This segment picks up the travails of Irie after arriving in the Caribbean following our passage back across the Atlantic.
"Windward" is the name given to the southernmost group of Caribbean islands. The wind in the area prominently blows from the southeast, hitting these islands first, thus they are to "windward" in sailing terms. The next group of islands curves to the northwest, and get the back side of the wind. They are in the "lee" of the Windward Islands, and are thus the "Leeward Islands." Barbados and Trinidad may not technically be in the Windward Islands, but close enough for our story.
We arrived in Barbados late at night on Friday the 13th of December, 17 days after leaving Las Palmas in the Canaries. We anchored in Carlyle Bay, the designated anchorage. Although we were several hundred feet away from shore, there was some kind of club near the beach blasting a bass beat into the bay, so loud you could feel the vibrations in the fiberglass. So much for those serene island anchorages.
The next morning arose sunny with a nice breeze. Typical Windwards weather, which varied little throughout our stay there. The temps in the day ranged in the low 80s, usually partly clouding, and 70s in the evenings. There was always some wind; always from an eastern direction between 10 and 25 knots.
We motored over to the cruise ship harbor where customs was located. A huge cruise ship had arrived just before us and we had to wait for it. I got to the customs office at 9am, to be informed that the officers were at the cruise ship and would be back in a half hour. We walked around the little gift shops they have set up to scam money from the cruise ship passengers.
I went back to customs about a quarter to 10, to be informed that all the customs officers still gone, this time out to another cruise ship which was anchored out in the bay. It would be another half hour. OK.
About 11:30, a customs officer finally came to the office. I gave him my papers and passports, and filled out several forms. It had been years since I had seen carbon paper, but computers or copying machines are not found in most Caribbean customs offices. Then he wanted outbound clearance papers from the last port we were in. I honestly told him I had never heard of such a thing, and he eyed me like I was some kind of dope smuggler. I told him I had a receipt on board to show I was in Las Palmas, the Canary Islands. That's off the coast of Africa. Part of Spain. He sent me back to the dock to the boat to get it.
Back at the customs office, the officer grunted at my receipt and then stamped all the papers and sent me to the health office. There I filled out more forms and was ordered to report to Immigration. Unfortunately, the immigration officer was not in at that moment, and I waited another half hour.
Finally the immigration officer showed up, we filled out several more forms, and we were finally on our way. After 4 hours. In now borderless Europe, we only changed courtesy flags when we switched countries. Got spoiled. In the
Caribbean, we have to clear customs every time we sail more than a couple hours, it seems. I know my family's passport numbers by heart.
We needed fuel, so we hunted down the fuel guy. They were equipped to fuel huge passenger liners taking thousands of gallons, not sailboats taking 65. It was tricky, because of the 6" 100' hose had to be filled up before our tank started receiving fuel. You had to deliberately stop short, and then hope you gauged properly as the attendant lifted sections of the hose to pour in the remaining fuel. Then I had to sign my name 10 different times (I am not exaggerating) on various forms.
We went back to Carlyle Bay. Art had a flight to Holland and had purchased the ticket on the internet. But like us in Madrid, didn't have the hard copy. And like us, the airline made him buy another ticket. Another victim of the airline "e-ticket" scam. (I still haven't heard if I am to be refunded for the extra $1200 I had to pay in Madrid, it is "under review/.")
That night the giant boom box was pounding again, and we decided if you can't beat 'em . . .. At the club, I saw huge speakers at the end of the beach pointing right towards the anchorage. They apparently believed that the cruisers really wanted to hear the blaring dance music and pounding bass until the wee hours of the morning.
We decided that liquid relaxants would help us cope with the noise and took some at the club. We may overestimated the quantity required.
Somehow I regained consciousness at 5:30am and took Art to the beach in the dink so he could find a cab to go airport. Scrambled eggs, aspirin, coffee, and a lot of water helped things later that morning.
Barbados (a low, flat island) was OK, didn't really see much of it, but the hassles and complete lack of services for cruisers put me off. Next time I would just skip it.
