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.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Watch Your Step!

Being on a boat is generally very safe, but you do have to be careful.

We were on a mooring in Prince Rupert Bay, off the city of Portsmouth on Dominica.  One of our favorite spots.  Gretchen was looking forward to a fishing expedition she had planned with Alexis, one of the several boat services providers in the bay and a long-time acquaintance.  She had just finished rinsing out the cockpit with seawater, and started down the companionway stairs.  Her feet were wet with saltwater, and more slippery than she realized.

When she stepped down, her foot went out from under her, and she crashed headfirst down the stairs.  This is about a four-foot fall, with lots of hard boat bits at the bottom.  She hit her head, and opened a gash in her scalp that bled profusely.

It was hard to see the extent of the wound under her hair, so we tried applying pressure, and later some ice.  After 30 minutes, she was still bleeding and we decided to take her to the hospital.  We tried calling Alexis, but he was out of radio range.  Another boat services provider, Martin, responded to our call, and transported us by boat and taxi to the hospital.  Martin stayed in the hospital quite a while, but this was at the busiest time of day for his business, so we told him we would call when we were through.

The hospital in Portsmouth is small, and on a Sunday staffed only with nurses (though a doctor was on call).  We entered the treatment area and were met by Clarisse Joseph, one of the nurses.  She immediately stopped what she was doing, and started taking care of Gretchen.

By combing through her hair, Clarisse found that there was a significant gash, about 4 cm long and unlikely to close on its own.  Time for stitches.  She shaved Gretchen’s scalp in the area of the wound, cleaned everything with antiseptic, and injected lidocain.  It then took about 10-15 minutes to put in 7 stitches. 

There were lots of questions about how she fell (no, David did not push her), and if she had any symptoms that might indicate a concussion (no).

There was no charge for all of this!  But the hospital was happy to accept a donation, which we cheerfully made.

Gretchen was sent home with strict instructions to return if any concussion symptoms appeared, and antibiotic capsules as a prophylactic measure.  In addition to her scalp wound, she suffered several bruises on her shoulder, arms, and legs.  She’ll be sore for quite a while.  We are just as grateful as can be that there was nothing worse, and that she got good care.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Betrayed by the Tradewinds

In the tropics, outside the hurricane season, you can pretty much count on the winds being from the East.  Sometimes Northeast, sometimes Southeast, but East is basically it.  This phenomenon is called the Tradewinds.

As a result of this predictability, the majority of harbors and anchorages are on the Western side of islands.  That way, you have a great big island protecting you from wind and waves.  The island of Nevis is an extreme example of this.  Nevis is basically an oval, with no indentations in the coast.  But normally, just parking on the Western edge puts a big mountain between you and the weather.

On Tuesday, February 21, an unusual weather pattern occurred in the Atlantic ocean, which caused the Tradewinds to fail, and the winds on Nevis (and many other islands) to come from the West.  Nothing but open ocean between you and the weather.  This is at best concerning, and at worst outright dangerous.

We were cautious, but not overly worried, since the forecast was for winds of only 7 or 8 knots, really quite gentle.  We nonetheless inspected our mooring, and were happy to see that it was in excellent condition.

On Tuesday morning, however, we found that the forecast was very wrong. Instead of 8 knots, we were experiencing 15 to 20, and sometimes long spells of 25 knots in rain showers.  This was very worrying, since it caused breaking waves 5 feet high to come crashing through the mooring field.  Waves like that put tremendous stress on the mooring.  They also cause your boat to rock violently from side to side.  Over and over again.  With waves that size it is extremely dangerous to try to get into your dinghy to go ashore, and even more dangerous to land the dinghy on the beach or at a pier.  Very easy to get seriously injured or even killed.  So that meant we were stuck on Callisto for the duration.

We considered going to some other anchorage, but there was really no place we could get to that would have been better.  Most other anchorages would have had exactly the same problem.  Antigua might have been a possibility, but we knew there would be hundreds of boats descending on the island, and also knew that we would have difficulty with Customs if we hadn’t properly cleared out of Nevis.

Fortunately, our mooring held.  If it had broken, we were watching closely and could have motored or sailed out into the open sea, and to safety.

