Sunday, December 12, 2010

Getting ready for Nana & Kermit's arrival

We're all so excited that Nana (and her good friend, Kermit the Frog) are coming to join us aboard Singing Frog. Apparently, Kermit insisted on coming along after he heard the name of our boat. And he's been practicing singing in the shower for the past month or so, in preparation.

Today, we've been getting Nana's cabin (formerly Aidan's cabin) ready. It didn't take any prodding for Aidan to jump right in, clean up and clear out his cabin. As I was doing laundry, I stumbled over a big cushion in the galley, and blamed Skye for putting it there (he had just been inspecting the engine from Aidan's berth). Oops. It was Aidan. He was doing a thorough clean.

He pulled apart the bedding and removed the cushions. Once he had salvaged every little piece of Lego, he swept, then asked me for a damp sponge. He sponged the berth, including the walls. He packed up all his Lego into a spare pillow case and transferred it to Austin's cabin (Aidan's new sleeping quarters for the upcoming month). He wiped down all surfaces. He emptied his clothes out of his locker and transferred these to Austin's locker. He brought all his accumulated (why didn't I know about these when we got laundry done by Daffodil a couple days ago?) laundry to me, in the galley.

He wiped down the fan that had grown dusty over time. Those fans are not easy to clean. I can't see how to disassemble them. Anyway, I was impressed by Aidan's diligence and persistence to get the fan clean for Nana.

Breaking news ... update ... just took a call from our driver, Kishorn. He's called the airport to check on the flight and learned that Nana's flight was cancelled (Boo!). The next flight is due to arrive at 6:10pm. Let's hope she makes that one. Poor Nana. But I can think of worse places to be stranded than Barbados in December. Hanging out by the fountain in the airport is really nice - you can listen to the birds sing.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Farewell Bearded Rudder

We arrived in St. Vincent last month, to our dear Singing Frog, adorned with a few more appendages than we'd left her with, in August. It took us until last week to purchase a couple paint scrapers, which would enable us to free her of these parasites. Mollusks, seaweed, mussels and whatever else determined to hitch a ride on her underside, had collected most spectacularly on her rudder. Every time we swam off the swim platform, we were reminded of this job that would only get bigger, with each day it was left undone.

When we finally pulled away from Blue Lagoon around 0830 on Tuesday, after a long, 10-day stay, we'd had plenty of time to put our bearded rudder out of mind. We set a course for Battowia and Baliceau and sailed a comfortable close reach until we were well clear of the lee shore at Bequia's headwaters, aptly named The Bullet.

As the Atlantic swells rose and winds grew stronger, I was noticing a creak in the steering. I tried to loosen off the helm, but the creak remained, and there was some enduring stiffness in the wheel. I coaxed myself to avoid imagining the worst of what this could mean (a potentially costly and complicated repair?), and enjoyed the rest of our sail into rolly Mustique.

Within minutes of our arrival, Skye had donned his snorkelling gear and dived on the rudder. He happily announced that he'd removed a mussel that had taken up home between the rudder and our hull - the most likely cause of our steering difficulties. And it seems he was right - our sail yesterday, to Bequia, was very pleasant and free of any creaky steering.

When we were comfortably at anchor in Admiralty Bay, I decided to take the opportunity while Aaron was napping, to go for a swim. The trade winds are blowing pretty well these days, gusting up to about 25 knots (I know we can expect higher wind velocities throughout the month). Water rushes past our boat at anchor, giving the sensation that we and all the boats around us are moving quickly through the water, all in the same direction. I particularly enjoy this sensation in Tobago Cays at night.

I've been a bit nervous, swimming beside the boat in fast-moving waves. As a test, I held onto the rope of the swim ladder, allowed myself to float back behind the stern of Singing Frog, then tried swimming up to the boat. I could do it, but it wasn't comfortable, and while it would have provided a good workout to swim laps around the boat, I wasn't up for the challenge or the certain mouthfuls (and nostril-fuls) of salty sea. Blech.

So, I put on my fins, snorkel and mask, and was instantly more comfortable. Skye invited me to dive on the anchor, which was embedded in sand about 20m forward of the boat, at 6m of depth. Up until then, I had been quite happy to be a "surface-snorkeller" in these clear waters, where one can see plenty, even from 20 feet away. And Bequia is a busy place, with many dinghy-drivers pushing the 5 knot speed limit, weaving in among the moored and anchored boats. I wasn't confident that I'd be spotted with my little pink (being the only female aboard the Frog, I insisted on pink for my snorkelling gear) snorkel.
Skye offered to join me, and I was more confident with two of us out there. Skye dove down about 10 feet and had to surface with ear trouble. He couldn't decompress. Unfortunately, this still wasn't incentive enough for me to try diving.

