Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Big Dogs Arrive

The marina in Marigot Bay is getting more and more crowded as the holiday approaches.  In the past couple of days, three very large sailing vessels became our neighbors on the dock.

First to arrive was the sloop, s/v Ghost.  Our navigation instruments receive signals from the Automatic Identification System required of all large vessels.  This tells us, among other things, some basic information about the boat. We learned from the AIS that Ghost is 33 meters long and 7 meters wide (that’s 108 feet x 23 feet). That seemed pretty big to us.

The following day s/v SPIIP came into the marina.  She is sloop rigged, and even bigger:  the AIS reports she is 34 meters long and 9 meters wide (that’s 111 feet x 30 feet). 

Later in the day, the ketch-rigged s/v Rosehearty cruised slowly into the bay.  Rosehearty is 56 meters long and 10 meters wide (184 feet x 33 ft).  She is simply enormous.  Watching her dock, I would estimate that there were at least 8 crew on deck.  No telling how many were below during the maneuver. According to her website, you can charter her for $225,000 per week.  Not including fuel or booze.

Well, our homey 14 meters is plenty for the two of us and some occasional guests. It is interesting, though, that the basic process for tying up stern-to the dock is exactly the same for our boat and the behemoths.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas Winds

Often, at this time of year, the Caribbean experiences a few weeks of unusually strong winds and waves.  Because of the timing, many people refer to these as the “Christmas Winds.”  They don’t always happen exactly at Christmas-time, but usually pretty close.

Sure enough, the forecast for next week is for 20-25 knot sustained winds, and gusts approaching 30 knots.  This much wind creates big waves.  Out in the open ocean near St. Lucia, the forecast is for waves as big as 4 meters (13 feet).  That’s the average of the wave heights, there will be some waves that are much bigger.  One forecaster described the expected sea state as a “washing machine.”

We don’t mind sailing in 25-knot winds, we just reef our sails.  But sailing in 4-meter waves is another story.  We experienced waves that large, and even bigger, when we sailed from Virginia to the Virgin Islands in 2010.  But they were out in the blue water, which means far apart and not very steep, and Callisto simply rode over them.  In the Islands, they are close together and steep.  No fun.

Of course, when you’re cruising you can choose what weather to sail in.  We work very hard to avoid sailing in conditions like this.  Frankly, even riding at anchor in many harbors isn’t comfortable.

As it turns out, we are currently in one of the most protected harbors in the southern Caribbean, Marigot Bay in St. Lucia.  We had guests earlier this week who aren’t experienced on boats, and chose to tie up in the marina here to make it easier for them.  We had originally planned to sail north today, stopping in Rodney Bay for a few days before going to Martinique.  With the weather forecast, we’ve decided to stay here for several more days and then go straight to Martinique.

Keeping a flexible schedule is important in dealing with the weather.  This can be difficult, though, when we have visitors on the boat.  People’s flight arrangements are not very flexible.  We deal with that problem by planning to arrive at the meeting point several days in advance, giving us the needed flexibility.
For example, our daughter and her husband are flying into Martinique on 26-December.  Our working float plan had us arriving on Martinique on 21- or 22-December, with the option of arriving even sooner if need be.  That way, we have at least a week of flex in choosing our sailing date.  While they are with us, we hope to make the passage to Dominica with them, and then return to Martinique.  But if the weather fails to cooperate, we’ll just stay in the protected waters to the lee of Martinique.  Flexibility is the key.

Generally, by the middle of January the Christmas Winds are gone, and we settle into the typical tradewinds, with windspeeds in the teens. Much more relaxing!

Holiday Colors!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Servicing the Winches

There are two boat chores that I dread, even though David is the one doing most of the work...first is lubicrating the heads, second is servicing the winches.

I like the phrase servicing the winches, since changing just one letter conjures up a completely different task....

We have six winches on Callisto, plus a windlass.  A winch is a device that uses gears to multiply force.  In sailing, the person who operates the winches is called a grinder...usually me.  This is what I use all those rowing muscles for in the winter....

We use our winches to give us mechanical advantage for raising and setting the sails.  We also use them for lifting heavy objects on and off the boat.  Each winch has six gears, several roller bearings, all held together by small pins and matching up the teeth of the gears.  Of course, the material that allows all these parts to move easily is GREASE.  And, grease gets dirty and deteriorates over time, especially in the tropical, salty environment.  

So, it's a two person job, one to make sure none of the bits gets lost when we take the winches apart (me), one to clean off the grease using mineral spirits and elbow grease (not me), and one to hand out paper towel, rags, doses of grease and general moral support, again me. (aka criticism about how the job is being done)  

This was also a two afternoon job.  We have two large winches that weigh 50 pounds and have lots of surfaces that need lubrication.  We did the job and then looked in the cleaning bucket and found spacers (gasket like rings) left over.  Whoops!  Everything had to be taken apart again and the pieces put in place.  Day two went better, but the mess!  We have good soap and scrub brushes, plus we have been blessed? with a solid day of heavy rain today for a good fresh water rinse.    

