Saturday, December 20, 2008

Return to Antigua

[Kyle]We got up with the sun and as we prepared Footprint to leave Deshaies we noticed all the other boats in the anchorage leaving rapidly ahead of us. Despite our early start, our check lists delayed us to being at least the 5th boat out (The Club Med-2 boat having left around midnight well before us).

We hoisted the sails in a brisk NE wind. We sailed as close to the wind as we could, but found ourselves steering about 30° to the west of our course to English Harbour. This path took us almost directly towards Montserrat which has always been a curiosity for us, looming on the horizon. The island is dominated by its volcano Soufriere, (all volcanoes in the Caribbean seemed to be named Soufriere), which so violently and devastatingly erupted in 1995 and is still very much active.

Montserrat Volcanic evidence and current activity

On this particular day (which we later learned was unusual) the volcano was emitting plumes of ash and hot gas high into the atmosphere. The visibility was great and we managed to get some good shots from fairly close (well, close enough for our comfort) before the wind died and we were forced to motor (MOTOR!, in the TRADE WINDS! Ugh!) to Antigua;

When we got back to English Harbor, we had hoped to find a better spot in the anchorage than the one we had left (nearer to row, better views, more wind for the generator), but alas, in the darkness we were unable to do so. We found ourselves in our good old spot. The next morning as we were preparing to clear customs, we decided to have a second look around (maybe someone had left?) and managed to find a pretty spot in Freeman bay, 200' from the beach (thanks to our shallow draft); still a fair way row into English Harbour dinghy dock, but great views (beach lined with palm trees) and plenty of wind for our power needs.
Footprint Anchored in Freeman Bay, English Harbour, Antigua

We are enjoying our view, and already other cruisers have waved at us!

[Maryanne]Hey - Kyle forgot to mention we caught a fish... OK, it did get away, but this is still progress! This fish goes by several names: Dorado, Mahimahi, or Dolphin fish.. too bad he got away.

Quest for a hot bath

[Kyle]The next day (Thursday) we only had one thing on our agenda (aside from sailing back to Deshaies): Take a bath!

Now of course we don't have a bath tub aboard, so we were looking for one ashore. Not just any bath tub, but a special bath tub. Since we are adventurers, and my middle name begins with "D", we decided we had to have a bath in water heated by ...... a volcano. I had thought that I had anchored close by the night before, but on closer examination, it turned out the bath in question was a couple of miles south, so we pulled up our anchor and headed south. With no good coordinates for our destination, we had to search for likely targets using the binoculars. Having found our goal, we anchored in a tiny cove off a beach full of people. The building did not look too appealing, to be honest, but since we'd gone to all this trouble we were not going to turn around now. The beach turned out to be the site of a jet ski school, and the students seemed to be taking their practical exams that day. We pulled the dinghy up on the beach (a conglomeration of stones and black sand - just the right size to go through the holes in sandals, but too large to be comfortable walking on) and made our way the tub.

Bath House - not too appealing

In an open air concrete shelter, The "tub" itself was a rectangular pool covered in mosaic tiles (about 8'x 4' and 3' deep), filled with fresh water at the perfect temperature. Water constantly flowed from a nearby hot spring into the tub, which then overflowed into a foot pool before overflowing into the sea. Alongside was an area where you can stand, soap up, and dump jugs of warm water over your head to rinse off (so as not to pollute the main tub with soapy water). What a luxury to be able to use gallons of hot water.

Clean and Happy - taking a HOT bath with Footprint in the background!

Feeling very refreshed (and clean) we returned to Footprint, and secured the dinghy for the short, brisk sail back to Deshaies. We were surprised to find when we got there, outside the harbor was anchored and enormous (5-masted) cruise ship (Club Med-2) that was busily shuttling passengers back and forth into town. We had not planned on going ashore, but seeing this we were very pleased not to have to share the town with a ship load of people - it would certainly have been quite a different place so full. I was happy to watch the sun set from Footprint, with memories of Guadeloupe drifting through my head.

