Thursday, April 30, 2009

Side trip to Peru in September 2006

In late August 2006 we simply could not sit at the dock in the marina in Trinidad any longer. Boredom has its limits. Since it was right in the middle of hurricane season it would have been imprudent to leave Trinidad as our insurance policy required us to be that far south. So I booked a trip to Peru to see the marvels of the Incas and also visit the Amazon Jungle. To fly to Lima, Peru from Trinidad required first flying to Caracas, Venezuela and waiting in that crime-filled airport for 16 hours. That sounded totally unappealing but the travel agent insisted that was the only was to fly to Lima. I did my own research and found that we could fly Trinidad to Houston to Lima on Continental and could use frequent flyer miles for this trip. Hey, that sounded really good! We could fly home and do a short lay-over to visit the kids and grandkids; then proceed non-stop to Lima. I had the travel agent book our land travel with Lima Tours and I booked the air travel. We extended days on all of the standard tour packages and upgraded the hotels. Most cruisers try to visit Peru as cheaply as possible; we did not want to waste money but did want a certain level of comfort. This turned out to be a very good decision for us.

We flew to Houston for Labor Day Weekend, arriving mid-afternoon on Friday and departed to Lima late Tuesday afternoon. This allowed us to visit with family on their holidays. It had been almost 5 months since I had seen the grandchildren, after being accustomed to seeing them every day. So this visit was welcomed by all of us. We packed a duffle bag with cold-weather clothes we had stored in a relative's attic and were on our way.

We stayed in the Financial District of Lima for only one night and a half-day, then flew to the high-altitude old city of Cusco. Cusco is the oldest inhabited city in all of the Americas. The altitude is 11,500 feet -- twice as high as Denver. I positively loved Cusco and could happily retire there. I loved the stone buildings and the stone streets built by the Incas so long ago. Their stone cutting and building capabilities were amazing, especially when you consider they did not have tools available today. There is one street that has a wall on one side that is so intricate it defies logic; and the stones fit so closely together that you cannot slip a knife blade or a piece of paper between the stones. And many earthquakes have occurred since this was built and these stones still remain tightly in place. Amazing.

The highest place we visited was 12,500 feet. The high altitude bothered me but did not affect Bill. I had trouble breathing and felt that my heart was racing if I attempted any exertion at all. Simply walking the mountainous streets of Cusco was taxing for me; walking the inclines at some of the higher places we visited was beyond my limits. I have a heart condition called mytral valve prolapse and normally have no symptoms from this condition, except when walking up inclines -- even at sea level. Walking upward inclines or climbing stairs/steps at these high altitudes was very taxing. I had to rest frequently. Desperately wished I had brought a walking stick. In fact, I would recommend a walking stick to anyone visiting these high altitudes.

Too many old Inca places and Spanish churches to describe here that we visited in and around Cusco over several days. Then we took the tour bus down to The Sacred Valley. One stop along the route down was at an alpaca farm. That was very interesting. Learned that llamas, alpacas and vicunas are all of the camel species. The vicunas are declared protected animals. The fibers of their hair are very expensive and are used in high-quality clothing manufacture worldwide. The alpaca is next down the list but considerably less valuable than the vicuna. We all know about alpaca sweaters and their varying quality. You get what you pay for in that regard. A cheap alpaca sweater is just a cheap sweater. An expensive alpaca sweater should be the higher quality fibers. You can certainly feel the difference. The alpaca farm had people making yarn from the hair fibers and dying the yarn. There were several women weaving the yarns into fabrics. The decorations on each woman's hat identified what town she was from. The weaving process is very intricate and these women began their training about age 5.

Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley was very interesting. The unfinished Temple of the Sun is located nearby. This temple was under construction when the Inca received word that the Spanish were advancing. They ceased work immediately and fled, never to return. Truck size pieces of stone were abandoned wherever they happened to be, so there literally is a trail of these huge cut stones going up the mountain and to the section at the top where these stones were intended to be placed. The most interesting thing is that all the stones used to contruct this temple under construction were excavated on the top of another mountain across the river. So they had to bring the stones down one mountain, across the river, and up this mountain to be put into place. There are abandoned cut stones in the river and up the side of the other mountain to the point of excavation. Amazing feat considering they also had no block and tackle.

Note that all these stones were cut at a time when the Inca had no metal tools. They would use other stones to make an line and tiny indention where they wanted to make a cut. Then they would pound small wooden wedges into the cut. Next they would pour water over the wooden wedges, causing the wood to swell. Using this repetitive process they were able to cut the stones precisely; so precise in fact that the stones fit together so tightly that even the thinnest knife blade today cannot be forced between the stones.

At Ollantaytambo we boarded the Vista Dome train to Aguas Calientes, the small town across the river from the bottom of the mountain where Machu Pichu is located. We stayed in a hotel at Aguas Calientes for 3 nights. Made the trip up to Machu Pichu twice and spent the final day walking around Aguas Calients and watching the local people. A popular food in the Andes Mountain area of Peru is fried guinea pig. Didn't think I wanted to be aventurous enough for this, and after seeing a picture on the front window of a restauranct showing the little bugger being served with the head staring up at you and all 4 legs spread-eagled, I knew for certain that I had made the right choice. However, I did get adventurous enough in Cusco to try an alpaca steak one evening. The alpaca steak tasted fine and the texture was not much different than beef. But I found the smell of the alpaca meat unpleasant and decided after only a few bites that this was not a meal that I would finish.

