December 2012 Captain’s Log

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to all our family and friends around the World!

We are now in the US Virgin Islands, anchored off a delightful beach, Honeymoon Beach, on a small island called Water Island, just off St. Thomas. (Actually we have just relocated to the main anchorage off Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, where we have the company of 4 huge cruise ships, one of which is Disney’s Fantasy with a water slide on the top deck!!!)

It has been an exciting year since we finally departed Africa in February to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Walvis Bay in Namibia to Cabadelo in Brazil via the magical island of St. Helena. In case you missed our earlier updates this year, we wrote about Namibia and St. Helena in our April update and Brazil and Grenada in our August update.

After all the excitement of the Grenada Carnival in August we continued to enjoy the various events in and around Grenada, whilst preparing to head to Trinidad in October to apply for our US visas. We spent more time anchored off St. Georges which was convenient for all our shopping and provisioning, the lovely Grand Anse beach and the fabulous monthly Jazz & Poetry sessions at the National Museum, where talented locals and foreigners are welcome to perform before the eclectic audience. We also enjoyed an evening of music and art to raise money for Donnell Best, a local Grenadian musician, who has been awarded a scholarship from a prestigious American University.

From our St. Georges anchorage we were able to dinghy along to the Hash at Grand Mal beach on 15th September. It always amazes us how these Hashes set close to the city can still take in incredibly steep hills and reward us with such spectacular views! With all the rain Grenada receives, the Hashes are often extremely muddy and Lynne almost always manages to fall flat on her face causing some nasty injuries at times!

Through the Hash we met some great people and we enjoyed having GwenGwynne & Martin as our ‘house’ guests during the Carriacou Hash at the end of September. Gwen joined us for the sail up to Carriacou on Friday 28th and Gwynne & Martin met up with us on the Saturday in Hillsborough. A number of other yachts also made the pilgrimage to Hillsborough for this fun, annual event and of course many more of the regular hashers came up either by ferry or plane. On the Saturday afternoon buses ferried all the hashers across to Windward on the north-east coast. Windward has a heritage of skilled boat builders, who build the locally designed traditional timber sloops that served the island’s trade prior to a motorized fleet. Now many of these sloops remain as an integral part of the island history, performing in the annual regattas that frequent Grenada and other islands in the region.

The Hash trail took us and the dogs up a strenuous path to the highest peak on Carriacou, 972ft above sea level where there are magnificent views in all directions, south towards Grenada, east towards Petite Martinique & Petit St. Vincent, north towards Union Island and the Tobago Cays and west back towards Hillsborough town and our anchorage. We then descended through steep, slippery inclines, dry ravines, rain forest and farmland back to the RV after 2 hours of self imposed torture to endure a further few hours drinking ice cold Carib Beer and consuming some great local food made up of Curried Goat and a stew consisting of plantains (cooked bananas), cows foot, pig tails, callaloo (a kind of Caribbean spinach), onions & cornmeal dumplings all cooked up in large boilers on an open fire. May sound a bit dodgy but is really tasty and filling.
Sunday morning saw another Hash (Hair of the Dog) run that started at 0845 and took us up (always up) on a delightful hike above and around Hillsborough to finish at the “Sandy Lane” Beach Bar, where we all swam in the warm clear waters with “Carib” in hand.
Around midday the ferries with most Hashers departed for Grenada and we had a leisurely sail south to Tyrrell Bay where we anchored for the night and caught up with friends for great sundowners.
On the Monday morning we returned by bus to Hillsborough for the “clearing out” formalities ready for our planned passage to Tobago. Having cleared out we sailed around to White Island and dinghied ashore to join friends at a beach party with a delicious BBQ of fish, chicken and various salads.

Grenada to Tobago/ Trinidad

After some contemplation about when to set sail for Tobago we weighed anchor as the sun was setting on 1st October and got underway. As Carriacou is north of Grenada, the angles to get to Charlotteville, the smaller port of entry at the north-eastern tip of Tobago, were better from here & we just made our target with a tightly, close-hauled rig for most of the trip, braving a few nasty thunder & lightning squalls. After anchoring off Pirates Beach we dinghied ashore to the town dock to go in search of the customs and immigration departments for the clearing in procedures which were simple, efficient & friendly.