Good enough for Jacque?

[Kyle]Today (17th December), I forced Maryanne to get up really early so we could go to the boulangerie/pâtisserie Amandine in Deshaies (remember pronounced De-hay) for breakfast when they opened at 6:30. What a marvelous experience. Again we were met with friendly Bonjour(s) by everyone at the place where the whole town seems to stop for breakfast (or at least an early morning coffee). We got a pastry each, some strong coffee, and two baguettes for around €6 ($9US), and sat and watched the town wake up. I'd like to say the whole town was filled with people in berets wearing striped shirts and cycling around with baguettes under their arms - but that was not the case. In spite of that, the village did have a very Gallic countryside feel to it. Particularly entertaining was the local produce stand owner, who repeatedly walked by, each time with a different tray of produce to stock his stall; when we finally did get up to leave we noticed he'd finally found a cart to load and make fewer trips. Maryanne said something to him in French and they both had a good laugh.

Finishing our breakfast later than we had intended we decided to wait for the grocery store to open and purchase some cheese and other goodies to go with our baguette for a later lunch. There was a moment of embarrassment and confusion when at the check out I learned that all fruits and vegetables have to be weighed and priced separately (at the other end of the store) before bringing them to the cash register. She sent me off with some French instructions, and quickly rescued me wandering the store, took my limes to the other end of the store and weighed and priced them for me, returning to find the pineapple in my basket and repeating the whole process. Oops.

Maryanne and I also had a little disagreement about rum; she decided it would be nice to have some aboard in order to make Ti punch and was eying the 1L bottles. I insisted that this was WAY too much and we'd never get through it, and talked her down to a 1/2 L bottle. Finally provisioned, we returned to Footprint in order to head for our next destination: Îlet à Goyave (Pigeon Island) - walking back to the boat we each broke off a chunk (or few) of a baguette for a nibble - MAN that is GOOD bread!

The journey down the coast was stunning, picture perfect little villages scattered on lush, green, steep mountain slopes. It was so beautiful, that I'd take a picture of some scene, we'd sail another 100 feet, something else would come into view, and I'd feel the need to take another (thank goodness for digital photography). After just a couple of hours, we arrived at Îlet à Goyave which is special as it is an island in the Jacques Cousteau nature preserve, a place Jacques ranked in his top 10 places to dive in the world.

We circled the island and picked up one of the pleasure boat moorings and prepared for Maryanne's first real dive since she gave up her life in Scotland to spend it with me (Maryanne is a qualified SCUBA instructor and used to dive at least weekly before I met her, since he moved to the USA, 6 years ago, her only 2 dives have been to recover items dropped overboard -and not in pretty waters!). While she readied herself and her equipment, I donned my snorkel gear and jumped in to survey the area and check the mooring. The island in the reserve has lots of steep rock faces and cliffs, and an impressive variety of fish species. The fish, being protected, seem totally unafraid of humans and did not dash off as I approached - I was so excited for Maryanne to see it all. When she finally got her dive gear on and tested, and jumped into the water, I must have been as excited as she was to see her finally diving again, knowing this was something she loved to do, and put on hold for me. After a brief pause on the surface to double check all the equipment was working well, she descended to the bottom below to a depth of about 45'. I know I should have been looking at all the fish and such, but I was mostly following along overhead making sure she was OK, and watching her enjoy herself. I did manage a couple of times to dive down to where she was and say hi, but of course I could only stay for a few seconds before returning to the surface for air. We traversed about half way around the small island, before Maryanne turned around and began to slowly ascend the wall, eventually returning to the boat, excited and very happy.

