Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Meeting up with boat kids

It's always a lot of fun to meet up with cruisers but it's especially fun when there are kids aboard. When we were in the Tobago Cays we met several cruising families (Orchid and Alfard). Everyone had a great time snorkelling and visiting and playing games. We all went our separate ways at Christmas. Now in St. Lucia we've met new families (Kamaloha) and re-united with some that we met in the Cays (Alfard). It's been great reconnecting and the kids have all had a blast playing in the dock-side pool. A couple of the boys (Aidan and Brendan) are going dinghy sailing in opties later this afternoon and there was a huge Lego Star Wars battle in our saloon this morning.

Unfortunately Alfard needs to be back in the Cays to visit with some friends so they pulled out today. We hope that we'll meet up with them again up island some place.

Lego Star Wars battle with the Kamaloha kids

Kids from Kamaloha

Family from Alfard pulling out. Hope to see them again soon:
Family on Alfard

Land of the lotus-eaters

As a treat for getting ready for the birthday week (4 birthdays in 6 days) we decided to treat ourselves to a couple nights in a very nice marina (though fairly inexpensive). We pulled in late yesterday afternoon and began exploring the docks getting to know our surroundings and our dock mates. Aidan (8yo for 11 more days) surprised us on a couple occasions. First, he befriended a couple other boats all on his own. Then, after that but before we went to the restaurant/bar that has a pool for the kids, he announced that, yes, he liked it here very much. This in itself was surprising as he's usually against whatever is going on at the moment but it didn't stop there. He then shared that he was also cautiously wondering if this was the lair of the lotus-eaters and all a big trick to get him to fall in love with the place and not want to go home!!!

Where does an 8yo come up with that?! Sure, he knows of the lotus-eaters through the Percy Jackson books and movie but to have understood the concept and then applied it to his own setting? He's only just turning 9 and I'm already having a hard time keeping up with him. I think our kids are starting to settle into this lifestyle though they are not quite willing to admit it yet.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

We've arrived in St. Lucia

Prickly Bay, Grenada to Rodney Bay St. Lucia. 2 days 8 hours and 24 minutes from anchor up to anchor down. Good but tiring passage. Renewed our appreciation for our autohelm! I'm sure glad that we bought and installed our new batteries while in Grenada as it made using the autohelm possible (it would last max 30 minutes before). The trip wasn't without incidents but Carla's working on the post for that one so you'll just have to wait a bit but it'll be worth it :)

Love the looks of St. Lucia so far. Clearing in was easy, the marina looks clean and nice and the people we've met have been great. And there's a bar at the dock that has a pool for the kids!! How awesome is that. Can't wait for happy hour today :)

Grenada to St. Lucia

I never would have thought that I'd feel safer at sea than I would in an anchorage, but I found myself urgently needing to escape Tyrrell Bay, Carriacou, a couple days ago.
On our short 2-hour sail from Prickly Bay to St. Georges, Grenada, Skye discovered a tear in the sun cover of our foresail. Small tears need to be repaired as soon as possible after you know about them, because blowing out a sail would be both costly and a sure way to slow down a passage. So we dropped the genoa on the deck as the sun set on St. Georges, Skye pulled out his sail repair kit and sewed a neat zigzag stitch on the small tear that was conveniently located right on a seam.

Austin, Skye and I hoisted the sail and re-furled it in the dark. We motor-sailed out of St. Georges before sunrise, around 0430 on Sunday morning, and by 0500 we were sailing in nice, calm winds.

As we were sailing north along the Grenadian coast, Skye noticed part of the genoa rigging (foil) attached to the forestay had come apart and needed to be re-attached and tightened before we could reduce sail or put away the genoa/jib. So, we continued to sail with a full foresail and occasionally reduced the mainsail as we crossed over to Carriacou. It was our plan to stop at Tyrrell Bay to tighten the rigging, then sail on through the night past Union Island and the rest of the Grenadines.

Tightening the genoa rigging requires sending someone up the mast. Whom should it be? Carla (not afraid of heights, some rock climbing experience, but perhaps not strong enough to do the tightening repair), Skye (the heaviest on our crew, the only one who has ever climbed a mast before, only afraid of heights when he doesn't have something to do), or Austin (the lightest crew member, not enthused about the prospect of climbing the mast, probably not strong enough to do the repair). Skye was elected, or self-appointed I should say.