BTW, Aguas Calientes is down in the valley at the bottom of the moutain where Machu Pichu is located. You cannot seet Machu Pichu at all from Aguas Calientes or the river. That is why Machu Pichu was not raped by the Spanish during their centuries of occupation of Peru; the Spanish never found Machu Pichu.

Machu Pichu is located at 8,000 feet altitude. I found it difficult to walk up steps at that height and again wished I had a walking stick, but it was not nearly as difficult as the altitude of Cusco.

We hired a guide at Machu Pichu so we could hear the descriptions of what we were looking at; otherwise we would be just looking at ruins of a stone city. Very much recommend hiring a guide to explain everything. A few years ago they discovered the frozen remains of 3 small children in a nearby mountain at a very high altitude. The remains are in perfect condition. I found it most disturbing to learn that the Inca believed in sacrificing small children to their gods, always little girls and not boys. They felt that the young girls were the most pure and therefore the holiest sacrifice. Then, as continues in parts of the world today, the most offensive and horrific acts to humankind were perfomed in the name of a religion.

After Machu Pichu we took the train and bus back to Cusco. Then flew to Puerto Maldonado in the Amazon Jungle. This was Bill's favorite part of our Peru trip. We stayed at an eco-lodge on the riverbank of an enormous river that is relatively near the beginning of where the Amazon River forms. The Amazon River actually begins way down in Patagonia where millions of kapok trees literally suck up moisture with their roots and this forms swamps which drain together and form small rivulets that eventually join together to form rivers that join together to form the Amazon River.

We saw numerous types of trees that were new to us, like kapoks, strangle trees, walking trees that can actually move several inches to get better sunlight and brazil nut trees. Brazil nuts fall from very high on these trees and will kill a person if struck on the head. Each "nut" has 12-16 Brazil nuts (as we know them) inside the outer casing, and it weighs up to a kilo or over 2 pounds. This will definitely kill a man standing on the ground as the nut falls 80 feet to strike him on the head.

We saw monkeys, several kinds of parrots, toucans, snakes, caiman (small alligators), leaf-ants, termites --- all kinds of birds, wildlife and insects.

Also saw people mining for gold in the river and hope they were not polluting the river with mercury. This was a very different kind of vacation for us and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

After a week or so in the jungle we flew back to Houston. We had order some boat parts to be delivered to our son's home. He met us at the airport with a duffle bag of boat parts and we exchanged duffle bags with him, leaving with him the duffle of cold-weather clothes that we certainly did not want on the boat in the Caribbean. There was time for us to leave the airport and eat a great Mexican breakfast, which was a real treat for us as we do miss our Tex-Mex food since we moved aboard the boat and started cruising. Then we flew back to Trinidad. Two days later we cleared out of Trinidad and sailed to Venezuela. I just could not stand to stay in Trinidad another 2 months; so we got over to Puerto la Cruz instead, which was the only other place far enough south to meet our insurance policy requirements.

Still waiting on weather so we can leave New Zealand

Our plans were to depart New Zealand tomorrow morning. Submitted the required 4-day advance notice of departure to Customs on Monday; went to the bank in Pahia on Monday and ordered a supply of Euros because out ATM and credit cards won't work in New Caledonia; and fueled up with diesel on Wednesday morning. Everything was on schedule. Then while walking through the parking lot to pick up a rental car on Wednesday afternoon we make a snap decision that we are going to Vanuatu instead of New Caledonia. Won't be able to stay long in either place and we would rather see at least one island of Vanuatu.

I had not provisioned with meat because New Caledonia does not allow New Zealand meat to be brought into their country. I wasn't planning on doing much provisioning of any sort because we will be clearing into Australia by June 5 and Australia Quarantine restricts almost every food from being brought into theis country. Vanuatu does allow meat to be brought in on cruising boats but requires that each vacuum-sealed package be labeled "New Zealand Export Quality" or that you obtain a form from the butcher shop certifying that the meat is NZ Export Quality. So as soon as we got the rental car we drove to nearby Kawakawa to visit the Central Butchery. They did not want to take my small order because they already had more business than they could handle. Central Butchery does the meats for most of the boats participating in the Island Cruising Association's rallies to Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. But a bit of pouting and just not accepting no for an answer, and I finally got the shop owner to agree to package enough Scotch fillet steaks, trimmed pork fillets and boneless chicken breasts to last us a month.

We then drove back to the bank in Pahia and picked up the Euros we had ordered on Monday. Don't need them now and don't know when we will again be in a country that uses Euros. But we will have some on hand when we arrive wherever that is. Vanuatu does not use Euros; they have their own peculiar currency but will also accept New Zealand dollars. So we also had to get a small supply of NZD. Currency is being a bit of a hassle in this part of the South Pacific.