So, on returning to the swim platform, I spotted the bearded rudder, asked for the paint scraper, and soon found myself diving down to scrape the rudder free of its growth. I estimate our rudder to be about my height. Once I scraped the rudder enough that it wasn't slippery to hold, I eventually got the hang of pushing myself off the hull, holding the rudder fast, and scraping while I held my breath. Having left this job so long, it was quite satisfying to hear the sound of my scraping underwater and watch the hangers-on float away. That turned out to be my unlikely incentive to learn how to free dive (I know, it was only a mere 5 feet in depth, but we all have to start somewhere) and purge my snorkel. Maybe the next time we're at a reef, I'll have the courage to swim down with the green turtles, such graceful creatures.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Short tacking just me and the boys

We had a great sail from Mustique back to Bequia today.  Most of it was downwind but right at the end we needed to turn back into the wind for the final leg into Port Elizabeth. By this time Carla was below putting Aaron down for his nap so it was up to me and the two older boys to bring her in.

The arrangement that worked the best was Austin on the helm (he's a natural and is so confident in control of the boat) with Aidan and I on the sheets (Aidan releasing, me grinding and trimming). We pulled off 6 or 7 near perfect short tacks in 20 knots of wind with a couple reefs in both the jib and main all in 6 foot swells. The boys performed fantastically. What a ride team, what a ride!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Go-carting around the Island of Mustique

Our day in summary: While visiting the island of Mustique we argued a lot, we rented a jumbo go-cart, we watched tortoises cross the road, we got lost (seriously), we found two amazing but deadly beaches, we got sunburnt, we met a few people that have more money than we could ever dream of, I got kicked out of a library and we found the most lonely playground in the world. And now for the details.

Rolly anchorages get us down. Seriously down. I've read that a short temper is a symptom of sea sickness. Whatever it is, we all had it bad this morning. Austin and I worked out that the boat was rolling through a 30 degree arc on the bigger ones, Carla and I agreed not to speak to each other until we were on shore and Aidan and Aaron nearly drew blood. OK, maybe it wasn't quite that bad but it sure wasn't fun. Yet everyone was all smiles within minutes of setting foot on land. I subscribe to the sea sickness story.


The plan for today was to rent a golf cart (as described in the guide book) and drive around the island to see what we could see. After verbally sparring with an unhelpful cab driver we got picked up by a very friendly employee of the Mustique Company who gave us a ride to the main car lot and helped us rent a "cart" to see the island. This "cart" is basically a giant go-cart with a flatbed in the back for carrying extra people. It kind of looks like a golf cart bred with a covered troop carrier. It sounded like a 3000cc ATV. I have no idea how well it drives as I was a passenger all day. And you can't drive these without a local driver's license. No problem mon. All you need is $65 EC and you have a license. Just remember to drive on the left!
I just bought my driver's license

The really friendly guy at the car lot gave us a nice map and directions to the best beach. I'm pretty good at reading maps. I like it. As a kid I remember spending hours following creeks and contour lines to rivers and lakes on my dad's old topographical maps and claim sheets back in the Yukon. And most of the time I'd always know which way each of the four cardinal points lie. To my great embarrassment, not more than 15 minutes after we pulled away I was completely and totally lost. I had absolutely no idea where we were. Neither did Carla (driving) or Austin (sitting in the navigator seat). So we did what we figured was the most sensible thing. Just keep driving, just keep driving, just keep driving ... it is an island after all so how bad could it be. Ironically, the first and only locals that we met on the way couldn't figure it out either (we bumped into them just after ganja o'clock so maybe that had something to do with it).
Carla's ride

Along the way we did find a beach. It wasn't the beach we were looking for. The second thing that we saw was a huge, 6 foot tall sign of a drowning person with a big red circle and slash through their head. The first thing we saw was the sand, and big rollers hitting the beach. Too bad about the killer undertow - it was looking so promising.

the Maintland stance
The beach we were looking for turned out to be a mile or so down the road. We did find it and spent a couple hours there playing in the surf and enjoying the shaded picnic bench. The waves were too big for Aaron so he just played on the beach until he got tired. Austin, Aidan and I spent nearly the whole time in the surf teaching the boys to body surf. Austin did quite well but Aidan was the big surprise. He was completely resistant to any encouragement but basically taught himself how to do it by just standing a few feet in from the break, watching and then modelling what Austin and I were doing. Sometimes he's just got to do something in his own way and on his own time. As we were driving away from the beach we came across a sign that basically said most of the trees that were not palms were the poisonous Manchineel trees.
surfingPoison trees

Back in "town" we came across a playground. This is the first playground that we've seen on this trip. Aaron nearly leaped off the cart right then and there. The boys were sure excited, quickly proclaiming that this was the best playground in the world. I thought it felt a little spooky. Not only were there no other kids on it (half an hour after school was let out) but it didn't look like there was much evidence that kids ever played on it. It was so lonely looking that I thought it would look good in a Bill Peet book.

lonely playground
Across the field from the playground was the library. If spying the playground made the boys go ballistic, seeing the library made Carla's day. The kids must have been pretty tired by this point because they sat quietly in that air conditioned library for half an hour without making a disturbance. All three of them. Together. Alone with mom. I wasn't allowed in as I looked like I was straight from the beach (and I was).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We've now sailed in the Atlantic!

