16 Dec 2012, Isla Saona
Half past four and the beach is almost deserted. All that remains are the birds picking over the detritus of the extensive picnic lunch and the clouds of ravenous mosquitoes disappointed at the sudden lack of targets. So ends another day on the fantastic beaches of the Island of Saona on the South East tip of the Dominican Republic; another of the many hundreds of beaches that class themselves as one of the top 12 beaches of the world. Anchored near the Coast Guard station, we are alone again for the night and able to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this lovely, remote location.
Today, we and the hundreds of tourists that are disgorged from the powerful open dories have enjoyed the warming sunshine and played in the sea with its irresistible turquoise colour. It is such a contrast to the conditions yesterday afternoon as we arrived from our long, bouncy and tiresome trip across the Mona Passage from Puerto Rico. As the anchor touched the clean, sandy bottom the torrential rain commenced. Whiteout conditions prevailed for the rest of the day, terrorising the packed ranks of tourists cowering in the open dories like slaves in a galley. Yesterday, no gayety and laughter accompanied the endless procession of boats powering their way back to the hotel complexes on the mainland.
Previously, Magan's Bay on the north shore of St Thomas kept us in the US Virgin Islands after our departure from the American Yacht Harbour Marina. Another of the top 12 beaches in the world, it is a hive of activity during the day and a place of solitude at night. Rocking gently at anchor off the glorious sandy beach it is easy to get a ricked neck as you try and keep up with all the activity. On one side the Swanny Kazoo conversations of the boobies are abruptly silenced as they plunge down on the unsuspecting fish and the ungainly pelicans crump into the water in a massive shower of spray on the same shoal. The assault on the fish seems unending as the massive flock of birds dive, relaunch, circle and dive again. On the beach side, a fascinating theatre of tourist life unfolds. The deserted beach springs to life as beach chairs and kiosks are made ready for the massed onslaught from the colossal cruise ships docked on the other side of the island. We stroll past wedding preparations with their champagne warming in the morning sunshine. Little do they know that today's ceremony will be a washout when heavy rain strikes. Numerous lifeguards enthusiastically exercise their power over the bathers with shrill whistle blasts, keeping all within the designated swimming area. As we head out on our return swim to Shiraz the whistling get more and more frantic and somewhat ragged. The surf board is launched and heads after us with the lifeguard paddling furiously; the activity drawing attention to his well maintained physique. It's a race. He is destined to lose for he cannot make up the gap before we reach the steps of Shiraz and he peels off looking for a distraction that would explain his frenetic burst of activity to the casual observer.
Officialdom is a nasty evil that we have to deal with as we bounce from country to country. Puerto Rico, being part of the USA, can be particularly irksome as our Swiss neighbours in Puerto Del Ray marina discovered when the contents of their entire larder and freezer were confiscated because it was banned foreign produce from the French island of Martinique. If I hadn't been crunched up, cursing and sweating while replacing the toilet pipes, I would have commiserated with them more. Still, at least they could buy the same produce in the local hypermarket. We had chosen to check-in to Puerto Rico in Culebra, where the sole member of US Customs and Border Protection force is most amenable and a boat inspection almost unheard of. Still, having been to a foreign port in the last year, like many of the boats in the marina, we are prohibited from dumping rubbish in the bins. It must be taken to the disposal point in San Juan, which is only an hours drive if you have a fast car and a good sense of direction. Like everyone else, we humour the officials and ignore the rules.
Gandalf is a spin-off from the blocked toilet pipes and the week stay in Puerto Del Ray marina, Fajardo needed to fix them. Wandering around the capital city, San Juan, in our hire car we came across a bicycle shop. They happened to have my Christmas present in stock. A gleaming new bicycle is now tucked away awaiting Christmas day. Until then, Gollywog gets chased by some very large and aggressive dogs in the wilds of Puerto Rico. I am not impressed with these canine packs. It seems you either brave the heavy traffic of the populated areas or risk being torn to bits by packs of wild dogs in the rural wilds.
