Tuesday, November 30, 2010

One month

It's only been one month?! Holy rolly anchorages and big dark rain squalls Batman! We must have entered a time warp. It really feels like it's been closer to three months. One month doesn't seem like much of a milestone. I mean, it's no more than a long-ish vacation right? What's the big deal? Four weeks on a boat in the tropics. So what. Checking in on things back home and not much has changed. Looking back, not much changes in four weeks in our old shore side life. It's pretty predictable. But boy have we changed and that's probably why it's felt more like three months than one.

The first really big change that we've noticed is that days seem to blend one into another. There are highlight days for sure, but the rest are so laid back that one could easily be two or three. It's so easy to lose track. There are other changes as well. We're getting a bit more used to the heat, though the fact the wind is up certainly helps. The motion of the boat isn't as uncomfortable except for when it gets violent enough to throw unsecured things off tables and shelves. Getting around town and finding the basics isn't full of uncertainty, and the bits that are uncertain, like what they'll have at the store, are now expected and we're good to just roll with it. We're starting to make some personal connections here in St. Vincent which reduces the isolation feeling a bit. The boys are fighting less (a little) which suggests that they are settling in and feeling less uncertain. And we're building a level of confidence with the boat systems, boat handling and navigating in these waters. Trips to Bequia or the smaller islands are filled with less anxiety now that we have an idea of what to expect.

We've all experienced so much this month but there are several things that have really stood out. Highlights from the past month definitely have to include the hurricane. That was a pretty amazing experience and everyone is glad that there was little drama involved for us. It could have been much worse. And it was for many people on St. Vincent and many more on St. Lucia. Seeing the devastated banana plantations and all the homes with roofs blown sometimes two houses down really made that all very real. Aidan's highlights need to include singing with the parrot at Barefoot (he's been teaching it the Star Wars theme song) and learning to snorkel. Austin has said that his highlight was seeing real iguanas running around in the wild but a close second was snorkelling on a "nemo reef" as he called it. He had been looking for a reef as rich in life and colour as the one depicted in the movie Finding Nemo - I told him that was just Hollywood and over exaggerated, but then Austin found one that was very close and it really was quite spectacular. Getting the time to finish a book, visiting the turtle sanctuary and swimming with turtles are highlights for Carla. For me, the thing that I think I've enjoyed the most is all the new things to learn. Every day there's something new, a new challenge, a new experience or a new revelation as something that I've long read about finally happens or clicks. And I think that we're all very happy to be doing so much together, and most of it in the outdoors. Which is exactly why we're doing this.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Watch out for that crazy dinghy driver!

Skye asked me to drop him off at the dock today, so that I could have mobility in case his meetings went longer than expected. I was nervous about driving the dinghy, especially after my rum-punch (it only takes one) induced collision in the dark with the dock the night before.

As we were preparing to leave the boat, I spotted Vibert (Barefoot staff) in a dinghy at an adjacent boat, and called out to him, thinking Skye could just ride back to the dock with him, to “save me a trip.”

Skye said, “No, you need the practice anyway.”

So, we set off for the dock and had an uneventful trip over. I asked Skye to give me a directional shove off the dock, and as I shifted into forward, the engine died. This isn’t uncharacteristic for our outboard (one of the reasons I avoid driving the dinghy), so I calmly pulled out the choke (until now, always a sure-fire way to start ‘er up), hauled on the starter cord, and nothing. They say the definition of “crazy” is to keep on doing the same thing, expecting a different result ... so I peacefully floated away toward the sandy beach, going more and more crazy, continuing to push in the choke, pull out the choke, adjust the accelerator, and haul on the starter. Until a kind Barefooter (Sadem) came to my rescue and towed me back to Skye. Sadem tested the engine, and after re-seating the fuel supply, it started. He ran it high, and boy did it smoke (we all suspected I had flooded it).

We tried again, now that I was hopelessly humiliated (there’s always an audience at the dock). Skye pushed me off, I switched into forward, grabbed hold of the painter (the rope that’s tied to the bow of the dinghy), and drove off, with Skye calling out to “Give it some gas!” every time the engine threatened to stall again. As I drove past the resident ASA Sailing Director and his two eager students, I joked, “That was fun! I think the engine was flooded.” The Sailing Director very graciously smiled, shrugged and said, “That happens.”

So I had a relatively smooth, slow drive back to the boat, making a point of dodging the mooring that likes to linger near our stern. I called out to Austin to meet me on the swim platform, Austin delegated to Aidan, and I made a couple failed attempts to reach the boat so that Aidan could grab hold of the cable that we use to lock up our dinghy (since I was holding the painter, and couldn’t imagine trying to toss the rope to Aidan at the same time as steering the boat, risking having the line end up in the water and foul my prop).