Charlotteville is a delightful fishing village surrounded by lush rainforest-clad hills graced with a variety of birdlife and overlooking a large bay with small sun-dappled beaches and pretty hiking trails. As we had completed our US visa applications online we had to limit our stay, however it is easy to see why cruisers end up spending weeks, rather than days here (quite a contrast to the massive cruise ships which ‘do’ the whole Caribbean in 7 days!) We enjoyed the relaxed pace of life and the serenity of this end of the island. The delightful bus trip across the island to Scarborough has to be one of the best value and prettiest journeys ever. For only 16$TT round trip (approx US$2.60) a clean, air-conditioned bus wends it way up over the mountain road between Charlotteville on the Caribbean coast to Speyside on the Atlantic coast, then follows the coast road through various communities until it arrives 90 minutes later in Scarborough, the capital.
Had we begun our exploration of Tobago at the western end of the island at Scarborough or Store Bay, we would have had a very different picture of the place, as that end of the island is much flatter and more geared to tourists and commerce. Whilst it is not a big island it is geographically diverse and boasts some of the best diving, greatest diversity of flora and fauna and the oldest natural forest reserve in the Caribbean.

Whilst in Charlotteville we replenished our fuel tanks by taking jerry cans across the surf beach to our dinghy with the $0.25/lit compensating for the effort required! We had taken 2 drops, each of 250 litres and returned for a 3rd, only to find that the only gas station had run out and remained dry for the next 3 days we spent in Charlotteville.
We explored the south side of the Bay, landing on a secluded beach where we met a young Scottish lad who was studying the Leatherback Turtles in the area. Just days prior, a nest he had been monitoring had hatched and he was digging out the egg shells to confirm the hatch rate (generally 80%) & to recover a temperature recorder that he had implanted in the nest at lay time. The incubation temperature determines the sex of the turtles.

Many Frigate Birds encircle the bay where Pelicans & Boobies feed on the prolific amount of bait fish. There are about 40 local outboard-powered fishing boats that fish for the pelagic species of Yellowfin Tuna, Black Tuna (Bonito) Kingfish (Wahoo) Trevally, Jacks & the demersal species of Snappers, Sweetlip, Groupers & lobster, that are sold at the vibrant Fish Market adjacent to the beach. We bought 4 lobsters, each approx 750 gm, which cost the princely sum of US $17.00!
The most striking thing we noticed was how clean and orderly Charlotteville is and we later learned of the Tobago island motto”Clean, Green & Serene” and this is the case!

We departed Charlotteville early on Saturday 5th October and meandered a few miles down the coast to anchor at Bloody Bay, allegedly named after a bloody sea battle between English, Dutch and French forces in 1666. Bloody Bay is a smaller bay, enveloped with green hills, forests, tiny surf beaches and a river that runs down from the oldest forest reserve in the western hemisphere. We thought we would be able to explore the river by dinghy, but it turned out to be wading depth only, so along with a couple of English blokes that we met, we followed the river bed, which was shrouded in bamboo and thick rainforest that echoed with various bird calls. We had an enjoyable hike and were also accompanied by a local lady called Esther who told us all about the Blue Food Festival that was taking place there in a few day’s time! Apparently it is held annually in this area and explores all the ways that ‘provisions’ can be prepared and cooked. ‘Provisions’ is the term for the variety of staple foods, such as yams, breadfruit, dasheen etc.

Later in the day we anchored the dinghy and swam through a mild surf to Dead Beach on the south side of the bay. This was a delightful beach with a rain-fed creek and falls from a ravine behind the dunes. We decided to kayak ashore on the second day, however Eric waved Lynne back to take a photo as she paddled ashore and just at that moment a wave came and tipped her and Scrumpy out of the kayak and unceremoniously dumped them on the beach! Both were unimpressed, so much so that, when it was time to leave Scrumpy ran off into the bush and didn’t show up for over 2 hours causing Eric to go off in search of help in case he had found his way up to the road high above the beach! Meanwhile Lynne waited on the beach and eventually Scrumpy casually wandered back as if nothing had happened!! During the search Eric met a local man who explained how Dead Beach had been named due to the bodies that were washed up there after the battle. He had spent his whole life here and offered to sell us a parcel of land overlooking this idyllic spot! Whilst it is always romantically appealing to consider buying land and building a hideaway retreat in such a location, we are lucky with our lifestyle that we can visit these places and fantasise about such things. It is such a privilege to meet local people and learn about their history and culture, our lives being unquestionably enriched by such encounters.

