Tuesday, 5 April 2016

A tour of the damaged island

On 27th  August 2015, Dominica was hit by storm Erica. In six hours 18 inches of rainfall came down, causing flooding and landslides that washed away whole villages. On a trip with SeaCat, we went up to see Pomme in his garden of Eden and were struck by how the whole course of the river and walk up into the rainforest had been changed. We then drove up to the moonshine village, which had been devastated by the mudslides, the inhabitants are still living in community shelters.
We were very interested to see how the island had been affected and SeaCat was happy to show us, so we set out for a day touring parts of the island we knew from previous visits starting with a hike up to see Pomme in his garden of Eden.

We couldn't believe the change in the walk. The river path through the valley had been totally changed by the huge boulders and mud that had been washed down from the mountains. Luckily we met a neighbour of Pommes who could show us the way through some of the most seriously affected areas. However, at Pommes the plateau high up in the rainforest had escaped unharmed and we spent a few hours chatting with him, before continuing our tour. 

SeaCat then drove us through the worse affected areas, including the village where we had our moonshine tasting session. The village had been hit by a mudslide that had destroyed much of the housing and caused an explosion at the bay leaf distillery. They houses that remained had mud up to the windows and the road was impassable. 

The changes were hard to imagine and seeing it all for ourselves really brought it home to us.

Carnival time in Dominica

Carnival is known as Mas Domnik or the real Mas in Dominica and consists of two days of jump up and parades. We wandered into Rosseau to watch the spectacle, although we didn't manage the 5am start things were still in full flow at 9am! The party atmosphere was heightened by the loud music, the costumes and the dancing in the street. To which Darrell was treated to an up close and personal one with a young lady much to the amusement of both of us.

As we wandered around the streets of Rosseau we came across the children getting their costumes on for their parade. All the schools seemed to be represented with a variety of brightly coloured costumes ranging from Minions to parrots. Then we came across the stilt walkers getting ready in their black and white costumes. The youngest was only 6 and the stilts meant they were level with the first floor balconies as they paraded through the streets. 


We returned the next day for the more formal parade and watched from the balcony of a cafe. The parade is started off with the carnival princess, queens and kings and then followed by a host of groups in costumes,which were highly elaborate and colourful. It seems that everyone gets involved from the local dj's, the mothers groups as well as the parishes. Again the stilt walkers we out in more complex costumes reflecting the diversity of the island. A great morning was spent watching and dancing along to the music.


Our previous experiences of Martinique have been limited, due to it being shut for Easter in 2014, and then last year having to swim ashore due to dinghy problems. So we decided that we should spend some time exploring places we hadn't been to before. So we left St Lucia and headed towards St Anne's on the south coast of Martinique. The journey over was bouncy, Sarah quickly understood why it had been referred to as a washing machine and it was a relief to anchor in the big bay off St Anne's.
Glassy calm at St Anne'sThe wind dropped significantly and we had a few days of glassy calm seas and bright blue skies as we explored the area. St Anne's is a small village, where we cleared customs in a local bar. As we wandered up the hill Darrell was taken by the rows of beach huts. On closer inspection we found it was in fact a cemetery. (Anyone who is approaching pensionable age and whose biannual eyesight test is overdue can easily see how such a mistake could be made!)
St Anne's 'beach huts'

Despite the delights of St Anne's the main attraction of the area was Marin, a 30 minute dinghy ride further up the estuary. Here there was not only the ubiquitous Carrefour supermarket but several chandleries where Darrell was allowed a short amount of time to look around. They were certainly better than the ones on the other 'non French' Caribbean islands. Worth remembering for the future, but not a particularly attractive place to visit again. We did have some entertainment from the 2 local High school's pupils who were obviously finishing term before their exams and engaging in a street fight involving wearing scarves over their faces and hurling flour bombs and eggs at one another. The police did eventually intervene!
Our sail north ended up as a motor sail due to absolutely no wind allowing us to pas close to the famously Diamond Rock (HMS Diamond Rock as named by Admiral Rodney) Not an easy place to occupy so close to French held territory.

