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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Palm Island
07/28/2007, SVG

I love to sleep in when the morning is cool and the anchorage is flat. I also love to get up early and watch the sun come up on clear, crisp mornings. Somewhere in the middle is obnoxious though. I haven't quite put my finger on it but I think it is right around 7 AM. This is when the weather net comes on. Every morning. Except Sunday. I usually get up at 7 on Sunday anyway and listen to static on the radio for about 5 minutes, just long enough to thoroughly wake up, at which point I place palm to forehead and mutter appropriately for a few moments.

Today was different. There is a kind of music that is popular in the Caribbean, especially the southern Caribbean, called Dance Hall. The tempo is like that of a machine gun and it is about as soothing (I'm sure people say the same about me when I play old Rush, Kings X, Megadeth and Seven Dust). The lyrics of Dance Hall are shouted over a rapid fire beat by an MC with gang vocals shouting a unifying phrase or word over and over, content thereof often being hostile to certain groups of individuals.

The little island that was so happy last night had turned into a Dance Hall nightmare wake up call at 6:30 AM. Ug. We were of course the closest boat to Happy Island, but I'm sure the other boats were enjoying things almost as much as we were. I put on my headphones and plugged into the SSB for the weather, fortunately it was not Sunday.

After a nutritious bowl of Coco Krispies (I'd like to say that this was left over from the MacKenzie kids visit, but Emily would not allow Hideko to buy this cereal for them, so Hideko went back to the store after our guests flew home and bought a box anyway) we dropped the dinghy in the water and headed ashore. Union island reminds me of a family island in the Bahamas. No real tourism, at least at this time of the year, just a nice little Vincy town. They do have the southern most substantial airport in SVG, a few small hotels and regular boats to the Tobago Cays. There are some boat boys in the harbor but they are genuinely friendly and don't give you the Calcutta look when you don't buy anything.

I don't think that you see the abject poverty and desperation present on the main islands when out in the smaller, family type, islands. Mayraeu just received power in 2003. These people know how to live and enjoy life without outside help. You also have very little crime on islands where everyone knows everyone, for obvious reasons. I fear that our primary US exports, music promoting gangsters and materialism side by side with cruise ship tourism, help matters little.

Fred was waiting for us at the dinghy dock and helped us find a good spot to tie up. I was going to clear us out through Erika's Services but Cindy informed me that they wanted $75 for the service. I just walked to the airport building a half mile down the road instead. Customs was easy and friendly. It was Saturday so I had to pay $46 EC for overtime.

Fred and Cindy had headed back to Kelp Fiction II by the time I got back to Bougainville. Bougainville is a nice little hotel and restaurant right on the harbor. They have a great gift shop with lots of local arts and crafts and really nice carved wood items. Hideko and I had a wonderful pizza for lunch and then we sat around for a while taking advantage of the free Internet access.

We got back to Swingin' on a Star in the late afternoon and decided to head over to Palm Island for the rest of the day. It was 16:00 which is a little late to get underway but Palm Island is a 15 minute motor from Clifton Harbor. The timing was perfect. We arrived at the anchorage just as the day charter cats were beaching to haul their guests back to their hotels.

Palm Island has a small proper anchorage south of their main dock but it is filled with moorings and right next to the island's generator, a little far from the soothing and spectacular beauty of the beach on the northwest point. The beach however drops off rapidly to 30 feet and then 80. There is one area where the sand shelf at 15 feet comes out comfortably far from the shore to get a hook on. We stood off and waited for the big 70 foot cat to pull off of the beach. When the day charter cat left we had the entire anchorage to ourselves. Hideko guided us onto the sand shelf and we plunked the Rocna down in 13 feet of water with a white sand bottom.