Then I fell prey to the classic, “Don’t look where you don’t want to go,” and lo and behold, I hadn’t just hit the d**n mooring, I was on it! So, remaining calm, I stayed in forward, expecting the mooring to pop out beside me at any time, and hoping that my prop wouldn’t graze it on the way past. According to Skye (who was watching on, in case I had engine trouble), I actually just completed a few perfect circles, and each time around, he could see the mooring trapped between the pontoons of our dinghy. Aidan kept calling out to me, frantically waving his arms, “Mom! You’re on the mooring!” So I finally put the engine in reverse, eased off the mooring, and went back into forward, this time reaching the swim platform with a little more control, so Aidan was able to grab the cable. The engine shut itself off, I grabbed the boat, passed the painter up to Aidan, and oh so gracefully crawled onto the swim platform. Phew! I’d made it, and I didn’t even know until hours later, that I had had an audience watching the whole comedic scene. Glad to provide some comic relief!!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Drumming Lesson with Nzimbu Browne

Today, Austin, Aidan, Aaron and I took a trip into Kingstown to meet up with Nzimbu, a local indigenous artist and drummer. Skye and I had first met Nzimbu on a trip into Kingstown in August, when we were in St. Vincent to buy our boat. We were attracted to his beautiful artwork in dried banana leaves. When we purchased one of his pieces of art, we chatted with him a bit, and he told us that he teaches drumming to all ages. We instantly imagined having Austin and Aidan attend drumming classes with this gentle artist.

So our vision finally became a reality today, having overcome some timing challenges to arrive half an hour late for the workshop. Nzimbu waved down our taxi while we were looking for the place to meet up with him. Austin and Aidan were the only two students today, so they had a private lesson with the master :)

Nzimbu is very patient and kind. He is not at all critical, rather he encouraged the boys to take it slowly and he pointed out that it's supposed to be confusing at first. He taught them the bass, tone and tip positions. For the bass position, the hand is slightly curved and the base of the palm lands at the rim of the drum. For the tone position, fingers are together and the four fingers land just inside the rim of the drum. For the tip position, only the tips of the fingers land, together, at the rim of the drum.

Throughout the lesson, Nzimbu taught the boys a few combinations and rhythms. Aidan kept wanting to play the bass position with his hand right in the middle of the drum ("because that's what Mr. Drew taught me"). Since he is a bit smaller, it was difficult for Aidan to keep his drum tipped forward to avoid "deadening" the sound. He needed to keep his feet wrapped around the bottom of the drum, but they didn't quite reach.

For the first 20 minutes, Aaron sat quietly and contentedly watching the lesson. He seemed to be actually paying attention. Then, he couldn't help himself. He had to start drumming on Austin's drum. Nzimbu just went with the flow, and even invited Aaron to play on his drum a few times.

Austin paid close attention and was clearly trying hard to follow instructions carefully. He kept a good beat, and was able to shift between hand positions for the different combinations. This seems quite challenging - I don't think I'd get it right on the first try. The only recommendation Nzimbu had, was for Austin to slow it down a bit.

In the final 20 minutes of the hour-long class, the three drums sounded really good together. Aaron and I wanted to dance! Nice work, boys!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Busy couple days at the office

We're back in St. Vincent to take care of business. Yesterday it was a trip into Kingstown to get my cell phone setup with a local sim, buy some hard to find grocery items and visit a "department store" to get some household items. That took all day (most of it was dealing with the local cell phone tech to unlock my phone then with Digicel to get my number - took way longer than it should and it was all the phone's fault).  Feel free to call or txt. This is much more affordable now. We all knew this but Canada is so screwed up when it comes to cell phone plans. I just got a pre-paid, no contract, no questions asked, unlimited data package for my Blackberry that only costs the equivalent to around $19CAD/month.

Today it was all about boat projects. Austin and I spent most of the morning replacing a light bulb on our bow (it illuminates the red and green navigation lights needed when underway at night). This required me to hang nearly upside down over the railing (pushpit) to unscrew the light fixture and not drop anything in the water. Austin stood patiently by my side handing me tools as I couldn't put them in my pockets. Nothing fell in the water but my back did get the worst sun burn of the trip so far (I only thought I'd be out there a few minutes). Then we re-rigged the boom vang (block and tackle setup that helps us pull the boom down when sailing down wind). The shackle attaching it to the mast was bent some time ago and needed replacing. Then I disassembled the transmission control cable and reassembled it to get rid of some of the play that we've been experiencing when shifting. Then I lubed up the engine kill cable to make it a bit easier to pull (it's very stiff, now less stiff). While in there I also re-wired the 12v plug so that we don't have to keep running a long cable to the 12v plug at the nav station. And finally I replaced the engine belts as the alternator belt had begun to slip and was getting old. All this, plus a trip to the shore to buy parts, took until dinner. Still beats sitting behind a desk all day :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Where are the boat kids?

We're a minority of minorities as far as cruisers go. Most are older than us. A few are our age or younger but usually don't have kids yet (or don't plan to). Few cruisers have young kids along with them. We're realistic and not expecting to see many and are not exactly surprised that we've seen very few kid boats (all French so far - but then most cruisers around here seem to be from France right now). Heck, we've only been out here a month after all, but it would be nice. We're missing good parent to parent socializing and the kids are sure missing good kid to kid socializing.  The only kid boat we did meet and get a chance to visit with was on a very different itinerary than ours and they are now several large islands farther north.