If it's not vicious dogs it is jelly fish. The great big dinner plate ones we encountered in Sun Bay, Vieques and Puerto Patillas didn't sting, even when I kicked them. However, the box jelly fish stings are particularly nasty and had me in severe pain with fluid pouring from the sting sites. There had been no jelly fish for the previous two days at the glorious island of Caja de Muerto (coffin island). This nominated wildlife park, with its outstanding beach and clear waters, attracts weekend visitors from Ponce on mainland Puerto Rico. Anchoring is not allowed. We anchored for 5 days. Mostly, it was just us, the endangered turtles, Berty the massive barracuda and the security guard that inhabited the place. The jelly fish visited for one day. It was the only lovely anchorage we had discovered in Puerto Rico so we made the most of it before lack of water and fresh provisions drove us to Ponce.
Pressed for time, we crossed the Mona Passage to the Dominican Republic with rougher conditions than we would have liked. The winds went from gale force to calm within 12 hours leaving us bouncing on the waves in the dark. Compensation came by way of vivid phosphorescence and a shooting star display to rival that of the Perseids. Our passage coincided with the peak of the Geminid shower and the dark of the moon. It was spectacular! Great sparkling trails lit up the sky in an almost continuous stream. We had not seen such vivid stars or such a display since our crossing to Madeira a couple of years ago. Still, we were pleased when we dropped anchor off the island of Saona. According to the Mayans, the world ends shortly and this seems like an excellent place to await it. After it is over, we will move on to Marina Zarpar in Boca Chica where we can remedy our illegal squatter status by officially checking-in to the Dominican Republic.
18 Nov 2012, Virgin Islands
There is a problem with having a yacht at anchor, you need a reliable dinghy to act as the work horse otherwise the alternative is to swim back and forth with your provisions. I don't like soggy bread.
Haulaz, our dinghy, has served us well. It's a roll up version so is easily stored down below on long passages. The engine is small so we can lift the combination up the beach without too much effort but we do have to take care not to puncture the hull on the corals and rocks. Unfortunately in the Caribbean heat, the cheap glue used by the manufacturers was failing big time. John initially glued back the rubbing strips but bits were falling off faster than we could glue them back. We had a professional repair done, twice, but it became evident that Haulaz wasn't going to survive a round the world trip. Most cruisers favour a hard bottomed dinghy, so a roll up is hard to come by in the Caribbean. However, in March, whilst purchasing yet more expensive glue from Island Water World and debating whether to make a bulk order, John spotted a hyperlon roll up version of Haulaz. We bought it, tested it out on the dock, folded it away and had it stored for 7 months. Haulaz survived another season of sailing around the Islands then fell apart.
Not wanting to make life too sporty after three months at the lovely Port Louis Marina in Grenada, we gave hurricane Sandy a head start then set off on November 3rd for Puerto Rico. We slowed down to arrive in day light and dropped the anchor in Ensenada Honda on Culebra a Spanish Virgin Island. There was the palaver of phoning the customs and boarder protection office to announce our arrival and seek further instructions. With no local sim cards our phone credit was rapidly used up. We were advised to check in with the officials at the airport. The new Haulaz II was inflated at which point John noticed the damage from storage. Haulaz II had a broken valve on one tube and two punctures on the other. The atmosphere was tense to say the least. As with all good engineers John managed to use his magic on the dinghy so that we could at least use it to get to the town dock. After a 10 minute walk to the airport, we were greeted by the English speaking officer who apologised for keeping us waiting whilst she had her lunch. She was very polite and efficient guiding us through the mountain of paper work, stamping our passport visas and issuing a US$19 annual US cruising permit. Back on Shiraz the Q flag came down and the Puerto Rican courtesy flag went up.
Our impression of Culebra was not great, perhaps we were over tired but the place failed to hold a magical attraction. John described it as a well worn pair of his flip flops. There are too many big American vehicles and squashed chickens on the tarmac roads for my liking. Not trusting the dinghy to transport Gollywog to shore, John's two hour cycle each day was clearly not on the cards. I suggested walking to Flamenco beach which was about 4km away. This became a daily ritual and like storm troopers we walked very quickly there and back every afternoon, I am sure we raised a few eyebrows. The popular golden beach was lovely. I played in the surf whilst John powered his way through the waves for an hour. The set up was well organised for the mainland tourists who were met off the ferry and driven in taxis to the beach. The advantage to us was the use of free showers after our swim.
