The Grenadines, part II

After leaving the Tobago Cays we sailed to Chatham Bay on the west coast of Union Island. We snorkeled the rocky point at the north entrance to the bay, drifting with the current along deep vertical walls covered with coral and sponges.  Chatham BayLarge schools of chromis and other small fish were herded towards the rocks by predator fish from below and attacked by boobies and pelicans nesting on the cliffs above. The bay is large enough for cruising boats to anchor with privacy, and a mile-long beach adds to the sense of tranquility. We ate dinner at an open-air restaurant on the beach. The food was tasty, but for the adults the best part of the evening was the sunset, a green flash, and a long, peaceful twilight.  For Megan the highlight was the cake.

Near Isle de Ronde, a small island with black pumice and ash.

After a day dominated by customs and immigration, clearing out of St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Union Island and clearing into Grenada on Carriacou, we spent the night in Tyrrel Bay. The next morning brought perfect sailing conditions for the 42-mile sail to Grenada. With 15-18 knots on the beam we reached past Kick ’em Jenny Rock, Isle de Ronde, and down the windward coast of Grenada, making 7.5 knots with slight heel and an easy motion. Megan organized word games in the cockpit, Owen read an illustrated novel, and Colin got a big strike on the trolling rod, causing 20 seconds of excitement before the leader broke.  Mostly we enjoyed speculating about the islands’ geology and the apparent evidence of volcanic eruptions, ash and lava flows, and erosion.  We will try to learn more about island geology during our time on Grenada.

Bearing off down the south coast of Grenada we ran wing-and-wing.  Approaching Prickly Bay from the eastWith the jib on the pole and the main held tight by the preventer, we surfed comfortably and chased down a catamaran with a mile-and-a-half lead. Then we jibed and bore up into Prickly Bay, Megan posing near the entrance for another lighthouse picture. We anchored under small cliffs topped with well-kept homes and flower gardens, surrounded by live-aboard cruising boats, many of whom call Grenada their home. We said good-bye to Sheila the next morning, and now we are excited to get to know Grenada and its people.

A few more pictures the Grenadines:

 

The Rodent War of 1985

 

When not helming Stridcookieer, Owen enjoys reading and creating battle scenes in all genres. His latest work of war fiction, The Rodent War of 1985, appears under “Owen’s Posts”. While the main characters in this story are modeled after our pets both past and present, our current pet rats, Bumble and Jazzmine, are not with us on this voyage. They are in the loving care of the wonderful Hachmeister/Orzano family, to whom we are extremely grateful. We have not yet seen any other rats on our journey, for which we are also extremely grateful.

The Grenadines, part I

The last two weeks provided a distinct shift of pace.  The Grenadines are a chain of smaller, closely spaced islands between St Vincent and Grenada, so our daily lives rotated around shorter sails and shorter visits compared with the previous two months.  Also, Blaire’s mother joined us for a week, so we eased up on the homeschooling to enjoy some family time.

After an overnight passage from Martinique to Bequia we anchored in Admiralty Bay. Bequia HarborWe took advantage of Strider’s 3′ draft to tuck inside the mooring field, setting the hook in 6-7 feet of water over sand and eel grass. Megan seized the opportunity to scour the bottom for sea life.  She surfaced with excited reports of turtles and moray eels, and she held aloft urchins and starfish for all to see.

As much as we enjoy the French islands, and we are making some progress in our spoken French, communicating in a foreign language is hard work!  It’s a simple pleasure to strike up a conversation in English with local folks, even if their Caribbean patois sometimes leaves us in the dust.  In any case, it’s easy to find your way in Bequia.  IMG_1404Sure, the island caters to the bareboat cruising set, with a dozen quaint bars and restaurants lining the waterfront, but if you walk one block inland it still feels like a small Caribbean community.  We especially enjoyed our visit to the “Old Hegg,” a turtle sanctuary where they raise endangered Hawksbill turtles, releasing them on select Caribbean beaches when they reach the age of five and can fend for themselves.