Next, do we do this maneouvre while under way in light winds, heeling about 5-10 degrees, so Skye can climb the angled mast to take some of his weight off his hoisters? Or do we wait until we are "safely" at anchor in a calm anchorage? We decided to do this maneouvre while at anchor in Tyrrell Bay, but we had hoped to arrive with plenty of daylight and we hoped for light winds in the bay. Sailing into Tyrrell Bay took about three times as long as it would have if we had motored so we arrived right as the sun set.

We anchored under sail, without incident, darkness fell upon us. Skye suited up into his harness and collected his tools as the foresail flogged loudly. I saw the jib sheets (ropes for the foresail) flapping in the water and asked Aidan to pull in the port sheet. I didn't watch to see that he not only pulled in the sheet, but he cleated it off as well. More wind than expecte was blowing in the anchorage and swells were rocking the boat. Within a moment, the genoa (foresail) had filled with wind and we were dragging our anchor. At the helm, I could see our depth had increased from about 30 to 58 feet.

With haste and urgency, Skye ran back to the cockpit, released the port sheet, and announced that we were going to plan B, weighing anchor and leaving the anchorage. Initially, I was disappointed and worried about having to leave the anchorage without having the repair done. However, dragging anchor in the dark, in a busy anchorage (even though we were the last boat in the bay), is really scary. Since I couldn't see Skye's arm signals in the dark, he had to call out commands as I drove slowly back towards our anchor, and back towards the entrance of the busy bay. We had anchored behind a couple large tug boats and barges, and I didn't want to get too friendly with them!

Just when it felt that we were too close for comfort to one of the tugs, Skye called up that we were free, and directed me out to sea. Phew!!! I sat down heavily behind the wheel, and tears streamed down my face. It had struck me how dangerous a situation we had all been in, I was beating myself up for not paying closer attention when Aidan cleated off the jib sheet, and I was freaked out about my first night at sea, knowing I'd have to dodge rocks that may or may not be lit, as we left Carriacou.

Skye captured my weeping face in his headlamp and declared with a smile (the kind that instantly wipes all my worries away) that we're all ok, then immediately shared that the anchor had picked up a piece of coral bigger than his head. He needed a hammer to remove it. Aargh! This is another thing we have been so careful to avoid until now - dropping our anchor on a reef and doing serious damage to the marine environment. Austin and Aidan dashed up to the bow to get a look at the coral head, and Skye spent more than 10 minutes to dislodge it from our anchor - bloodying his knuckles in the process. Phew! Enough excitement for me.

So, with a 150% genoa and no mainsail, we motorsailed away from Carriacou, into the night. The first piece of land we had to avoid was the Sisters, a pair of large rocks off the coast. They were lit and I did avoid them, but it felt as though we passed awfully close. Next, we aimed for Union Island as Austin and Aidan crawled into their berths for the night. In preparation for this passage, I made a rule that their berths needed to be free and clear of all toys so they could be used for sleeping at any time. This proved to be an excellent rule that I intend to stick with on future overnight passages.

As we approached Union Island and Mayreau, Skye prepared to go below for a nap. Since Skye installed new batteries in Grenada, we were able to use our autohelm without having to run the engine. We set a course towards Canouan and Skye left me with instructions to be sure not to get too close to Catholic Rock (Mayreau). After three months on a sailboat, Skye was finally experiencing seasickness. He remembered that it was nighttime when he was seasick when crossing the Atlantic in 1992, and he observed that he felt quite exposed in our cockpit, so open to the sea. I, on the other hand, was feeling relatively ok, having mustered the courage to get through my 2-hour watch without disturbing Skye's rest.

About an hour into my watch, it was time to tack. As Skye insisted, I woke him up for the manoeuvre. With Catholic Rock in view, we tacked northward and began a long starboard tack toward St. Vincent. Skye went down below to try to get some sleep while I had the best sightings of marine life, ever. By the light of the moon, whitecaps can really be convincing to a sleep-deprived sailor on her first night sail. I imagined humpback whales surfacing within metres of the boat, and once I was startled to spot a beluga swimming to our stern. A beluga?? Not in the Caribbean Sea! Too bad.

The occasional squalls were a bit scary, as it wasn't easy to see them coming. We'd feel the wind strength increase, the boat would pick up speed as we heeled over, and we'd have to hand-steer into the wind to slow down a bit and flatten out the boat. A few times, spray would wash into the cockpit, and I'd be soaked right through. Being from B.C., it's strange to have bucket loads of warm water sprayed on me in dark and windy conditions. With rain and whitecaps, I always expected the sea water to be cold. Periodic rain squalls and sea wash certainly helped alleviate the inevitable head-nods in the wee hours of the morning, to keep the watch captain alert.