We had a lunch of the remaining French bread and cheese, and then snorkeled around the other side of the island together, the topography and variety of marine life on the southern side seemed even more stunning; Maryanne won the prize for the day for spotting (and swimming with for some time) a sea turtle (although I got a great picture of the turtle, by the time Maryanne was swimming with it, I was too far away to get a good picture, alas). Noticing the sun dipping in the sky we returned to Footprint, dropped our mooring and took the short hop to the better protected anchorage of the mainland at Malendure. Still full from our great lunch we had a light snack and Maryanne decided to try her hand at making Ti Punch. This we enjoyed (especially me) complete with the gasping, as the sun set behind Îlet à Goyave. Again I could not help but gush on about how fortunate I felt and how happy I was to be there. We really do get to see some amazing things.

Nothing against Antigua, but I fell in love instantly with Guadeloupe, it is much more what I pictured a Caribbean island to be; stunningly beautiful, lush, and filled with warm, friendly people. I was really not looking forward to leaving.

Afterward, Maryanne informed me that we had already blasted through 1/2 the new bottle of rum - who would have thought it? (I guess Maryanne was right all along - I should have learned by now!).

Jardin Botanique

[Kyle]Fully recovered from yesterday's scramble up the Deshaies river, our next tourist goal was the Botanical Gardens, just a mile outside of Deshaies (up another steep hill). Walking up the hill we worried several times that trucks barreling down might not be able to brake and swerve to avoid hitting us (even though there was a wide walking area, it was on the same level as the road and the vehicles were making use of it on the bends).

The gardens (a hefty €14 each to enter) was well worth the price of admission. Everything was laid out beautifully, well marked with signs (in French), there were so many picturesque views, waterfalls, ponds, and sweeping vistas of the Caribbean Sea below. Flamingos, lorikeets, 100's of orchids, cactii, plenty of all sorts! We had lunch with a gorgeous view over the gardens and beyond into the ocean, prepared and served by a woman who had so much fun trying to understand our French and practice her English on us, that even when we were done with our food, she continued to call our food order number on the PA in both English and French (complete with giggles).

Kyle looooves Parrots!

The highlight of the gardens though, for me, was definitely the parrots, each pair housed in cute, Caribbean style parrot houses. I have owned several parrots in the past, and absolutely adore them, jumping at any opportunity to spend time with one. I was pleased to see that they had big cages, with lots to do, and were being fed a good diet (not always the case). I befriended one lonely parrot (the only one that was not part of a pair). He had been high up in a tree, driving people off feigning attacks at passers by, and I decided to go and say Hi! Since I understand parrot behaviour fairly well, and how to behave around them so they don't get nervous, he quickly came to like and trust me. Soon, he was crawling towards me and away from other visitors. After some time, when Maryanne and I moved on to other areas of the garden, he seemed quite upset I was leaving. When Maryanne reminded me that the garden was still open for several hours, there was no need not to return to the parrots - naturally I jumped. By then, the place was emptying out (never very crowded) so I had lots of one on one time to spend with my new buddy. He even allowed me to scratch and preen him (although I was probably NOT supposed to do that, I could not resist).

Afterward, feeling happy, we tried desperately to keep from falling down the hill (I would not say walked). On the walk back we passed by Parc Batterie, where we had hoped to spend the evening at a restaurant with great views from the south side of Deshhaies' cove, but found it under renovation. We did get to see the cannons at the park, and then went back into Deshaies and found a French/Creole/Italian restaurant with a table on a balcony directly over the surf. Everyone we met was all smiles and greetings, we experienced none of the irritation we expected from our poor French. We certainly fell in love with Deshaies.