We have about 5 feet of freeboard so this created a vertical distance to the bottom of about 18 feet. The weather indicated calm conditions overnight into tomorrow so we put out 6:1 (a little over 100 feet). Call me paranoid but you never get a forecast saying, "a squall will hit your position". Squalls are just too micro of an event for the weather man to care about or be able to predict. You're lucky if they tell you squalls will be in the area. Unless I'm in a totally protected anchorage I'm 6:1 or 7:1 in settled conditions and 10:1 (perhaps the whole box) with a storm coming. Why not? It doesn't do me any good sitting in the boat. Using our 88 pound Rocna and proper all chain scope, we've never drug anchor once set without some extraneous problem (garbage on the bottom fouling us in the Saint Martin Lagoon comes to mind).

As the chain settled to the bottom a good bit of it ended up in the 30 foot water. This caused us to ride a lot closer to the anchor than normal. This was great for beach access, but on the downside, if we drag into the deeper water, we'd be lying 3:1 or less and resetting might be a challenge. I dove on the anchor and it was well set and had a reasonable bit of shelf between it and the drop off so we signed off on the ground tackle solution.

Palm Island is private but, like all countries we've been to, the beach up to a cable beyond the high tide mark is public. Palm Island allows yachties to visit their bar near the dock and join them for lunch or dinner. Dinner requires reservations by 3PM and decent attire. A beer is about $4 US which is not cheap but not too bad for a place this nice.

The Kelp Fiction crew dinghied over from Union and we all enjoyed a beer and a walk along the amazing beach. Some of the guides rank this beach as one of the 5 best in the Caribbean. Now that is saying something.

We had a nice talk with a couple from Philly who were on Palm Island for their 10th anniversary. We congratulated them on bringing up the national average (7 years last I checked).

Two bareboat charter cats came in and anchored off to our port side late in the day. They were French families, and the French tend to be pretty good sailors but they seem to have less of a personal space concern when anchoring. The party was on the Lagoon 440 but the sailors on the Catana 47 arrived first. They were pretty close to each other but they gave us plenty of room, which was appreciated. So often when you get the best spot in an anchorage every charter boat within 10 miles comes in and anchors on top of you to try to get close to the "good spot". I checked their anchors just for fun and they were both set but anchored in the 30 foot zone and only lying to about 3 or 4 to one scope. No problem holding in these conditions but it is always interesting to consider the scatter patterns that might occur when things go light and variable.

Hideko and I swam back to the boat and watched the sun set. We had begun the very long road of total Star Trek immersion a few nights back. We watched "The Menagerie" tonight, one of my favorites. We have the rest of The Original Series (TOS to the Trekies), seven seasons of The Next Generation (TNG), seven seasons of Deep Space Nine (DSN), seven seasons of Star Trek Voyager, and three seasons of Enterprise to go. Perhaps we'll be done by Bora Bora.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Happy Island
07/27/2007, Union Island

We have been missing waking up in our own private beach since the Bahamas. We had never imagined we would find one, especially in the popular Grenadines. The Grenadines are famous for beautiful beaches but also famous for boat boys who come out on surf boards, and skiffs trying to sell you souvenirs or services. They can be aggressive sales men. Typically, saying "no thank you" once won't convince them that you are not buying. Some come out to see if we want the boat cleaned at 7 AM. I wonder how much business they actually get at such times and why couldn't they be selling fresh baked goods. They would make a lot of money off of us if they showed up with warm croissants and baguettes. So being alone in the anchorage, we thought we could sleep in as late as we wanted to without being bothered by anyone.

Well, we were wakened by someone this morning. But it wasn't a boat boy. It was a dog on the beach howling like a wolf under a full moon. Randy got up to see what the dog was howling for. Then I started hearing another dog howling back, having a conversation with the dog on the beach. It turned out that it was not another dog, it was Randy playing with the dog on the beach. As I was getting up, Randy said "Hideko, you've got to check this out. The dog is swimming towards our boat!"

The little dog on the beach was so excited to have someone to talk to on the lonely beach that he had set out swimming for Swingin' on a Star and his vocal new friend aboard. Randy came inside quickly to hide from his new friend because he didn't want the dog to swim 200 yard to our boat for nothing. I guess we could have given him a pat for going the distance but he might have been too tired to make the swim back and we weren't ready to adopt. Randy hoped that if the little dog didn't see or hear him anymore that it would return to the beach. After a fair bit of diligent paddling, having lost sight of his amigo, the little dog turned around and swam back to the shore. He hopefully pranced up and down the beach a few times as close to our boat as he could get, and then, sadly, resigned to solitude, trotted of into the jungle. He was the only creature we ever saw on that beach.

