02/04/2012, St Lucia
We are still here in the Caribbean even though the wind is trying its best to pluck us out of most anchorages and send us flying westward. The Tuatara crew are feeling a little underwhelmed with the Caribbean at present, mainly due to the weather. Yes I know, Geoff and Trudi, you and many others told us, "there is always wind in the Caribbean". The NE trades supposedly blow 15 to 20 knots day in day out. I am sure that this year the weather gods had a meeting and decided that's a bit boring and predictable so lets up the tempo a bit. 30 to 35knots sounds a bit more exciting and even tho it's the dry season some rain laden squalls will add to the fun. At this time of year winds called the Christmas winds can blow strongly for days but the locals say these winds now are stronger than usual even for the Christmas winds. The choppy water doesn't make swimming as enjoyable as it could be, leaving the boat for shore excursions means shutting all the hatches...in case it rains ... and coming back to a hot stuffy boat. Time away from the boat is not always relaxing, everytime the wind rattles through the breadfruit trees and makes the coconut palms bend we always hope the anchor is holding Tuatara safe. We should know not to worry by now as our trusty Manson Supreme anchor, kiwi made of course, has very rarely let us down. But not all boats hang nicely on their anchor as Tuatara does.
After we left Carriacou Island we stayed at Mayreau Is and Tobago Cays. The crystal blue water ruffled by the wind didn't deter numerous turtles popping their heads up to check on the above water yachties before ducking down to eyeball the snorkelers. After a couple of rolly windy nights at Tobago Cays we punched our way north, 15 miles in strong head winds and uncomfortable seas to Admiralty Bay on Bequia Island(Beck-way) where we joined two other kiwi boats, Balvenie and Bandit and at last met Andrew and Claire on the Aussie yacht Eye Candy. We had been talking to Andrew for so long on the Magellan Net we felt we had knew him. A couple of days later Irene and Chris on Cutty Hunk sailed into the bay, the kiwis now starting to out number our Australian and American friends. We helped Rob and Dee of Ventana celebrate the completion of their 10 year circumnavigation. They gave us some tips on the Caribbean but did agree things had changed in ten years, mainly the cost of everything, cost is probably the wrong word more like the expense of everything. I continually wonder how the locals can afford to eat, basics such as tomatoes, lettuce and mango we are paying per pound what we would pay in Europe per kilo. Laundry is another issue for a washing machine -less yacht. My wrists start complaining at the sight of a full laundry bag so every now and then I close my eyes to the cost and gladly welcome the chance to easily turn a bag of tangled dirty clothes into fresh smelling smoothly folded ready to use linen.
The Caribbean is not all high costs and windy anchorages, we have managed to find many enjoyable Caribbean experiences. At Bequia we spent an evening listening to a 16 piece steel band. The band had come over from nearby St Vincent or as the locals call it ..the mainland... to open the Bequia music festival. The band played non stop for about 3 hours, the energy and enthusiasm of the young men and woman never faltered. The band was still playing when we all decided at about midnight to go back to our boats as one of our boat neighbours had just got the message they were dragging. One of the big gusts flying across the bay during the evening had caused our neighbour to slide backwards. The crew got back just in time to stop the boat impaling itself on the cargo ship anchored immediately behind us.
After 10 days in Bequia we said good bye to the other Kiwi yachts and headed north to Walliabou bay on St Vincent. The others are heading south to Trinidad and then west. Cuttyhunk is heading back to NZ the others we may see again next year. As we put our mainsail up in the bay a white sheet of rain headed our way and for 5 minutes or so we couldn't see a metre in front of us. After the rain, the wind died a little so we continued hoisting the main and headed north. This was just a short 5 mile hop between islands and when we got in the lee of the mainland the short motor up to Wallilabou bay was accomplished on an almost flat sea. Once again we had to negotiate with the boat boys this time about their costs for taking our line ashore. The bay is deep so yachts anchor or pick up a mooring then tie back to a coconut tree ashore. Med Mooring...Caribbean style.
Wallilabou bay is where 3 of the Pirates of the Carribbean movies were filmed ....well parts of them. The local restaurant has the movies playing and lots of memorabilia scattered around. Many photos of Johnny Depp around but sadly he was not there in person. When cruise ships are in Kingstown, the capital of St Vincent, the Anchorage restaurant and wharf is buzzing with people, cameras clicking the location scenery. Other days it is quiet just a few yachties wandering around possibly avoiding the boatboys in the bay selling anything from jewellery and coconuts to boat cleaning services.