On Sunday, February 8th,Sheila flew into St. Vincent, and Blaire took the ferry from Bequia to meet her at the airport.  Soon after arriving on St. Vincent, Blaire emailed that the afternoon service had long been eliminated, such a widely know fact that no one bothered to change the published schedule.  Owen skippers from Bequia to St Vincent and backThe return ferry would not run until 6:30 pm. Strider to the rescue!  Owen, Megan and Colin hoisted anchor and sailed the ten miles to St. Vincent, Owen at the helm. We entered the bay at Calliaqua at noon, within minutes  a local fisherman delivered Sheila and Blaire to Strider, and we tacked and set sail for Bequia, re-anchoring at 2pm.

Tobago CaysThe next day we sailed 30 miles south to the Tobago Cays, anchoring inside Horseshoe Reef, a large semi-circle of protection from the Atlantic surf that is completely exposed to the trade winds.  The turquoise waters beg you to snorkel all day, and at night you lie in your bunk and listen to the wind in the rigging and the waves crashing on the reef.  The cays are popular with charter boats, but again Strider’s shallow draft came in handy.  Tobago CaysWe anchored to windward of all other boats, just behind the reef itself, so that looking over the bow we could pretend we were alone in this beautiful spot.  We enjoyed snorkeling on the outside of the reef, near the “small boat channel,” where Owen and Megan could swim in 5-10 feet of water while Colin swam down to 20-30 feet to search the reef’s deeper crevices.  We also delighted in swimming with Green Turtles at Baradal Island.

After two days we set sail for Union Island, a few miles to the southwest.   Boat aground on SE shore of MayreauPassing the southeast coast of Mayreau we saw a 45 foot ketch hard aground, the surf pounding it against the shore.  It appeared a most capable, blue water boat, not a fancy yacht but a real, live-aboard cruiser.  We don’t know what happened, but they may have come to grief during the night, when the tradewinds built from the southeast and the waves swept across the reef, turning what seemed like a pleasant anchorage into an untenable spot.  Boat aground on SE shore of MayreauWe could see a small armada of local fishing boats circling the stricken yacht, their crews waving their arms, passing lines, and even climbing on deck to help.  They had run a halyard to shore and careened the ketch on its side in an effort to float it free, but we did not see a kedge to windward, and none of the small craft appeared capable of dragging the sailboat against the surf.  It was a heartbreaking sight, and we wish the very best outcome for these sailors and their boat, which no doubt represents their home, their dreams, and probably much of their life’s savings.

To be continued in part II…

South to the Grenadines

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Owen loads the dinghy at the supermarche.  French markets are strictly BYOB (bring your own bags).  Our freezer bag keeps cold stuff cold until we return to Strider.

January 29th we sailed from Dominica to to Grande Anse D’Arlet, on the island of Martinique.  A steady 15-20 knots and widely spaced, six-foot seas made for an easy, 50-mile jaunt.  We found Grand Anse too touristy for our taste, so the next morning we sailed to Marin, a bustling town of boat yards and marinas with a large bay full of sailboats at anchor.   No Hinckleys or Island Packets, here: instead, a large fleet of French-designed, aluminum cruisers made Strider feel right at home!  Owen and Megan enjoyed the perks of French civilization, especially the warm baguettes and tasty cheese.  Colin hit the chandleries for some European boat parts.  Blaire found a stylish French tank top.  We all visited the Leader Price supermarche.  It’s fun to shop in French grocery stores, because just about everything is better, from the meat and produce to the prepared foods.  And while the red meat is more expensive than in the states, everything else is similarly priced or cheaper – especially the wine.  Red Bordeaux in a box runs about $3 a liter, and it’s good.  This particular grocery store is made for sailors, with a shopping cart path that leads straight to the dinghy dock in back.  When we arrived we found about ten dinks loading their groceries, and on our departure a woman in a sailing dinghy filled her craft with groceries and sailed home.

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A French sailor heads home from the supermarche with her groceries.  Tres cool.

February 2nd we hoisted anchor and set sail for the Grenadines.  For this 100nm passage we decided to sail through the night in order to arrive at Bequia during daylight hours.  We also chose to stray from the beaten path by sailing down the windward coasts of  St Lucia and St Vincent, thereby avoiding the wind shadows that compel most boats to motor along the these islands’ western shores.  So, from the southern tip of Martinique we steered a heading of 160, near close hauled, for the first few hours.  We bore off onto a beam reach when we were sufficiently east to remain at least 5 miles off the shores of St Lucia and St Vincent.  This kept us in a couple thousand feet of water, too deep for local fish traps that might ensnare our rudders.  It also gave us some cushion for the unexpected.  Sailing down a lee shore can provide some beautiful sightseeing, but when things go wrong you risk being swept onto the rocks. That’s doubly true at night.