Today we filled the propane tank and bought gasoline for the outboard engine for the dinghy. Did a last minute supermarket shopping trip for basics for a month; turned in the rental car; did laundry; baked chicken and fried bacon for the passage tomorrow morning. Then we talked to the weather guru Bob McDavitt and decided that we are not departing tomorrow after all. Yet another LOW is developing and will be passing over this area for the next 2-3 days.

The best time to leave New Zealand for a passage north is to leave on the back side of a LOW. That will produce southerly winds to assist us along on the passage north. It is always more comfortable to sail with the wind abaft the beam than in front of the beam. We notified Customs that we were delaying departure. We had already paid the marina through Monday, so we were all set. And we are both so tired from doing various things getting ready to leave tomorrow that I am glad we have a few days to rest up before starting this long passage.

Really looking forward to visiting Tanna Island of Vanuatu. Should be on our way Monday morning.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Venezuela 2006 and 2007

It is very difficult to know what to write about Venezuela because the political and crime conditions have deteriorated considerably since we visited there. We thoroughly enjoyed our times in Venezuela and never felt threatened in any way. Common sense is required for anyone traveling in this country. There also is always the possibility simply of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that can happen in any country.

We sailed from Trinidad to Los Testigos in late September 2006. A family in "la casa verde" cooked dinner for at least a dozen of the boats anchored nearby. The family living in the green house had caught a lot of fish and this would be a way for them to make a little income. There are no cafes or restaurants in this remote little group of islands and the living conditions there are quite basic. This meal was very, very inexpensive to those of us accustomed to the high prices in the Eastern Caribbean. This was a great way for the family to earn some income and we thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed being hosted in their home.

Boats cannot officially clear into Venezuela at Los Testigos. Instead you visit the Guardia Costa or army station there and they decide if you can stop for a day or two. They usually will let boats stop for a couple of days, but that is totally their option. They sometimes tell boats to move on immediately. It pays to be pleasant and if they ask for cigarettes then hand them over. We stayed a couple of days and then sailed to Porlamar, Isla Margarita.

At Isla Margarita we used Marina Juan to handle our clearance and obtain the Venezuelan cruising permit. Well worth his fee to have him take care of this. The local officials prefer not to deal directly with tourists or cruisers; they prefer you use an agent like Marina Juan. We stocked up with provisions and had several enjoyable short excursions at Isla Margarita; then sailed to Pozo on the western tip of the island. We anchored there only one night. The following year a boat was boarded in this same anchorage and a French cruiser was killed. So I would be hesistant to advise anyone to stop here now. The locals are not anti-American or anything like that; they are just very poor with no chance of jobs or betterment of their lives. Most are honest, but at some point anyone will turn to crime if they are hungry enough.

From Pozo we sailed to Puerto la Cruz and checked into the Bahia Redonda marina, where we stayed about one month. This was so much better than it had been in Trinidad that we wondered why we had not come here earlier. There were armed guards at the gates to the marina and it was a safe enclave. But we also ventured outside the marina many times, even went down to the local restaurant-row on the shoreside of the main part of the city with no qualms about being robbed. Everything was perfectly fine and we had a good time. We took the dinghy through the enormous lagoon maze to a large shopping mall where a very good supermarket was located.

Our favorite taxi driver took us to La Cava, a meat market where we were assigned our personal butcher. It is a Venzuelan custom for women to have their own favorite butcher and meat shopping becomes a social activity. The woman sits on a barstool at a high counter and the butcher stands in front of her and cuts the meats to her specifications. I enjoyed doing this twice during our stay in Puerto la Cruz. I sat on a barstool and told the butcher what cut of meat I wanted. He would go into the meat locker and bring out an "entero" cut of beef; this means a large section of whatever particular part of the cow that I requested. He would weigh this entero cut of meat and enter my customer code. Then he placed the meat on the counter in front of me and proceeded to cut according to my requests. For example, from one entero piece he cut a prime rib roast and numerous steaks, some with bones and some boneless according to my request. I had ground beef made from end sections and had him add back some of the fat because the meat was trimmed so lean. All of this for $1.58 USD per pound!!!!

This is because the price of meat is set by the Chavez government. And that government set price is exactly the problem now. There are government established prices on meat, chicken, eggs, milk, rice, sugar, coffee, and many other staple foods. The farmers and ranchers and producers cannot produce the raw products and sell them to the retail stores for anywhere near the prices that the government requires. So there are terrible shortages of virtually everything. It is much worse now than when we were last in Venezuela. La Cava cannot get meat to sell anymore, and that is such a shame because that puts more people out of jobs. It is a vicious poverty cycle and Hugo Chavez is destroying Venezuela. I am so glad that we got to see La Cava and how it operated, and hope that someday things improve.

From Puerto la Cruz we sailed to the outer islands of Venezuela. One that sticks in my mind as exceptionally beautiful was Cayo Herradura. It is a good distance from the mainland so robbery is not a problem out there. We also visited Los Roques. I expected to love Los Roques but was disappointed. I just don't like sailing around all that uncharted reef. Then we stopped at Aves de Barlovento and saw thousands upon thousands of red-footed boobies and other birds. That was quite an experience. Also stopped at Aves Sotovento and that was also a unique place. Then on to Dutch island of Bonaire.

