01/19/2008, The Lagoon
The Port Louis Marina is a nice place though it was still in progress while we were there. There is a wall where boats can tie up at the back of the lagoon and then there's a huge pier that extends toward Saint Georges. Looking back, if I were on a cruising boat I would want to be on the wall in the back. There you have less fetch when the wind kicks up and almost no wake issues from the blasting skiffs and dinghies. The wall is high but maybe only 3 feet off of the water.
The pier is a good five feet off of the water. Our catamaran has about 5 feet of freeboard so it worked out nicely for us. I saw a low profile charter Beneteau tie up at low tide and not even reach the bottom of the pier with their toe rail. Makes it tough to deploy fenders.
When we arrived last night we were met on the dock by two staff members who helped us tie up and welcomed us to the marina. They also gave us the low down on power (there wasn't any) and water (which was in place). I was impressed as this is going beyond the call in the Caribbean. They are obviously working hard to get the team in shape fir the big boats.
Brent and Ian met us this morning to get started on the fiberglass work. We have a few gel coat cracks and chips here and there that we want to fix and two larger projects.
One is the installation of a line hanging rack in the port bow. I found a nice hanger in Fort Lauderdale and installed it before we left. The hanger is made of thick gauge wire screwed onto a piece of wood. I was pretty impressed by the utility of 5200 at the time and simply glued the wood to the hull in the port bow. The port bow in a typical Saint Francis 50 is accessible from deck and is a great place to store lines and fenders. About four months into our travels the line hanger installation failed. The 5200 did not however. Instead the 5200 stayed glued to the paint and simply tore the paint right off of the fiberglass on the hull. Thus what really needed to happen was to grind down the paint in the area of the hanger, epoxy the hanger in place, glass over the wood block, gel coat the area and re-screw on the wire hanger.
Project two had to do with the cross beam attachment points on the bows. When I received the boat the gel coat in this area was cracked. Fiberglass boats are flexible and this is one of their key strengths. Gel coat is, however, very hard and brittle. Thus as the fiberglass in a high stress area flexes it is likely to crack the gel coat but unlikely to over tax the fiberglass if the layup is strong enough. I spoke to the factory about this initially and they did not think there was a problem but asked me to keep an eye on the situation. When we hauled out in Saint David's in November it appeared that the cracks had progressed some. After sending some pictures to the factory they suggested I reinforce the area under warrantee.
So project two will require a bit of grinding. We will first need to remove the gel coat from the inside of the bow around the cross beam backing plates to inspect the fiber glass. This is not fun work and you must be careful to take off only the gel coat. We have also installed a washer/dryer in the starboard bow making access and space on that side tough. Anyone grinding fiberglass into small inhalable particles must wear a full protection suit with hood, a respirator and goggles.
As we got set up to get started on things we ran into several problems. First the guys brought all of their own tools but they run on 220V. The dock of course has no power and our genset puts out 110 at the outlets. I have a good set of Makita stuff but no grinder. I bought the last Makita grinder at the Napa/Ace store across the lagoon and we were back in business. Let the grinding begin.
01/18/2008, Dragon Bay
We weighed anchor around 7AM this morning and headed out around southwest point of Grenada for Dragon Bay. Dragon Bay is a small Bay with just enough room for two or three friendly boats on moderate scope. The edges are very reefy and rocky. There are lots of nice open spots of sand to anchor in however and there's a good six feet of water pretty close in to the beach. That said I wouldn't get too close because the not so uncommon light morning westerly breeze may come ghosting in to set you on the sand while you dream.
Doris came in, turned around and left, and after checking out Happy Hill returned to anchor next to us. We later discovered that the 2007/2008 cruising guide they had claims that these two harbors are no anchor zones and that you are to pick up the moorings. There were no mooring in either harbor as of yet. Our 05/06 guide made no mention of restrictions and recommended both anchorages. It seems the mooring plans are still plans. After consulting some folks on shore they suggested we anchor in sand until the moorings arrive. We had both avoided the grass which was growing thick in the deeper water at the mouth of the harbor.
Stian had cut his leg up a bit in Tobago and after a doctors visit was prohibited from diving. This gave him the job of watching the kids while Tina, Hideko and I dove the point.
We did a short swim from the boat on the surface out to the reefs edge. From there we dove down to about 15 feet and began to follow the reef out to the point. At the point several huge chunks of rock seem to have tumbled into the sea creating a large barrier between the bays but with swim throughs and channels between them.
We swam out around the rocks to where the reef formed a wall heading roughly north south. We descended down to the sand bottom at about 50 feet and swam along the base of the wall. The reef is lovely and filled with fish. Tina spotted a turtle and a spiny lobster early in our dive. We ran across a huge spider crab and several other crustaceans, including various cleaner shrimp.