We reached the southern end of St. Vincent at sunrise, but our original goal had been to be leaving the north end of St. Vincent by that time. Winds and seas were quite settled for the day, but we knew we could expect gusts as we approached the northern headland of St. Vincent in the afternoon. We had to skip a planned swing by Wallilabou (where part of Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed), and Skye and I discussed what to do about the head sail, since we would be unable to reef. Perhaps we should go back to Blue Lagoon (Barefoot) for the repair? This would set us back at least a day, and we could lose our weather window to sail to St. Lucia. I knew that Barefoot would insist on taking down the head sail ... aha! So, that's what we would do. Rather than give up on the distance we'd already made on this passage, we agreed to lower the genoa and motor sail all the way to St. Lucia.

We approached St. Lucia near the Pitons as the sun set to the west, and decided to go all the way to Rodney Bay to anchor at night, rather than try to negotiate any other unlit anchorage. Seas were calm as we motored up the west coast of St. Lucia at night. The lights of Castries appeared around 9:00, and we pulled into Rodney Bay, avoiding Barrel of Beef (rocks at the southwest entrance to the bay), around 11:00pm. The guidebook described Rodney Bay as a popular destination, so where were all the boats??? Trepidaciously, we steered into the north side of the anchorage, watching our depth. We watched for shoals (shallower depths) and a good place to drop anchor. Skye was at the bow, giving me hand signals in a short white t-shirt that billowed in the wind. With his suntanned arms that blended into the night, I couldn't tell the difference between a directional indication, slow down, neutral or reverse. So, we had to fall back on voice commands, and to compete with the wind, our voices were rising and agitated (another reason we try to avoid anchoring at night - must be really annoying for sleeping sailors). As we neared the shore, boats and more boats came into view. There were many boats in the bay, only most of them didn't have mooring lights. With the shoreline so brightly lit, we couldn't see boats at anchor until we were nearly upon them!

Our anchor didn't set on our first attempt, so we reset and settled down for our first night in St. Lucia. We set the GPS anchor alarm, and Skye was finally able to get some rest. He really takes his captain's duties seriously, so has been unable to get a proper sleep on passage.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hiking up Concord Falls

We really wanted to make sure that we had an opportunity to head up to at least one of the several picturesque waterfalls on Grenada before we left. With the weather window countdown clock started, time was running out. In the end we decided to go with Concord Falls and had a guide take us on an island tour as part of the trip.

There are two ways to visit Concord Falls. The easy way that most people do, is to just drive to the end of the road where the first of the two falls is situated below a couple gift shops. Two sets of stone steps take you from the road down to the falls and the natural swimming pool at the bottom. The other way is to hike up from the end of the road to the upper falls. The second option takes you through farm land, tropical rain forest and requires that you slop through mud, ford six streams and clamber over slippery boulders. Understandably, we chose the second option!

The hike up was reasonably gentle. The streams we crossed were cool and refreshing. There was a fair amount of shade provided by abundant foliage. It was very comfortable, though mucky. We're sure glad we opted to go the extra distance.

Our guide had a lot of information to share. The trail we were on used to be part of an old plantation road and we could see old bridge foundations peeking through the overgrowth. The soil is very fertile so the local villagers walk up here to plant gardens. We saw many banana trees, a few nutmeg trees, cocoa trees, clove trees, orange trees, a mango tree and many others. Our heads were swimming with the amount of edible food growing right there, wild.

On the way we got to snack on cocoa beans. You don't chew these, just suck on them. Chewing brings out a very bitter flavour. Sucking the white paste off the bean is like eating a natural sour candy. Aidan calls it "healthy candy."

Aidan saw lots of little fish in the streams and pools. He even found some kind of crayfish creatures dancing along the bottoms. I think the cool water reminded him of home, as evidenced by the huge grin on his face.

Aaron wanted to have his feet dipped at each crossing to help keep cool but got too cold swimming in the pools for long. He ended up with shivers after only a few minutes in the deep pool at the top.

Austin challenged himself to swim as close to the falls as he could, and insisted on finding alternate routes across streams and over boulders to the falls.

Photo Slide Show


Video of Austin and the Mona monkey

Friday, January 14, 2011

Liming in Grenada

This sure is a nice spot to spend some time. The people are great, the Island is very pretty and the weather, while rainy the past couple days, is very pleasant. We're starting to make connections with the local cruiser community and are finding it very easy to get shopping done. The IGA here is almost just like an IGA back home so lots of familiar stuff to be found + local fare to keep things interesting.