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Approaching Bequia in the morning, from the northeast. During our 100nm sail from Martinique we did not see a single boat until within a few miles of arrival in Admiralty Bay.

It was a beautiful evening: a full moon, Venus and Jupiter overhead, and 18-20 knots of wind on the beam that pushed us along 7 knots with a double reefed main.  The seas were a bit rough.  The easterly trade winds, a 4-5 foot northerly swell from an Atlantic cold front, and a 2 knot current from the south combined to create “lumpy gravy,” as Blaire’s uncle John calls it, with irregular, 10 foot crests.  While Strider handled it beautifully, and Colin and Blaire enjoyed the sailing, Owen was confined to the cockpit most of the night with mal de mer.  Fortunately, by the early morning hours he fell asleep on his bunk and awoke as we approached Admiralty Bay, none the worse for wear.

Presently we are enjoying Bequia and catching up on some school work and boat maintenance.  And, for the first time in a while, we have reliable (if slow) internet.  So check for blog posts, especially from Owen and Megan.

Dominica: new adventures and new friends

Dominica is a young island, with active volcanos and steep terrain.  This is the key to the island’s beauty: mountains force the moisture-laden trade winds up slope, which results in nearly continuous precipitation at the peaks. There are 365 rivers, some of which plunge over spectacular waterfalls, and an abundance of rain forests, tropical flowers and fruits.  However, while we wanted to explore Dominica’s interior, we were intimidated by the thought of driving a rental car on the “wrong” side of twisting, mountain roads. We decided to hire a guide.

Our wonderful guide, Paul

Paul Honore

In Portsmouth we worked mainly with Paul Honore, a natural-born educator who speaks Creole, French, and English, teaches karate, and plays electric guitar for the Catholic church choir.  Paul shared a wealth of information about creole culture and island plants, much of which he learned from his grandmother.

Seaa Cat

Sea Cat

In Roseau, the island’s capital in the south, we hiked with Sea Cat, an adventurous spirit with a loud laugh and long braids. He was the first to leap into every river we crossed.  With these guides we hiked to mountain waterfalls and small villages.  We sampled creole food, watched local farmers work their crops, climbed fruit trees, and even ate a Rastafarian lunch from a calabash bowl.

Sea Cat gives Owen a helping hand.

Lost Bus

Minivan

We enjoyed many conversations with Dominicans grateful for our business and eager to tell us about their home.  We discussed food, politics, education, religion, and the local economy.   In keeping with “island time,” many of these conversations were long and earnest, often resembling a sermon.  If there was one underlying sentiment, it was this: Dominicans are a proud, dignified people who love their island, but they find it hard to make a living.  Everyone keeps a bountiful garden, so no one starves, but they struggle to get beyond subsistence.  Young people often emigrate to other islands for a decade or two, hoping to make enough money to return, buy some land and build a house.  Surprisingly, we never sensed resentment or jealousy directed towards us Americans.  Instead, Dominicans often greeted us with the same greeting they use with each other: “I see you,” or more colloquially, “I be seeing you,” a beautiful expression that conveys respect for the other people’s humanity.  The phrase, like so much of creole culture, comes from Africa, not the movie Avatar.

Roseau Market

Roseau Market

 

Megan Market

Megan buys sugarcane at the market.

Dominica’s outdoor markets are overflowing with fruits, vegetables, and strange hairy tubers.  We tried them all.  We enjoyed the sweet potatoes and pumpkin, both more flavorful than their North American versions.   For our salads we found that Christophene adds a crunch superior to a cucumber but more refreshing than a carrot.  We reveled in pungent ginger and celery, both superior to the versions in the states.  And we indulged in tropical fruits.  Our new favorite is Soursop, but what’s a day without a grapefruit, a mango, a guava, and an avocado? On the other hand, while we tried the starchy staples – breadfruit, yams, dasheen (taro), and eddo root – and they keep well in the bilge, we can’t say we loved the flavor.