The following Monday, after many phone calls and ordering of spares, we motored off to St Thomas USVI. The dinghy was to be repaired by the Caribbean inflatable company. We had no alternative but to book into the IGY American yacht harbour marina in Red hook for the week.
The dinghy has now been repaired but not tested. Yesterday we caught the ferry across to St John's to collect some water filters. Making the most of our trip, we played in the sea at the lovely Cinnamon bay before following a short national park trail. The Cinnamon trail soon turned into the John Abbott iron man trail when we lost the route. After a lot of expletives as John fought off massive cobwebs and large spiders we found our way back at the beach entrance. Luckily a very obvious taxi was leaving with some tourists and we cadged a lift back to the ferry dock. We made the 5pm ferry with seconds to spare and were back on board Shiraz 25 minutes later. I liked St John's but we will not have time to sail and explore as we have wasted time on the dinghy repair.
On Monday we will leave St Thomas and return to Culebra to check back in with customs before exploring main land Puerto Rico. I think St Thomas is expensive, over rated and spoilt by tourism but as I am not a great socialiser it's hardly surprising really.
28 Oct 2012, Grenada
In October, the Thursday Virgin Atlantic flight from Gatwick delivered a very white looking visitor to us. Michele, my Sister in Law, stayed for a week.
John took the opportunity to remain on Shiraz and catch up on boat maintenance, whilst Michele and I stayed at the Sea view apartments and wellness centre. This proved to be the perfect location, the garden gate led directly onto Grand Anse beach enabling a noodle or swim in the warm Caribbean Sea both morning and evening. I was surprised how many Grenadians use the beach for their early morning exercise before going to work.
It was very much an action packed holiday exploring most of the island. Friday kicked off with an excellent day tour with some other yacht cruisers and afterwards we went directly to an evening event of music and poetry at the museum in St Georges. Saturday was spent shopping, swimming and hashing - The location for the hash was disappointing but fairly local and not too arduous, so we were not late back. Sunday Michele and I did a geocache at the Flamboyant hotel having walked the length of Grand Anse beach. We then explored quarantine point and Morne Rouge bay. On Monday we took a local bus up to Sauteurs on the Northern tip of the island. It was rather a hot day. Tuesday we walked miles to and around Hog Island, an area where many yachties drop anchor. Wednesday was junking for souvenirs in St Georges, not my favourite past time as it's hot and smelly but a must do to any tourist.
Thursday was return to UK day for Michele, so we chilled in the apartment until 12MD when we had to vacate. Catching a local bus to take us the short distance to Port Louis Marina was an amusing experience. However the locals travelling on the bus did not share our enthusiasm. Perhaps it was because we had with us a large suitcase, two rucksacks, another bag and 2 five foot noodles. The scowls turned to smiles of relief after the noodles were skilfully passed out of the bus without knocking off a Rasta hat or wig. The weather was drizzly and the black clouds were threatening. The moorings/sun sail charter people kindly allowed us to use their facility to store Michele's suitcase and relax, although we did go onto Shiraz for a while. Next thing we know, Michele was off in a taxi to the airport. I have never known a week fly bye so quickly.
We can now concentrate on boat jobs in a frantic preparation for a rather swift, for us, circumnavigation. A phrase from Dads' Army springs to mind. "Don't panic Mr Mainwaring".
29 Sep 2012, Leewards and Windwards
OK I can take a hint. The blog won't be done unless I take over the reins.
It was the end of March and Shiraz was hauled out on the sticks to have her bottom anti fouled. This time the work was done by Spice Island Marine Grenada, it was hot and smelly there. To add insult to injury I found a dead tree frog in my bag of lettuce and the moving fruit tea bags in the caddy contained hundreds of small beetles. We had worked hard whilst at Port Louis Marina on many projects including new batteries and rewiring, so were pretty tired by the time we were re launched on the 30th March. We hung around in Prickly bay for a few days then sailed off to Dominica. During this time both of us went down with the dreaded rain forest lurgy, horrid pustulose boils on various parts of the anatomy. Own up who cast the spell? These continue to haunt us requiring several courses of antibiotics. Of course the pills I had been prescribed caused skin photosensitivity in the sun so my skin felt as though it was on fire, great start to our sailing travels. Fortunately we had decided to explore just a few islands in depth over 4 months then return to Port Louis for the Hurricane season. We had a few other miss haps during our time away from Grenada as one does but nothing that we couldn't joke about later.
