Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Drone!

Our Swiss friends Veronika and Martin visited us in February.  We spent most of the 12 days they were with us on Dominica, which is an island they had never visited before.

Martin owns a quite sophisticated drone, one that is small enough to easily transport.  It takes terrific photos and videos.  I was impressed at the specs:  it can travel as far as 7 kilometers from the controller, up to 3000 meters in altitude, can automatically correct for wind as it flies and hovers.  Really fun!

I haven't posted a video from the drone until now, because the file is large and we didn't have adequate internet in the Caribbean.  Now that we're home, that excuse goes away.  This isn't the best one, but it's the only one small enough to be within the Blogspot size limit. Here it is:


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

More About Dominica


We arrived in Dominica nearly three weeks ago, and with the exception of a couple of days at Iles des Saintes have been on a mooring in Portsmouth.  We have made several more taxi tours of the island, and continued to learn about the impact of Hurricane Maria.

The damage to vegetation and habitations varied quite a bit from place to place, with the Southeastern part of the island hit the hardest.  While many trees have started to leaf out in other places, in parts of  the Southeast they are mostly still bare and probably dead.  There are a couple of towns on the West side of the island, tucked into protected valleys, that saw little wind damage compared to the rest of the island.  On a hopeful note, Gretchen and I can easily see that the leaf cover is already thicker than when we arrived.  There are a few palm trees that appear to have their full complement of fronds.

A major problem for rebuilding will be the electrical grid.  There are downed power lines basically everywhere, usually a rats nest at the utility poles the villages.  Many poles are leaning at a 30° or 45° angle, others are snapped off at the base.  We saw several crews working to replace utility poles and string new power lines, but its an enormous task.  Even in the larger towns of Portsmouth and Roseau, few buildings have power. The big IGA grocery store near Ross Medical School has lights, but not enough power to run refrigerators or freezers, so most of their stock is bottles or cans.  It's hard to imagine how long it will be before people can take electricity for granted again.  A few people have generators, but they use a lot of expensive fuel, and most can’t afford to run them very often or for very long. Even when electricity returns to a neighborhood, the power company won’t hook a house up unless it has a roof, which leaves folks in the dark.

The main hardware store in Portsmouth has a model of a roof, showing the correct way to brace the rafters and attach the corrugated roofing.  With money and materials very scarce, though, I’m afraid that many people can’t afford the stronger construction.

We have heard many stories from Dominicans of where they spent the night of the hurricane and how they felt.  Our friend Alexis had built his own house using dense local woods, specifically thinking about making it hurricane proof.  It was one of the few houses in the neighborhood to escape damage, but he tells of being terrified during the storm, never knowing when the roof might come off or the house might get blown off its foundation.  He said there was constant noise of debris hitting the side of his house.  There are stories of elderly people who literally were scared to death, suffering heart attacks from fear.

We were told that in the immediate aftermath of the storm 24,000 people left Dominica for other islands, or even going all the way to the UK.  Out of a population of only 70,000, that’s enormous.  More than half have already returned, but I think that there will be a permanently lower population here.

The Medical School has moved its operations, first to a cruise ship anchored off St. Kitts, then in January  to Knoxville, TN.  It has been an important driver of the Dominican economy, and many businesses that catered to students and faculty have been shuttered.  We understand that they intend to resume teaching on Dominica, but have heard various theories about when.

The people here are extremely proud of the progress they’ve made in rebuilding, and hopeful about the future.  We have seen many welcoming smiles as we travel about.  They understand how important visitors are to the economy, and are very happy to see the yachting industry starting to return to normal.  We wish them all the best, and are looking forward to seeing the progress they’ve made when we return next year.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Dominica

We are on the island of Dominica for the first time since it experienced the devastating Hurricane Maria in September 2017.  Maria was the first Category 5 hurricane to ever strike Dominica, and caused catastrophic damage.

With sustained winds of 160mph, and frequent gusts above 200mph, Maria stripped the leaves from virtually every tree.  The high winds also took off most or all of the branches from many trees.  Of course, many trees also toppled over completely.

Something like 90% of all houses lost their roofs, along with many schools and commercial buildings.  Dominica is a very poor country, so resources to recover and rebuild are hard to come by.

We have been very concerned about the fate of our friends on Dominica, and anxious to see how the island is recovering five months after the storm.  Yesterday we took a taxi tour over the northern part of the island, and could see the damage and progress for ourselves.

Hillsides that used to be solid canopies of green look gray, showing the trunks of trees.  The good news is that most trees seem to be recovering, sprouting leaves from their trunks and remaining branches.  The palm trees have grown a few new fronds.  The understory of the forest looks almost normal, except for the downed trees littering the forest floor.

Nearly every farm was destroyed, and most of the crops take 6-12 months to bear fruit.  Fruit trees like oranges and mangos mostly survived, but will also take a year before the next harvest.  Many farmers have turned to growing vegetables that can bear more quickly.  We saw many freshly-tilled plots, and others in progress. 

