Monday, November 8, 2010

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.

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