We spent one night at Anse a l'Ane opposite Fort de France, another pretty 'French' resort which was obviously very popular with the residents of Fort de France who were occupying the beach until just before the last ferry back to the capital city.
The following day we were away straight after breakfast and had a very pleasant sail to St Pierre where we arrived in plenty of time to find a good anchorage close to the town quay and were able to clear out before a pleasant afternoon tea in our favourite Alsace Bar. He now even does Nespresso coffee much to Darrell's delight and there are always some very nice cakes, much to Sarah's delight.
Our relaxed state ended in the early evening just as darkness was falling when a small French yacht anchored very close to us and then promptly went ashore. We were monitoring how close he was swinging to us when Sarah suddenly realise that the perspective of all the surrounding lights was changing meaning only one thing - our anchor had been lifted by the French boat as it moved. Panic Station! Well only momentarily. Anchoring in the dark is not nice at the best of times, but when the strong wind is swirling around and other yachts are dragging their anchors and trying to re-anchor it is a nervous time. Anyway we managed it without hitting or upsetting anyone but decided, due to the conditions to mount an anchor watch with one of us in the cockpit all night. It was quite entertaining watching yachts dragging and wondering how long it would be before anyone on board noticed. One yacht ended up about half a mile out into the bay by daylight.
We did not have an early start that day, but after a lie in and a breakfast we set sail for our favourite island, Dominica, pleased to be leaving St Pierre.
Monte Pele with no cloud cap as we left Martinique

The Adventure Begins.

With most of the main jobs completed, it was time to head north. Truth be told, we both had itchy feet and were keen to start sailing, although Sarah was rather anxious about the winds, as she still gets very seasick. Her courage must have been in good supply as she suggested that we check out of Grenada in Prickly Bay and head straight for Union in the Grenadines. A longer sail than going via Carriacou. Although, she did put in the codicil that she wanted to anchor in Chatham Bay not the usual Clifton, as she wanted the larger, easier to anchor and more sheltered bay.
At 8am Darrell was waiting for Customs to open, well for the officer to turn up, he did just before 9, so all the formalities could be completed. As we were making the final preparations a yacht tried to anchor next to us but kept dragging, so as we left he took our spot and had solid holding, rather lucky as he was leaving the boat for three months as he headed off to do some work in Canada.
The sail thankfully was straightforward, with no dramas, apart from the lazy Genoa sheet coming undone as we furled her. Darrell needs to brush up on his knot tying! We even managed to get anchored before it got dark, as we averaged over 7 knots. Chatham was busy. Last time we had been in there had been three boats in total, this time, 15 yachts, 3 motor cruisers and a cruise ship, all be it a smaller one that pretends to use sails.
That night the wind picked up and we were veering 120 degrees around the anchor, and there was some re anchoring going on during the evening and early morningamongst the other yachts. Due to the choice of this bay, it meant an early walk over to customs the next day. Luckily, we had the offer of trail guide Alex to show us the way and explain the history of the island. So we set off at a great pace up the side of a steep tree covered hill trying to keep up with our guide. We walked across to the second village on the island, Ashton, where Alex was building his home. He proudly showed us how far he had got and we gave a donation for some more cement so he could continue his labour of love. We then continued to Clifton, the walk took about an hour and a half, and found that Customs had moved from the airport to their proper office on the quayside. So Darrell quickly completed the formalities and Alex sorted out us a bus to get back to Chatham. On the journey, the bus stopped by the local primary school to pick up 12 preschool pupils and their member of staff to return them to the preschool building. Squeezing them in four to a seat and on people's laps, health and safety is slightly different out here! 

Due to the high winds we stayed in Chatham for three nights, chilling, snorkelling and exploring, before we headed out for a night in Tobago Cays. The beauty of which is always a tonic for the soul.
The next day we sailed to Bequia and went to customs to sign out. Much to Darrell's surprise no money was asked for. Last time we cleared out here we had had to pay 56 EC for immigration and 65 EC for customs, but it turns out that they had been for overtime as it had been a weekend. As this was a Friday no money was required. Obviously, Darrell will be better organised so we don't clear out at a weekend, unless it is a French island!
Next morning bright and early we set out on the 72 mile sail north to Rodney Bay, St Lucia. Resisting the temptation of Capella at Marigot Bay much to Sarah's disappointment. No time to stop and watch fishes on this trip! Thankfully, we were anchored and drinking a cuppa by the time the sunset. Next morning we went into the marina as we needed to do a few more jobs and get some more new batteries to replace those for the bow thruster and windlass. Luckily they were in stock and Darrell fitted them without any problems. Strangely, the old batteries disappeared very quickly, in fact Darrell had offers as he was taking them across to be tested, even though one had lost a terminal!