TJ and I took the boat back the wharf and cleared customs, which only took an hour this time. Then we set sail for Trinidad, 200 miles to the SW. We had a nice overnight sail, thought the autopilot quit about 4 hours away from Trinidad.
We approached the Trinidad the around noon the next day. From about 20 miles out we noticed the water took on a distinct greenish tint. After a couple days in Chaguaramas (pronounced "chaguaramas") harbor in northwestern Trinidad, all the boats had an ugly brown/black oily scum around the waterline. You could see an oily film on the surface. Off the west coast of Trinidad (which is near Venezuela) there is a big oil field, and you can see oil rigs out in the distance. I'm sure the oily water was just a coincidence because the oil companies tell us that their rigs are safe for the environment.
We clear customs (only took an hour and a half) and spent the day working on and cleaning the boat. Eileen and kids arrived on the 17th, and TJ's wife Jennifer Coberly came on the 18th. Trinidad is really not the best cruising grounds, so the plan was to head up to Grenada and the Grenadines for a 7 day tour before returning to Trinidad where TJ and Jen would depart and where my sister's family was supposed to rejoin us.
Fortunately there was an autopilot dealer in Chaguaramas, and we got a temporary fix. We rented a car ($20 a day, had 200k miles on it), and both TJ and I had "Adventures in Trinidad" trying to find the airport to pick up our families. The main city, Port of Spain, looks like the kind of place you would not want to be in alone at night, but the people I met were very friendly.
Eileen and the kids arrived with 3 less bags than they had started with. Forms and phone calls; but by the time we left Trinidad, we still didn't have their bags.
We relaxed a little bit on the 19th (there was a nice pool in the marina where we stayed) and took off that evening for Grenada. We were treated to a truly gorgeous sunset over the islands of Trinidad as they faded in the distance.
Directly en route to Grenada, we passed this huge lighted structure. It looked like a 20 story building in the middle of the ocean, bristling with lights and cranes. It was directly in our path, but as I got closer to it another boat came at us and hit us with the high beams, so I veered off. I figured it was some kind of oil rig, but never found out for sure.
The next morning, TJ and I were treated to an equally stunning sunrise as we approached Prickly Bay in southern Grenada. Grenada is that little island (about 20 miles long) the US invaded during the Reagan administration. We cleared customs (with minimal hassle), and sailed around exploring the west coast. The Caribbean islands (unlike the Bahamas, for example) are volcanic, so they are mountainous, and Grenada is a rain forest and is incredibly lush. We hired a cab to take us to Concord Falls, a little waterfall with a natural pool at the bottom. Along the way, the driver pointed out some of the local flora and fauna. Grenada, we were told, is the world's second largest producer of nutmeg, and also a major supplier of mace (the "Old Spice" kind, not the pepper kind) cinnamon and cocoa. They grow a variety of other spices, hence the nickname "Spice Island." The driver pulled over and picked us some nutmeg, mace and cocoa. Cocoa beans in the pod are surrounded by a milky white gelatin type of substance that has a sweet mango-ish taste to it.
At the falls we walked down a treacherous path, but had fun swimming in the cool (~72*) fresh water under the falls (which felt like a fire hose).
Beautiful Tobago Cays
We spent the next few days working up to the Tobago Cays, which are part of the nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Tobago Cays are a group of 3 or 4 small deserted islands -- just like you'd imagine the Caribbean to be. Palm trees, sandy beaches, turquoise waters. Like being in a postcard. Forming a semicircle around the islands to the east (and to the wind and waves) is a huge horseshoe shaped reef, which protects the islands from ocean swells. When you anchor at night, you face the ocean, and it feels like you are anchored out in the middle of the ocean (with about 40 other boats).