All our trips down here have been on the leeward side of the islands. While we could see the Atlantic it was always at a distance. Today we changed that. We had a nice fast 15 mile sail from Blue Lagoon St. Vincent, around the windward side of Bequia, and over to the island of Mustique. Our first tack took us out into the Atlantic on a close reach to get a mile or so east of Bequia. I like to have lots of separation between us and lee shores in general and certainly that one in particular (very heavy surf on very tall and rocky cliffs). We did see a catamaran pass within a few hundred yards of those rocks. It's a good thing they didn't run into trouble as they would have had no time to recover.

Once we were comfortably clear of the headlands we were able to bear off and cruise the rest of the way to Mustique on a beam reach. The swells are definitely larger (2m easily) on that side and not something I'd want to do on that point of sail if they were much bigger or shorter. We passed a number of Brown Boobies sitting about on the water or flying around practicing dodging waves with their amazing low level flight (if there were a sea bird that inspired Jonathan Livingston I think that it would have been a Boobie). The GPS claims that we were averaging right around 6 knots over ground. Definitely our fastest sail to date and it felt great.

The highlight of the trip was when Aidan (8) took the helm for a while. He was reluctant at first but performed very well. The swells were big enough to push us around a bit so it was tricky steering. Even with this against him he kept us on course, moving fast and comfortable. This was his first time sailing with a wheel and he had less tiller confusion than Carla and I tend to get.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Video of us swimming at the Tobago Cays

Just getting caught up on some of the video we took a couple weeks ago. Here are a few shots of the boys swimming at the Tobago Cays.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Laundry day

It's taken me a while to get into the groove of laundry on our boat.

We hold 140 gallons of water, and we try to make it last a couple weeks, but haven't gotten past 11 days yet.

I remember when my friend, Elaine, inquired about how I would do laundry on the boat. "By hand," I casually responded. But I was expecting to be able to fall back on the occasional laundromat that I've become accustomed to frequenting in small towns in western Canada.

A "laundromat," as they are called here, in our experience so far, is a place one takes their laundry to be done for them, for a fee. And it isn't cheap. $25-35 EC per load. For us (a family of five who try to get as much mileage out of our clothing as possible), a typical 2-week accumulation will run us up to $80 EC (including delivery charges to the boat - also unavoidable in some locations).

I actually don't mind doing laundry by hand, though it takes over an hour for a small load, then I'm faced with all the other logistics of timing the sun and the wind, navigating the deck with a pile of heavy, wet sheets, towels and t-shirts, and doing my best to avoid losing a clothes peg overboard.

I'm getting better at this.
  • I fill the big sink about 1/3 with water, mix in the Breeze laundry powder (if I don't do this well enough, our white clothes will turn blue), and fill the small sink halfway
  • I usually need to change the rinse water twice
  • I "wear" the clothes pegs (very pretty!)
  • I make sure I'm hanging out the laundry by 10am
  • at the first drops of a rain squall, I'm back out on deck, collecting what's been drying.
  • the lifeline netting has been great - it keeps bigger items on board and relieves the wind's strain on the clothes pegs
And when everything's dry, you just can't beat the smell of clothes and bed linens that have hung to dry on an ocean breeze! Bounce (tm), there's no competition!!

My reward at the end of laundry day, is a deep inhalation of my labours, and a fresh sheet on our berth.

PS: if any cruisers are reading this, and can point me to a good self-serve laundromat in the region of the Grenadines, please leave a comment.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Experimenting with hot drinks and local plants

I won't call this tea as it is not technically tea but it does involve hot water, plant leaves and refreshing, thirst quenching enjoyment. Here's what we've been up to.

A few days back we were given some fresh cinnamon leaves right off the bush and were told to boil them and drink the result like tea. Just smelling the leaves was nearly intoxicating (assuming you like cinnamon) and the result after boiling was very tasty, and not at all overpowering. Just as advertised. However, rather than stick with the basic formula we decided to experiment with a few different blends. So far we've tried the cinnamon drink with:

  •  honey
  •  couple drops of rum (extra strong so you don't need much)
  •  sugar

So far the blend of cinnamon, honey and rum is the tops but that can be a problem when frequently operating motor vehicles (e.g. boats - for an example read the crazy dinghy driver post from a few days ago) so we usually just stick to cinnamon and honey. We're just about out of the cinnamon now and are now hoping for another generous donation.