Carla's taken up Yoga on the beach two mornings a week. A fellow cruiser has some recordings of Bikram's yoga sessions on her iPod that she brings along to guide the group. One of the best things is that somehow, magically, our boat is all cleaned when Carla gets back :)

We're going to check out some kind of drumming concert at the museum in St. Georges this evening. There's a bus picking up cruisers at various anchorages, and we all benefit from a group rate. This will be our first group outing with other cruisers.

We have Iain's flights booked now. He'll be meeting up with us in St. Maarten on the 22nd of March. That's only 67 days away and we have a lot of ocean to cross before then! As much as we're enjoying Grenada we'll have to get going soon.

Next we have to take care of some engine maintenance, boat repairs and wait for good weather. We had a piece of rigging (part of the main traveler control block) break on the way down here but it looks like it won't take much to repair. A rigger from Turbulence came by to look at it and figures he can repair it by early next week. Once this is done and I change the oil, filters and belts we should be about ready to head north again. The weather forecasts next week show strong trades out of the NE to E which is not good for us. We need to wait for them to settle down for a couple days (under 15 knots ideally) to let the seas subside (10 - 12 feet right now) and stay as much to the E as possible (a bit of S would make it even better). This means we have about a week or so to check out more of the island. Maybe a trip to the 7 sisters falls?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Saying Goodbye

This may well be one of the hardest things about this trip - having to say goodbye to our loved ones and the good people we befriend along the way.

Tomorrow morning, Katie will catch a flight from Grenada to Barbados, then on to Toronto for an overnight stay (with Skye's Uncle Dan and Aunt Karen in Guelph) as she makes her way back to Moncton.

Yesterday was the first and only morning that Katie wasn't awakened before 7am by the noise of shrieking and fighting amongst our three sons. More than once, Skye has threatened to throw the Bionicles overboard, and perhaps his only hesitation in following through, is knowing that plastic is harmful to the marine environment. Katie assures me that she's a mom too, and this is normal behaviour, but come on, guys ... couldn't we all just get along??

It's been wonderful having female guests aboard, to help balance the scales a bit. Caitlin and Brett stayed with us for a week over Christmas, culminating in the celebration of Brett's 30th birthday aboard Singing Frog. And Katie has spent a month on board, breaking it up with only one night spent in a Grenadian hotel. I've appreciated the company, the conversation, the help with meal prep and galley cleanup.

When Caitlin and Brett flew home a few days ago, I felt a tug to return to my home, friends and family. And now, on the eve of Katie's departure home, I feel it again. Admittedly, sometimes, it's lonely here.

As I anticipated Katie's arrival last month, I concluded, most decidedly, that my dear mother-in-law loves me (us) ... a LOT. Even for her to entertain the idea of living with me and my family for a month, on a 3-cabin sloop in rolly anchorages, with 6-8 people aboard, touched my heart. And to follow through with it, enduring sea sickness, squabbling children, unescapable squalls, and musical berths with nary a complaint, really raises the bar!

Don't get me wrong - there have been good times - REALLY good times. Stargazing, relaxing in the sun (and shade), warm breezes, friendly and entertaining local people, world-class snorkelling (and Katie even invested in a great mask with prescription lenses that allows her to see underwater), a delicious Christmas lobster feast, a hike up a volcano, a tour of a hawksbill turtle sanctuary, Fish Friday jump-up in Gouyave, reading books with her grandsons (who are oh so appreciative and inspired), and I think she's gone down a dress size ... We'll miss you, Katie. We'll all really miss you a lot. Or as Aaron will say, "Where's Nana? ... I missed Nana." (he hasn't learned his verb tenses yet)

Sounds like Kermit's going to stay, to get away from the Canadian cold. He'll be a welcome member of our crew, and we'll be sure to keep him brushing up on his singing voice.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Boat life snapshot

A literal snapshot of a slice of boat life. This little area is our office, entertainment station, tool room, spares locker, flag storage, reference bookcase, fuse panel, and communications centre. All of this gets put away securely any time we put to sea.