"I have many pretty necklaces"
"No I really don't want any thanks"
"I have coconuts and mango"
"Sorry we have just come from Bequia and have plenty of fruit and veg"
I then think we have exhausted his meagre variety of wares, when he looks down and offers to clean our dirty hull. That's when I opt out of the bargaining and say, "you ask my husband".
We eventually bought guavas and a coconut from a man on the beach who had 5 children. I love guavas so with the combination of guavas and 5 children I was a push over and probably paid him too much. Guavas, passionfruit and mango for breakfast ......lovely.
Millions of cruise ship passengers visit the Caribbean every year, go on package tours, laze on golden beaches and buy a t shirt or two. One of the real Caribbean experiences they miss is a ride between towns in the local mini buses. This is an experience that combines sightseeing and the heart in mouth adrenalin rush of a carnival roller coaster ride. Then there is the squash factor. We have taken bus rides on most of the main islands so far, every driver is not satisfied until 20 backsides large and small are squeezed into the 10 seater van. Too many big people and the boy who collects the money and orchestrates the seating plan has to stand crouched over the passengers with his toes hanging onto the backdoor step. One malfunction of the door and he would be flung out to disappear down the hillside never to be seen again.
The ride from Wallilabou to Kingstown on St Vincent was to date our most, squashed, scenic and "thrilling". We got on at the local stop, the start of the run so the van was virtually empty. The bus boy gradually spotted more and more people to pick up. There are designated bus stops but all bus boys seem to have a built in potential passenger radar spotter. We've been on vans that will reverse way down a road to pick up a passenger spotted by the bus boy. The potential fellow squashie does not run to the bus as we would, they know he will pick them up so why hurry. In the meantime we are wondering where is this person going to perch. No problem , plenty of room, the bus boy has inserted a small cushion in the tiny gap between the bench seat and the fold down seat we all suck in a bit more and another $4 is handed to the driver. Both our St Vincent rides seemed to be full of very large people, maybe St Vincentians are naturally larger than other islands. There were 3 rather large momma's, bopping away to the music, in the back seat. No real room for another bottom but we know from experience there are to be at least 4 in the back seat no matter what. Next stop a very slight young lady got on, her eyes widened with horror as she contemplated the ladies she had to sit with. With some giggling the bopping ladies wriggled over and the young girl wedged herself between two of them. I doubt very much if her bottom touched the seat she just balanced herself on their thighs all the way into town.
For the trip to Kingstown I sat by the window so had a good scenic view of the coast. I also caught the occasional sweet flavor of marijuana which floats on the wind in St Vincent. As we swung around the outside corners the view down below luckily took my attention away from the view ahead which at times didn't include a road surface until seemingly at the last minute the van slid around the corner to attack the next bit of narrow road. On the way home as the corners came rushing towards us, I thought if we go over the edge I won't have to worry about my injuries as the lady next to me, would suffocate me with her ample curves. Sailing across oceans seems far safer than travelling in a Caribbean mini bus, luckily for us on the most part both activities are thoroughly enjoyable.
The heat of bodies lulled me to sleep and I woke up nearly back at Wallilabou and school was out. We stopped by primary school and a couple of the ladies yelled out the window. Playing kids looked up and two little girls skipped out to the road side to be collected by the bus boy and delivered safely across the road to their mothers still in the bus. A cute 5 year old plonked herself down between her mother and I, told the little boy in front of her he was ugly, smoothed her neat blue and white uniform out and smiled sweetly for a photo. These Caribbean ladies learn about style and confidence at a young age!
01/16/2012, Grenadine Islands
Just over a week ago we sailed another 140 miles across the Atlantic, from Barbados to Grenada. It was tempting to stay a little longer to greet other yachts as they arrived in Barbados but it was time to go and the rolly anchorage made it easy to move on. A couple of days before we left Bandit and Moonshadow sailed into Barbados and just as we left Matador arrived. We had a quick chat with Steph and Stu , handed over our well used island map along with some tips on where to find essentials in Bridgetown and headed for Prickly Bay on Grenada. The overnight sail was another down hill run with just the genoa out as the 25 to 30knt winds pushed us along on the familiar Atlantic swell. Sunday morning was grey and windy, we soon spotted land over the white caps, by early afternoon we were anchored in Prickly Bay. We spotted two familiar boats, the lovely little square rigger, Norna and Chalofa last seen on the other side of the Atlantic. The advantage of the Magellan Net of 45 plus boats is that I am sure we will see many of them throughout the Caribbean. Many we have only talked to via the NET now we will be able to meet them in person.