In June 2007 we sailed in a small flotilla with 10 boats from Grenada to Porlamar, Isla Margarita. Again we used Marina Juan to handle our clearances. And we again provisioned heavily with what items were available in the stores at the time. This time we did not visit the mainland but instead sailed almost straight to Bonaire, making 3 stops at various Venezuelan outer islands along the way. We skipped Los Roques this time.

On one leg of this passage we had pole foresails poled out, one to each side, and were making a very fast passage. This is when we learned that we have a "excessive speed" alarm on our Furuno GPS-80. I was down in the galley preparing dinner when an alarm started sounding. I could not figure out what it was. Then it stopped. This happened 3 times before I found the cause. The GPS screen was flashing "excessive speed alarm" because we were exceeding 11.5 knots. That is the fastest we have ever sailed in this boat. We felt totally in control of the boat at that speed in those conditions, but we reduced sail anyway. Really should not be sailing this boat that fast.

We enjoyed the sail to Bonaire on that trip.

Trinidad for summer 2006

We sailed from Grenada overnight and arrived in Chagaraumas, Trinidad on July 8, 2006. I had reserved a slip back in February at the Coral Cove Marina for the entire hurricane season (July through November); the nicer marina called Crews Inn was already booked for the summer when I contacted them in February. Coral Cove was fine for us. The major advantage in staying at Crews Inn is that they have a very nice swimming pool; whereas Coral Cove has a dinky tiny thing they call a pool that is more the size of a hot tub. We met some very nice people staying at Coral Cove.

Not much positive I can say about Trinidad. Jesse James and his wife own a driving service and tour service called Members Only and they really are great people. They are the best of their country. But the general work ethic in Trinidad needs some severe readjustment. Workers usually show up for work about 3 days out of 5, so work is never performed in a timely manner. And we were quoted prices 300% higher than the previous year. It was like the local businesses knew that we were all there because our insurance companies would no longer allow us to stay farther north in Grenada after Hurricane Ivan; so they were trying to take advance of a captive group of cruising boats.

There was a little crime wave during the time we visited Trinidad. Eighteen dinghies and outboards were stolen in Chagaraumas during the 3 months we were there. The police did nothing and the Coast Guard did nothing. There were 4 armed robberies of cruisers; each time on land, not on their boats. There was one incident involving 4 armed men boarding and attacking the young Danish occupants of one cruising boat about 1 a.m. one night. But can you really expect the police to get excited over this whenever they are dealing with hundreds of murders and kidnappings each year. It is just not a good situation there and conditions will not improve until the police are more adequately funded and staffed.

There are lots of places to see and fun things to do in Trinidad and others might have a more positive experience than we did in 2006. We probably will stop there on our way back to the Caribbean in 2011, depending on how "cruiser friendly" Trinidad is at that time.

Grenada in June 2006 and June 2007

We had visited St. Georges, Grenada twice previously on Windjammer cruises in the 1980s; once prior to the US "invasion" during the Reagan administration and once afterward. To have called this an invasion was sheer stupidity on the part of journalists. We know because we talked to the residents of Grenada face-to-face shortly afterwards. This was very definitely a rescue by the US, not an invasion. It was not just Cubans on the ground in Grenada trying to take over the country; there were actually Russians (or USSR to be more precise for the times) that were taking over Grenada. We met Grenadians who had to surrender their homes to Russian military to use as residences and command centers. There were USSR military transports and trucks overturned down the mountainsides. Grenada was very thankful for the USA saving them from the USSR.

We docked at Clarke's Court Bay Marina in Grenada and stayed there for the full month of June 2006. Bill had to fly back to Houston for his final business obligation for his previous employer. He did not feel comfortable leaving me alone on the boat at anchor in a strange place, so we opted to stay in the marina. This was a good decision and we enjoyed staying there. There were a couple of pot luck dinners and dancing and it was a very nice time. Met lots more cruisers; some of whom we continue to touch base with every few months.

I did a ladies-day-out with about 20 other cruiser women. I am not usually one for this type thing because men are usually more interesting than a bunch of gossipy women, but this turned out to be a fun day. There was a short tour and I saw parts of the main city of St. Georges that I would never have explored on my own or with Bill -- like the tee-shirt factory. The batik shop that employs only deaf women was particularly interesting. The lunch with margaritas was more my idea of fun as I am not really a clothes shopper.

When it was time to depart the marina, we found that our prop was so badly fouled that the blades would not turn at all. We hired a diver to clean the prop and were soon headed off to Trinidad for the hurricane season. We found out later that there was a rum factory at the foot of the bay, so the shallow waters were unusually nutrient rich from the sugar cane residues discharged from the rum factory. That was what caused such heavy barnacle growth on our prop. It was a good learning experience for us. Now we never assume the prop is going to work after sitting a long time. We always test the operation of the prop before attempting to leave a marina slip. Consider it part of the learner's curve of owning a new boat.