Friday, 26 February 2016

Nearly Ready to Go

Le Phare Bleu is a marina we have stayed in several times either at the start or end of the season and is part of a "boutique hotel" so the bar, restaurant and swimming pool are all available for our use. Not that we had much time for relaxation though. This is also the marina where Sarah had her "Iced Tea" (Long Island as it turned out) episode! We had rearranged Simon, the electrician, to come and wire in the new battery so Darrell spent an 'exciting' morning removing 5 old batteries and installing the new ones so they were ready for the extra wiring. Simon came on time and the job was soon completed. The outboard motor started more or less first time although the image of Darrell wrestling with very stiff steering on it as he tried to negotiate mooring lines, buoys and large yachts in the marina certainly entertained some of the onlookers as he weaved his way into clear waters. Not only did the outboard start, but the dinghy was not leaking air, much to the relief of both of us after last years protracted problems with dinghies.

In case you were wondering why the marina is also the Swiss Consulate it is simply that the owners are Swiss and they were asked by the Swiss Government if they would mind. Nothing more exciting than that. They are Swiss after all. (Sorry Lotti!)

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Grenadian Hashes

What to do on a Saturday afternoon in Grenada, especially if you are stuck in the boat yard? That was our dilemma. Actually it didn't take long for us to decide, as at the end of our stay last year we managed to go to two 'Hashes' and had really enjoyed ourselves, so when we heard on the Cruiser net that the hash was going to be in Laurel in St David's, not too far from the boat yard we were up for it. Luckily, Shademan the taxi man agreed to swing by and collect us after he had dropped off the Hashers from the main anchorages. So we waited patiently at the yard gate for him. We headed in land and up to a very pretty part of the island about half an hour from the yard. We were dropped off on the sports field of the local school and there were a couple of hundred other people.
A Hash for those who don't know is a walk or run following a paper trail through the bush, followed by a social gathering. The Grenadian hashers have the tag line: "runners with a drinking problem!"
After the initial ceremonies, just to say don't wear new shoes unless you like to drink beer from them! Instructions were given and we headed off with the large group. Lots of locals, students from the university, yachties, tourists and dogs, a very mixed and happy bunch. After a few miss turns we eventually found the right trail and enjoyed a pleasant hour wandering through a cocoa estate, rainforest and up steep hills before finally getting back to the sports field. A great way to stretch the legs and shake off the boat yard. We then sat and chatted while watching the initiation ceremony of the first timers before being dropped back as darkness fell at the boat.

We had enjoyed it so much that we arranged to go the following week to the full moon hash. A nightime event. So armed with torches, bug spray and water we joined Shademan on the trip to the middle of the island. Just past Grand Etang Lake is a small village called Birch Grove. The Hashers all gathered in the backyard of the Las Vegas bar, a small bar attached to a house in the process of being built.
As night fell we all set off, following the road first but soon cutting off to follow the river into the rainforest. Then climbing up through the trees and negotiating the mud as we went up several hundred metres in the dark, there was not much moonlight at this point. We crossed the river a couple of times and continued to climb. It was the first hash where we hadn't been able to enjoy the scenery as we just couldn't see it, we just kept trying not to bump into it or slip in it. At times it was so steep that queues form on the slopes and it was difficult not to slide down. Eventually, we came out of he forest and found the road, which we followed back down to the bar and barbecue. As we walked down the road, the moon finally showed itself. 