So, if there are any families out there, sailing the Windward Islands between now and Christmas or the Leeward Islands after Christmas, give us a shout.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hard windward beat back to Bequia

We stayed in the Tobago Cays an extra day in the hopes that the wind might shift a little south but we've had no such luck with the wind. Five outings now and all of them have been to windward. We're getting pretty good at this but they just aren't that fun. Unless you're racing. And this one sure tested our patience, and our reefing skills. At one point we had 25 knots of wind with gusts up to 30, right on the nose. We managed to reef in time and kept the boat between 15 and 20 degrees. It was still rocky out there and life below decks with that kind of motion and angles was pretty miserable. The seas were a couple meters high, nothing epic but more than we'd been in on this trip. I think we all agree that the boat handled all this splendidly. The other thing that we all came to agreement on was to try to avoid days like this as much as we can. They are just not any fun. And we knew it was going to be unpleasant going into this one. Nearly out of food, water and cash we just couldn't wait any more.

In the end we got through it. The wind even died right off about an hour or so before we were to reach our anchorage. We couldn't believe it but we had to motor sail the rest of the way. Nearly the complete opposite to an hour and a half earlier. Each time a wave crashed over the bow and we were heeled over until the rails were nearly in the water poor Austin was nearly in tears. And now swells, like so many leftovers, and slight ripples were all that remained.

One thing that worked quite well was how we distributed the crew this time. Aaron and Aidan were given an anti-nauseant before we left. They crashed in one of the bunks below. Aaron slept the whole way and Aidan, drowsy enough to doze most of the time, stayed with him to ensure he didn't fall out. Austin joined us in the cockpit and got to experience the full drama of the wind, sea and all the sail changes. This was a first for him. He's been the one to take the anti-nauseant and sleep below for all our other passages before. While he was quite worried a couple times he has come away with a much stronger appreciation for choosing good sailing days and for the capabilities of boat and crew.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tobago Cays

November 19th - 21st

our dinghy and a long sandy beachTobago Cays, so much here I don’t know where to begin. The Cays (pronounced Keys) have lived up to their reputation and then some. We’ve spent 3 days here and if it weren’t for running low on water and food we’d stay for many more days. I don’t know if it’s partly because the boys were going through a bout of homesickness before or maybe it was the days languishing in pleasant, but commercial Bequia or is it just the stunning beauty, so accessible and with so much variety? Whatever it is, it took not even a half hour after we picked up our mooring for Austin to declare that this was the best place yet. By far. And he hadn’t gone more than 10 feet from the boat. And it just kept getting better from there.

The Tobago Cays are a small cluster of low islands of volcanic rock, perched on the doorstep to the Atlantic Ocean. They are surrounded by clear, turquoise water, long meandering stretches of white sand and many coral reefs. The Cays are fairly unique in this area as most islands are steep and drop off quickly beneath the sea leaving behind few sandy beaches and many sharp rocky shore lines. The local government has wisely designated this area as a marine park and have imposed strict rules to help preserve the natural beauty. The lack of fishing or harvesting of conch or other shellfish has allowed the reef ecosystem to begin to rebound. There are also many turtles in the area who take advantage of the grasses that grow in the shallow water. These too are protected from harvesting and their primary feeding areas are marked off “safe zones” where boats can’t anchor and only dinghies (at low speed) and snorkelers are allowed.

Obviously a destination like this is highly desirable. However, the Cays have several defenses which help keep it pristine. First, it’s primary natural defense is that they are hard to get too. The passages into the Cays are littered with reefs and shoals just waiting to claim an inattentive skipper. This also means that cruise ships can’t just anchor off and unload hundreds of guests. The second defense is with the regulations keeping a lid on how much and what kind of commercial enterprises are allowed to operate in the park. No business is allowed to keep guests overnight on land (only charter boats can stay overnight). All business operators are licensed and must be local. Beach BBQ’s (a very popular attraction) are highly regulated and can only be performed by a local vendor. I don’t know if this is in the regulations or not but all the vendors, cruising around in their colorful boats, are very friendly, helpful and not at all pushy. Though they are persistent. They’ll show up every day offering fresh bread, t-shirts, fish, lobster, ice or cold beer. And some offer their beach BBQ’s which are definitely worth trying.

The first day there we decide to pick up a mooring. This puts us within swimming distance of the turtle sanctuary and sandy beach. Within minutes Austin and Aidan have put on their snorkeling gear and are checking out the scenery around our boat. Apparently there were all kinds of fish and a couple big schools that swam by. I think I heard the words, “best day ever” more than once. The rest of us get the boat settled and into our swimming gear as quickly as we can. It’s only a quick dinghy ride to the beach, passing no fewer than 3 turtles on the way.
The water, once away from the few turbulent feet right at the beach, was very clear. Swimming in water that was about 10 feet deep we could dive down and coast along with schools of colourful fish or inspect a long lost anchor or peak at the little eyes poking out from the queen conchs. Aidan and Carla swam together and watched Green Turtles glide below feeding on sea grass. Austin had mastered his snorkel by this point and was frequently diving to the bottom gliding right along with the sea creatures. Using a dolphin kick with his hands by his sides, Austin was so gentle that most of the creatures were not frightened when he swam by.