As we came up the reef from the sub-straight into the little bay formed by Mouliniere Point we arrived at the first of several underwater statues. This one was a table with a chair and a basket of fruit set in the sand. Sandy channels 20 feet or so deep run in between the coral heads in this area and the statues are placed in the sand at various locations throughout the reef. At the south end we found a large sandy patch with a statue six feet high and perhaps 15 feet in diameter depicting a large group of people holding hands. The statuary is fairly shallow as are the coral heads up near the cliff making this a great snorkeling location.
We worked our way back through the reef discovering several other impressive statues. As we reached the big rocks we were confronted by a huge school of Silver Sides with some Great Barracuda prowling about the perimeter. It is amazing to swim through a school of hundreds of small fish and watch as they twitch and change directions almost as of a single mind.
After the dive we cleaned up the gear and had a nice filling pasta dinner. August and Agnes seemed to be having a fun day topside and enjoyed the pasta. I think Agnes wore as much as she ate and unfortunately it was a red sauce, nothing a quick swim wouldn't cure though.
The weather was going to get stiff over the next few days so Doris needed to get going, as she was headed for Bequia to meet friends. We said goodbye to our friends from afar and promised to stop by in Bergen if we got the guts to sail that far north in Europe. I have been told by a few English folks that the cruising up in Norway and Sweden in lovely but you know what they say about mad dogs and Englishmen.
We had made a reservation with Port Louis Marina in the morning over the VHF on the way up to Dragon Bay. Tomorrow morning we would start our final big Swingin' on a Star improvement projects and needed to be on a dock somewhere with good access to a chandlery. Prior to the existence of Port Louis, the Grenada Yacht Club would have been the only option. This week, however there was a fishing tournament and the place was packed to capacity with sport fishers.
We motored the short way south to Port Loius and parked at the end of the new mega yacht pier across from a 170 footer and a few ARC boats. We were met by very professional staff on the dock who helped us tie up to the bollards that would be suitable for a 500 ton cargo ship. The Port Louis project was certainly moving along.
01/17/2008, Prickly Bay
Our friends on Doris arrived in Grenada a couple of days ago. We heard them on the VHF and decided to meet up at Da Big Fish, a decent little bar and grill on the water right by Spice Island Marine in Prickly Bay. Doris is in the Lagoon and headed to the Grenadines. We decided to meet up at Dragon Bay and dive Moliniere Point together in a couple of days.
01/16/2008, Prickly Bay
The wifi service in Prickly bay works but just barely. I think one of the main problems is Grenada in general. The islands pipes to the outside just can't handle the load. I am lead to believe this by the general online savvy nature of the residents and that fact that at 3AM things seem just fine. During the day and especially after school/work hours it is almost impossible to get things done online.
I needed to make some important phone calls and didn't want to use a spotty Skype connection so I got out our Inmarsat BGan. We have used it for test calls before but this was the first time we used it in earnest. There is a bit of a satellite delay but the calls are crystal clear, noticeably better than the Irridium phones I have used. You do have to set it up but it stays connected even as the boat rolls and swings as long as the arc is not too extreme. I have never had a call dropped thus far.
Cell phones are fine in the Caribbean if you plan to stay in one place. If you travel, almost none of the providers can give you local service on more than one island. You need a GSM phone and you will need to buy a new SIMM every time you hit a new island and your phone will not work off shore. This gives you a new number every island and requires a bit of leg work as you trek to the BMobile or what have you each new landfall.
Calls are $1 a minute on the BGAN but compared to some cell phone bills I've had in the islands this is a bargain. Cell phones are cheap for local calls but calling from the British Virgin Islands to the USVI cost me $3 a minute! A $1 tariff for the BVI, $1 for the USVI and $1 for the call, each minute. While not as cheap as Skype, at least you know what you will be charged when you make a call with the BGAN, and though it is high it is not crazy. It also saves you having to run around trying to find a new carrier each island.
I still think that an Irridium hand held is a better emergency tool however. The BGan lets you browse the internet at 384K up and down with your PC and all of that but you still have to set it up and it is not ruggedized like an Irridium phone. I wouldn't want to have to throw a BGan in a ditch bag or try use it in heavy seas.
01/15/2008, Prickly Bay
One of the first things you need to do when you get into a port where you plan to do work on the boat is to get any contractors you will need lined up. There's always a lead time and the sooner you get parts and services going the better shot you have at completing things. We have been trying to find some folks to help us with three key projects involving Fiberglass, Rigging and Canvas.
When we got to Grenada we were on the fence as to whether we would stay long enough to get much work done. We have to pick up my parents in Caracas on the 4th of February so we thought Puerta La Cruz might be a better place to do work. We've heard that it is very economical and it is also close to Caracas. On the other hand Grenada has a well stocked Budget Marine and Island Water World, our Spanish is poor to non existent and we no nothing first hand about Puerta La Cruz.