Friday, 12 February 2016

Back in Grenada Marine

We're desperately trying to catch up with our blog having now been back in the Caribbean for a month and not yet managed to post anything.
So here goes with the first week.
Our flight out here was uneventful but long. The 90 minutes sitting on the tarmac in St Lucia whilst the crews change is a bit of a pain, but, our attempts to hire a car online before we arrived were successful and the car was ready at the airport. We were even "upgraded" (that means they didn't have enough small cars) to a large 4 door 4x4 which was a bit of a gas guzzler but at least no bits fell off and we could cram loads of shopping in it.
True to form, despite being notified of our time of arrival in the early evening, Grenada Marine had not provided a ladder so we could access the boat, nor provided shore power or a water supply. Fortunately the boatyard security men helped out with a ladder and shore power and the water could wait until morning. All we had to do now was put mattresses and cushions back in place, close doors and find room to lay our weary heads ready to start the big push the following day to prepare Stream for launching 4 days later.
The following day dawned hot and sunny, yes, we were back in the Caribbean and ready to start on all the jobs that required our attention. We had stopped at a supermarket on our way from the airport for some provisions but today it was a trip to the Chandlers to look at batteries, as we had decided to replace our worn out domestic batteries and increase their number to four. Unfortunately on testing our starter battery it was on its last legs and so a new one of those was required too. Budget (their word not mine) Marine, in true Caribbean style had very few available. Their comment was a surprised "They've been flying off the shelves recently". This was after all the start of the sailing season and the time when people generally have to replace batteries so not really surprising that they were selling well. The other chandlers, Island Waterworld, was a similar story with bare shelves where batteries should have been, but outside was a large container on a trailer which had their new stock in. Apparently it had been sitting outside for 5 days waiting for customs clearance but they were hoping to get into it later that day and they "thought" it should have batteries in it. We did however manage to leave with one item purchased by Sarah who was very pleased with the small plastic bucket with lid  to be used as our onboard "organic waste bin".
Our return to Island Waterworld the following day confirmed they had the batteries which were duly paid for and delivery arranged for the Friday, just before we were due to launch, after they had been charged and checked.it also meant we could order the replacement speakers for the cockpit, as Sarah in her cleaning frenzy had managed to break the grill. To be fair the UV may have had something to do with its weakness under scrubbing, to judge by the discolouration. The trip also meant we could pop into the Merry Bakers for a Chelsea bun!
Meanwhile Sarah was going through the boat armed with brushes, cloths and several gallons of white vinegar so that the inside not only gleamed but reminded us of home and the local chippy. By Thursday evening below the waterline had been antifouled by Darrell and the boatyard had removed the protective polish and buffed the hull and things were looking good for the launch the following day, when the inevitable happened. 
Darrell was checking the seacocks and lubing them only to discover that the two largest which are on the holding tanks (where the contents of the toilets go, ready for release a long way off shore!) were totally seized. Rather than try to force them and risk breaking them he asked the yard to have a look at them. Plumber (that was his name!) came the following morning and managed to squeeze his large frame down behind one of the toilets and promptly broke the seacock which I didn't really need his help to do as I could have done that myself. There was much sucking in of breath and shaking of head and comments like "not a normal size", "don't have them in stock" , "need a reducer sprocket with a spiral curmudgeon", so, not only did we feel we wouldn't be launching that day, we'd be surprised to be launching in the next month. Plumber went off to try and source the required items never to be seen again that day, a Friday! But he did leave his tools in the heads, so we had high hopes he would return at some point.

Plenty of other jobs were done during our enforced weekend ashore like fitting new cockpit speakers and such like, but Plumber returned on Monday with the promise that he would have things sorted that day, and he did! But he also added that we wouldn't be able to 'Splash' until the next day as the bill would have to be sorted before we went in the hoist. We were happy though, as a week "on the hard" can test anyone's endurance levels and we were fed up of being feasted on by the mosquitoes.
Tuesday dawned bright and fair and Darrell was down at the office as it opened. He returned within ten minutes downhearted. It would take at least an hour and half to get the bill made up.(why?) So we watched, as all around us, boats were picked up and taken down to the sea. Then, just after 11.00am, the crew started to get our boat into the hoist and Darrell took the hint that the bill must be ready for payment. With Plumber on board we were gently lowered into the water and held in the hoist as he made the final checks to his handy work - there were no leaks and we were free to go!

We motored (it works!) out into the bay to check the engine, picked up a buoy to make some final checks and the set sail (well, motored) the hour or so to Le Phare Bleu marina, which is also the Swiss Consul. All was well with the world, the only downside was that we were accompanied by some ants that had snuck on board overnight. Sarah spent a happy hour going along the toe rail around the deck when we arrived trying to get rid of them. (Note on 12.02.2016) This has been an ongoing battle for her and is bordering on obsession. If only she could find where they hide!