Our next stop in Grenada was June 2007. We hauled out at Spice Island Boat Yard for a standard anti-foul bottom job and were very pleased with their work. We will use them again in the future. This time we also took several tours of Grenada. One was a standard island tour. Grenada is a very large mountainous island so this was an all-day tour. We saw waterfalls, exotic trees and flowers, a rum factory, remains of forts, an organic chocolate farm and factory, and I don't remember what all else. Definitely recommend doing a tour of Grenada if you visit there.

Another excursion was a turtle watching tour. This takes place at night at a location on the northeast corner of the island. It was a very long drive out there and we didn't return to our boat until after 2 a.m. We saw the huge leatherback turtles walk out of the sea and wander along the beach until they would find the perfect sport to lay their eggs. Then she would dig a very deep hole and deposit the eggs. Then she covered the eggs again before going back to the sea. These turtles are protected as endangered species and there were lots of regulations of what we could do while the turtles were laying their eggs. Flashlights could only be used if they were red because bright white lights disturb the turtles. Red lights didn't bother them at all. The particular female that we watched the longest had lost most of one of her flippers; probably either to a fishing hook or a shark. She had a very difficult time digging the deep hole using this badly damaged flipper, but eventually she was successful. This entire process was very interesting and Bill was glad that I dragged him out to watch these huge turtles.

We decided not to return to Trinidad for hurricane season this year. Iinstead we would go west to Bonaire and Curacao. Hurricanes rarely reach that far southwest area of the Caribbean. In late June we departed Grenada accompanied by a little flotilla of about a 10 boats. We opted not to stop in Los Testigos and all sailed straight to Porlamar, Isla Margarita of Venezuela.

Carriacou in May 2006 and May 2007

Grenada and Carriacou are separate islands but one country. Carriacou is maybe 35 miles north of the clearance ports at the southern end of Grenada. It is usually a good sail between the 2 islands. You need to be aware of possible activity at Kick 'em Jenny, an underwater volcano between the 2 islands.

Tyrrel Bay in Carriacou is a place where cruisers sort of get lost. I don't mean physically lost because it is a small place and that would be impossible. I mean they sort of get lost in time. You anchor there with intentions of leaving in 2 days and find yourself still anchored in the same spot a month later and wonder where the time went. Part of this is because there are other cruisers anchored nearby and socializing becomes a daily event. There are several restaurants, nothing fancy but each one is okay in its one way. The pizza restaurant overlooking the bay is the most popular one. Even if you happen to not like pizza it is a great place for happy hour drinks with friends to watch the sunset. We saw some gorgeous red sunsets from here.

Carriacou was a new place for us in May 2006; had never stopped here on any of our previous trips south. We cleared in at Hillsborough and sailed over to Tyrrel Bay. Almost no one stays at Hillsborough very long. We met several cruisers in Tyrrel Bay, including Rick and Sue Johnston on S/V Panacea. Rick and Sue had stopped in Tyrrel Bay and liked it so much that they were still there 3 years later. They had started a company providing WiFi internet access to boats in Tyrrel Bay. A little niche market with all the cruising boats coming and going.

Rick helped Bill set up our SSB and Sailmail and Winlink and got it all working together correctly for the first time since we moved onto this boat. We had not been able to use the SSB for email for our entire trip south from the BVI, so we were very thankful for Rick's assistance. In return, we gave him a pair of handheld VHF radios. We had 4 handheld VHF radios on board and certainly did not need that many. Rick and Sue did not have any working handheld radio so this was a good trade-off for both our boats.

We returned to Carriacou in May 2007 and ran into several boats that we had last seen in Trinidad during summer 2006. It was really great to meet up with all these people and we ended up staying in Carriacou longer than we had planned (like so many others). While anchored in Tyrrel Bay we had a woman named Petra make shade panels for our cockpit. Petra is a German girl who does superb canvas and Sunbrella work. Petra made side panels out of Sunbrella mesh and rear panels out of extra-heavy Sunbrella mesh. These panels zip onto the top bimini and make a very nice cockpit enclosure. We are very, very pleased with the work Petra did for us.

Around the end of May we sailed down to Grenada. We had to drag ourselves away from Tyrrel Bay because we had a haul-out scheduled for June 4 in Grenada. So we had to leave; not that we wanted to.

Mayreau Island and Union Island

The very tiny and sparsely populated island of Mayreau has held a special place in our hearts for several decades. The first time we visited this island was on one of the Windjammer cruises in the early 1980s. There were 40 residents on the island at that time. The St. Vincent government had built a dock and a very short road-to-nowhere at the end of that dock. Supply boats delivered essentials to the residents on a sporadic schedule. These people had nothing. Except for beautiful incredibly white sand beaches covered in coconut palms and surrounded by turqoise waters. You cannot believe how excited the children were to receive simple things like a pencil or little notebook.

When we returned to Houston after our first stop at Mayreay I collected various school supplies and shipped these to the Windjammer offices in Florida. Several of the passengers on our cruise had agreed to to the same and to continue to do so in future years. The Windjammer company would send these supplies down to Mayreau through their distribution system to their tall ship that cruised this area -- which at that time was just the Mandalay. This started a tradition. As more small privately-owned cruising boats started visiting Mayreau, cruisers began to bring more school supplies to the island. That tradition of donations for the school on Mayreau continues today. The cruisers are more organized and actually hold annual functions these days. This doesn't garner a great deal of money or donations, but every little bit helps and both children and parents are very appreciative of anything to help their childrens' educations.