We arrived at Prince Rupert Bay in Dominica on Easter Monday. The place was packed with cruisers and locals all having fun in the beautiful warm sea and sandy beach. The locals might be poor but they know how to enjoy themselves and made us feel welcome. Dominica is a wonderful island for inland exploring. There are 14 segments to the Waitukubuli National Trail and we ambitiously hoped to do them all. We managed quite a few and I loved them. It was a real treat to be right inside the rain forest with trees that are hundreds of years old. At one point we hiked with a German couple we met in Grenada, we also joined in with a few cruiser events. John managed to cycle most days but I think he found the steep gradient a challenge even for him. Of course being a green island has its draw backs. It rains in Dominica which may keep the tree frogs happy but even John was forced to buy an umbrella. I associate Dominica with birds or lack of them. Hens, cockerels and chicks are everywhere including helping themselves to food off the shelves in supermarkets. It is not unusual to open the shop door and half a dozen chicks run out. There is no such thing as a dawn chorus; cockerels carry on day and night. Parrots are another matter. For saying that a parrot appears on the national flag, there were surprisingly few to be seen. Travelling back to Portsmouth on a bus after a long hike in a parrot hotspot area, we mentioned our disappointment at not seeing a parrot. Well that was it, for the rest of the journey it was like something out of Monty Python with the last person saying she spotted at least a hundred parrots from her home that morning. They were still on about parrots when we left the bus.
Our next venue was Marie Galante which is a small island belonging to French Guadeloupe. We anchored in what was described as the quiet Saint Louis bay. Only it wasn't quiet. It turned out to be a bank holiday and there was a jazz festival on. There must have been about 100 yachts in the bay, finding somewhere to drop the hook was a challenge. However, it was such a pleasure to hear sultry jazz music in the evening rather than the usual ear splitting Rasta music which dominates most Caribbean Islands. The crowds left after the event and we more or less had the bay to ourselves. It was a great place to watch the ferries come and go. The water was gin clear and warm so there was lots of swimming time. The island is very "French", the locals liked to greet each other with air kisses and French greetings. The country side is flattish compared to a lot of Caribbean islands and looked just like the French countryside. The main crop is sugar cane which is turned into rum and brown sugar; there are also a lot of bulls on the island. Unfortunately John came to grief with one whilst out on his cycle causing him a few weeks of pain. This was a great pity as John seemed to be so happy cycling on well made roads over gentle terrain in the dry weather. I had a few adventures on the local busses particularly as I don't speak French. At one point I ended up as the only passenger in the middle of nowhere, well I wasn't going to get off the bus I could have walked around for days. The driver took me to a rum factory - (good man) where I was forced to sample the local grog. The young French owner spoke English so was able to explain to the driver why I was still on his bus.
We sailed back to Dominica for a while then on to Marin in Martinique. Martinique is a large French island and has modern shopping centres and facilities. Unfortunately Goliwog had some problems and needed fixing. By hiring a car for a few days we were able to take it into a cycle shop which was on an industrial estate miles from Marin. The timing of the Tour de France coincided with the Tour de Martinique and we just happened to be on Martinique at the time. The crowds cheered John on in his green jersey, as he peddled like hell on his normal bike route. Martinique was a great place and we hope to return.
Our last anchorage before returning to Grenada was Port Elizabeth on Bequia which is one of the Grenadine Islands. Daffodil services came alongside in their double hulled yellow boat and filled up our water tanks. This service was a lot easier than tying up on the Cabrits cruise ship pontoon in Dominica but more costly. The local kids spent hours sailing their locally made dinghies round the bay and were determined to win the sailing competition on Carriacou the following week. Their enthusiasm for sailing was heart warming. The weather wasn't great whilst we were at anchor and a few yachts including large charter boats dragged their anchors and moved elsewhere. The holding for the anchor wasn't the best but we managed to stay in the same spot for a week. There was one shooting incident whilst we were there. A Brit had his yacht boarded at night and he was shot in the leg when he challenged the intruders. Bequia gave you a feeling of peace and tranquillity but there are always unsavoury characters hanging around; it is best to remain cautious. Hiking around the island didn't take long and we soon knew most areas including a turtle sanctuary.
