Tuesday, November 30, 2010
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
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
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.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
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
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, 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.
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.
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
Southern Stingray (juvenile)
Netted Barren Sponge
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
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
|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
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.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Monday, November 15, 2010
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
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
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
Full photo set can be seen here.