We spent a few fun days in the Cays, making trips to the sandy beaches or snorkeling on the reefs, which are very nice. We also had an informal little Christmas. I strung some lights up the halyard to give the boat a holiday look. TJ caught a lobster and we had a traditional lobster and Chimichangas dinner for Christmas. Jen and TJ bought the kids a 500 piece reef puzzle which dominated our cabin table over the next few days. I don't know who figured out more pieces, Colette or TJ. But Colette has had great fun over the last few weeks taking the puzzle apart and putting it back together, and used every bit of our scotch tape to hold it together. (Why was the blonde so proud she finished the puzzle in six months? Because the box said 3-6 years) (yuk yuk) (damn, gone one year and forgot all that sexual harassment training!)
TJ and Jen were having so much fun they decided to extend their stay a few extra days, which gave us time to sail to the next island, Canouan, which featured a pretty beach with a resort hidden in the palm trees. We spent a couple nights there and then checked out of customs -- which went like this: The customs and immigration offices were at the airport, about 4 miles by land or about a mile by sea. I hopped in the dink and motored off across the bay. It was choppy and bouncy, and just as I got there the carb clogged, reducing engine performance to just above an idle. I pulled the dink up on the beach and walked a quarter mile path to the airport. When I got in, I was told the customs and immigration officers were not there, but at the police station in town, not far from where we were anchored. They might come back to the airport, but no one knew when.
So I walked back to the dink, launched it in the surf, and idled my way back to the dock, which took the better part of an hour. There I met TJ. We learned the police station was about 3/4 mile away, but a nice lady in a SUV drove us there. At the police station, we found the customs guy, who filled out a paper and then said we had to see the immigration officer. Who was at the airport. (Aggggh!) I told him I just spent two hours going there and back. He took pity and wrote "cleared out" on the back of his customs' form and suggested (unofficially) that I just skip immigration. Which I deemed good advice since that was what I was going to do anyway.
We left Canouan on the 27th, and sailed overnight the 120 miles back to Trinidad. We arrived the next morning. TJ and Jen packed their stuff, we rented a car and I drove them to the airport. Happily for us, LIAT airlines had found our bags, and I was able to pick them up and reunite them with their rightful owners.
Wasting away in Chaguaramasville
I planned to spend only a few days in Trinidad. I needed to get our autopilot repair completed, but found (to my annoyance), that the shop had not ordered the part while we were gone. A few days later I checked on the progress, and was informed that the motor in my drive was an obsolete model, and they have to order a new one. Which they had not done yet. Finally, two weeks after our arrival, the tech came over and installed the new unit, which has worked great ever since.
The two weeks weren't too bad, because we were in a nice, reasonably priced marina, which had electricity, a little pool, and cable TV. In other words, the basic joys of civilization so lacking in our lives lately. There were a lot of nice cruisers there; including Fred Gunther from "Free" whose wife (whom I never did meet) spent hours typing us up a list of good places to visit in the Caribbean. I gathered that waiting in Chaguaramas for parts was not an uncommon activity. The kids found friends to play with and we rented a car and drove around exploring, and watched movies and did the shopping mall thing. The Trinidadians are very friendly, and it was nice to kick back and just take it easy for a while.
I also took the time to work on some projects that accumulate after a year's sailing and the crossing. One was the hatches. Amazingly, the hinges on two of the Lewmar hatches completely broke off. The second one (on deck over the fore cabin) broke before we left the Grenadines. We had to use duct tape (you can never have too much of this miraculous stuff) to seal and hold the hatch on while we sailed back to Trinidad. It was unbelievable to me that Lewmar would put *plastic* hinges on a hatch, a critical piece of equipment, and that they broke in less than a year. We have really had bad experience with Lewmar equipment. The replacement hinge sets I got in Trinidad (for $30 per hatch) are made of metal and should be stronger. One hopes.
After two weeks we were just about ready to take off. I was doing some last minute things and running the engines. Our starboard engine had started smoking while crossing the Atlantic (I think it took some sea water) and had gotten worse, so that it was smoking pretty bad. The marina manager noticed it and recommended a local mechanic, Gittens. Gittens came by later that day, and said he could change out a fuel injector that might solve the problem.