Later in the afternoon Austin and I decided to explore one of the small coral reefs on the other side of the beach. Getting out there was a little more challenging as there was more wave action so we had to swim a bit harder. However, once out there we were well rewarded for our efforts. We swam among boulders of brain coral, watched the large turtles feed 10 feet below us, discovered Caribbean Lobsters in their spy holes under rocks and danced with millions of multi-coloured reef fish as the swells pushed us first one way then pulled us back the other. We all crashed early that night with exhausted smiles.

threatening skies

The next day the weather wasn’t so great. Some rain and overcast skies. The wind had also picked up. Blowing steadily from the North East at 12 - 15 knots (22 - 27 Km/h). Between the wind and the unpleasant weather about 1/2 the boats took off. In the afternoon Austin and I took a trip back to the little island and went exploring. The trail starts at the sandy beach but quickly leaves the sand behind. Most of the trail is on packed dirt and volcanic rock surrounded by small trees, 4 to 10 foot tall cactus and tall grasses. Nearly everywhere we went, there were many trails, we found large iguanas either peering down at us from the branches, guarding a trail or scampering off through the underbrush. We even ran into a tortoise making it’s slow way down the hill.
looking south

We repeated a similar trek on one of the other islands the next morning, this time bringing Carla, Aidan (who wasn’t feeling well the day before) and Aaron. The vegetation on this island was quite different. More types of trees, different types of cactus and a lot more long grass. We also found the place where they host the beach BBQ’s. We’ll have to try that next time for sure.

We also made an obligatory trip over to Petit Tabac, the little island that sits off in the distance where they shot several scenes from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The trip was challenging. Crossing the channel, we were thoroughly soaked by the time we landed, having threaded our way through reefs between rocks just under the surface. Breaking waves crashing on the rocks that were above the surface was tricky and nerve wracking but we made it in one piece, avoiding swamping our outboard. The island wasn’t all that impressive. The water wasn’t very clear so the snorkeling wasn’t that great (though the reefs were expansive so we may just have not been in the best spot). Aidan and I tried to walk around the island with Aaron but the Atlantic side is covered in sharp broken volcanic rock so we aborted through the small forest (which was think with mosquitos).

Here is a list of things we saw at the reefs over 3 days that we were able to identify.
West Indian Sea Egg
Variegated Urchin
Rock-Boring Urchin
Queen Conch
Southern Stingray (juvenile)
Needle fish
Green Turtle
Caribbean Lobster
Common Octopus
Fairy Basslet
Netted Barren Sponge
Sea Walnut
Many, many, many fish. So many different kinds I don’t know how we’ll ever get good at identifying them

And while hiking on land:

We saw thousands more things that we had no idea what they were other than, “wow, look at that blue fish with the pink stripe and the black spot” or “hey, look at that funny blob of brown with eyes”. Each time we thought it would be easy to look these things up in our reef creatures guide books (with full colour photos) but there are just too many variations on most things. What looked unique to us would often have many variations taking several pages in the book.

We just can’t wait to get back.

More pictures like this here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Inside Day

We’re having an inside day at Tobago Cays. It’s windy and cooler outside today - actually a welcome change from the incessant heat. A3 wore his Buzz Lightyear pajamas to bed last night.

Austin has played and won a few games of chess against the iPad. A2 is sleeping in his berth - we suspect he has his first bout of motion sickness, so he’s taken a Gravol and tucked in. I hope he’ll wake up feeling better.

A3 has been interchanging pieces on his big brothers’ Bionicles. It’s fascinating to notice how he has been able to distinguish between the different foot designs and how they attach. He is trying to connect the small pieces, but doesn’t get frustrated even after several minutes have passed without success. He eventually asks someone else to attach the pieces for him. He’s playing with the Bionicles as though they are a Mr. Potato Head. He likes to change their heads, arms, legs, hands and feet, much to A1’s chagrin.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

By the light of the moon

Our plan for the day started out simple enough. Make a quick run to town to buy some last minute provisions and get some much needed cash before the machine runs out again then weigh anchor and sail South to the Tobago Cays. Simple. We've sailed most of that direction before and have a good handle on the currents, prevailing wind and identifying the right islands and landmarks. Check the weather, nothing big showing up on-line. Look outside, sunny, scattered cloud and wind out of the East (right where it should be). This should be easy. Trouble was, the shopping in the morning was probably the easiest thing we did all day.
Our first clue that all might not go as planned was when we passed the northern headland and could see the very large and deep cloud bank parked just north of us. St. Vincent was getting a lot of rain, as was St. Lucia from what we could see. Which wasn't a lot as visibility to the north was restricted due to the heavy rain. Normally weather to the north of us has been staying to the north of us so we keep on going. 
Our next clue that things weren't going to plan was when we passed the southern headland and tried to put up the sails. No wind. No ... wait ... there it is. Out of the South South West! Wind almost never blows from that direction around here. This put the wind directly on the course we wanted to sail. That doesn't work so well for sailboats. We tried various tacks to try to make some way in the direction we wanted. We had some luck and the current was with us this day. In the end the wind backed around to the East by late afternoon and we managed to make some decent miles in the right direction. For a couple hours. Then the wind died again so we had to motor sail the rest of the way.
Most of the day we’ve been in open water, not a lot to worry about other than going in the right direction. The final mile requires some close attention to make it past some big, boat crushing rocks, thread a couple reefs and slip our way between a couple boats to drop our hook. And a tight squeeze it is. It didn't feel right from the beginning but I thought there just might be enough room for us. And there would have been if the wind kept blowing from the North East like it  was when we arrived. However, that didn't last and we all started swinging all over the place. There must have been no more than 20 feet between us and the nearest boat. 
This wouldn’t do. I wolfed down dinner between popping up on deck to check where we were. Just before we ate I told Carla that we'd be OK as long as the wind didn't swing to the South East and push us towards the beach. Just as I finished dinner, the wind shifted to the ... you guessed it. The South East. Ack! Now I was worried. I checked our depth and we seemed to be holding OK in about 11 feet of water but the boat next to us was right off our bow. If the light wind picked up and straightened out our chain we'd be on the beach. Not a good situation at all. The wind always seems to blow harder and from the direction you'd least prefer around here.
I can't sit still at this point. We talk about keeping an anchor watch all night but I can't imagine sleeping though this even if Carla's up. And as we're talking the boats start swinging again. The one closest to us doesn't swing the same way we do so we're getting really, really close this time. The bright 3/4 full moon is out again and I spot a good sized break in the clouds. If there was ever a good time to get the hell out of there this was it.
Carla takes the helm and I race forward to start bringing in the chain. Even this will be tricky as our chain is lying on the bottom almost right under the boat in front of us. A bit of forwards, a bit of side to side and a bit of backwards and we have our anchor back and are free of the bottom. Out we go! Thread our way between those reefs we passed on the way in, not so hard once you know where they are, and back out into open water. Keeping the rocks well off to our right we start looking for the marker that indicates the far edge of the big reef to the south of us that we need to avoid. Lucky for us it is well lit with a red flashing light. 45 mostly uneventful minutes later we have rounded the big reef, and safely anchored in about 25 feet of water.
That was the most intense finish to a day we've had yet. But we're happy now. This is a nice big bay with only a few boats in front of us and way more than enough swinging room. I can feel comfortable setting the anchor alarm and not worry about bumping into someone. Now if only someone could turn off the wave machine for the night this would be perfect!