The progress in repairing houses and buildings is remarkable. While many houses still are covered in blue tarps, many more have been re-roofed.  There are still piles of rubble and crumpled corrugated steel panels in many places, a great deal of this has been removed and put into holding areas.  The roads have all been cleared and temporary bridges put in place where needed.

Aid from outside Dominica is very evident.  We saw facilities and materials from US AID, UNICEF, the UN Food Program, and several private charities.  The people here are truly grateful for the help.  They need it.

Our driver took us to Anse du Mé, a small fishing village on the northeast coast of the island.  There we saw two small motorboats, perhaps 20 or 25 feet long, unloading vegetables and dairy products that they had brought from Marie Galante, an island that belongs to Guadeloupe.  Thinking about crossing the 20 miles of open ocean in such a small boat is frightening, especially since the whole Caribbean is experiencing large waves, 8-10 feet, at the moment.  We rarely see fisherman wearing life jackets, but all of these brave sailors had them on.  A couple had wet suits, trying stay warm as waves break over their boat.  Even though it was almost sunset, both boats returned to Marie Galante for another load, planning to return in the morning.
Prince Rupert Bay by Portsmouth looks almost normal, at least at first glance.  There are maybe 50 sailboats on moorings or at anchor, what you would typically find at this time of year.  Looking closer, you realize that nearly all of the small restaurants on the shore are gone completely, all but one of the dinghy docks have disappeared, the large ferry/cruise ship dock on the northern shore is gone.

The yacht services cooperative, PAYS, is one of the most successful in the Caribbean.  They have been working very hard trying to rebuild the boating economy, and to get back into the rhythm that we Yachties have so much enjoyed.  They are very glad to see the boats returning, have restarted all of their tours and other offerings.  They have resumed their weekly benefit Barbeques, and we are looking forward to attending on Sunday. It is wrenching to see the warm smiles, knowing that many are living in houses with no roofs, and no electricity. 


We are heartened by the progress we have seen, while very aware of how much work remains to be done.  Mother nature is very resilient, but it will be years before the forests are back to normal.  It will be fascinating to see how things have changed when we return next year.





Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Soufriere, St. Lucia

One of the most beautiful places we visit while cruising is the town of Soufriere on St. Lucia.  The town itself is very vibrant and busy, with lots of older, traditionally-built buildings.  The area around town is just gorgeous, with the two Piton mountains dominating the view.

For some years we have used the services of a young man named Jarvin when we come to Soufriere.  Jarvin helps us with moorings, arranges taxi tours and hikes, and is very dependable and personable.

This year, he offered us a treat:  tasting local foods as prepared by his mother, and meeting some of his extended family.  We were happy to agree!

The day started at 7:30am, when Jarvin brought us some of his mother’s soup for breakfast.  Based on fish and chicken, but with lots of vegetables and starches, it was delicious.  He brought us too much, so we put some in the freezer.

Later that morning, he took us to his mother’s house.  There is quite a group of small houses partway up the mountain, and a bunch of them are occupied by his extended family.  Siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles.  It’s a large family.

Jarvin’s mother, who’s name is Lucilia, served us a wonderful lunch.  The main course was fish with a delicious creole sauce, accompanied by beans and other veggies, local starches (breadfruit and root crops like dasheen), and salad.  Each part was seasoned to perfection with local spices.  Truly delicious!  Our only complaint was there was way too much – though we did manage to eat nearly all of it.  The house was small, but very well kept with recent paint, lots of knick-knacks on display, artwork on the walls.


While we ate, we got to chat with some of Jarvin’s family, sisters (we think) and cousins.  Very fun.  After thanking Lucilia profusely, we paid a brief visit to Jarvin’s small house nearby.  He was working on carving a calabash for Gretchen.  Jarvin took a break from that effort to take us to his Grandmother. 

We never did learn her name, everyone just called her “Grannie.”  She is 92 years old, has lived on St. Lucia all of her life.  She told us that she wasn’t used to speaking English, since her family used the local Patois at home, but she spoke very well.  We asked her how many grandchildren she had.  She laughed, “Too many to count!”  While we were there, one of her granddaughters stopped by for a visit. It is clear that the whole family pitches in to make sure she has what she needs.  As we took our leave, Grannie asked us to be sure and visit again.  We will!

We walked down to the harbor with another of our Soufriere friends, Niall (also known as Ras Afrika).  It’s been a really rainy period in the southern Caribbean, and we had to duck into shelter twice on the way down to wait out a squall.  In the second shelter (under the roof overhang of a local bar) we encountered four little girls, sisters.  They were just coming out of a public shower building, all clean and dusted with talcum powder, and carrying small buckets containing toothbrushes and combs.  The oldest was maybe 10 or 11, and the youngest perhaps 5 or 6.

As we waited for the rain to stop, the girls had lots of questions for us.  Where were we from?  How did we get to St. Lucia? (Callisto was just a short distance away, so we could show them) Where would we go next, and when?  They were very interested in our answers, and clearly trying to imagine what our cruising life was like.