It didn't, but while he was poking around, he said he had figured out the problem was the injector pump. I didn't really think my problem was a fuel related one because it wasn't black smoke, but he explained how a bad injector pump would cause my problem. I asked how long it would take to repair and he said he would be done in a week.
Two weeks later, his assistant installed the repaired injector pump. Didn't fix it, of course. Gittens said that the injector shop had only replaced only one of the two pumps but noted the other pump was bad too. They didn't have one to put in at the time. Gittens said they could replace the other pump in a week (or so) and that that would solve the problem. "Fool me once," I thought. So far I was only out a couple hundred to the mechanic but the marina costs added another $400, and I was going stir crazy thinking about our precious time running out sitting in a marina. So I said no thanks and had them put it back together. The engine ran worse than ever.
The good thing about the extra two weeks was that we met some wonderful folks on "Salamandra", a 60' aluminum sloop. It was owned by Alex Bond, a South African, and his wife Sonja from Scotland. Their two kids, Calem and Megan, quickly became fast friends with ours. The Bonds had been cruising around the world for 15 years. They offset their expenses by taking on paying crew.
Also during this time my sister Tracie told me that they were having unexpected problems with their stables in St. Martin, and would not be rejoining us on the cruise for at least the next few months. So we would be on our own.
On January 30 we (finally) sailed out of Trinidad for the overnight sail to Grenada. This was the first trip with just our family, and Eileen was a bit nervous about it. But we made it without incident and arrived in Prickly Bay, Grenada, the next morning. We anchored next to our new friends on Salamandra, which had arrived the day before.
We spent a couple fun days in Prickly Bay, a little harbor with a couple shops and a fun bar. We left and spend a couple nights at Hog Island, a few mile around the coast. Not much there but a beach, but it was a family kind of place and there were a bunch of kids running around. Not many American boats seem to venture down this far south, but there were a number of British boats, and most Europeans speak some English. So the kids made friends and we spent a couple happy days there.
We went back to Prickly Bay to pick up our butane bottles --we had run out and it took 5 days to get them re-filled. We spent a couple more days there then sailed up the coast to Mourne Rouge Bay, a secluded, shallow (cats only) bay with a pretty, palm tree-lined beach. There was a bar with a pool for the kids to swim in.
From there we sailed back to Union Island, back in the Grenadines. We cleared in customs and, as it was rainy and gusty, spent a night on a mooring ball. The featured entertainment was watching a charter boat (which are prevalent in popular cruising areas like the Tobago Cays) anchored with about 1.5:1 scope on the chain, drag into a big daysail catamaran. The locals got the situation under control before much damage was done.
We had already visited the Tobago Cays, so passed them and sailed 33 miles to Bequia, a V shaped island with a huge natural harbor. Bequia is a popular anchorage and features lots of stores, restaurants and shops geared for cruisers, as well as a fine beach. I don't know if it was because of the local terrain or the general weather, but it was very gusty there. On otherwise breezy days the winds would suddenly gust up to 30 knots, giving the boat a good yank on the anchor rode.
Salamandra pulled up into the anchorage the next day so we were re-united with our old new friends. I had fun playing guitar with Neil Backstrom, who among other things, is an expert climber and caver (more about this critical ego saving point later). The whole Salamandra crew (of 10) stopped by on my birthday (Feb 17th) with a rum-soaked melon, and I had a happy birthday.
We stayed in Bequia for a week, going to the beach, exploring town (including a cute little turtle farm) and just hanging out. I fixed my cranky outboard by taking the carburetor apart and cleaning it. Part of cruising life is constantly fixing and maintaining things.
St. Vincent; crater climbing
On the 19th we sailed (with Salamandra) from Bequia to St. Vincent. We took a few of the Salamandra passengers with us for a ride on a catamaran. It was a windy day, and it whipped around the north end of Bequia building a good chop. A great sailing day - batten down the hatches kind of conditions. One of our new friends, Ellen, thought it would be fun to ride shotgun on the bow seat, and was regularly drenched with buckets of sea water for about an hour. A wave would slap up, bury her for a second, and we'd all look to see if she was still there, but she was having a blast.