A wet day

For those in wet and windy Vancouver this blog about our windy and rainy day is for you.
Granite Falls
Rainy day anchored up Indian Arm

It began with 4 rain storms overnight, each gusting to around 25 knots. The sound of the wind humming in the rigging and the rain pounding on the deck was enough to wake me each time. I'm still not totally confident with our anchoring, though we've held firm through everything so far, so each time I wake I'm up looking around to make sure we haven't dragged. And did I say it was rolly? Nearly ear to ear, or at least that's what it felt like. Another storm passed through about mid-morning though this one was short. And the wind feels so much less threatening in daylight.

Later in the afternoon we had one of the longest rain showers I've seen since Tomas. But no wind this time. It reminded me a little of the day we spent up Indian Arm a couple years ago where it calmly rained for most of the morning. The water flat and quiet except for the hiss and patterns made by the rain drops. This time it must have rained steadily for a little over an hour. I was on shore shopping with the boys so we found shelter near the dinghy dock. The boys did what boys do and spent the time playing in the puddles and in the rain pouring off the roof. Several stray dogs, locals on motor bikes and scooters and some other sailors (feeding the dogs) were also all waiting for the rain to end. Pretty much everything that isn't done by car/truck on this sleepy island stopped and waited for the rain.

The sun returned and along with it the wind. We zip back across the anchorage with our shopping and jump back onto our still rolling boat. Fed up with all this motion we decide to move back to the other side of the bay where we had anchored the last time we were here. Thankfully anchoring is much, much easier in this boat than our last one. Fifteen minutes later we're all smiles and settled into our new, much flatter, spot. Nearly exactly where we anchored the last time. And just in time too. The next wave of wind and water started to fall just as we were backing down on the anchor to make sure it was well set. Nothing like 2500 rpms in reverse plus 20 knot gusts to ensure you're well dug in.

A couple more waves pass through but with enough of a gap in between that we manage to fit in a pleasant and tasty cockpit dinner (though we had to sit on towels as the seats hadn't dried yet).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Juiciest grapefruit

So I was sitting down to table today, next to Aaron, enjoying one of the biggest, juiciest grapefruits I've ever eaten. A drop of grapefruit juice squirted right into Aaron's face, to which he promptly cried out, "It's raining, Mom. Close the hatches!!"

Rain can come on strong and powerful, without warning here, and our hatches are our best hope for fresh ventilation and daylight, so they remain open most of the time (even through the night). Aaron has obviously picked up on the typically energetic response to a squall, with Skye, Austin, Aidan and I rushing around the boat to close the hatches :)

Turtle Sanctuary

We paid a visit to the Turtle Sanctuary on Bequia a few days ago. The place was mostly empty for the first while we were there so we got a personal guided tour from the owner, "Brother" King. Through his efforts he's been able to increase the number of turtles that survive into adulthood sometimes by 10 times.

One of the really neat things about this part of the world is how strong the enterprising spirit is here. People just take the initiative to do the things that they feel are important or valuable. I think it has something to do with the big hearts, pleasant outlook and the special kind of freedom you find here. There are very few rules yet most people get along well and people find a way to do better than just get by. Whether it's for their family, their community or the environment, they really try hard to make a difference.

Here's short video of the boys exploring the Turtle Sanctuary. You can go to Brother King's website if you want to read more about his story and this wonderful place.

Watermelon lunch in Bequia and other exciting trips

watermelon lunch in Bequia
Originally uploaded by skyec
Pictures from our trips around Bequia and to the turtle sanctuary.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Have you seen the wind?

During our sail back to Bequia from Canouan, Aidan joined me in the cockpit while I steered the boat. After a quiet pensive moment, he asked, "Mom, have you ever seen the wind?" I responded with the question, "Have you?"