Enough about boat chores!  We are in Admiralty Bay in Bequia, which is part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  This is the place where we took our first Scuba course, and we always try to do a few dives while we are here.  Our first dive was at the reef we used in our class.  It is in great shape, lots of nice corals and sponges and many different fish species.  We also had a treat of seeing four different kinds of eels on our dive...plus lobsters and two wrecks.  

We plan to leave on Friday for St. Lucia, where we'll be joined by some friends and family over the holidays.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Grenada to Carriacou

We’ve been on Callisto since the 7th of November.  The time has passed quickly, we’ve been working hard (at least David has been) and having some fun as well.

First of all, yes, the weather has been quite good.  Some hard rains, but WARM…30⁰C (86⁰F).  That is also the temperature of the ocean.  It is good to see Grenada looking very green and lush.

David had a very bad cold when we arrived, and is still coughing a bit, but carried on in spite of feeling cruddy.  He installed a new solar panel, skills needed--carpentry, metal working and electrical expertise.  No parts fell in the ocean and we now have a total of 495 Watts of solar power.  Yippee!  

Last week we worked with “Hands Across the Sea” in the Boca Secondary School library.  The library has received over 1,000 books that needed to be catalogued and receive “check out” cards.   “Hands” delivers NEW books and we were very impressed by the topics for all reading levels.  Carlene, the librarian seems to have a good relationship with the students, and all seemed eager for the books to be ready for use.

We moved from Prickly Bay to St. George’s bay this past Tuesday in anticipation of sailing up to Carriacou.  This takes a little time off the trip, plus we wanted to make sure that the first time of putting up the sails was not under any time pressure.  We left about 8:30 with the weather a bit iffy in terms of rain showers.  We managed to scoot along just in front or just behind them.  

We’ll be here until Monday or Tuesday, and then move on to Bequia.  Yesterday we went snorkeling, since David’s sinuses are not yet up to a scuba dive.  I finally learned how to “duck” down with my snorkel to get closer to the underwater sights.  
This afternoon David and I are helping Diane at the Lumba Dive dive shop with swimming lessons.  She teaches swimming to Carriacou children and is helping prepare some of the kids for competition.  In the summer she had over 60 children participating.  We are expecting about 30 today.  Should be fun, and we’ll see if photos are ok to post.  

PS--we have been struggling with slow internet, here's what someone else thinks, too.

Friday, February 26, 2016


We have been so remiss in posting to our blog, so tonight I have decided to offer just a glimpse in some of our recent experiences.

Location--St. Lucia
Topic-Local music, local charities

It's Friday night!
Country western, reggae, hip hop, merengue steeldrums, what more....at least 4 different dj's in action as we sit on a mooring ball not 100 feet from shore.  Why country western?  It all goes back to WWII when US GIs were posted here and the only radio entertainment was country.  Local musicans quickly learned the "twanguage" and songs, and the tradition remains.  It is definitely old timey music--fun.

Tonight we are in Soufriere after spending 15 days on the dock Rodney Bay Marina.  We replaced our navigation system, recertified our life raft, fire extinguishers and MOM (man overboard modulae).

We avoid marinas whenever possible, but to get work done on the boat, it's pretty much required to be on the dock for workers to easily access us in stable sea conditions.  We had lovely neighbors on Clara, who quickly introduced us to yoga morniings, volunteer opportunities and charity concerts.

Amy WInehouse spent about six months on St. Lucia, and after her death the Amy Winehouse foundation has sponsored a music program for both disabled youth and wards of the court.  We went to a concert on the beach featuring the music students supported by Amy's foundation.  Fitting first song `Back to Black" by the kids.  The venue and meal were donated, all proceeds to continue funding for the music programs.

Our volunteer activity was sponsored by the marina, all the IGY marinas designated the 20th of February as a community outreach day.  We signed up for a day at the "Boys Training Center".  This is a residential facility that houses and educates both youthful legal offenders and wards of the court (read abused and neglected).  The main acitivity of the day was painting the facility.  Most of the boys signed up fo this duty.  We had dressed for painting, but it became clear that there were way more painters than rollers, etc. and a need for diggers....the other opportunity was to work on raised beds and planting sweet potatoes.  HARD WORK, very compacted clay soil.  Pick axes, shovels and rakes in poly tunnel and a very sunny day.  Lots of water and a nap!

The other charity I learned about was called 100 women of St Lucia.  They meet once a quarter for lunch.   Everyone brings a charity, and all the charities are put in a hat.  Each participant brings 100 dollars (40 US).  3 charities are picked from the hat, and the sponsor give a presentation about the charity, and then the group votes on the best of the three.  No overhead, all money direct to the charity.  They have regularly exceeded the 100 women and the 100 dollars.

We are always asked what is our favorite island.  St. Lucia is near the top of the list, the Lucians remain extraordinarily outgoing, genuine and friendly in spite of pressures from rude tourists, uncertain weather events, and world politics taking tourists to other locales.