We were fortunate to share Dominica with new friends.   We met some sailors from the Salty Dawg Rally, including John and Debbie from Kalista and Matt and Karen on Gypsy.  We made new friends Robert and Revel from Australlia on Intrepid Elk, Adrian and Jax from the UK on Vagaris, and Americans Julie and Rick on Archer.  We look forward to following their journeys online and finding them again in some far away anchorage.

sv Alchemy

Sarah Barre

Sarah and Barrie North in hot spring.

Best of all, we finally connected with another “kid boat” – nautical speak for a boat crewed by small sailors who enjoy Legos and Harry Potter.  Owen and Megan were so happy to meet Peter, Simon, and Andrew from Alchemy – and we to meet their parents, Sarah and Barrie North- that we anchored with them for more than a week in Portsmouth and Roseau.             We shared hikes and swam together under waterfalls, and it was amazing how the kids’ sore muscles were quickly forgotten, and the complaints ceased, with buddies to share the adventures.  The young sailors leapt from each others boats, baked cake together, and played card games late into the night.  There was even a sleepover on Strider.  Life was pretty good for the parents, too, especially once we took the step of segregating ourselves on the “adult boat” in the evening.  We found that we share much besides a love of sailing.  It was a sad morning when we waved goodbye to our new friends, slipped our mooring, and set sail for Martinique.  We hope to see them soon, whether in the Caribbean or back in their home state of Vermont.

Meanwhile, here are a few more pictures from Dominica (click photo to view):

Portsmouth, Dominica

Here are a few pictures from our first days on Dominica.  The island is rugged and lush, covered with rain forest, small farms, and flowers and fruit trees.  The people are poor but thoroughly warm and welcoming.  They go to church and treat each other as neighbors and family.  This is the old Caribbean, where the entire island feels like a small town.

Chameau, Les Saintes

Today we set out to hike Chameau (the Camel), at 1044′ the highest peak in the Iles de Saintes.  It is a steep but easy walk-up topped with a watch tower from the Napoleonic wars.  Early in the hike Megan bowed out with muscle cramps, and Blaire took her back to the boat.  Unfortunately, Colin neglected to give her the keys to the dinghy.  Combining compassion for her daughter with a sailor’s self-sufficiency, Blaire swam across the harbor to Strider, pumped up an inflatable SUP, and returned for Megan, paddling her back to the boat where she could recover on a diet of Nutella and Harry Potter fan fiction.

Meanwhile, Owen and Colin hiked to the summit for a picnic and some photos:

A caterpillar we discovered on a large evergreen with sappy, white milk, beautiful white flowers and green-bean-like pods.

Owen above the harbor at Anse Bourg. Fort Napoleon sits on the hill above his right shoulder, and Strider just above his left.

Owen Guadeloupe

Looking north to Guadeloupe, whose high peaks are always covered with a cap of clouds and rain showers. This keeps Guadeloupe lush and green. The lower terrain of the Saintes generates fewer clouds, and they are considerably drier.

The Cabrits from Chameau

Looking south to Dominica, another verdant tropical island. In a couple of days we’ll be anchored just the other side of the Cabrits, the two hills on the horizon (22nm away).

Anse Bourg, Les Saintes

Note: See Owen’s and Megan’s pages for their photo essays about Anse Bourg!

We have thoroughly enjoyed Anse Bourg, Les Saintes, just south of the island of Guadeloupe.  This is a place where, for a several centuries, different cultures have fought, done business, and vacationed with each other.

On our first day we visited Fort Napoleon, which commands the harbor from a towering hill.  From here in 1782 you could have watched Admiral Rodney’s fleet defeat de Grasse’s, reaping vengeance for the French victory at Cape Henry six months earlier (the pivotal moment in the Battle of Yorktown).  By 1867 construction was complete on Fort Napoleon.  Why name a new fortification after a defeated dictator?  Les Saintes 2009 - Photo © Richard Soberka - http://www.photoway.com/By then Napoleon’s nephew was Emperor of France!  How do the French now reconcile this militaristic remnant from their past with their far less truculent present?  They have built a botanical garden on top of the ramparts!