We went through the usual morning routine of checking the weather and having bowls of cereal. After a lazy morning we weighed anchor and set sail for Union Island. On the way out we cruised right over a dive sight with the wreck of a World War I vessel, just off the point near our anchorage.

We sailed to Palm Island and found its beauty obvious even from miles away. The white sand beach was glittering under the sun with palm trees shading the center of the island just as the name suggests. It is a picture perfect Caribbean little island. We thought about anchoring there, but the primary anchorage had construction going on ashore so we headed to Union Island as planned.

Union Island's main anchorage channel is well marked. Reefs are visible all around. We anchored right in front of Happy Island, which is a man made island (mostly conch shells and concrete) with a bar taking up all of the usable real estate. We joined Kelp Fiction on Happy Island for happy hour. The bar was fairly well stocked but they were pushing the rum punch (which was tasty and boy, strong) and St. Vincent's local beer, Hairoun. We met a couple of British guys on the 49 foot Jeaneau, Blue Sky, and had drinks with them until it was time for all good cruisers to go to bed.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Tobago Cays
07/26/2007, SVG

Hideko and I went ashore in our newly restored to action dink early this morning. We had breakfast at the Tamarind Hotel, which is a quaint little place right on the beach. Breakfast here was ok. I have yet to find a good omelet or pancake type spot in the islands.

After breakfast we hiked around the island a bit. There are some beautiful vistas up in the hills toward Friendship point. The south bay, oddly enough, named Friendship Bay seemed to have some fishing traffic at the dock. We also got a good view of the airport which was at the end of its expansion phase. The project involved dynamiting Glossy hill (which was "in the way") and filling in the bay (burying a good stretch of coral reef). Sad, but hey, now they can land jets here.

We bought a coke at a small shop on top of the hill for the walk back down. At many places in the Grenadines the coke comes in half liter glass bottles, giving me a flash back to childhood (except for the liter part).

Back at the boat we made quick preparations to set sail for the Tobago Cays. The Tobago Cays are the fist place in the eastern Caribbean that have been able to match the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos for pure sandy island beauty.

Part of the beauty is tied to the fact that there are reefs everywhere. You must navigate in and around the Cays carefully, especially on the south side. We tooled through the breath taking cut between Petit Rameau and Petit Bateau and then made our way up to the edge of Horseshoe reef near the white sand beach of Baradel.

The water in the area of the Cays is crystal clear and easy to read in reasonable conditions. You can jump in the ocean just about anywhere and enjoy spectacular snorkeling. There are splendid beaches on all of the little islands in the area. We spent the day swimming, snorkeling and hanging out on the Jamesby island beach with Fred and Cindy (until a day charter catamaran expelled about 50 cruise ship clients into the water).

The area is a must see but you will not be lonely here. Three years ago Mayreau had no electricity, now there's power, lots of sub woofers and cruise ship facilities with ample excursions to the Cays. There are many merchants going boat to boat but they are far more friendly and happy to move on if asked to politely. The park rangers require a $20 fee to anchor here. I thought that they were another enterprising merchant and told them that I didn't want any. That didn't work too well.

Early morning or late afternoon would be the best time to visit the Cays to avoid the crowds. It was not too bad in the off season but I could imagine it being pretty crazy on season. The surrounding reefs knock down all of the seas here but you have no protection from the wind.

Hideko and I decided to anchor on the back side of Mayreau for the night, so we waved goodbye to Kelp Fiction, who were staying put, and set off to the north. We wanted to anchor in Salt Whistle Bay on the north end of the west coast, which is idyllic. As we rounded the point we found the place packed and with more charter boats coming in. That left Saline at the south end of the west side, or the large crescent Trios Anse bay between the two. Saline is the Cruise Ship shuttle harbor and the AIS system identified a cruise ship moored just outside so we decided to anchor in Trio Anse Bay.