Salt Whistle Bay is our favorite anchorage on Mayreau. It is very small and can get crowded so it is important to arrive early in the day. We could stay anchored there for weeks. There is a small resort of sorts now located at Sail Whistle Bay. What a beautiful location for a secluded vacation.

The other main anchorage on Mayreau is Saline Bay, where the government built dock is located. The road now extends up the hill to the small town and even farther up to the northern end the island and ends not too far from Salt Whistle Bay. There is a thatched-roofed structure on the beach at Saline Bay where several of us cruisers gathered for happy hour late one afternoon -- BYOB, of course. This structure is used by the locals to sell their wares when the occasional small cruise ship anchors in this bay. The only cruise "ship" we saw anchor there was a small Venezuelan cruise ship in May 2007. The residents of Mayreau said this ship comes every couple of months.

In May 2007 we visited Union Island for the first time. The only reason we stopped at Union was to clear out of St. Vincent and theGrenedines before sailing the very short distance over to Carriacou. Carriacou is part of Grenada and boats must clear out of SVG before visiting Carriacou. Not much to say about Union Island as we only stopped there long enough to clear out. It was a very, very crowded anchorage with no place to disembark from your dinghy. We paid a guy to "help" onto a temporary mooring and to bring me ashore. The mooring was far too risky for both Bill and I to get off the boat for any length of time. I walked to the airport and cleared us out. Them stopped at the most poorly stocked grocery store that I have ever seen anywhere. There was not one item in that store that we would buy. I felt so sorry for the local residents if this is the only food available to them. Mind you, this was there main town on this island and this was a relatively large store. I then walked back to the dock area and eventually got Bill's attention and he came out to collect me in the dinghy. We couldn't wait to get out of that harbor. Union Island is not a place that we would recommend.

The Tobago Cays

The first time I visited the Tobago Cays I thought it was absolutely the most gorgeous place on earth. That was back in the early 1980s and there were only 2 sailboats anchored in the Tobago Cays during that particular week of February. Bill was doing something else that day and I had taken a tour boat out from Palm Island to see what these cays were all about. So he never had a chance to see Tobago Cays in their glory days. And it is a totally different place today.

We sailed to Tobago Cays in May 2006 and again in May 2007. Both times we were struck by the beauty of the place; but it is now so crowded with sailboats and day-tourist boats that it simply is not the same place that I visited back in the 1980s. In fact, the SVG government has declared the area a national park and now collects fees from visiting boats. They have marked off a small spot beside on of the cays as a protected area and there are 2 places where you can enter with a dinghy to get to the beach. This is a turtle nursery grounds area and also very popular for snorkeling.

The Tobago Cays have 2 reefs that break up the Atlantic waves before reaching the cays. It is technically possible to anchor behind the outermost reef during daytime only, but it is usually much too rough out there for us to consider anchoring that far out. The normal anchoring ground is behind the innermost reef, between the reef and the cays.

These days it is not unusual to see 100 boats or more anchored there. A far cry from the 2 boats that were anchored there during "high season" back in the early 1980s!!! It is a crowded anchorage area but still extremely popular. I'm sure we will return again and again after we complete our circumnavigation.

Mustique, the island of the ultra-wealthy; May 2007

On May 2, 2007, we sailed a whopping 13 miles from the nearby island of Bequia to Britannia Bay on the island of Mustique. We picked up a mooring at 12.52.728N; 061.11.316W.

Notes to sailors about this area: The charts indicate there is a flashing light twice every 15 seconds on the buoy that marks Montezuma Shoal just east of Britannia Bay on Mustique. The buoy is still in place but there are no lights on it so don’t sail at night around here until you have confirmed the location of this shoal; many boats have hit it. The charts also indicate a flashing light once every 40 seconds on Petit Canouan. That light is also no longer working. However, there is a really bright flashing light that almost looks like a slow strobe light. It marks the casino Donald Trump built at the posh resort Raffles on the northern end of Canouan. You would think it is important to keep lights functioning on reefs that have sunk several boats, but beware because there are no longer lights to warn you away from these dangers.

Boats less than 70 feet in length are not supposed to anchor at Mustique; instead, they are required to pick up a mooring ball. The moorings are very sturdy and well maintained but they do not have pennants or painters. You must attach a line through the eye on top of the mooring ball. Bill used our heavy wooden boat hook to literally pick up the mooring ball and raise it high enough to run a line through the eye and then dropped it back into the water while holding onto the line. He cleated it off and we were set. Chris Doyle’s sailing guide does an injustice to Mustique because he says that it will cost $75 for a mooring for 3 nights; he fails to mention that it is really $75 EC – which is less than $30 USD for 3 nights on a mooring. That is a very, very low price for a mooring and we are glad to pay it. Chris also mentions several times in his guide that the bay is rolly. Well, it is; but it is a gentle “rock me to sleep like a baby” type of roll.