We pulled into Cumberland Bay, a little anchorage in the NW part of St. Vincent. The bay is fairly deep -- as are many anchorages in the Caribbean -- and the boats anchor close to the beach and tie a line around a tree on shore. We had it easy as we just tied up along side Salamandra.
St. Vincent features an active volcano, called Soufriere. I thought the name was unique but later learned that several crates in the islands are called "Soufriere." Neil, who seldom misses an opportunity to hike, convinced me to hike with him to the top of its 3000' crater. I decided to make the hike really challenging by dancing for several hours the night before.
At 7:30 the next morning I found myself trudging along a beach (where we were dropped off by a taxi) and then up through a dry riverbed to the base of the mountain. At the mountain the pace became more vertical. It wasn't really steep, but the muddy conditions of the rain forest and my slick boat shoes didn't make it easier as my feet kept slipping. By the time we reached the summit 2 1/2 hours later, my legs were shot and I was just glad I made it.
The view was spectacular - a crater about a mile across with a large cone in its middle. On one side of the cone was a burned out spot where the volcano was still venting steam. The wind was whipping over the top - I'd guess about 40-50 MPH, and the clouds would swoop down into the crater and then up and at us -- like flying in an airplane.
I was proud of myself for making it when Neil announced he was going to walk down into the crater and around the cone. My ego didn't want to be out-hiked by the 61 year old, but I wasn't sure how I was going to walk down the mountain if I went up and down the crater, so I swallowed my pride and passed. An hour later Neil and the guide returned, and we walked back down the mountain in an hour and a half. My legs were pretty rubbery by the time we got back, and it was an Advil kind of night for me. In fact, so was the next night.
Next island up was St. Lucia. We pulled first into Marigot Bay, a little anchorage with room for maybe 20 boats. It is almost enclosed by a spit of palm tree covered land, a view right out of a postcard. Alex from Salamandra had worked at the Moorings base there, and knew the locals, so he got us a spot hooked up to JJ's dock. JJ's is great little bar with a restaurant and swimming pool, always a popular option with the kids.
In the southern part of St. Lucia are twin volcanos, called the Pitons, which jut up from the ocean like a pair of, uh, er, mountains. Of course, Neil wanted to climb them, starting with the more difficult one. My legs had just recovered from Soufriere, and Stewart and Denise (who was recovering from an awesome hang over) from Salamandra were going too, so I (not having learned once) signed on.
We had had a local guide for the mountain climb in St. Vincent, but Neil had read that the path for Piton was much easier to follow and decided we didn't need a guide. The local guy said the trail was tricky coming down and that you could get mislead and find yourself in an unpleasant situation, but we thought it was just a come on to hire an unnecessary guide for $40.
We walked up from the beach and found a paved road that led up the side of the mountain. It was steep and long but it was better than a muddy path! But when we got to the top of the road we saw a sign: "Hilton Hotel". Hilton built a resort that led up from the beach on other side of the mountain. We debated whether we should give up the mountain climb for a massage and pina colada at the Hilton. A guy told us the mountain path was near a building near the bottom of the road we had just come up. We trudged back down.
A bit down the road Neil thought he saw a path and went charging up the side of the hill. It didn't look like a path to the rest of us so we continued down the road. Next to the described building a local showed us the path, and yes there was an actual, well-defined path.
Stewart, Denise (a/k/a Dennis a la menace) and I started up the path. It was steep, a lot of climbing up rocks. But it was easy to follow.
We had gone about two hours and I thought we were getting near the summit, when we ran into a German fellow with a local guide on their way down. He told us we were still an hour and a half from the top. It was now getting towards one and we were supposed to be back at the boat at three. So we collectively decided we weren't going to make it to the top and stopped to have lunch and before heading back down.