We were the only boat in sight. It was a beautiful anchorage with a long stretch of palm lined beach. We could hear the loud music blaring from the main town near Saline Bay from time to time but it was a fair trade for the visual peace of the area. The bottom here is a little rocky but if you're careful you can hook up in one of the many sandy patches. It is better the closer to the beach that you anchor but a rocky shelf rises up right before the low tide line. It drops off to 25 feet and more fairly quickly.

Anchoring close to the beach is great and we often do. It is easy to swim to the beach and the depth around the boat is better for snorkeling. On the down side you have to keep an eye out for west winds on the back of the passing waves. Strong west winds are rare but even a light west wind with a little bit of beach bound swell and move you to the beach side of your anchor surprisingly quickly. An overnight stern anchor is not a bad idea if you're too close to swing east of your hook.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Mayreau Abort
07/25/2007, Canouan

We still had some disturbed weather rolling by associated with a tropical wave in the area this morning. The Kelp Fiction and the Swingin' on a Star crews were both eager to get over to the Tobago Cays so we made plans to head over to Mayreau around noon. Six miles to the southeast it was a short hop.

Hideko and I were going to go ashore in the morning to walk around Canouan a little bit until the weekly tragedy struck. As I lowered Little Star's Yamaha outboard into the water I heard a metallic "plink!" The bracket that braces the drive shaft to the drive leg just popped off. I saw an aluminum plate sinking into the 12 foot water as I scrambled over the rail with a futile sweep of my clutching fingers. The two rubber bushings and the other plate were still precariously attached to the drive leg by surface tension. I quickly collected these parts before they came loose and then cried in my pretzels for a few minutes.

Upon examination the clap assembly was held together with two 10mm bolts. Somehow, within the span of 9 months of what I would call normal use, the bolts backed completely out and fell away. I must admit that I don't go over the outboard with a fine tooth comb very often (ok, at all), but shouldn't structural members sort of stay attached to the engine? I am always amazed at the unending list of things marine product manufacturers expect you to do on a regular basis.

There was nothing for it. I got out the mask and fins and started to dive in the general vicinity looking for the bracket (a hand sized, dark grey part on white sand with dark grey rocks, not easy) and the bolts (pinky finger sized, dark grey on white sand with dark grey rocks, futile). I found the bracket, with some shock, and set about looking for suitable bolts in the spares bin. Nothin'.

Just when we thought we were outboard-less, Fred came by. Apparently, Kelp Fiction is a floating chandlery. Fred motored off with the bracket and came back shortly with the exact bolts we needed. I couldn't believe it. We would have had to wait until Grenada to find the same bolts at a store. We put the Yamaha bracket back on and got ready to follow Kelp Fiction over to Mayreau.

I heard thunder rolling off in the distance now and again as we prepped for the short sail. My instincts said no go. We went anyway. Half way across the channel a squall with a very unpleasant attitude swept in. I could sort of see it hustling onto the scene but thought to out maneuver it. Nope. Squalls 3, Captain 0.

It was blowing around 35 knots but the real problem was the lack of visibility. I refuse to drive by GPS and electronic charts alone. That would have been the only was to make it through the various rocks and reefs around Mayreau and the Tobago Cays in the conditions extant. Unfortunately the most current surveys in these parts were typically completed in the early nineteen hundreds. So back we went to Canuan. The 180 degree tack put the helm on the weather side of things. I quickly changed into a 3mm shorty wet suit. This keeps my cloths out of the weather and keeps me perfectly warm in the cool rain. In longer term weather or colder climes I would go for the foul weather gear, but it just never gets that cold around here and a cool shower is often welcome.

We picked up a mooring close to our previous anchoring spot. An opportunist local spear fisher swam to whichever mooring we steered for so I gave up trying to avoid him and let him help with the lines. I said thank you, and he said, "give me something". He was a nice guy and didn't ask for anything in particular, yet still his methods perturbed me a little bit. I gave him $5 US and told him to buy a dive flag so that no one runs him down in the future.