He answered confidently, "Yes, it's a bit grey."

Then after a few more quiet moments passed, he asked, "What makes the wind move?"

I distractedly answered, "I think it has something to do with temperatures and the earth turning on its axis." Then Skye joined us to explain, "Ah, good question, Aidan. It's the sun that causes wind. The sun is responsible for a lot of the things we experience on earth. Think of the food we eat. It needs the sun to grow. ... "

He asked Aidan what happens to air as it heats up. Aidan said that it rises. So Skye explained how the hot air around the equator on Earth, rises toward the cooler air at the poles.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Back in Bequia

So the Southern Grenadines are a bit of a mess as far as financial services, fuel and food are concerned. Clifton on Union Island has food and an ATM that doesn’t work for our card but no (filtered) fuel. You have to go to Petite Martinique for that but they don’t have much food (or so the book says) and no ATMs at all (or so the book says)[1]. We haven’t had much luck with the local ATMs for getting cash unless it’s from RBTT so we decided that with fuel and food also running low we had better blast back to Bequia where we can get all that done in one place. The plan is to do all our provisioning, laundry, refuel, get some more cash and take on drinking water all in a day. That’s a tall order for us in this country. Wish us luck.
Our sail back went better today (not so off course and no squalls). This time I decided to account for the 2.5 knot tidal current in my course planning and almost ended up right where we were hoping to go. Unfortunately the wind didn’t cooperate as it backed NNE later in the day making it hard to keep to our N course (close hauled the whole way). In the end we were only off by about a mile after spending an afternoon covering 17.
Back in Bequia we managed to squeeze into a tight spot anchored off Tony Gibbons beach amongst a bunch of catamarans. We didn’t have much daylight left after everything was settled but that doesn’t seem to be a problem in this area. No fewer than 5 boats snuck into anchor after sundown. One even had the local ferry breathing down their back as they threaded their way into the harbour. Not something that we want to repeat if we can help it. We did take the opportunity to critique those who did and discussed strategies if we ever found ourselves in that situation.
1: The guide book doesn’t mention any ATM and is light on what the store there carries … one thing we’ve learned here is that when a guide book says “lots of selection” or “big store” that means “corner store” or strip mall sized private grocer to us (not much). So when they say “small store” you can expect only a dozen shelves or so and not much fresh goods. When we do get to visit Petite Martinique we’ll be sure to check out the store and fuel dock to see what they actually have.

Canouan rest stop

We spent the night in Charlestown Bay on Canouan. Anchoring was looking like it would be an adventure or worse. We soared in on 1.5m swells. I had flashes of Johnny Depp running through my mind as I stood at the helm, chatting with Skye about our anchoring strategy.

We have hand signals that are working very well. Skye points by levering his arm with a flat hand in the direction he wishes to go forward. If he wants me to put the engine into neutral, he waves his arm away from his body, parallel to the water. Reverse is a spiral downwards.

We’ve now anchored successfully twice, and I’m feeling more confident each time.

This is a pretty rolly anchorage, so I decided to take an anti-nauseant before tucking in. I gave one to Aaron as well, because I recall that nights spent in the rolly anchorage of Blue Lagoon, had him waking 4-5 times during the night.

Last night was the first night on this trip, that Aaron has slept right through. During the settling-in period, he was waking many times during the night, to nurse. This caused me to wake up as a bear in the mornings, and sometimes my sweet mood would last all day. Skye threatened to fly me home a few days ago.

What a welcome change, to actually have abundant energy at 7:00am!! I cooked up scrambled eggs for breakfast, fried myself some toast, and ate peanut butter & toast, with banana in the cockpit. So nice!

Even Aaron is in better spirits this morning - not seeking Mom for comfort every few minutes. I actually have time to sit and write something.

I’m hoping that we can install our stereo soon, so we can play music while we sail. I am missing music. Fortunately, we packed a recording of a good friend’s radio show on cd, so we’ve been able to listen to that, and hearing her soothing voice from home has helped with our adjustment.

Today, we’re heading either to the Tobago Cays or Union Island.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sail to Canouan

Good sail, learned a bunch and had fun. We left Bequia around 11:30 and had the anchor down by 5 in Canouan. We started out with a light breeze out of the ESE. This made for a comfortable, yet slow beam reach. It turns out there was probably a fairly strong current running partly against us so that made it feel even slower. At best we were doing only 4 knots over ground.

Around 2:30 some black clouds started to form over the islands to the South of us. Carla and the boys were sleeping below so I took advantage of the auto-pilot to reef the sails myself. This boat is well balanced and pretty much sails herself at the best of times but even more so with a reef or two put in. I could walk away from the wheel to tend some lines without needing the auto-pilot. Very nice. The only trouble was that the wind veered a bit so we couldn't keep our course so had to motor sail the final couple miles in.

All in all a nice sail with a couple tense moments thrown in for excitement. We even got to try out our new harnesses and tethers

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sail to Bequia

New pictures from our sail to Bequia

1st day sailing

More pictures on Flickr under the St. Vincent set. Click here to see them.