We had a wonderful sail back to Grenada on the 1st August dropping the anchor in St Georges Bay as the full moon appeared. The following morning saw us back in Port Louis Marina where as always we were greeted like old friends by the friendly staff. We have been back for two months now and have settled into the routine of water aerobics, cycling, walking and of course the Saturday hash. The boat jobs continue and we are planning our next sail in November which will take us much further afield.
Mean while Sister in law Michele arrives on the 4th October for a week. John will progress with engine jobs on Shiraz whilst Michele and I will explore Grenada.
4 Apr 2012
Its fun making plans for our future cruising but there comes a time when you have to pretend to put them into action. A year imprisoned in the luxury marina on the wonderful spice island of Grenada has given us ample opportunity to revise our plans and we took full advantage of this opportunity with lots of revising. As of today, we plan go up the Lesser Antilles island chain for a while and then bimble back Port Louis Marina, Grenada for the 2012 hurricane season.
Charlie and Faith managed to prise us out of our comfortable berth for a couple of weeks in Jan 12. We braved some sporty seas for a trip to the Grenadines but not before they had experience of a muddy hash, a waterfall hike and some beach time. The Tobago Cays provided the guaranteed chance to snorkel with the massed herds of grazing turtles whilst keeping a wary eye out for the menacing jaws of the Giant Barracudas patrolling their territories and looking for lunch. The prickly flora of the tiny islands provided refuge for the large iguanas and a challenge to the barefoot explorations of our intrepid duo. Dennis treated us to a delicious and specially prepared vegetarian dinner at his busy restaurant on the island of Mayreau. Given the usual retort of Chicken, Pork and Lambi when seeking vegi options, it was an exceptional culinary feat and, as a bonus, got us seated well ahead of the ravenous hoards from the charter boats.
Hashing has been the highlight of our time in Grenada. From a rather timid start with the walking pack where I only managed a few broken ribs we have progressed to entering the events separately. Kate participates with the walking pack whilst I compete with the runners. Having suffered a severely ripped calf muscle on a number of occasions, a dog bite, a stabbing from an Aloe Vera and endless cuts and bruises I have concluded that it really is tremendous fun to throw caution to the wind and hurl yourself head long down an impossibly steep and muddy drop that is strewn with rocks, creepers, razor grass and spikes. I only wish the younger runners I am forced to keep pace with would stop talking so much; I don't have the breath to answer them. Kate has fared a lot better than I. The challenging paths have helped strengthen her knee after last years injury and subsequent operation but this benefit is quickly negated when she gets carried away with enthusiasm for the occasion and starts running. Alas, even walking sedately she has suffered blisters from contact with poisonous plants, been pushed into a raging torrent by an impatient runner as I charged past and had a parrot crap on her shoulder. Oddly, people without parrot crap on their shoulder are quick to tell those suffering the affliction how lucky the event is and that a financial windfall is sure to be the result of the dirty little beast's defecation.
Whilst awaiting the arrival of the massed riches due from the incontinent parrot incident, we were forced to engage in some deep maintenance work on Shiraz. New batteries and extensive rewiring were followed by a haul out at Spice Island Marine for a bottom job. Meanwhile the laptop HDD failed and required us to take a scenic bus trip to the east coast town of Grenville to snap-up the last replacement that we had been assured did not exist because Japan was closed.
Daily cycling proved too much for Gollywog. A chain stay tube cracked. Things looked pretty bleak for a repair or replacement. I took to swimming along Grand Anse Beach for daily sport. Dodging the hotel security guard in an attempt to leave my things secure within the grounds and to shower off on my return was mildly engaging. Nonetheless, I missed the calls of 'Hello Darling' from the traditionally built vegetable lady and 'Hey, Fisically Fit, How you dooin man' from the Kite Zone rum shop patrons who always seem shocked that I should want to cycle up their long steep hill. Eventually, a marine aluminium welder did some magic surgery on the cracked frame and put me back in touch with the colourful locals and biting dogs that adorn my cycling route.