As it rained outside, part II of the Star Trek marathon got underway.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Charlestown Bay
07/24/2007, Canouan

We sailed for Canouan today, a short 12 nautical miles away. The wind was abaft the beam. I wasn't sure that my wind direction gauge could point back there. We had around 15 knots true wind, about Force 2 in the cockpit, as we rolled through the mild chop at 9-10 knots.

We anchored in Charlestown Bay after an enjoyable sail that ended too soon. It is a large bay but there are shoals all around and the moorings fleet occupies most of the best spots. Things were looking a little foul out and we had a spot of rain here and there so Hideko and I just swam around the boat a bit, checked the anchor and chatted with American Anthem and a couple of other cruising boats in the anchorage before retiring for a Star Trek marathon (that would be 4 episodes).

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
07/23/2007, Britannia Bay

We took a short sail over to Mustique this morning. The skies were threatening but it was a nice trip all the same. Mustique is a private island and the planed maximum residency of 100 mansions is almost in place (I think there were 98 up with the last two being built when we were there). Shania Twain and Tommy Hilfiger both have nice shacks here and about half of the houses may be rented. It is a quiet place and vessels with more than 25 passengers are not welcome.

The waters around Mustique are a conservation area so moorings are the order of the day. All of the yacht moorings are in Britannia Bay on the west side of the island. We picked up a ball near the beach a couple spots over from Kelp Fiction. Moorings are 75 EC for three nights (a little over $9 US per night, which is pretty cheap).

There's only one hotel on the island, The Cotton House, which is beautiful. The island has a small village where island employees live and there are a few places to shop and eat near the harbor. We had lunch at Basil's bar right on the water which was fun.

In the afternoon we took a little island tour. The entire island is picturesque. We had a nice dip at a beautiful beach on the Atlantic side and witnessed many spectacular vistas out over the perfect blue waters surrounding the island.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Friendship Bay
07/22/2007, Bequia

Today we motored around to the south side of the island to try out Friendship Bay. Along the route we passed by Moon Hole. This little settlement is the embodiment of a vision had by late architect Tom Johnson. The development is a no-power, all natural, sprawling set of stone structures built into the bones of the rocky cliffs. It spreads out along the western tip of Bequia with the original structure located inside a stone arch, known as the Moon Hole. A boulder fell from the top of the Moon Hole a while back and made that unit a bit less desirable. The project has since spread over a considerable area and consists of organic lines and stone construction with no right angles to speak of. This is one of the places that we really wanted to visit but didn't get a chance to. We did get a 360 degree view as we motored all around the point and the trip was worth it just for this.

Friendship Bay was a great surprise. It is just a short walk from Lower Bay in the Admiralty Bay area but a world away. There were literally no cruising boats here other than Kelp Fiction II and Swingin' on a Star, compared with close to one hundred in the greater Admiralty Bay area. The only other boats in Friendship Bay were three small fishing boats on moorings, and only one of those moved the whole time we were there. Friendship Bay can be rolly for mono hulls so a stern anchor is a nice idea. This is not a problem because there's plenty of room, at least in the off season.

After securing the big boats we all went ashore to visit the Friendship Bay resort and Mosquito Beach Bar. The resort is picturesque and out of the way. It has lovely grounds with well cared for gardens. Mosquito was just as you would imagine an idyllic isolated Caribbean beach bar to be.

We were the only clients in the Bar the entire time we were there, and we were there for about six hours! We had a relaxed lunch just feet from the beach. We were also very happy with the cuisine especially the fish. After cooking our lunch we saw the chef walk out to the beach and take a swim. I want his job.

After lunch we retired to the bar which has swinging chairs hung from the ceiling all about. We enjoyed each other's company and had some interesting discussions with the chef and the Bequia folks as the afternoon waned. Mosquito also provided free Internet access so we all spent a bit of time browsing and catching up with friends in other places.

As the sun began to set the place got crowded, two folks from the resort came to the bar. What?! Now there would only be a ratio of one staff per client. Intolerable. We left before it got too dark and dinghied back to the big boats for a contented nights sleep.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

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