Originally uploaded by skyec
Fruit and veggies from the market

Passion for fruit

Here's a quick note to say that we spent this afternoon exploring the town. It was very hot today so we were very thirsty by the time we found most things we went looking for. Just as we were about to start walking back to the dinghy we found the produce market. A bouncy rastaman befriended us as soon as we arrived. We didn't get more than 10 feet in the door the whole time. He ran around to all the stalls fetching stuff for us, showing us what was ripe and what wasn't, provided cooking tips and best of all, splitting open a couple passionfruit. Wow. Now I like the juice that we get back home but the fruit is amazing. It looks a little odd when you open it up (seeds and "jelly") but tastes amazing if you're into sour fruits. It's like blending passionfruit juice with  a lot of limes. That sure helped us deal with our thirst :)

We also got plantains, bananas, fig bananas, mangoes, locally grown mandarin oranges, water mellon, carrots and fresh cucumbers. This is the fresh fruit shopping that I've been looking forward to. I've had enough of those dark, dusty, cramped grocery stores that seem to have everything ... from about 2 years ago.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

The re-floating of Rainbow Chaser

One of the charter boats, Rainbow Chaser, broke free and ran up onto the rocks during Hurricane Tomas. One other boat also broke free in the storm but ended up on a sandy beach and was quickly re-floated with no damage. This boat wasn't so lucky. It has just sat there this past week but today a crew came out with a tow boat and pulled it off the rocks. Amazingly she floated and seems to only have minor hull damage and no holes. Maybe she was lucky after all :)

Full photo set can be seen here.

Rainbow Chaser ended up on the rocks in the storm

First week on the boat in St. Vincent

Monday November 1st
We say good by to our “storm friends” and check out of Beach Combers around 11am and head over to Barefoot. It’s a bit of a madhouse there as they are still trying to jerry-rig a fix to the dock that will allow them to dock boats and get their charter guests out. The folks from Port Townsand must have been ferried out to their cat by dinghy as they were just pulling out of the bay shortly after we arrived.
The weather has returned to normal for this part of the world. Hot, sunny and humid. We slap on sunscreen and seek shady areas that have a bit of breeze to wait to get onto our boat. This takes a long time. And with 3 tired, hot and bored kids, it’s very, very long.  Carla takes a cab down to the local store to pick up a few supplies and snacks. Groceries are definitely cheaper here.
The poor Barefoot guys are run off their feet (no pun intended) trying to re-rig and clean the boats, build the dock, brief their guests and get them on their way. We don’t want to get in the way, we don’t need the boat rigged yet and we can clean it ourselves so all we need is for someone to zip over to our boat to get our dinghy and let us ferry ourselves over. Apparently this is too far beyond normal protocol to go smoothly or quickly. Even by minimizing our requirements it’s not until dark that we get everyone aboard.
This anchorage is a bit rolly so everyone takes anti-nausient pills this night. Austin seems to be feeling it the most. Aidan and Arron the least.

Tuesday November 2nd
What a morning! Austin and I are up early (6am), the sun is out, it’s already warm so into the water Austin goes off the swim platform while I fire up the engine to chill the fridge and charge the batteries. Soon everyone is up and after a quick breakfast we’re off to the beach. After 5 days of cross continent travel, hiding out from hurricanes, killing time in no-so-kid friendly environments we deserve this break! 
There is a small reef at one end of the beach so Austin and Carla buddy up and go in search of reef creatures. Aidan experiments with his new snorkel gear in the shallow water and Aaron chases the waves up and down the beach. When Carla and Austin return I take Aidan and Austin to a shallow sandy area near the reef and teach them how to purge their snorkel. We then play games trying to see how close we can get to the fish by swimming slowly using very slight dolphin kicks.
Back at the boat we have a quick lunch before everyone crashes. Too much sun and fun for this crew!

Wednesday November 3rd
Shopping day. Carla and Aidan head off into town with one of the barefoot girls to shop for a “week of food” or what they can cary. Austin and Arron stay back at the boat with me. The boys play lego and I tackle stowing the pile of boat parts, tools and stuff that had been tossed all over the nav station.
What a night! A storm blew through that consisted of several small cells, each bringing an inch or two of rain and 20 knot winds. We must have swung around our mooring, full circle at least 3 times over the course of the night. It got a bit rough by morning when the swells reached our anchorage and we were rolled about quite viciously. All this rain washed all kinds of mud, trees and debris off the island and into the bay. No swimming today as we let this clear.
Carla bought some pork and was given a local recipie for cooking it. What a hit! We all loved it so much there were no leftovers and everyone was calling for more. We’re certainly going to do that one again. Thanks Dawn. :)

