Thursday, April 28, 2011

Back In Switzerland

After a miraculously perfect 4-segment air travel experience, and 29 hours of elapsed time, we arrived at our home near Lucerne.  It will take a few days of decompression before we can look back and assess our experience this season on the Caribbean.

Friday, April 22, 2011

End of the Season

We cleared customs from St. Vincent and the Grenadines in Clifton Harbor, on Union Island, only stopping for the hour or so that the clearance process required, and then sailed to Hillsborough, on the island of Carriacou.  Carriacou is part of Grenada, and a convenient place to stop on the way down.

Next morning, we started early to make the 40+ mile trip to the southern tip of Grenada.  Prickly Bay is large and well protected, and a great place to do some chores as we prepared the boat for the haul-out.  Lots of picking up, cleaning, putting away.  It was hot, and having the water nearby was wonderful.

Originally, the haul-out appointment was for April 21, with the mast coming out of the boat on April 26.  At the very last minute, Spice Island Marine asked to change the appointment to the 26th, which was inconvenient for several reasons.  We discussed it with them, and finally everyone agreed on April 20.

The process of taking a 14 ton boat out of the water seems difficult, but in fact is pretty easy.  The boatyard has huge, specialized equipment optimized for this.  First a mobile crane lifts the boat out of the water on two large straps.  It then drives away from the water, and puts the boat down on a very specialzed vehicle that is basically just a boat trailer, but a very strong one.  The trailer moves the boat to the storage location, and then sets it down with the keel on wooden supports.  These hold the weight of the boat.  Then a total of 11 jack stands were put in place to keep the boat from tipping over.

We had arranged for Callisto to be stored in a special, very strong, steel cradle for the hurricane season.  The crade wasn't quite ready on our haul-out date (there are LOTS of boats being hauled out around this time), so we were put on jack stands temporarily.  Callisto will be moved to the cradle in a couple of weeks, and then strapped down to special anchors fastened deep into the soil.

We still had quite a number of chores to complete, including putting two coats of varnish on the companionway stairs.  The boom has been removed, and all of the electrical cables from the mast disconnected.  In a few days, the mast will be unstepped, and we will be flying home to Switzerland.

Its been quite a season, and we have had a terrific experience.  A bit wind-blown, but happy.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines

As much as we liked St. Lucia, we couldn’t stay long.  Our haul-out date is approaching, and we have to move south.  We spent a night at anchor near a town called Soufriere, with a spectacular view of the Pitons, and then headed for the Grenadines.

The country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is made up of the large island of St. Vincent, and many small islands in the Grenadines.  They are very different.  St. Vincent’s economy is mostly from agriculture.  Some of the residents are resentful of boat people, who seem to them rich and uncaring.  The Grenadines make most of their money from tourists, especially from visiting yachts.  They understand boat people, and are generally very welcoming.

Because of these differences, several of the harbors in St. Vincent have real security threats.  It doesn’t happen often, but boats are robbed, and occasionally people living on boats are hurt by thieves.  Several harbors have fine security, but unfortunately are very deep, making anchoring difficult.  In any case, we decided to sail on by St. Vincent this trip, and went straight to Bequia, one of the Grenadines.

Bequia is a pleasant place, very oriented to boats and boat people.  There is a grocery shop there that has all kinds of specialty foods we’ve missed from home.  But quite expensive:  US$8.00 for a container of cottage cheese, for example.  As usual, we got off the boat here and stretched our legs on a walk.  We had read about a restaurant called Sugar Hill, that is very local and a nice walk up a big hill.  We walked there, about 20 minutes, only to find that they didn’t open for lunch, but only dinner.  So we walked back to the main town, Port Elizabeth on Admiralty  Bay.

We have spent a fair amount of time in the Grenadines over the years, and decided to skip some of the more famous islands like Mustique and Canouan, and sailed to the Tobago Cays.  This is a world-class spot, and a regulated marine park.  You anchor behind a big reef, so visually it looks like you are in the middle of the ocean.  There are several small islands, all of which have great beaches and most of which have excellent snorkeling.  Because of our appointment to haul the boat, we could only stay a couple of days.  But it was great to be back here again.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

St. Lucia

Because David's mother's name is Lucia, the island of St. Lucia has always held a special appeal.  It is great that we can finally visit.