We stayed 2 days at Bloody Bay and were the only yacht in the anchorage. It’s the first time since Bazarutu in Mozambique in 2009 that we’d had this wonderful solitude, but we finally weighed anchor to continue down the coast, passing the fishing village of Parlatuvier before anchoring in Englishman’s Bay for a visit ashore & a snorkel. From here we had a relaxed sail to Mount Irvine Bay where we stayed overnight before moving on to Store Bay where we provisioned & caught the bus to Scarborough to clear out before an overnight passage south to Chaguaramas Bay in Trinidad.

Arriving in ‘industrious’ Trinidad after ‘sleepy’ Tobago was a shock to the system. Chaguaramas is a commercial shipping and matintenance port and a service centre for the yachting industry. The anchorage was unpleasant due to the strong eddies and currents and the amount of trash that washed out from the shore. There are a number of marinas and haul out facilities catering to over 1000 yachts. By all accounts it is an excellent place to have work done and we did contemplate hauling out to redo our anti-fouling whilst we were there, but we also need to do some other work for which there was a 4 week lead-time on parts, so we decided to defer this for now. Plus, of course it is not a dog-friendly location, so our aim was to spend as little time there as possible.

We had our interviews at the US Embassy and the next day our passports were returned duly stamped with our US visas. As we were in downtown Port of Spain we decided to take a walk around the historical part of the city between the Queen’s Park Savannah and the roads leading down to the impressive red house close to the waterfront. Unfortunately this building was under renovation so scaffolding obscured any photo opportunities.
There is an intriguing cultural mix in Trinidad, which is evident in the tasty food and the mixture of architecture, not to mention the large, colourful market on Saturday mornings with it’s extensive variety of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and meats!
Getting around is easy with the excellent buses and maxi taxis, plus the ever-helpful Jesse James’ taxi service. With our limited time frame and 2 dogs patiently waiting onboard in the sloppy anchorage, we were unable to explore further afield within Trinidad itself, but would certainly consider revisiting in the future should the opportunity arise. We were pleasantly surprised and felt no apprehension concerning our security despite having read much about this.

In between trips into Port of Spain for our US visas and provisioning, we visited Scotland BayMonos island and Chacachacare island. Unfortunately the beaches leave a lot to be desired, certainly compared to Tobago and in terms of rubbish. In all our years of travels throughout the world, we have rarely seen so much rubbish as we saw lying on the beaches in Scotland Bay and Chacachacare. The latter has the excuse of being in the flush out path of the river systems from Trinidad and Venezuela, as it floats out across the bay after heavy rains and is caught in the eddies and ultimately dumped on the beaches in the horseshoe-shaped bay there. On a brighter note we did see a small boat completely loaded down with black rubbish bags heading back from these islands a few days after our initial visit, so there is a management plan in progress!
Of all our time spent in Trinidad we enjoyed Chacachacare the most. We posted a number of photos on our Amarula Sail Facebook page about this fascinating, allegedly ‘haunted’ island, a former leper colony and home to the second highest lighthouse in the world. We also intend to add a more detailed post to our new blog (which is still a work in progress….)

Our choice on departing Trinidad was to return to Grenada directly, which would have been preferable given the sailing angles, however as the Trinidad Hash House Harriers were holding the annual Tobago Hash between 25th – 28th October we decided to return to Tobago and take part. We enjoy meeting hashers as we travel around the world and it’s a great way to see parts of the country that you would never normally see! This particular hash is made for cruisers, as the RV is at an hotel looking out over Store Bay, so we could kayak in for the runs and ‘limes’ (Caribbean term for parties). Having said that we were surprised to find that we were the only cruisers there! Again, more about this in a separate post on our blog.
At the end of the Hash weekend a group of us went out to snorkel on Buccoo Reef and have a dip in the ‘Nylon pool‘ (allegedly named by Princess Margaret on her honeymoon in 1960).