Prickly Bay is a popular place, it has a good haul out yard, excellent chandlery a small marina, buses to town just up the road, a couple of restaurants and most importantly immigration and customs have offices behind the Prickly Bay marina. The bay is full of yachts, some visiting, others living semi permanently on their boats creating and interesting community. Grenada is just on the edge of the hurricane belt so many people either leave their boats on the hard and go home for others Grenada has become their home and they take a chance and stay in the water. There is a morning Net on the VHF giving announcements on everything from Music Jam sessions to history tours of Grenada, I can see how some come for a week and stay for years. We were just passing through so after a couple of bus rides through the lush hills of the island and a visit to Georgetown we made our way up here to Tyrell bay on Carriacou (Carry-a-coo) Island.
As we sail up through the chain of Islands we are heading into the wind until we get to Martinque, where the wind becomes on the beam. The weather forecast was for developing strong winds so we pulled up the anchor at sunrise and motor sailed the 40 miles to Tyrell Bay. Carriacou Island is part of Grenada but is part of the Grenadines group of islands which are largely part of St Vincent and the Grenadines. All these little countries require yachts to clear in and out, not too difficult but the process can take time. The Immigration officer at Prickly Bay kept us waiting a couple of hours before he turned up. On the plus side the number of countries we have visited is growing quickly.
As we anchored we got our first experience of the Caribbean boat boys,( the "boys" are long past boyhood ) offering lobster and bananas amongst other things. The cost of lobsters sounded a bit high so we said , "not to day thanks". So they returned the next day and the price dropped a little so we agreed to buy one. Produce here is still sold in pounds, apparently this lobster was 5 pounds. Alan was a bit skeptical, but it had been along time since he had held something and thought in pounds as to its weight. After our boat boy had left with our money in his pocket we thought to weigh the still wriggling creature. Not 5 lbs at all only 3 1/2 lbs. Still it tasted great and the next day when our boat boy appeared to sell us bananas Alan informed him of the discrepancy. We ended up with a large hand of bananas for free to right the wrong.
Carriacou is a small hilly lush green island of around 9000 people, no visiting cruise ships, not many tourists and friendly people. I get the impression that it is another place cruisers have come for a week and stayed years. The main town of Hillsborough stretches along one road running along the water front, with the wharf and government buildings the focal point of the town. There are many colourful little shops and restaurants along with some more substantial buildings which all seem to have belonged to the Bullens family since 1942. A walk down the main street didn't take long so we go the bus...well mini van through the middle of the island to Winward ,on the north east coast, which was the centre of wooden boat building in the 1800s. The brochures said some boat building was still happening today but we only found one set of ribs underway, the greying timbers indicated it had not been worked on for a while. Not all was lost the bus ride gave us a lovely view across reefs and blue water to Union Island until rain obliterated the view.
Along with the predicted wind, rain squalls have been swooping down the hills into the bay. Tuatara is now very clean as all the African dust has been washed into the Caribbean. We open and shut our hatches several times a day. At night rain drips onto our faces to wake us up so we can shut the hatches once again. Between showers it is hot sunny swimmable weather so we still happy sailors.
Tomorrow we clear customs and head 10 miles across to Union Island in St Vincent and the Grenadines another country, another flag.
For those interested in Egret and their sail across half of the Atlantic using only a drogue for steering after they lost their rudder go to www.sailblogs.com/member/egret
01/05/2012, Carlisle Bay
Soft sand, turquoise water, yellow buses blasting out reggae, intricately designed and plaited hair, a rolly anchorage, rum punch, friendly people, golden Mount Gay rum, pricey food, Cruise ships, hot days.
14 days 3hours from Cape Verdes a good Atlantic crossing but we are pleased to be anchored in Carlisle Bay despite the roll.