The neighboring boat wasn’t so lucky.  Its owner was ashore, and could not possibly get to the boat in the horrible conditions.  When its mooring broke, there was nothing to prevent it from drifting toward the beach and destruction.

We saw this happen and immediately made an emergency radio broadcast explaining the situation.  We couldn’t help ourselves, but hoped somebody could.  Two very brave souls from a large motor yacht managed to get into their dinghy and came to try and rescue the boat.  They picked up the broken mooring line, and were able to tow the small sailboat into deeper water – but could not manage to tie it to another mooring.

At this point, the Port Police arrived, and took over the operation. We watched in fascination as they worked to tie the sailboat to another mooring.  It took them three hours, but they were finally able to get it attached.  We were impressed with skill and bravery of the Nevis Port Police.

As the day went on, we suffered through the +/- 30 degree rolls from side to side, fighting to avoid seasickness.  It calmed just slightly in the afternoon, and the owner of a nearby boat, with a much larger dinghy then ours, came by and asked if we needed any help.  We gratefully accepted his assistance in tying a third, redundant, line between Callisto and the mooring.

The winds got quieter in the night, but the waves stayed strong enough to keep us very uncomfortable.  By morning it was calm enough that we could go ashore and complete our Customs and Immigration formalities, clearing us to leave the island.

We had planned to stay a couple more days, but it was just too uncomfortable and knew that being under way would be far better.  The story of that passage is a tale for a separate post.

Saturday, January 28, 2017


The last time we were in Antigua was in March of 2013.  Not too much has changed, the superyachts in Falmouth Harbor and English Harbor are interesting to look at, and cause some excitement when they actually leave the dock and go sailing.  There are some sailing races originating in Antigua that draw all kinds of racers from the sleek and new to the old wooden classics.

This year we also took a mooring in Falmouth Harbor and met two other Outbound boats.  There was a also a third in English harbor, but owners were not on board the time we were on island.  It is still amazing to meet other sailors with the same kind of boat as ours, since there are only 60 in the world.  We share tips and troubles and admire each other's choices in decor and layout.

There is a lookout point called Shirley Heights above English Harbor.  I have always wanted to get there, but we had always assumed you had to drive up or walk on the road.  Well, this year we discovered the hike.  When we asked a local fisherman on the path if we had taken the correct turn, he said we had, and then asked if we knew that it got steep.  We did.  The trail was well-marked, a bit steep, but not strenuous at all.  David, however, did experience a bit of agoraphobia, since we were on a ridge with nothing but sky above and cliffs below.  The view at the top was spectacular, we could even see our boat in the distance.  The walk down the other side was not as well marked, and we were momentarily led astray by following a few sheep on their trail.  We soon figured it out when the branches got too low for people...

People were below us on the rocks, fishing and sitting in warm pools of water left by big waves.

Monserrat in the distance, the cloud is actually the volcano smoking....

The view at the top.  Our boat is one of the little ones top body of water, middle of the picture.Add caption

The next day we left Falmouth Harbor for Nonsuch Bay.  There is nothing between you and Senegal except the reef.  We snorkeled around Turtle Island, saw no turtles but plenty of small fish.  It is obvious that there are storms where waves make it over the reef, the coral had a lot of sand on it and some damage.  Then it was back to Falmouth Bay for clearing out of customs and immigration and on to Nevis...We had a great sail to Nevis, one of the few times we have come to Nevis with light winds aft of the beam...which means it was leisurely and flat.  

More on Nevis later...

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Earlier this year, David said that we might be bored this season since we have “done” the Eastern Caribbean for a total of five times.  WRONG!  We have been finding the sailing challenging, the anchorages wild and “rolly” at times and working at keeping up a semblance of a fitness routine with lots of rainy days. 

It’s a good thing we always build a lot of flexibility into our schedule and have really good weather sources, one of whom is a retired Canadian weather forecaster who volunteers his time early every morning.  Thanks Dennis! You have given us great advice on the best time to move to the next destination.
We have now reached the northern end of Guadeloupe in the harbor of Deshaies.  Last night we watched a fishermen free dive 40 feet plus to retrieve a fish trap.  Fish traps of this design have been in use for literally millennia.  He knew we were watching, came over to Callisto and gave us three fish, two snappers and a grunt.  He wouldn’t take any money.   I poached them in garlic with salt and pepper, no wine on the boat, so it was definitely simple, but delicious.