With the Hash weekend over we got the bus into Scarborough to buy our final provisions and check out with customs and immigration ready to potter back up to Charlotteville and finally back to Grenada. In Trinidad & Tobago, it is a requirement that all boats check in and out with the authorities when moving between ports, a rather time-consuming process but we found all the officials to be pleasant and courteous and they particularly enjoyed hearing our positive feedback about their country.

Back in Charlotteville we found around 10 yachts at anchor and realised that we knew 2 of them, with another 2 South African yachts that we had met a month ago coming into the bay during the 2 days we were there! Such is the world of cruising. It is always fun to catch up and share stories and experiences, then move on to the next adventure.
Before we departed Tobago, we decided to take advantage of the acclaimed diving that the northeastern end of the island has to offer. According to all the literature Speyside seemed to be the place to start from for the best diving on the island and in fact within the Caribbean, so we relocated to the Atlantic coast village and anchored off the beach. We were welcomed by a local dive boat owner, who met us again as we dinghied ashore and chatted to us about the region, the diving and put us right on the stories of Goat island‘s claim to fame as the former home of James Bond author, Ian Flemming! (see article)
We were thrilled to have made this final detour on our T & T trip. We had 2 dives in 2 days, one off the south end of Goat island, known as the Japanese gardens with the ‘kamikaze cut’, a deep gorge in the reef teeming with myriad fish and stunningly colourful soft corals, all quite different from our previous experiences in East Africa. Our second dive was off the main southern bay of Little Tobago island, which itself is the premier bird sanctuary of the region with red-billed tropic birds, frigate birds, various boobies and pelicans. The highlight of this dive, known as Kelleston Drain, was coming across the huge brain coral, around 12 feet in diameter and claimed to be the world’s largest. At the edge of the drop off we spotted a well-camouflaged numb ray (electric ray) skulking in the sand. Again the colours of the corals, sponges and the variety of fish were a real treat.
We departed Tobago feeling satisfied that we had made the decision to return to Charlotteville and visit Speyside and we hope to return sometime to explore more of the inland forest reserve.

We spent the first 2 weeks of November back in Grenada, where we had hoped to have a new dinghy cover made, but it didn’t come together, so we said our farewells to the various friends we had met during the hurricane season there and made our preparations to head north to the US Virgin islands for Christmas with a stopover in St. Martin en route.

Grenada to St. Martin

We departed St Georges, the capital of Grenada on Friday 16th November, almost 6 months to the day since we had arrived from Brazil. We spent a couple of days in Carriacou, where we caught up with an American vet, Heather, who had offered to give Chui acupuncture to see if this would ease the problem he has been having with his left hind leg. Heather and 3 colleagues were visiting Grenada on a volunteer program to spay and neuter stray dogs.

We met the 4 vets and brought them aboard on Sunday morning for the treatment, then a swim and lunch. Whilst casually sitting around chatting Heather calmly inserted 5 needles into Chui with barely a reaction! We were amazed how relaxed Chui was with the treatment, knowing his challenging disposition! The treatment had an immediate calming effect on Chui & we hope a longer term effect on his joint problem. Eric then took them all for a snorkel on Sandy Island whilst Lynne prepared the lunch of Grilled Snapper with fresh salad. It was a pleasure to meet this dedicated group of volunteers & briefly share our lifestyle with them.

We cleared out on Monday morning & took final provisions spending our last EC (East Caribbean) dollars. We had a final memorable experience of Carriacou when the square rigger “Picton Castle” anchored alongside us at Hillsborough. Built as a trawler in 1928 she is a splendid looking vessel operating as a sail training vessel with a crew of 12 & up to 40 trainees who sign on for various lengths of passage on a circumnavigation. Though she has an 800 HP main engine, Picton Castle relies on a lot of physical effort to operate, raising, setting, furling sails etc & man/woman power to raise the anchor by windlass. It was great to watch the youthful enthusiasm weighing the anchor on 2 occasions as they changed station. Me, I prefer to push the button in a more civilized/effortless manner to gain the same result.

