libertad was now in quite a convenient location for our crew's arrival and provisioning as we were side-tied at the bottom of the entrance ramp. Virginia was impressed by the apparent skill it took to maneuver into the berth now occupied but Dennis insisted it was easy. The hard part, departure, was yet to come. We filled the tank but Dennis forgot to get our two new jerry cans filled (hidden in the engine compartment) so he had to chase the fuel truck down the dock and stand by until he finished with other boats and then had to lug the filled cans back to the boat. We immediately got busy with boat projects -Dennis installing items he had bought and brought from home and Virginia refining her provisioning list. That evening we attended a welcoming party at the Real Club Nautico de Tenerife (local yacht club). Open bar and appetizers in vast quantities were served, eliminating any need for dinner. By the next day we were exhausted from preparation projects, but planned to clean up a bit and go ashore for dinner as it was Jan 5th, our 41st wedding anniversary. It started to rain and we were rethinking our plans when our friends Bill and Judy came over and invited us to dinner aboard BeBe. What a wonderful gift - and they didn't even know it was a special day for us. We grabbed the box of Sees candy Dennis had gotten for Christmas and headed over for a very enjoyable meal and visit with our friends. Plans were made for Virginia and Judy to make a provisioning run the next day to the best supermarket in town. Dennis wrapped up a few more projects while Virginia came back carrying only a small bag of items as the rest were to be delivered to the boat that night....so convenient!
Thu Jan 7 Our crew arrived as planned. Jim arrived in the early evening, around 7:30pm in time to have dinner with us. We saved Steve's dinner and warmed it up when he arrived around 10pm. We spent the next two days making the final preparations, including two provisioning runs primarily to the excellent open produce market for fresh vegetables and fruit (they are well-prepared for the cruising community). We had emptied out some cupboards for the crew in the V-berth and moved all the loose items we normally store there (we use it like a garage) to other hiding spots throughout the boat. Steve set up in the starboard bunk of the V-berth. With the leeboards installed, the port side was used to store our crates of produce -that worked very well but Steve had to live the next three weeks amongst the aroma of a produce market -he didn't complain. Jim was assigned to the salon berth, the most comfortable spot on the boat but also the least private. At the large open air market, after reviewing all the merchants, we selected one that seemed to have everything we wanted. It was an advantageous selection as they were very accommodating. When we selected an item and stated our quantity, they personally picked out the freshest and in some cases the greenest (tomatoes for instance) -they were obviously very familiar with provisioning for sailors who have minimal refrigeration. They also delivered all ten crates of produce to the boat -fabulous! The captain did not contest the quantities Virginia ordering -as provisioning was her job and she had a detailed spreadsheet worked out. He did look a bit surprised when she said she wanted 200 pieces of fruit and the count after the crates were delivered and stored was short. He made a second trip with the crew to find a bit more variety and augment the count for us. As might be expected, we had to toss some which went bad, such as a c was ouple yellow peppers and a few cucumbers. But for the most part we were good about using the right things first and even had a few fresh items left when we arrived in Martinique. We used some of our dried and canned fruit to give us some variety near the end. No case of scurvy was suffered.
Fri Jan 8 The day before we leave. There was a communications meeting where they discussed the procedures for using the tracking devices and establishing a radio net. Virginia agreed to be one of the radio net controllers as she loves having that connection at sea and wanted to make sure they had enough controllers to make it a 'go'. Next was the skippers meeting which the captain and crew attended. The first mate was back on the boat awaiting the produce delivery. Later that evening was the farewell party hosted by the Office of Tourism at the Yacht Club. It was to be another cocktail party with an open bar and nibbles, but they served us so many delectable items in such quantity that it was really dinner. Each boat was called forward to receive a plaque in remembrance of their participation along with three bottles of Spanish wine. It was suggested that at least one bottle be opened at the halfway point in the Atlantic. The children were each given a special gift. Among the 17 boats in our rally, only two had children - three older boys and one young girl on s/v Baloo and three girls on s/v Perseverance. The girls became fast friends. There happened to be a big cruise ship in port and the captain came in full uniform to wish us all well.
Sat Jan 9 The rally departed from Tenerife, Canary Islands at noon. We were asked to head towards the start line about 11:00am and have a mass start -for a good photo op. We had relocated for fueling and later the marina staff had subsequently positioned a very big catamaran close behind us. There was minimal maneuvering room. We had to move the boat by hand with extra lines deployed to help angle our departure and even then Libertad (with no bow thruster struggles to turn any direction) was having a hard time getting out. Dennis was doing a remarkable job moving us forward, then back, then forward, then back...making a little progress each time -the opposing breeze was not helping. Finally several folks on the docks came down and positioned themselves to help guide us away from the docks, out into the fairway. What a frantic time -not the way we wanted to start our voyage. We joined the 17 boat procession out of the harbor (locals shouting encouragement from the end of the breakwater as we passed) and made it to the starting area with plenty of time to spare, circling around with the others. This is not a race, but some were jockeying to be the first over the line. We moved to the outside to stay out of their way. Jimmy Cornell and staff were out in a boat taking pictures and wanted sails flying if possible. There were very light winds, but as we crossed the starting line we hoisted our orange, green, and white drifter to give him a good shot. Just ahead of us we saw a whale blowing his goodbye to the fleet. It was a lovely coincidence.