Here are a few more St. Lucia pictures:

Monday, January 18, 2016

Nevis and an Overnight Passage

We simply love the island of Nevis.  It is one of two islands that together make up the Nation of St. Kitts and Nevis.  They couldn’t be more different.  St. Kitts is populated and the main town is bustling.  They have invested in the infrastructure to accommodate cruise ships, and the get a lot of big ones.  Our experience is that the islands that are infested with cruise ships just aren’t very pleasant for cruisers.  The interactions between visitors and local people become strictly a matter of moving money from one person’s pocket into another’s.

Nevis, on the other hand, is small, rural and peaceful.  They get a few very small cruise ships, but they haven’t affected the atmosphere much (except for raising taxi prices).  There is a big Four Seasons resort with a big and expensive golf course (we’ve never played it).  In addition, several old plantation houses have been turned into high-end hotels.  These are just lovely—we make a point of visiting a different one for lunch each visit.

The beaches on Nevis are outstanding.  We often take advantage.
The only downside to Nevis is the infrastructure for landing your dinghy.  They have a large and very busy ferry dock, since the main way to get to Nevis is a ferry from St. Kitts.  Next to this is another dock mainly dedicated to fishermen.  In between these is the space for dinghies.

There are two big problems with this arrangement.  First, the space for dinghies is sometimes usurped altogether by boats landing passengers from the occasional cruise ship, or by fishermen landing their catch.  Second, and even a bigger deal, is the surge.  This space is situated so that large waves come crashing inside, and ricochet back after hitting the shore.  It could be swell from the far ocean, or it could be wake from a ferry or other boat.  In either case, it sends your dinghy smashing and bashing into the dock, into other dinghies, into other boats.  We have seen a person’s dinghy completely destroyed as it was forced under the dock by the surge and then caught on a rising tide.

We cope by using a stern anchor with a long rode, and by simply avoiding the dock when things are particularly bad.  We have sometimes had to land on the beach and take a long walk to town, though this year that wasn’t necessary.

A friend we met on Bonaire, Margie Benziger, found out we were on Nevis and got very excited.  She had spent time there, and worked on public relations for the island.  A good friend of hers is still on Nevis (most of the year), working for The Hermitage, one of the plantation hotels.  Helen Kidd is a Scot, extremely friendly, and also excited that we had come and introduced ourselves.

The Hermitage is a lovely place.  It still has the original plantation house, built in 1670.  This is constructed of wood and is one of the oldest wooden structures in the Caribbean.  The grounds are beautifully landscaped and all of the buildings are in the traditional Caribbean style.  We had a very pleasant lunch there, and spent some time exploring the grounds.

One of our favorite activities on Nevis is hiking.  In the past we have taken a couple of hikes with a guide.  Nevis is shaped more or less like a sombrero – A tall peak in the center surrounded by a large flat area around it.  This time we decided we would try hiking to the top of Mt. Nevis.  That’s 3200 feet above sea level.

We inquired at the tourist office and they hooked us up with a guide.  We didn’t realize it at first, but they had called Reggie Douglas, who took us for a mountain bike expedition a couple of years ago.  It was great to see him again.  He runs Nevis Adventure Tours and Green Edge Bike Shop (greenedge2011@hotmailcom)

The “hike” to the summit is better described as a “climb.”  It is entirely natural, no steps or guard rails.  It is steep, it is muddy, and it is slippery!  The only aids to climbing, besides lots of roots and branches, are many ropes that have been installed by the handful of guides who lead people up.  Think steep like climbing a ladder.  A muddy, slippery ladder.

Reggie was great.  He has gotten many, many people (even beginners) up to the top and back down again.  It seemed he had a pre-thought-out plan for nearly every step of the way, and he was with us and coaching us all the way up and all the way down.  The round trip took about four and a half hours.  We were tired when we reached the bottom, but it was a fantastic experience.  The scenery is breathtaking, even though our view at the summit was blocked by a dense cloud.

 A final cool thing about our visit is that we saw the Green Flash three times!
After several excellent days on Nevis, it was time to continue our journey down the Caribbean chain.  Our next stop was to be Guadeloupe.

This is a passage of more than 70 nautical miles.  At 6 knots, that’s a long day.  In the past, we have tackled this by leaving well before dawn, sailing hard on a single tack, and arriving just before dark.  That left us competing with other boats for the limited anchorage space.

We didn’t like leaving in the dead-dark morning hours.  There are fish trap buoys everywhere and even some fishing boats anchored without lights.  Its nerve wracking until you get several miles from Nevis.
This year, we had another problem.  The weather forecast was for light winds from an unfavorable direction, which means tacking.  I guessed we might sail as far as 100 miles to reach Guadeloupe.

So we decided to do another overnight passage.  Funny how something that seemed so scary a couple of years ago now seems pretty normal.  We left just before 4 pm, figuring on a 15-16 hour passage given the forecast.  As it so often happens, the forecast was wrong.  We had quite strong winds, and from a relatively favorable direction.  Oh no!  What would we do if we arrived at 3 in the morning?

Well, not to worry.  As we passed the island of Montserrat (with its active volcano and intense sulfur smells), the weather returned to the forecast.  We had light winds, ended up having to tack, and arrived just at sunup.  A passage of 85 miles in 15 hours.  We finished a second time very tired, but happy to have made the journey.