Bill had called Basil’s from Bequia and made a reservation for dinner tonight. Basil’s normally has a “jump up” on Wednesday nights but not tonight. That was fine with us because we knew what we wanted to eat at Basil’s – LOBSTER! Hard to believe that we have been on this boat for a full year and have not eaten lobster even once. After we arrived in Mustique we went ashore and visited the bar in Basil’s for a quick beer and to confirm that they had our reservation and that lobster would be available. Affirmative answer from the bartender to both questions.

So we donned our best attire and arrived a few minutes early so we could enjoy cocktail hour before dinner. I finally tried a Sex on the Beach (I know, a decade or two late in this). It was made with gin and Cointreau and passion fruit juice and tasted darn good. Should have tried this drink long ago. Bill stuck to his normal Hairoon beer (local beer of St. Vincent). Then we learned that the restaurant manager had made a last minute decision that they would serve a buffet tonight, so no menu service. There went our lobster dinner! Neither of us likes buffets so we opted not to eat dinner at Basil’s tonight after all. We made a reservation for tomorrow night and confirmed that they would service regular menu service; then returned to BEBE and had leftovers for dinner.

Early the next morning found us walking around Mustique. We wanted to get started on our walk before the day heated up. We had planned to pick up pain au chocolat and croissants at Sweet Pea Bakery for breakfast, but when we arrived we found that they were closed for the entire week. Tuesday was Labour Day in SVG and several businesses used the excuse of this one holiday and closed for the entire week. We walked about two hours and saw everything that we wanted to see; reviving memories from our last visit so long ago.

Last time we were on Mustique we walked all over the new house under construction that belonged to Mick Jagger. It reminded us of a Japanese jigsaw puzzle, as it was built somewhat like a maze. There were long hallways that connected separate bedroom suites to a main house; very unique. His original house was also there on the grounds – a tiny wooden pier-and-beam house raised a couple of feet off the ground. And his large trampoline under the palm trees that he used for exercise. There was a great view of the sea and some rocky tiny islands. We wanted to see if we could find this house again. The bartender at Basil’s told us last night that Mick had been on the island for quite some time but had recently left.

We walked through the grounds at The Cotton House, the most exclusive and nicest hotel in the entire Caribbean. There have been many new homes built since we were last on Mustique. There were only 27 homes when we were last here. They belong to people like Princess Margaret, Raquel Welch, Mick Jagger, and other celebrities or rich and famous people. Today there are more than 90 homes on Mustique, and they are all really nice and very large. I particularly like the white one on top of the hill on the southwest tip of the island; looks like a version of the Taj Majal when viewed through my binoculars from our cockpit. Mustique is a very well-kept island. The other difference we found is that there are “private drive, please do not enter” signs all over the place. We stayed strictly on the roads or paths that were not marked as private. We found what we think is Mick Jagger’s house – or at least a similar styled house in the location that we remembered.

Nearby is an empty small lot that is not marked as private, so we walked out to the beach. And there we found what appeared to be a stone bench located beneath the palm trees and facing the sea. It was a beautiful location and the bench appeared to be placed so that one could sit and watch the ocean under the shade and enjoy the breeze. Turned out that this is a gravesite for a man who was a sailor. On the seat of the bench is engraved the poem about “a sailor home from the sea” and the back side of the bench is signed by what appeared to be his grandchildren. What a lovely location for a final resting place for anyone who loved the sea.

Bill was entertained most of the afternoon. He became the self-appointed mooring line helper for arriving boats that looked like they needed assistance. Some boats could handle picking up a mooring ball with no painter attached, but most could not. Have to remember that there are a lot of charter boats down here with people who are not experienced with all facets of boating life. Bill would watch a boat approach the mooring field and see how they intended to handle the situation. If they were obviously confused or short-handed, then Bill would jump into the dinghy and go help them attach lines to the ball. Gave him something to do and people to talk to. He also was entertained by a girl on the beach. The couple are apparently staying someone on the island, not on a yacht. A driver brought them to the nearby beach and left them there for a couple of hours. After swimming the girl walked back onto the beach and promptly stripped out of her swimsuit and not is a modest manner. She pranced around a bit as if she were on a stage and then donned a cover up top. Stunning girl and provided Bill with entertainment.

Looking forward to our special treat lobster dinner tonight. cWe are considering this our anniversary dinner to celebrate our first full year living aboard.

Early yesterday afternoon a British yacht arrived and dropped a huge anchor about 40 feet behind our boat – right inside the mooring field! He dropped that anchor to the inside of 5 moorings. Bill happened to be in the dinghy assisting another boat moor, so when he finished with the first one he went to the Brit to see if he wanted any assistance. Bill thought the Brit was just putting down an anchor to hold the boat in place while he took his dinghy down from the davits so that he could do his own mooring line. But this was not the case; the Brit intended to anchor – right in the middle of the moorings! Talk about poor seamanship, not to mention safety issues and simple rudeness. The Brit said he planned to drop far back (he didn’t; he ended up lying aligned evenly with the last mooring ball). Yachts longer than 70 feet are allowed to anchor, but only well behind the mooring field; yachts smaller than 70 feet are required to use moorings. This is a requirement for conservation reasons to protect the marine life and sea bottom. Yachts that are anchored are still required to pay the $75 EC conservation fee, same as if on a mooring. So it made no sense that this guy was anchoring right in the middle of the mooring field since he was going to have to pay anyway.