We were told to expect very light winds until we got close to the Cape Verde Islands. We only had 7-8 knots of wind but were able to sail for a few hours at about 5 knots with four sails flying. That afternoon we saw a pod of pilot whales cruising along on both sides of our boat. The following morning we encountered a very large pod of dolphins racing from a long ways out to the bow of our boat. You could see their track as they were constantly jumping and putting on a show. We saw the most wildlife on the trip in that first 24 hours. A few birds, a single dolphin now and then, and the fish we caught were all we saw the rest of the trip.
We were all assigned tracking equipment to be used for the crossing so that rally control could keep an eye on our progress and post to the Odyssey website for family and friends. We had a daily radio net at 1200UTC on SSB channel 4A. Bill on s/v BeBe, David on s/v Amokura, and Virginia rotated as the net controllers. First order of business was to ask if there are any medical or other emergencies to report. Then we went through a rollcall of the boats that were equipped with SSB (only 7 of the 17-but another group of boats held a net on Iridium satphone). We each gave our position, course, boat speed, wind conditions, and barometer reading. Then we shared stories of fish caught, sea life encountered, broken parts, and life aboard. A north Atlantic storm produced northwesterly swell that intersected the normal easterly swell making the seas to Cape Verdes quite confused and uncomfortable -especially in light wind. Things got even more exciting as Tropical Storm/Hurricane Alex approached Cape Verdes from the southwest. We shared opinions on the best course to take to steer clear of Alex's path. As we approached the Cape Verdes some discussed stopping to fix parts, fuel up (we had motored for 100 hours at that point due to the light wind) and wait for the truant NE tradewinds to fill in. Shortly after departure, we thought we had an issue with our batteries and were planning to make the stop for that reason in addition to the others. But even after Dennis fixed the battery problem at sea, we decided we'd make the stop and get a short break and hope for better wind. About 8 boats in the fleet decided to stop; the rest turned west hoping the trades would fill in sooner -especially those with more fuel. We had some days of sailing, but had motored about four of the seven days on this first leg of the crossing. We made our first timezone change in Mindelo, Cape Verdes.
Sat Jan 16 We arrived at the Marina Mindelo, Sao Vicente, Cape Verdes. We had motored a lot since leaving the Canaries and we weren't sure how much motoring was ahead; as it turned out we wouldn't have needed any more fuel, but filling up removed one potential point of anxiety for the longer leg of the crossing. It was a very restful 2 day stop. On Sunday many of us from the rally took a bus across the island to the fishing village of Calhou where the lone restaurant there had a special buffet every Sunday. We cruisers were outnumbered by the locals and it was so much fun. The locals mixed with us. There was a band playing local music and a young couple danced so beautifully and encouraged us to join them. The buffet was unbelievable. The variety and quantities of local dishes offered was amazing and delicious. Then the food was cleared and a second buffet of desserts was set up. It was so much fun. The bus trip over and back gave us a nice tour of the interior of the island and revealed how desolate is the landscape. It's a wonder that anyone can make a living there outside tourism. We had a very nice relaxing two night stay in Mindelo.
Mon Jan 18 we were off again for the last and longest leg of the passage. s/v BeBe did not stop in Cape Verdes and were so far ahead of our group that did, we could only hear them very lightly so Bill chose to opt out of the net from that point on. Amokura left Cape Verdes one day ahead of the rest of us and were also hard to hear, but they checked in every day. Virginia was able to run the net with relay help from Fenicia and others. It was really a team effort as we all wanted to stay connected. After the SSB net, each of us would make a call out on VHF channel 69 to others in the fleet within our range to share positions and information. Those of us with email capability (most of us) were receiving a daily text weather report from Pascal at rally control. Pascal also informed us at one point about a fleet of 20-30 small boats that were rowing across the Atlantic in our area. We believe we had actually seen one a few days before hearing about them. On his watch Dennis saw a small boat with just one small white light near us - exactly the description of these rowers. We were informed that they did not want to be rescued, just avoided. As we reported in one of our enroute daily posts, we did see other boats quite frequently on this crossing - other sailboats, cruise ships, freighters. This was quite different from our experience crossing the Pacific a few years ago where we did not see one single boat of any type from the time we left the Galapagos until about 3,000 miles later when we were approaching the Marquesas and s/v Solstice - one of the boats in our small radio net - came out of the mist just ahead of us.