We arrived in Barbados about lunch time Christmas day to a great Kiwi welcome from Awaroa and Cuttyhunk. They gave us time to settle the anchor and have a swim before John from Awaroa collected us for a Christmas drink on Cuttyhunk....rum punches of course. They were at the end of their Barbados stay so were well stocked with the ingredients for the refreshing drink. Late Afternoon we all moved over to Awaroa for Christmas dinner. A great start to our Barbados stay.
We said good bye to the two boats the next morning as they left for Martinique. After clearing customs we had a wander around Bridgetown the capital of Barbados. Apart from all the shops at the Cruise ship port, Barbados was shut for Christmas. The streets were very quiet, not a soul about not even a place to eat. Even though this is the high season for Cruise ships, up to 4 a day berth in the port, Barbados was shut for 3 days.
Juan needed to buy an air ticket so that he could be taken off our crewlist. After a bit of hassle of pricing and buying a ticket by Friday he was off the list and on his way home and we were back to two again. It had been great having an extra hand and most of the time he fitted in well. His afternoon siestas were a new experience for us as they often were more important than boat jobs! After discussing a list of boat jobs to be completed before we left La Gomera, he said, "is that before or after siesta". Juan had thought he would stay in the Caribbean to find more work but the pull of a girlfriend at home was too tempting and he opted to return home.
Having got Juan sorted then it was time for New Year and another public holiday was on us when we realized we should be applying for our US visa here. When entering America by private yacht we have to have a visa before we arrive. Barbados and Trinidad are the only places to apply in the Caribbean. So after thinking we were nearly ready to leave we found ourselves here a bit longer. Our Interview was on Tuesday, visa approved we now await the return of our passports within a couple of days. In the company of Jimmy and Caroline we have filled in the waiting days by watching some horse racing, a visit to the famous Mount Gay rum distillery and yesterday a trip up the coast by local buses.
Mount Gay has been producing rum since about 1703 and says it is the oldest still working rum distillery in the world. The tour is not really a tour, we were taken into a room where we could read about the history and our guide filled in some more bits of information while we enjoyed a small rum punch, then a film, followed by tasting of the most popular Mount Gay Eclipse and their very smooth Old Dark rum. We didn't actually get to see any of the workings of the distillery or bottling plant where the tour takes place. A little disappointing. As it was our wedding anniversary we decided to enjoy some more of their product in the shade looking out over the blue sea before we left with a bottle or two for home consumption.
Yesterday we decided to see a bit more of Barbados Island and hopped on a bus for a trip up the west coast to Speightstown. There are three types of public transport here, the big blue buses which are big and quiet to ride in, bright yellow buses with blaring reggae music which are fun to ride in and the mini van ZR,s which can be a squash to ride in filled with large Barbadian bodies. They all charge $2 a trip no matter how far you want to go. The best value $2 on an island where most things including food is quite pricey. We seem to say, " I don't know how the locals afford to live," several times a day. We decided to take a yellow reggae bus to Speightstown. As we tapped our feet to the music we looked out at lovely beaches, houses..big and small, rich and poor, lush gardens and fancy hotels as the bus sped along the narrow road, sliding to a halt at bus stops and to chat with a fellow bus driver heading in the opposite direction.
After lunch overlooking the beach we walked along soft sand, past sun lounging resort guests to Port St Charles. This is where the only marina on the island is located, only for the rich and famous. Eventually we found our way out to the nearest bus stop and hopped on another musical bus going north.
"Where do you want to go?" Asked the ticket collector
"Where are you going?"
"To Checkers Hall."
"Ok that's where we are going."
He showed us on the map and also explained how to get another bus from there to Connell, town right on the north of the island. After a refreshing ice cream at Checkers Hall we got on a quiet sedate blue bus to wind our way through narrow country lanes at breakneck pace. Not so sedate after all. We ended up staying on that bus all the way back to Bridgetown. A great day out, Barbados is a pretty island..well what we have seen so far.
I have wriggled my toes in the sand of this first Caribbean Island and have loved the feel, we are now looking forward to many more Caribbean island experiences.
PS Amanda and Patrick on Egret reached St Lucia at New Year sailing about 1500 miles across the Atlantic with no rudder, steering with a drogue. We think they deserve a medal, they certainly are our top sailors of 2011.