Our friend Rock Charles (459-1971) has a nice van and runs a taxi service. He also does fantastic island tours and knows a tremendous amount about the history of Grenada. Rock took us to the store yesterday and to get our mail. After discussing the projects we were working on he hooked us up with two great connections. Johnny Sails for canvas work and Brent Joseph for fiberglass and gel coat work. We had already found a source for deck hardware in Turbulence so it looked like we might be able to get everything done. We would have to leave Grenada for Venezuela by the 29th of January at the latest.
We had a good meeting with Johnny Sails and with Brent (Brent and his partner Ian shown in the picture). After some discussion Hideko and I decided to try to squeeze in all of the work on our A list in Grenada. It would be close. Brent couldn't start until Saturday the 19th, Johnny couldn't start until Wednesday the 23rd and Richard at Turbulence couldn't come by until Monday the 21st. With the Grenada Regatta coming up on the 26th it would be close.
01/14/2008, Saint Georges FedEx
We received our mail today. Our Saint Brendan's Isle box has been piling up for a while now. We were a little too concerned with the customs red tape in Trinidad to try to receive mail there. Perhaps it is fine but I didn't want to chance it this time as we had a few things in this shipment that we didn't want lost in transit.
In particular my Mom sent us cookies and dog treats for Christmas. This was our first shipment since November so we had a late Christmas party with coffee, cookies and dog treats tonight.
Of the places we have had mail forwarded I give the following ratings:
BVI #1 by far. You have it shipped, cheapest way you like, and it arrives at your boat if you are in a marina. End of story.
Grenada #2. You have to use Fedex to ensure fast reliable delivery in Grenada but if you do things arrive in one day from Florida. As long as that day is not Friday you can probably pick you package up in the afternoon of the day after you shipped. If it is a single item or just mail you get the package and FedEx charges $50EC ($18.86 US) to handle the customs. If customs can't understand the stuff on the list or thinks it is too complicated you have to take the packing list to customs to get it approved, which they always due after asking a few questions. As soon as they realize that it is just you mail (perhaps with a little online shopping mixed in) you are set. You fee is 0% if the mail is personal affects (a good thing to put on the customs declaration!), 2.5% if it is ships stores (i.e. parts or stuff for the boat), and 5% is it is "other". Fail to mark the invoice "Yacht in Transit" and you may be in the 100% duty bin.
Saint Lucia #3. A distant third was Saint Lucia. While I felt that our packages were safe I often was not sure whether we would actually be able to get them released. We had to run around town between the FedEx office and Customs twice, pay steep fees and in general were not treated like guests of the country. One pack of mail took a good four hours to receive with a cabbie meter running the entire time.
Place I choose not to try receiving mail even though it would have been handy: Dominican Republic, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Saint Vincent, Trinidad & Venezuela.
Places I think would be pretty easy for Americans (but maybe not other nationals): Puerto Rico, USVI
Places I think would be easy for anyone to receive mail: Any French Island
01/13/2008, Prickly Bay
Grenada seems to be gearing up for the large motor yachts. There are more meters of mega yacht in production today then there ever have been in the past. The average size of the typical mega yacht is also increasing. Most use 24 (80 ish feet) meters as the loose definition of mega yacht as this is the size where various MCA requirements kick in. The vast majority of all mega yachts are registered in the Cayman Islands due to various cost efficiencies. These yachts then set about plying the waters of the Caribbean and the Mediterranean for the most part.
Until recently when they arrive in the Caribbean there have not been many spots for them to berth. They're too small for the cruise ship docks (although some are getting close), too fancy for the cargo port and too big for the traditional sailing yacht/sport fisher marinas.
Chartering a mega yacht may run $20,000 US plus per day. Due to the vast sums these folks tend to spend when in port on dock fees, fuel, electricity, water, dinning out, provisioning, etceteras, the trend towards larger facilities has kicked into gear. When we were in the Bahamas we stayed at the brand new Emerald Bay Marina in Exuma which should be fully online before long and ready to handle the big boys. The government of the British Virgin Islands (under considerable cross fire) had just agreed to give the green light to a mega yacht marina project while we were there. Staniel Cay and Saint Barts both had huge yachts anchored half way to the next island at Christmas time in 2006. Marigot Bay in Saint Lucia has a new hotel and the start of a marina that can handle a few large yachts and rumors are flying about a bigger facility in Rodney Bay.
Now Grenada is getting into the game. Martins Marina, the former Moorings Secret Harbor base is under new management and apparently working hard to attract big boats. Three are there now. When we arrived we found the 200 footer Blue Moon on the fuel dock at Prickly Bay Marina (which is fairly absurd). Yet Prickly is working hard to build out their marina project complete with mega yacht berthing and services. Port Louis Marina in the Lagoon at Saint Georges is also now open and under the management of Camper Nicholson. They only have one large pier open and partially operational but plan to fill the entire lagoon. Two over 150 footers were docked here in January, Battered Bull and April Fool.
I don't know exactly what this will mean for the cruising yachts out there but I'm pretty sure that the eastern Caribbean will be a different place in the years ahead.