Back in the water after our bottom painting and still awaiting our dues from the parrot poo, we have made it almost half a mile to Prickly Bay Marina. Here, in this typically shabby Caribbean complex, we are engaged in a few last minute jobs whilst trying to avoid all those people we have been telling, for the last 6 months, that we were leaving Grenada. On our return in Aug they will probably assume we never left. Maybe we won't. We could claim to have been marooned here.
28 Sep 2011, Grenada
Grenada is populated with cruisers during this part of the Hurricane Season. However, many have eschewed the costly marina with all its facilities for the life at anchor. We were glad to be tied to the dock rather than participating in the mayhem in the anchorages that ensued from a rather fierce squall that hit as Hurricane Maria passed north of the Lesser Antilles. The rain hit in the early evening with little warning. It's the time of day for Happy Hours, lounging in the pool, volleyball matches, yoga and all sorts of cruiser activities that draw crews from their boats. We suffered a good soaking as we ran back in the torrential downpour to slam shut the hatches for a wet and bouncy night. The VHF crackled with the chaos of yachts dragging into each other, freighters and survey vessels on the loose and boats going aground.
Keeping the cruising community together is the morning VHF net. Reception is somewhat erratic for us in Port Louis because we are surrounded by protective hills. Nonetheless, we have clearly heard a German accent selling his wife and an American one selling his AK47 assault rifle with 100 rounds of ammo. Shademan is a frequent participant, advertising his clapped out bus for shopping trips and omitting to mention that he is always stoned whilst driving; possibly he takes to the weed because he is frightened of the wild driving he sees as people swerve to avoid him. Diving businesses entreat us to try diving the Bianca C, which they tout as the Titanic of the Caribbean, although what an iceberg was doing off the coast of Grenada I cannot fathom.
Irrational fears are something we all have to overcome. Describing a victim of the twin towers terrorist attack as a Fire Farter instead of a Fire Fighter could have been embarrassing, especially as Kate was giving a reading in front of local dignitaries at the 9/11 memorial service in Grenada. But all was well and the lone British accent full of poignancy added to the emotional occasion. Perhaps Kate was fortunate that the police representative, seated on the dais next to her, had acknowledged the solemnity of the occasion, and decided not to arrest her before the service. Particularly vigilant for drugs, he was stunned by Kate's admission to doing the Hash and her inquiry as to whether he participated. Clearly, he wrestled with some inner turmoil before it became apparent that the polite conversation referred not to reefers but to the Hash House Harriers.
Forgoing our Saturday morning dive, we joined in with the Grenada Hash for their weekly forest forays. It is certainly an excellent way to get intimate with the rain forest and to practise a bit of mud wrestling. I broke a rib or two on the first steamy slither round the sides of Mount Airy. It is an annoying habit of mine that I had hoped to have kicked. However, I struggled on with life, trying to minimize my encounters with the excruciating painful events such as sneezing, coughing, laughing, breathing and sleeping. Of course, cycling remained on the agenda, if only to prove how much it hurt. The 700th Hash was a nightmare with several hundred participants. Climbing a vertical mud bank hand over hand using a gloop covered piece of rotting lashing tape was a bit of an ordeal. Squeezing over 100 Hashers onto a line with space for 30 resulted in a crushed mass of sweating, heaving humanity in a swaying, nose to tail procession. By some good fortune, I found myself jammed close behind a rather nice tail. Things settled down again for the 701st Hash and we had a couple of hours romping through Grenadian undergrowth, splashing through the rivers and marvelling at the orchids growing on the overhead electricity cables. I visited the sulphur springs on the 702nd but Kate, following the trail rather than getting lost, missed the spectacle of this muddy, slime covered puddle in which western tourists are encouraged to wallow.
The willpower of a flip flop is a reasonable description of my attempts at restraint when it comes to ice cream and chocolate. However, despite the fact that Grenada makes world renowned ice cream and chocolate, I have been most abstemious during our current stay. Unfortunately, an invitation to an ice cream party on the pontoon was just too enticing. The banana splits were delightful and the stockpiles in the freezer at the local shop are a serious temptation. We may be forced to depart for a few weeks cruising.