Sunday, December 23, 2018

Saint Vincent

In our first visit to the Grenadines, more than 15 years ago, we did a crewed charter that started in St. Vincent.  There is an interesting story at the start of that trip.  We had a few hours between arriving at the airport and being picked up by our charter crew.  We decided to take a taxi tour of the island, and were extremely impressed by the scenery.  At one point, our driver stopped and we got out of the car to appreciate an unusually beautiful view.  We spent a few minutes there, then returned to the car and drove to the harbor.

When we arrived, David discovered that he had only three of the expected four passports in his pocket.  Luckily, the missing one was his, because if it had been Gretchen’s or one of the kids', he’d have been in big trouble.

We guessed that the missing passport had fallen out of the pocket when we stepped out of the car.  What to do?  We didn’t know the name of the taxi driver.  Our charter captain suggested we ask around at the cab stand to see if anyone could figure out who he was, which we did.  We then went out to the boat to try and figure out what to do about the missing passport.  The nearest US consulate was on Barbados.

Some time later, we saw a water taxi approaching rapidly, and our taxi driver was standing in the bow holding the passport high.  What a relief!  The driver had heard of our problem, and had driven all the way back to the place where we stopped, and found the passport on the ground there.

So, our first impression of St. Vincent was a very positive one.  But that was the last time we visited the island until this year.

There have been some problems with cruising boats visiting St. Vincent.  First, the available anchorages are quite difficult.  Many are very deep and you can’t really anchor but must take a long line to a tree ashore.  Second, there were large crowds of very pushy men competing for the opportunity to take said line ashore (for a handsome fee).  Finally, for quite a few years there was a spate of crime against cruisers, thefts and even muggings.

So, for the past several years, we have simply sailed right by St. Vincent, going directly from Bequia to St. Lucia.

That is a very long (9-10 hour) trip.  This year we decided we would take a chance on stopping half-way up the coast of St. Vincent to break up the journey.  The crime wave seems to have receded, the boat services folks have learned to be less pushy, and the bay of Chateaubelair is described as having an ample shelf of moderately deep water to anchor on.

Our arrival in Chateaubelair was great fun.  School was already out for the Christmas holiday, and the harbor was teeming with boys and young men.  We were met by a pink powerboat with six or eight young fellows in it, and they were certain that they knew the perfect place for us to anchor.  They proceeded to lead us to the spot.  In addition, there were several surf boards paddled by one to three boys each, also eager to help.

As it turned out, the place they picked didn’t work.  The seabed of the bay is covered with thick seaweed, which makes it hard to get the anchor to penetrate.  The spot they recommended was between two other boats, and before we could get our anchor to catch, we had dragged back, far too close to the boat behind us.

No worries, this happens all the time when anchoring.  We picked up our anchor, moved over a few boatlengths, and tried again.  The second try we also dragged back 10 meters or more, but were finally able to get our anchor to stick.

Well, the guys in the pink boat were very happy that we had anchored successfully.  It was time for a little commercial activity.  We were offered grapefruit for purchase.  Wanting to help the local economy, we said we wanted three, and negotiated a fair price.  We also gave a generous tip for the anchoring advice.

A few minutes later, a quite young boy paddled out on his surfboard and delivered the grapefruit.  We asked his name and he told us it was Jarvin.  That’s quite a coincidence, because our friend in St. Lucia, who we would see the very next day, is also named Jarvin.  Our new friend Jarvin was a little confused, because he assumed the other Jarvin must be a little boy like him, not a grown man.
We offered Jarvin some water to drink and a peanut butter sandwich to munch on, which he appreciated.

The warm welcome from these young men made our stop on St. Vincent pleasant and memorable.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

back on the water!

Callisto is in the water and we are aboard....It feels great to be back in the Eastern Caribbean.  Some may say we are in a bit of a rut, continuing with the same pattern each year, but we like it.

We spent very little time in Grenada once we launched.  The weather has been very good for comfortable sailing, not too much wind, small waves and the rain squalls have all happened after we have arrived in harbour...perfect for washing off the salt accumulated on our passages.

Our first stop was Carriacou, an island north of the island of Grenada, but still part of the country of Grenada.  We did a scuba dive with Lumba Dive shop, which is owned by two French Canadians.  Richard and Diane are very active in the community, Diane coaches and teaches swimming to island children and Richard leads efforts to get abandoned ships sunk or hauled out to keep the harbor safe.  The dive shop also makes reef reclamation a priority.  We hope to be helping them with some conservation efforts on our way back in March.

Carriacou and Grenada are experiencing a building boom.  Resorts and apartments are being built everywhere.  We took this photo at a building site for a new resort on the south side of Carriacou.  These two looked like they were posing for a high noon shootout...

We are now in Bequia. We went diving yesterday, on a hike today and tomorrow we will visit Doris' shop.  Doris' fresh food market PLUS
She has a great selection of cheeses, meats, spices, and many of the things that you might be homesick for such as candy, cookies, crackers, tea, vegemite...
Today we walked out of town towards the east, thinking we might visit the turtle hatchery, but got sidetracked by a sign that said open pottery studio.  We never found the studio, but had great views of the water and the island.

We moved this little turtle off the road after the photo...
Next stop is St. Lucia, where we will spend Christmas and New Years...
Happy Holidays everyone!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


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


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.