At 1300 we set sail on a northerly course to Saint Martin/Sint Martaan at 1300 and had a fast passage up past St Vincent & Grenadines & St Lucia, but by daylight the wind had dropped below 5 knots & by noon on Tuesday we were becalmed. We had a frustrating few days ghosting past Martinique, Dominica & Guadeloupe.
On Thursday, still with very little wind, we sailed past the volcanic island of Montserrat. We were unaware that an eruption in 1997 had wiped out the capital, Plymouth & the lava flows that destroyed the town were very visible. The volcano remains active with smoke emanating from the summit. There is an exclusion zone over the southern half of the island that extends 2 miles to seaward. During the eruption a number of people were killed, Plymouth was devastated, the cruise ship terminal engulfed along with the islands infrastructure & economy. 16,000 inhabitants were evacuated & only 8,000 have been re-admitted to the island, living on the northern portion.
We continued to ghost along with low winds interspersed with periods of calm & Friday saw us past Nevis & to the northern end of St Kitts island becalmed once again. We gave way to temptation & anchored off St Kitts for 24 hours until a breeze came through at 1600 on Sat so we weighed anchor & sailed overnight, finally arriving at Marigot Bay on the French side of St Martin on Sunday morning. This had been one of the most the most frustrating passages we have undertaken since we left our home port of Yamba in April 2002!
It was not all doom & gloom though, we managed to land 4 good fish, Barracuda, Tuna, Mahi Mahi & a Wahoo, collectively almost filling our freezer. The down side of the fishing was that we also lost 2 good fish because the bib broke out of the lures. This was a new experience for us & disappointing as they were reasonably new, expensive “Rapala’s” that are generally bulletproof & we lost 2 in 3 days, but it is great to have plenty of fresh fish again.
There are many islands in the Caribbean Chain that we would like to visit, but as we have our dogs aboard, all the former British Islands, apart from Grenada, have quarantine restrictions.

We spent a couple of weeks in Saint Martin/Sint Martaan. The island is quite small & is divided between France & Holland, with a population of 70,000 equally split. There is a common border halfway through the island and people can move freely between, though there are some interesting twists.
If you enter & remain on the Dutch side there are fees to enter & fees to anchor. The French side has an entry fee of 5 Euro & anchoring is free.
The French side has the Euro as currency with some USD, the Dutch side is USD or local Dutch Gilders
Power on the French side is 220 Volt with the Dutch side using 110 Volt.
There are both French & Dutch cellular networks, if you have one & call the other, you are charged international rates even though you may be calling a person in the next building or across the road! Communications are the most challenging we have ever experienced, even with all our time in Africa & Madagascar.
There are 2 International Airports, the French side is the smaller with a limited runway length.
Though most of the boating community stay on the French side of the large lagoon, most of the marinas, services, business & shopping are on the Dutch side. Both sides have “Duty Free” status, ie no duty on imports so it is good pricing for equipment & materials, where some islands of the Caribbean Group charge as much as 50% import duty.
Bridges on both the French & Dutch sides open into the lagoon to allow vessels to enter & depart, the French side is free but there is a fee on the Dutch side.
The economy of the island is based on tourism & the boating industry. Up to 6 cruise ships can moor on the Dutch side as there are well developed berths. Unfortunately for the French side there is a 6m draft limitation so only the smaller, boutique cruise vessels can berth, however the tourist support services span both sides. The French side has the most interesting beaches, shops, restaurants & topography etc. On the boating side, there are a number of “Superyacht” marinas in the lagoon on the Dutch side supported by slipways & services
During our visit we visited the anchorage off Grand Case beach which is set below some high hills & rated as the best “strip” on the island with many curio, souvenir shops, beach bars & restaurants. We took the opportunity to take a hike around the north western area. It was challenging to find the advertised trail but we managed to get off the roads & found a track up to the peak of a hill where the communication towers were located that gave great views over Oriental Bay, Grande Cayes, Tintamare island, Anse Marcel, Grand Case & the airport. After hiking along the ridge of hills we found a declining trail that took us down & eventually back to the beach at Grand Case after a challenging but rewarding 3+ hour hike that left us with sore feet, tired legs & 2 exhausted but elated dogs.

From St. Martin we sailed across to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, where we are now based for Christmas and New Year, so with that, we wish you all a very Happy Christmas and all the very best for 2013.
We look forward to hearing from you as & when you have time to drop us a line
Lynne, Eric, Chui & Scrumpy xxx

 

For previous Captain’s Logs, please click here