We returned to Callisto and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to digest our very large lunch.  All in all, a very interesting and rewarding day.




Monday, January 15, 2018

Cruising at Last

Our cruising schedule got changed this year, because Life interfered.  Last June, we decided to move back to the United States from Switzerland.  We had done some house-hunting in the area near Annapolis, Maryland, and found a house we liked and could afford there.  Annapolis is one of the major sailing destinations in the world, has a moderate climate, and happens to be only 45 minutes from where our daughter and her husband live.  It was hard to leave Switzerland after nearly 11 years, especially to leave behind good friends.  We are planning an extended visit back to Switzerland in the coming summer.

We chose to delay the actual move until October. That allowed us time to make all of the many arrangements, and to dispose of all the things (mainly electrical) that couldn’t make the journey with us.  It also allowed Gretchen to nearly finish the golf season at our club in Küssnacht am Rigi.

Well, moving in, getting unpacked, finding doctors, etc. took us a while.  We also wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with our families for a change, so we postponed the start of our cruising season until January.  That let us experience some weather that we hadn’t dealt with in may years!

On arrival in Grenada, we started our usual chore list, getting Callisto ready for the season.  The second day, we had a bit of a crisis.  Our inverter/charger, basically the core of our boat’s electrical system, quit working suddenly.  We got very good troubleshooting help from Xantrex technical support, but the problem was with internal circuit boards.  There is neither expertise nor spare parts in the southern Caribbean for a repair, so after almost 10 years of good service, it was time for a replacement.  Luckily, one of the local chandleries had a suitable unit in stock.  It had been sitting on the shelf for over a year, and was therefore not the latest and greatest model, but workable.  Removing the old unit and installing the new one was tedious, but not difficult.  It did eat up more than two days of preparation time.

Over the summer we had engaged a local metal-working shop to build us a set of davits.  These are metal arms that can lift our dinghy and outboard motor out of the water along the back of the boat.  It should be a great convenience.  We took the opportunity to re-work the support for our solar panels and bimini.  The bimini is a piece of canvas that protects us from sun and rain on the back of the boat.

Our original support system had been built by two different shops, each while we were 4000 miles away, and can best be described as a “forest” of stainless.  Our new system is much cleaner, much sturdier, and permits a nearly uninterrupted view of the seas.  We like it.


However, we needed new canvas to fit the new frame, and that means waiting for the canvas shop.  In addition, a blade from our wind generator somehow got broken while we were away, and that also has meant waiting for a replacement part to arrive.  All in all, more time in Grenada than usual, despite our late start to the season.  If all goes well, we hope to finally head north on Friday, next stop Carriacou.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Baby, it's cold outside!



Fortunately for us, we'll soon be in sunny and warm Grenada.  Callisto will have a bit of a new look this sailing season.  We've added davits (lifting system) and as a consequence, the stainless steel around the cockpit has also changed.  

We have an ambitious itinerary planned, but of course, wind, weather and personal safety will determine our actual dates of departures and destinations.  We're looking forward to seeing friends on land and at sea, and are especially hoping to be of assistance to those on the island of Dominica.

HAPPY and HEALTHY 2018 to everyone.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Making a List, Checking it Twice...

We have only two more passages this season.  We're currently on Bequia, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and will soon move down to Carriacou, which is part of Grenada.  We have a dive scheduled there, and then down to Prickly Bay to prepare for haul-out.

Since our first year cruising, we have made it a practice to create a "Lay-up to-do list" at the end of each season.  There are many small tasks to be accomplished, and it would be easy to forget one or more without a list.  Generally, we start with last year's list, and then modify it as needed.

We group tasks into three groups:  1) things that must or should be done while we're still in the water (for example, taking down the sails), 2) things that must or should be done after we're hauled out (e.g. storing the dodger), and 3) things that could be done anytime (e.g. preparing our watermaker for storage).  The last couple of years, we've assigned tentative dates to each task in advance, though we feel pretty free to move things around as is convenient.

At the moment, there are 53 items on the to-do list, and we'll undoubtedly add a few more over the next week.

A second important list records the things we want the boatyard to do while we're away.  A major part of this is always the routine maintenance of our diesel engine -- oil change, filter change, etc.  We always need new coats of antifouling paint, as well. This year we are going to ask them to repair some dings in the fiberglass on our transom and to repair the tachometer on the engine.

Gretchen also likes to write down a list of the articles of clothing, etc, that she wants to pack.  On this subject, David more or less wings it.

Some sailors are much more into to-do lists and checklists than we are, completing or reviewing a list before every passage, and at every anchorage.  We haven't found that necessary, though we certainly have a pretty fixed routine for these activities.

Haul-out is always a time of mixed emotions for us.  We will miss the sailing life, but are looking forward to seeing our friends and favorite places in Switzerland.  The chores and commotion of the transition are inevitable, but never something we look forward to.  Soon enough we'll be back sleeping in a bed that doesn't constantly move, and enjoying the cool weather of spring in Switzerland.