The office

From the top left:
- spare yanmar fuel and oil filters
- cell phone
- 12v charger for laptop
- Wifi antenna
- VHF radio
- Spare racor fuel filters
- zip lock bag of receipts
- USB cable for water proof camera
- Royal Dansk cookies!
- Wallet
- SVG guide book
- Aloe cream
- Nav station seat
- Laptop
- Power, wifi and audio cables
- Water proof camera

Good times at Fish Friday

On Thursday night we had our farewell dinner with Brett and Caitlin at De Big Fish in Prickly Bay (see the google map). It's a casual restaurant, open air and right on the water. Brett was talking about how he was disappointed to be missing Fish Friday, the big event up the island the next evening. It sounded great but they were going to be on a plane back to Vancouver and we were planning on moving to a new anchorage and didn't feel like adding a cross island trek to our day (and we'd be here for a few more Fridays so we were sure we'd get there one of these weeks). However, 24 hours later we were all there enjoying the food, sounds and atmosphere of the little town of Gouyave.
Photo by Claris Charles:

The town of Gouyave on the North West coast of Grenada hosts a street party every Friday called Fish Friday. Three tiny streets (they are all tiny around here) are blocked off, tents are pitched, the BBQ's come out and young guys start rolling large speakers out of their homes and running thick speaker cable down the roads. After dark, a little after 6pm, the music starts and the food comes out. By 9 it's shoulder to shoulder in places with about 50% of the people local islanders and the rest tourists (there was only a smaller cruise ship in port down island so maybe it's different when the big ones are there). There are all kinds of fish and side dishes with nearly everything deep fried, pan fried or BBQ'ed. And there are lots of drink tents serving very strong rum, sometimes lightly disguised in a fruity punch.

But how did we all end up here? Simple, they missed their flight. Brett's phone changed timezones on him overnight setting him back an hour. Despite a mad rush to get to the airport and arriving 45 minutes before their departure time, the check-in gates were closed and they were not permitted to board. Shucks. Another day in Grenada. Fish Friday was back on the menu! We called up our friendly cab driver Toney (very reasonable rates, very friendly and a nice clean, air conditioned van) and made arrangements to be picked up around 5pm.

The drive up the island was quite pleasant. The traffic was light, the sun was setting on the western horizon and people were liming on the side of the road celebrating the arrival of the weekend. There was still enough light that we could see many of the colourful, haphazard homes, lining the road and hillsides. In places the road is practically in the ocean with only a stone sea wall keeping the water and sand out. In others it winds precariously up steep volcanic slopes covered in banana, palm, lemon and guava trees.

Most of the food vendors were already in place and the drink vendors were just setting up when we arrived. The music started not long after that. We sampled many different fishy treats from all the vendors. The most visually spectacular were the deep fried whole fish - head, tails and all. The guts had been cleaned out but you ate everything else. They were about 4 - 6 inches long and tasted a bit like sardines or fresh anchovies (not the canned variety). The fish cakes were yummy, the kabobs full of fleshy fish and the lobsters looked glorious garnished with grated and chopped fruit and vegetables. Our favourite drink of the night was Ting, a carbonated grapefruit soft drink. The kids loved it plain and the adults were enjoying it mixed with rum. A close second was Sorrel, a Trinidadian drink frequently made at Christmas. The heavy clove flavour reminded us of mulled wine.
Balloon sword fighting at Fish Friday - Gouyave

A Rasta was selling balloon animals for next to nothing so the kids got a bunch then had swords made. A great sword battle ensued with some encouragement from a few of the adults and even some of the spectators!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Two Months

We've been busy and have spent a lot of time out where there isn't much internet so the blog's been rather neglected. However, now I'm sitting here trying to watch the Canada vs Russia World Jr. gold medal game (what a disaster!) but the streaming's not so good, so I figured it was a good time to recap our second month.

Time does not pass normally in this part of the world. Someone should study this. The first month felt like three but the second month has passed in a whirlwind of activity that's felt like only a couple weeks. Just over a month ago we were bombing around the exclusive island of Mustique on motorized mules counting down the days until my mother arrived for her month long stay with us. Now four weeks later and we've passed through two countries, crisscrossed the Grenadines twice, met some cruising families, witnessed the lunar eclipse (on 12/21 no less), vacationed with my brother and girlfriend, climbed a volcano, ate lobster on a beach on Christmas day in the amazing Tobago Cays, snorkelled with sharks and rays, ran out of water but then were helped by a friendly cruiser in Carriacou, got our behinds kicked by Kick-'em Jenny, sampled amazing rum at a 200 year old distillery and chocolate on the Spice Island and swam and swam and swam.

Phew! No wonder it's felt like a whirlwind.

Now we're settling in for a bit of a pause in Grenada. We'll be saying good-bys to our guests over the next few days then will take advantage of the many great marine services here to take care of some larger boat projects that can't be put off much longer. So far we've really enjoyed what we've experienced in Grenada. We feel a little less out of place and not hustled quite as much which makes getting around and exploring a little more pleasant. And finally we have some fishing gear. Now we're looking forward to more fresh fish (Austin has already caught one though we didn't keep it).