For the first time in a long time, we decided to spend a few days in the marina.  The advantages of this are access to unlimited water and power, and the ease in reaching destinations on land -- you simply hope off the boat and on to the dock.  The disadvantages are cost, sometimes noise, and often less breeze to cool you off.  But we had heard very positive things about the Marina in Rodney Bay, and the price was very favorable, so we decided to give it a try.

We were able to dock Callisto without any drama.  This particular marina has unusually wide channels and unusually wide slips, making the docking process easy.  We like the marina environs, and have eaten in a couple of the restaurants on site.  We have also walked in the area around the marina.  The main road comes by and is very busy, but there are reasonable places to walk in relative safety.

We booked a trip to hike a nature trail to the summit of a mountain called Gros Piton.  It has a sister mountain called Petit Piton.  This was a physically challenging hike for us.  We rode in a taxi for two hours to the trail head.  We climbed with a guide for two hours, ascending more than 2000 feet.  It was steep, and we were in the hot sun for a lot of the time.  A few minutes resting and photographing, then two hours back down.  Going down was actually harder than up.  Less out of breath, but knees and legs got very, very tired.  We were really quiet during the ride back to the marina.  Sheer exhaustion.


We have been away from good internet for a while, and have lots of catching up to do.

Martinique is the last French island we will visit this season.  We had never been there before, and had high expectations.  The other French islands we have visited (St. Barts, Guadeloupe, Isle des Saintes, Marie Galante) were jewels.

Our first stop on Martinique was in the town of St. Pierre.  We had intended to clear customs there.  However, on the day we arrived, about 3:30 in the afternoon, we discovered that the customs office had reduced hours in March, for some reason, and they were already closed.  No worries, there is always tomorrow.

We had an extremely uncomfortable night, because there were quite large waves in the anchorage.  We weren't quite thrown out of bed, but almost.  So, we thought, we can clear customs here, and then move on.  No luck.  There had been a power outage in the night, and the customs office was still without electricity.  The clearance system on the French islands is completely computerized, and without power, no computers.  No possibility of an paper forms, either.

So, we went to the capital of Martinique, Fort de France, and cleared customs there.  It is very informal.   The computer is located in the hallway of a marine equipment store, and the store cashier stamps and signs the forms once printed out.  As long as you didn't change crew, you could clear in and out at the same visit.

Fort de France is an interesting town.  They are trying to drum up cruise ship business, but it is still very much dominated by local residents.  There is a wonderful open-air market, open every day.  We had a surprise in the market, but more about that later.

Unfortunately, every place we tried to visit was closed!  There is a library, designed by Mr. Eiffel himself, that was constructed out of steel in Paris in the 1800's, then dismantled and shipped to Martinique.  Very unique architecture.  But closed for renovations, so we could only see the outside.  Fort de France also has what is supposed to be an excellent pre-Columbian museum.  Also closed for renovations.  Well, let's just stop somewhere for lunch.  We had a few recommendations from the guide book.  The first, we could not find no matter how we looked.  The second we found, but it had been long since closed.  The address of the third restaurant in the local tourist guide was wrong -- wrong street, wrong address -- but we stumbled on it anyway.  But unexpectedly closed for the entire week!

That night, there was another power outage that left the whole waterfront dark.  This didn't feel very safe to us for an evening visit to town.  So we decided to move on the next day.

Our surprise in the market contributed to the decision.  Gretchen had been finishing up a transaction to buy a colorful basket to store shoes on the boat, when she looked up and saw a friend from Lucerne!  Brigitte organizes many nature walks for the International Women's Club of Lucerne.  She had come to Martinique by an interesting route:  she booked a room as a passenger on a container cargo ship.  This ship had left France, stopped briefly in Guadeloupe, and finished in Martinique.  The voyage took 12 days, and sounds both interesting and inexpensive.

We invited Brigitte to join us for the short cruise to Trois Islets, across the bay from Fort de France.  She was very curious about our boat and our cruising lifestyle, and eagerly agreed to join us.  So we met her in Fort de France in the morning in our dinghy.  We took the long way around, in order to give her some experience of sailing, and arrived in Trois Islets a couple of hours later.  We walked through the town (much more charming than Fort de France), and invited her to lunch.  After a pleasant meal, she took the ferry back to Fort de France.

After a couple of nights in Trois Islets, we moved to the village of St. Anne in preparation for our journey to St. Lucia.  We saw a quite fantastic little islet along the way, Diamond Rock:

St. Anne was a lovely little town, and we enjoyed the couple of days we spent there.