Today we walked to Grand Anse, the next bay north.  This walk has two purposes, the beach and Samy’s Resto/bar.

Samy has two wood fires going, one for the grilling of main courses, the other for the huge pot of rice.  Today Mahi Mahi and chicken were on offer with grilled plaintain and shredded pumpkin salad.  Samy also used his machete to open up some young coconuts and gave everyone a glass of coconut water.  The ti punch is of course, made with white rum with sugar syrup and fruit juice.  He pours the rum and adds lime slices, the customer does the rest to taste.

After lunch we walked the Grand Anse Beach, about a mile long.  The surf is always pounding and the sand is great for taking the callouses off those feet...

Tomorrow we have over 40 miles to go to Antigua, mostly upwind.  Another challenge, especially for David, who will have to wake up to an alarm at 6:30.  We hope to be underway by 7 and arrive mid-afternoon in Falmouth Harbor.  Another set of northerly swells is due to come in, which makes some anchorages uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous.  We anticipate a lot of boats seeking smooth waters in Falmouth, so we may run into people we know.  We plan to be in Antigua about a week, then it’s northward to St. Martin for the first of February, with a stop at St. Barths, Nevis or Monserrat on the way.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Sari Sari Falls

We are on the island of Dominica, which is one our favorite places to hike.  This is a truly beautiful and largely untouched place.  It is extremely mountainous, with hardly any flat land to support agriculture.  It is said that Dominica has 365 rivers, and I believe it.  Many of these rivers have exquisite waterfalls.

Some really beautiful waterfalls are spoiled by hordes of cruise ship passengers.  Others, though, are hard enough to get to that casual visitors never see them.  A few years ago we visited Victoria Falls.  To get there, you have to wade through 5 river crossings, and scramble up big boulders.  This year we opted to hike to Sari Sari falls.  We were joined by fellow cruisers Craig and Bobbi, who we had just met the prior day, and by our guide Jones Younis.

The guidebook describes this hike as moderate, but that was before tropical storms washed out the main path.  Now you have to take an alternate, and very challenging route up the riverbed.  I think I counted six river crossings, but I may have missed one.  This photo gives you a sense of the boulders we had to scramble over:

We climbed up the riverbed for about an hour and a quarter, often out of breath and always very careful of our footing.  We encountered an older woman who had fallen off a narrow section of the trail.  We gathered she had broken her wrist, and Jones told us that she was taken out on a stretcher.  Reason to be careful!

Our self-confidence grew as we went along, and the many places where you had to stretch awkwardly for the next foothold seemed a little less daunting.

In the end, it was worth it.  This is among the best waterfalls we have visited in the Caribbean.  Here's a photo and a video showing what we saw:

It only took us an hour to walk back.  Downhill is not easier, but we were more familiar with the terrain.

After the hike, we went to have lunch with an acquaintance, Moses James.  Moses is an old Rastafarian (almost as old as me), and we met him for the first time when we visited Victoria Falls.  He has an establishment called Zion Valley at the trailhead.  When we were first there, there was just his "Rastaraunt" and beautiful fruit and vegetable garden.  Since then he has expanded, and offers some very rustic rooms to rent.  His sons are doing the cooking now, but he appears to have trained them well.

Rastas are vegetarians, but they still can make a hearty stew.  Ours had lentils, breadfruit, yams, plantains, potatoes, Callaloo, and Moses' secret mixture of spices.  Absolutely delicious, and when seconds were offered I gratefully accepted.  As often happens with Rastas, we heard some perspective on philosophy, and some fascinating history of how Moses grew up in the country, tried city life, and returned to the land.  His holding has a world-class view of the confluence of two rivers, and is completely beautiful. If you want to stay there, here's the Airbnb listing:
Zion Valley

The taxi ride to and from the trailhead showed us just how much Dominica's infrastructure has suffered from recent tropical storms.  Our route was about twice as long, because the direct route was washed out.  There was a great deal of rebuilding work along the alternate route, and a couple of pretty sketchy temporary bridges.  We hope they can get things put back in order soon.