Thursday November 4th
More rain and wind overnight. Seems this is starting a pattern. Day or night we seem to be getting two or three hours of clear weather followed by a squall or two. These squalls don’t usually last much more than an hour, some less than 15 minutes.
Off to the beach again as the boys were starting to get cabin fever. Austin and Aaron hadn’t been off the boat in over a day. Not a good idea. 
The past couple days we’ve been trying this new sunscreen that I found at MEC called Heiko. The first day we got some glaring burns that I figured were because we didn’t re-apply right after swimming at the beach. I was determined to do it right today and made sure that were were all well covered and reapplied after swimming and any heavy sweating (nearly hourly for me). No luck. We still burned. I’ve noticed that this stuff washing off really easily when cleaning my hands. My guess is that it just does not do well in very wet conditions like this. Time to try the next brand tomorrow.
We’re starting to get a bit tired of this anchorage so I went ashore to see if we could get some help getting our jib back up. We have a roller furling system which should be fairly straight forward to put up but I’ve not done it before and thought it would be best to get someone to show me how the first time. Boy, was I glad that I did. 
For those who are not familiar with a roller furlling system the way they work is a long, metal tube is fitted over the forestay (the wire that holds the mast up from the front of the boat) with a swivel at the top and a drum at the bottom. The outside of the tube has a slot that the leading edge of the sail is fed into and hoisted to the top. Once in place,  a furling line that is wrapped around the drum at the bottom is pulled out which then causes this entire tube to spin and wrap the sail around itself. The basic setup is fairly simple and this is pretty standard gear on most sailing boats for the past 15 - 20 years.
Where we ran into trouble was with this tube. We were nearly done hoisting the sail when we noticed that it had come out of the slot near the top. More worrying was the reason for this. This tube that runs up the forestay is not a single piece, it is made up of about 4 or 5 sections that are around 10’ long. Each of these sections is attached to the next with a shim on the inside and screwed to the tube using these special little screws called grub screws (grub screws are like ordinary screws except they don’t have a  head - the slot the allen key goes into is built right into the screw itself giving it a very low profile). When we were hoisting our sail, one of these tube sections separated from the one below it due to a loose grub screw.
Now we have a sail part way up, that won’t come down and wind gusting from 5 to 10 knots threatening to go up to 25 overnight and a roller furling unit that’s come undone. That kind of flogging will destroy a sail.. Anthony, the guy from Barefoot who’s helping us out has some experience running the foredeck of some pretty impressive racing boats so we send him up to sort this out.
With Carla feeding the sail into the slot at the bottom, Anthony guiding it at the top and manually holding the furling tube in place and me at the winch we ssslllooowwwlly get the sail up and furlled. The sail will be OK for the night be clearly we need to get these screws tightened up before we head out.
Speaking of heading out. We’re getting rather tired of this rolly anchorage so are looking forward to getting this all taken care of so we can go explore some of the other islands for a bit.

November 4th to 8th
Hard to believe that 4 days have passed. Lots happening yet we’re *still* in Blue Lagoon. Good news is that we think we have everything in top shape and all our stuff put away so that we can leave first thing in the morning. That’s our current plan anyway. But as we’ve seen over the past few days things can quickly pop up that take our energies away from that goal. First it was getting the jib up and properly tightened (that took an additional 2 days). Then we had a problem getting cooling water to and from the engine. That took an evening. Then there was this little loose wire that prevented the house batteries from charging. Then we took a day “off” to go sight seeing up a volcano. Then we needed to get the boat in a condition where it is ready for the open seas. That took all day.
One great thing that helped lift our spirits for the day was listening to a recording of our friend’s co-op radio show called “Labor of Love”. The choice of music were perfect and hearing her calming and familiar voice was very therapeutic.
Our trip up the volcano was very special. We hired the local driver to take  us on this tour and he picked up a local mountain guide (who also tends the grounds at Barefoot). The trip took us up the coastal highway on the windward side of the island. The views were spectacular but the thing that was most amazing was the living conditions of the people. The homes were very small, all brick, tin roofs and nearly falling off the mountain. There were a couple where the property started out at door level on the front of the house but was 3 stories down by the time you reached the back of the house. They didn’t bother to put any rooms on those lower levels so all you could see were these spindly pillars of reinforced concrete holing the whole thing up. Not a place someone could live who had any kid of fear of heights.
We continued driving to Georgetown (the former capital of St. Vincent) and the former center of the sugar industry on the island. When the sugar factories closed down the lack of a good harbor meant a slow decline for the town.  There are still a good number of people there and a rum distillery, though the molasses is imported as there is next to no sugar harvested on the island anymore. The city hasn’t bee affected by tourism so there are few reasons to stop other than to buy some drinks (which we did).
A few miles further on we turned off the road just as we could see the island of St. Lucia come into view to the North. The mountain road at this point was a small single lane affair with tall grasses on either side and lots of sharp blind corners (no large drops though). The local convention is to honk your horn several times before rounding the corner. The further we drove into the farms the more we could see the devastation that hurricane Tomas left behind. Out buildings were flattened and whole forests of banana trees were collapsed as if a giant hand swept over the land in a single direction. Our guides were quite animated exclaiming and pointing out more and more devastation. It wasn’t just bananas but mangos, bread fruit, avocado and coconut trees were down all over the place. Nothing was spared. The hill sides were so bare that you could see the “hidden” shacks all the way up the steep mountain peaks where where the ganja farmers cultivate St. Vincent’s second most profitable crop (according to the locals) - now likely to be the most profitable now that the bananas will take a few years to get back to full production. In the end we got to a point where the road was no longer passable and had to turn around.
On our way back to town we stopped at Black Point to view the park, black sand beach and slave dug sugar tunnel. On the far side of the tunnel our guide showed us a local secret, fresh water bathing holes. The boys had a great time splashing around in the cool fresh water with our guide and a couple local boys. We were hungry and thirsty after all that fun so our mountain guide taught the boys how to find the right kind of coconuts and open them. Though clearly practice results in far less water lost when you do break it open. Water nut and jelly for lunch. It also turned out that the spot we stopped to rest was right under an almond tree. Fresh almonds, yum! 
While a guided tour like this is not cheap we got to see a lot of the island in a short period of time and and had a great day off the boat.