We started down the mountain. The path was easy to follow, and I was leading the way down. After a while though, the path didn't look quite so familiar, but it still seemed pretty clear, until we got to a "V", neither route which looked much better than the other. We should have turned around right there, but the way on the left looked pretty good, and we walked farther down, and it seemed like a good way.
The path became less clear and it was becoming more clear was that we were not on the right one. The way began getting more difficult, but down at the bottom of this steep slope we were on it looked better so we climbed down.
What had looked better was a tree lined ledge beyond which was a vertical wall. We had come a long way and at that point didn't want to climb all the way back up the mountain. We figured based on what we could see we were too far to the west. The only directions we could go were up or east, but the terrain we faced was steep loose rock, filled with stickly, thorny trees and brambles.
Skipping the massage and pina colada at the Hilton was seeming like a bigger and bigger mistake.
Since I had lead the group into this predicament I decided to forge ahead to the east and see if I could find the path. Stewart and Denise stayed on the ledge as I bushwacked my way. Shorts and boat shoes was not the ultimate attire here, which was borne out by numerous scratches on my legs and thorns in my fingers as I kept slipping and grabbing at things to keep from sliding down the side of the mountain.
I had gone on a ways and took a break. I was on a steep hillside with loose rock and dead trees lying over with brambles and thorns. It looked nothing like what I had seen on the path and I began to despair. The path could be another half a mile for all I knew, and I began to think I would have to go back and we would just have to climb back up the damn mountain. But I decide to go just a little bit farther and took about 3 steps when clear as day, right in front of me, was the path! Hallelujah!
I yelled out to Stewart and Dennis, but there was no response to my call. So I worked my way back across the mountain, until I finally heard them. It was 3pm when we met and half past when we finally got back to the path. Stewart kissed a rock. We were walking back on the main road by 4pm. Neil, I learned, had found the path, made it to the top (apparently we were really only about 15 minutes from the top and got bad intel from the German) and was back at the dock by 3. I looked like I had gotten into a fight with a cat - and lost! Another Advil night.
We went up the coast with Salamandra to Castries, a commercial harbor and good place to stock up with supplies. At this point Salamandra was bound South America, en route for Panama and eventually Australia. It was tempting to follow them but that will have to be another voyage. It was sad to leave our friends; we had had a lot of fun times together. That is the nature of cruising; the neighborhood keeps changing.
We continued north to Rodney Bay, just up the coast. It had a nice inexpensive marina, so we hooked up and spent the weekend there cleaning clothes, carpets, and the boat; the kids took advantage of AC power and cable TV.
Back in France again
We left St. Lucia and had a nice 20 mile sail to Martinique; winds were 15, a little lower than previous trips, and were more behind us. As you proceed up from Trinidad, you are sailing north by northeast, generally on a beat or tight reach. But in the Leeward islands you start sailing more downwind, which was appreciated by the occupants of Irie.
Martinique was different in many ways than the previous islands. It is a part of France, whereas the previous islands are independent and English is spoken. The islands south of St. Lucia are rain forests; Martinique was noticeably drier. Martinique is significantly more prosperous and populated; Fort de France is the largest city in the Windwards.
We spent a night in a huge 600 slip marina in southern Martinique, anchored a couple nights off a beach and then anchored in the bay of Fort de France. It was very pretty with the picturesque town on one side and the old fort jutting into the bay on the other.
On the northwest coast of Martinique is the town of St. Pierre. Until 1902 it was the capital of Martinique and the largest city in the Windwards with 30,000 inhabitants. On a May morning that year the volcano erupted with the force of an atomic bomb, killing everyone except the guy sitting in jail. (I'm not sure what the moral of that is.) 5000 live there now. You can see ruins from the old buildings the little town.
We met some new friends in St. Pierre, whose boat we had seen in Bequia. Sara is English and Jorgen is German and they met and lived in France with their son Hugo before starting their year long cruise. They were headed northbound also, so when we left Martinique on March 12, we decided to sail up together to Dominica, the first island in the Leewards.
We'll pick up the Leewards next time.
Best wishes to all. Yours truly,
Bryan on Irie.