The seas were quite confused for much of the crossing so we did a lot of rocking and rolling, especially when the winds were light. When the winds increased to the point where we were heeling a bit, things would calm down. Dennis plotted a course that had us tacking back and forth downwind to keep our speed up to reduce the rolling but that added miles to our passage and kept us in the back of the pack. The firstmate appreciated this tactic as she never got seasick. We did have wind and sailed 99% of the way from Cape Verdes Islands to Martinique. We caught some fish, but only two that were large enough to keep; Jim made sushi for us with the wahoo; we had some of the dorado (mahi mahi) fresh the day we caught it, but froze the rest to have for our farewell dinner with our crew in Martinique. Having two extra crew really made the watches easy. We did 2 hour watches so we all got one 6 hour sleeping time slot. Even if you were the 0100 or 0300 watch, it was manageable to get up after a few hours rest and be alert for 2 hours. During the day, we would of course be making sail changes, putting up the spinnaker most mornings, sometimes wing on wing with a poled out jib. We discovered that having a telescoping spinnaker pole might have been a great addition to our boat's equipment for this voyage. We may have to look into that when we get back in November. We did a lot of reading, soduko, crossword puzzles, fishing, sharing stories, and Jim entertained us with his guitar and singalongs. All went well with our crew - it worked out very nicely. Every evening was a thrill to see what amazing meal Virginia had managed to create in the unruly seas. We crossed three more time zones, our fourth and final one at Martinique. Although we thought we had a problem with our batteries on the way to Cape Verdes, that proved to be an easy fix and we didn't have any other failure during the entire trip. Few other boats in the fleet could make that claim. Broken spinnaker poles and rigging issues were not uncommon as boats ran their full sail sets throughout the night (speed kept the uncomfortable seas minimized) and got surprised by squalls.
Wed Feb 3 Our timing for finishing was terrible. If we had had more wind the prior two days we were planning to arrive on Tuesday afternoon but the closer we got the less the wind would blow. Proceeding into the channel in the dark was highly discouraged. The winds were giving us at barely 5 knots of speed and it was clear that we would not arrive until after dark, so we took down all sails except a double reefed main and drifted at 2.5 knots for about 12 hours, crossing the finish line in Martinique at 0800 just as calculated. Since many of the boats had arrived before us, they were all on the dock waiting to greet us, but the marina staff was especially busy that day and we had to circle for over an hour before being guided to our berth. In the meantime the Rum tour bus was leaving, so our friends had to greet us later. But the tourism office and Pascal were there to welcome us with the traditional Rum punch celebration drink and Igal - the captain of Baloo who took our lines, said his hello and dashed off to the tour bus.
What a sense of accomplishment...and what a great crew!
15 February 2016
Virginia and Dennis Johns
We arrived in southern Grenada this afternoon. Our boat insurance requires that we be at least this far south for the Hurricane season. We already have the main off and folded. We are berthed at the Prickly Bay Marina (very small place) for two days to do some of our prep work and then will be hauled out likely on Wednesday or Thursday. Should be flying home within a week!
15 February 2016
Virginia and Dennis Johns
Yesterday, Valentine's Day, we sailed to Tyrrel Bay on Carricou Island.
Next stop is Grenada. Spice Island Marine Services is closed on the weekend, but we seem to have intermittent phone service here and so we will try and call them this morning to see if they are ready for us. We will need a berth in the water for a few days to do prep and then be hauled out. We haven't had internet since leaving Martinique. Got a few email messages through on our phone yesterday, but looking forward to internet in Grenada to arrange a flight home and catch up news from family and friends.
13 February 2016
Virginia and Dennis Johns
Made another relatively short hop today to Charlestown Bay on the island of Canouan. This is a larger bay with a town and a number of other anchored boats - nice and calm. We sailed all day which was quite pleasant. It's warmer - tempted to jump in for a swim...maybe tomorrow.
Doing these shorter legs each day will get us to Grenada probably mid week next week and then we'll need some time to prepare the boat for the hurricane season haulout - pickling water maker, taking off all sails to stow below, etc. etc.
All's well aboard.
12 February 2016
Virginia and Dennis Johns
We were wiped out last night from our long day sail from Martinique to St. Lucia. We were watching a movie with our dinner but neither of us made it to the end of the movie. We were considering spending a second night at the Laborie Bay, but it was too rolly. Also, since two other boats had come in and anchored close to us (given there wasn't a lot of room between the two shoals) Dennis felt he needed to set an alarm and check the anchor several times last night. So we headed south, but found an anchorage on St. Vincent (Petit Byahaut) rather than our long day sail to Bequia we had originally planned. This is a very quiet anchorage and we have it to ourselves. BBQing chicken tonight and hopefully getting rested up. We'll see what tomorrow brings - a day or rest or heading further south.