Then a couple days ago we were given a sprig of lime leaves along with our usual bag of freshly picked limes. The leaves came with the same instructions, boil and drink like tea. Again, the basic formula was great but we also enjoyed the following blends. Lime leaves or juice with:

  • sugar
  • honey
  • vanilla
  • rum

Austin really likes the blend with vanilla and Carla prefers just the lime juice in either hot or really cold water (and when I say prefer I mean is addicted to ... watch out if she doesn't get her fix morning, noon and night). We really need to keep up a constant supply of limes and/or lime leaves.

Feel free to suggest more blends and we'll let you know how they work.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Boat projects and exponentially growing complexity

This is so typical of boat projects. They tend to grow exponentially. Today's job, get the Barefoot maintenance crew to top up our fridge coolant. For this one all we should need to do is complete the following sequence of steps. Dinghy to the dock, talk to the fridge guy, dinghy him back to our boat, attach gauge and hoses to filler tank, fill the compressor and dinghy the guy back to the dock. Simple enough.

Turns out that when we got to the stage of attaching the gauge it showed that we were nearly completely empty. One of the hoses was leaking and it needs to be re-crimped onto the fitting or there's no point doing the top-up. Lucky for us there's a fridge repair place just down the road.  It's getting a little more involved now (about 2x the complexity) but still easy.

Call the cab, take a 5 minute drive to the fridge repair place, explain what I need to no fewer than four people despite having the part in hand as a prop to assist in the charades. They don't have the right hose. The place that does is all the way into town. At rush hour. Now we add about another 2x additional complexity to the project and it's looking like it's not going to get done today.

We get to the place in town and they have the hose but can't/won't simply crimp the hose to our fitting as we have crappy fittings that don't have these special grooves that prevent the hose from slipping off under pressure. I'm sure it would have been fine for the length of time that we need it to work for (heck, it's been working this way OK for at least the past couple years) but I'm having a hard time understanding the pigeon-English and the guy's pretty insistent that it can only be done his way. So, he gives us the new fittings and sends us off to the other end of town (still in rush hour) to the machine shop to have the guy there weld the new fitting end (with the special grooves) onto our valve fittings. This doesn't cost a lot except time. And time is critical because the other shop, the one with the hose, closes at 4pm and it's now 3:25. If we don't get this done today then at best we're not going to be able to chill the fridge until mid-morning tomorrow.

Up the hillside to the machine shop we zip (the streets and driving style here deserve a blog post of their own). As with most businesses, this one is in some guy's backyard, behind a crumbly single-storey concrete house that's had a dozen paint jobs (you can still see each one). We wait around while the guy hacks off the bits, welds some stuff, grinds some stuff and welds some more stuff. All of this is done while shuffling his feet and dancing to the reggae-jazz-christmas music that he's got playing somewhere. Going in the price is $25 EC for the pair. Coming out (30 minutes later) and the price is now $35 EC for the pair. Whatever. There's no point arguing over what is no more than the equivalent to $4 back home.

By this time it's five minutes to four and there's no way we'll get back to that other shop before they close. This means I've got to come back into town tomorrow to finish the job. Unless I want to spend an additional $100 EC on yet another return ride into town I need to use the local buses for the trip tomorrow (the $100 was justified today to attempt to get it all done in one day, as it was there's no way I would have found the machine shop on my own so that alone justifies it). This easily pushes the whole thing up by another level of complexity (another2x). And we're not done yet. I'm really hoping that we're through all the surprises. Can it get any more complicated? We just won't know until it's all done.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Water, water everywhere - inside!

It's 3 am and I've just been woken by having a bucket of water flung at my face. But the fun doesn't stop there. Oh no. Now I have to sprint through a wet, slippery, cramped obstacle course trying to catch whoever dumped the water. In the dark. Ouch! That was my toe.

This is life on a boat, in the tropics, when you don't have a good awning and/or wind scoop system (note: most wind scoops don't block rain but I've come across a couple cruising boats that have custom ones built that do). In order to keep the temperature down and fresh air moving through the boat at night we tend to sleep with several of the hatches open. I sleep right under one of these to get the most comfort out of the breeze and because rain squalls can appear at any time. This way I’m usually woken by the first few light drops that fall a minute or two before the really heavy stuff. Not tonight. Either this squall started at max power right away or I slept through those early warning drops (both very possible).

When I finally woke the rain was falling full force through all the open hatches (5 out of 7). My face was already quite wet. The floor (sorry boat people, I mean the sole) around me was already slick and I knew that there were more open in other cabins. Thus the obstacle filled sprint in the dark to get to all the hatches and close them before bedding, towels or valuables get too wet.

And now I wait for it to end so I can open all those hatches again so we can breathe and not drown in our own sweat. Luckily the rain rarely lasts more than 30 minutes. Ironically the guys were on the boat today to take measurements for an awning/rain catchment system. Can't wait!