Bill: “I think they will make you pick up a mooring.”
Brit: “I don’t think they can make me use a mooring. That isn’t legal.”
Bill, smiling and with a shrug, and motoring away: “It’s Mustique.”

I was concerned about where he had dropped his anchor and the fact that he did not let out enough scope and was lying too close to moored boats. Anchored boats swing on their anchor lines differently than moored boats swing on mooring balls. The anchored boat has a much greater arc of swing because he has longer scope. If the winds had changed during the night as so often happens then that Brit would swing into one or more moored boats. But he was far enough away from us that our boat was not in any danger, so we let the situation alone. Not our problem.

Before we went in for dinner last night Bill watched the harbor master do his nightly rounds to each boat to collect the conservation/mooring fees. The guy on the British yacht spoke with him for awhile and then the harbor master handed over a piece of paper. The British guy did not pay but did accept the paper from the harbor master.

We went into Basil’s and didn’t give the Brit a second thought. Basil’s is open air like most Caribbean restaurants, and it is built out over the water. We were seated at a corner table with a beautiful view of the bay as the full moon was rising. While we were enjoying our cocktails (another Sex on the Beach for me; I’m developing a taste for that gin and passion fruit juice), Bill noticed that the arrogant Brit was pulling his anchor. Only thing we can figure is that the harbor master gave him a copy of the local laws regarding anchoring and conservation fees in Mustique; the guy still refused to pay; and the harbor master said that he would have to leave. We watched his stern light as he sailed away toward Canoaun in the darkness. Can you believe that someone on an expensive yacht would chose to sail away at night rather than pay less than $30 USD and stay on a mooring for 3 nights? Makes no sense to us. Sheer arrogance: nobody-is-going-tell-me-what-to-do type attitude.

We enjoyed our lobster dinner. It was a real treat and grilled perfectly. For those who don’t already know this tidbit, lobsters are basically marine arachnids, meaning that they are sea spiders or sea bugs. Sounds yucky to think that you are eating a spider, but the darn things taste so good! We definitely prefer the warm-water Caribbean lobsters over the traditional cold-water Maine lobsters.

We also had a little surprise. Our waiter used to work as the bartender on 2 of the Windjammer cruise routes that we sailed back in the 1980s. What a small world. His name is Aussie and he has had a number of jobs in a number of different places since then. Funny that we should run into him here. Bill remembered him well because Bill spent a lot more time in the bar on the Windjammer cruises while I was prone in our cabin due to seasickness. Aussie told us about several of the other Windjammer employees who have since passed away – like Ingrid who worked in the dining room on the POLYNESIA and Offshore Eddie who was old even back then. Offshore Eddie was a real character. He was a master sailmaker and could repair sails by hand and could make basically anything from canvass or sailcloth by hand. He worked on the Windjammer ships for living quarters and all the food and rum and beer that he wanted to drink. A real old codger who did not want to give up his life on the sea.

Aussie explained to us the employment arrangements of working for Basil’s. The workers are provided with housing, food and even uniforms. They must remain on Mustique and work for 30 days and then they are allowed to leave the island for 4 days. Kind of reminded us of a modern version of slavery, but the workers seem very happy with this arrangement.

BTW, I bought a small container of sour cream yesterday. Cost $9.80 USD for a container of about 6 ounces. Good thing that Basil’s provides meals for their employees because they certainly could not afford to buy their own food on Mustique.

Later on May 4…….

The sail was so nice that we skipped right by Canouan. We decided there was no good reason to stop there. Bill had bought a loaf bread in Mustique this morning so that was taken care of, and we had no intentions of visiting Raffles resort or casino; so why stop? Then we heard a hail on the VHF “BEBE, BEBE, BEBE; ALLELUIA!, ALLELUIA!” Our friends Tito and Roberta were on their way from Bequia to Tobago Cays and could see us. We decided to sail on to the Cays rather than stop in Mayreau.

So that is we where we sit this afternoon. Sailed 20.5 NM in F5 conditions on a broad reach. The way sailing should always be. We are at 12.37.890N; 061.21.385W in the heart of the beautiful Tobago Cays, anchored behind the long southern reef with less than a meter of water beneath our keel and facing the Atlantic Ocean.

Oh, one other thing about today. When we approached the Cays there were several boats arriving at the same time so we were forming into a line to pass single file in the narrow passage between the 3 islands. Two boats ahead of us in line was the same British yacht that had refused to pay the mooring/conservation fee in Mustique last night. He chickened out of the tight and shallow passage and we all had to wait for him to turn back and re-track his course. This boat has no name on it, but it was definitely the same boat. He has 2 wind generators mounted way out to either side on the stern; the boat is easily identifiable; and we want to avoid him as much as possible. I think it is funny that the arrogant expert was afraid to negotiate the difficult passage and turned around. Later we drove around the area in our dinghy and saw that this boat had anchored right in the middle of the very narrow channel between the 3 islands. Hopefully he will be gone before we are ready to leave, because he is now completely blocking the channel. We have dubbed this man the Anchor Guy.