Meanwhile, Megan continues to develop her diving skills, swimming deeper and holding her breath longer.  Perhaps this is because she is the only one in the family who insists on a daily bath and shampoo at the transom.  Or perhaps it’s her love of sea creatures.  Here she holds “StarMe” (which she named for a Pokemon character).StarMe

The Saintes offer an easy mix of French creole food and culture, on the one hand, and beautiful hikes, on the other.

Anse Bouge

Did you notice Strider between Owen and Megan in the photo above?

Strider Anse Bourg

And here’s our home from street level…

Strider

Tomorrow we hike Chameaux, a 1044′ peak overlooking the harbor, for some final pictures before departing for Dominica – likely on Thursday.

Strider and Calypso

This week we visited namesake places of two famous Frenchmen, Jacques Cousteau and Napoleon Bonaparte.  More on Boney soon; this post is about two days snorkeling in the Cousteau Marine Reserve, surrounding Pigeon Island on the west coast of Guadeloupe.  This reef is not the massive, purely coral structure you see in the Bahamas or the Great Barrier Reef.pigeon island  Instead, like many parts of the eastern Caribbean, it features coral heads growing on large rock formations. Still, the coral and sponges were impressive, and – here’s the really good news – alive and healthy looking. There were mature fish and large schools. In fact, we accounted for just about every species in the abbreviated guide I carry in my dive bag.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself.  For the last twenty years I have grown increasingly depressed by the obvious decline of coral reefs in the Caribbean, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, even the Indian Ocean.  “Wait,” I hear people say, “you need to dive in (Belize, Bonaire, fill in the blank).  It’s the best!”  Unfortunately, while it may be true that location A is better than location B, most people simply have not been scuba diving long enough to see the problem evolve. They assume that the reefs they visit are healthy because they are beautiful, and who can blame them?  Diving in clear, tropical waters is a stunning experience.  However, most reefs are not what they were in the recent past. I began diving 35 years ago, and I was fortunate to see many of these places in their prime.  My father began diving in the Caribbean in the late 1950s, and he states it even more emphatically: the decline of coral reefs – characterized by bleaching, algae blooms, the loss of mature fish stocks, and overall the collapse of the reef ecosystem – is not something that is starting to happen.  It is a thoroughly advanced trend.

Thus I was overjoyed to snorkel the Cousteau Reserve, especially after finding nothing but dead coral and green algae in Barbuda and Antigua, just to the north. Why the difference? Aside from the obvious, like the park’s ban on fishing, I don’t know. Can the success at Pigeon Island be replicated?  I cling to this hope.  After all, I grew up enamored by the Cousteaus’ documentaries on public television.  Realistically, however, the solution depends on the nature of the problem.  Is coral reef decline the result of global warming and ocean acidification?  Nitrate-rich fertilizers and septic waste?  Other chemical pollutants?  How much does overfishing contribute?  What about the impact of divers, boaters, and others who visit the reefs?  The scientific literature points to multiple causes, and the mechanisms are complex, with multiple feedback loops.  After all, a reef is neither flora nor fauna, but a complex ecosystem.

On Strider we’re trying to do more than complain. We are careful to avoid damaging coral and grasses with our anchor.  We use our holding tanks and discharge miles from shore.  And we are collecting water samples at each stop during our cruise, looking for trends in water temperature, salinity, PH, and nitrate levels. I can’t promise we’ll make any scientific breakthroughs, but at least we can learn as we sail.  Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with two confessions.  First: as a boy I used to know (and sing) all the lyrics to John Denver’s “Calypso.”  You can laugh, but if you click on the link it will brighten your day.  My second confession: I admit to taking Owen and Megan to the Cousteau Reserve, and other such reefs, partly as a hedge against the real possibility that they will not have the opportunity as adults.  That may be cynical, but I am grateful my parents did it for me.

– Colin

Green Flash - really

Sunset from Pigeon Island.  Moments later we saw the green flash (but the camera didn’t).

 

Happy New Year!

For us, 2014 ended with a sighting of the green flash. We enjoyed our last evening in Guadeloupe anchored just off Pigeon Island in the Cousteau Marine Reserve. Now it’s a new year and new islands, beginning today with Les Saintes.the saints