My Birthday dinner was really nice, the exchange rate killed us, but it was worth it. While at dinner I got a chance to try a Ti Punch ubiquitous on menus out here. Most drinks went for between €6-€11, Ti Punch is more like €2.50-€3.50. I had assumed this meant that what I would get was some small. weak, watered down drink (usually about my speed). I was wrong; made from the local white rum, this is a little drink with a BIG kick. Most Caribbean rums we have found are 40% alcohol, Guadeloupe rum is (at least) 50%, the drink consists of the rum, a little sugar (or syrup), a crushed lime segment, and maybe an ice cube. Try as I might, I could not help but gasp audibly at every sip as the strength of the alcohol hit my throat - much to Maryanne's amusement. We lingered for a while at the restaurant, enjoying the night air and the sight of Footprint anchored right beside us, and I felt so lucky to be in this special place. After a while, feeling warm from a nice day (and possibly the Ti Punch) we rowed back to our boat, I opened my birthday presents and fell asleep watching the stars through the open hatch.

Deshaies River Scramble

Scenes from Deshaies

[Kyle]Our first order of business was to clear customs; all sources of information alerted us to the fact that customs in Deshaies was very unreliable, and we were not expecting to find anyone in the customs office. We crossed our fingers, collected up our paperwork and headed up an unbelievably steep hill towards the customs office. To our great relief (and surprise) Monday was the one day of the week they were open all day (all other weekdays they were only open for 1 hour, and the hour varied each day). In spite of our horrible French, the Port captain and his assistant were all smiles, friendly and helpful. We even got pre-cleared out of the country so we would not have to return to customs when we headed back for Antigua – a nice bonus.

We rowed back to the boat to secure our paperwork and hoist the French flag (indicating we had been cleared in). We returned back to the charming village of Deshaies where we planned a walk along the Deshaies river which our guidebook described as a shady scramble.

Unlike Antigua, which is covered mostly with low scrub, Guadeloupe is very thickly covered with big tropical plants and has much more the feel of a tropical jungle so we were looking forward to diving into that headfirst.

We followed a concrete road along the river side, then a forest trail, until that detoured away from the river. From here, scratching our heads, we double checked our guidebook and discovered we should be IN the river, not on the path alongside the river. The guide specifically said hopping from rock to rock up the river. SO… we scrambled back down the hill, and proceeded to leap from rock to rock up the river. The river, while not large, was fairly steep, had some fast running areas, this was not an easy stepping stone activity, but rather a leap from one slippery rock to another, and in some cases a bit closer to rock climbing. There were many places where a missed step would have meant a broken ankle/leg and no easy access to rescue – we were being very careful – the further we went the more we felt we should keep going to the end (where the route back was a safe and gentle stroll on a paved road).

In spite of the shade, it was very hot and we were tired and sore from the hard effort of working our way up the river. After 3 hours (guidebook indicated 2), we reached the place where the river intersected a road (we could easily have missed it). Our guidebook spurred us on, only another 15 minutes up the river we were promised a waterfall from a cave into a pool where we could swim and cool down – so on we went – through mud, under tree trunks and over boulders the size of cars. The river was becoming increasingly difficult to navigate, and we were also getting tired, after half an hour of this and several episodes of “let me just go ahead and see if it is around the next corner” as Maryanne lagged behind, I came around a final corner and saw another half mile of boulders edged on each side by steep, impassable cliffs – that was IT, we were DONE with this walk! Maryanne did not put up a fight.

We turned back and made our way back to where the road came close the river. By then I had become so tired from the days scrambling that I was becoming unsteady and had several scary falls into the river; I was glad to get to a nice flat paved road. Finally joining the road, we started our walk back into the town. Two things were immediately evident about the roads.
  • Unlike Antigua and Barbuda, the roads (and all the other infrastructure) here are in very good shape - European standards!
  • Apparently because it does not snow, the roads simply go straight up or down whatever hill (or mountain) they need to traverse. I have never seen hills so steep anywhere - San Francisco has nothing on these hills. They were so steep it would have been impossible to ride a bicycle up, and suicidal to ride one down. I was amazed that the small French cars could handle the grade.
Anyway, we finally made it back into the village of Deshaies. Since it was my birthday, we had originally intended to get some food at one of the many restaurants overlooking the bay, but we were tired, sweaty and in my case wet - so we returned to the boat (intending to change). Once we got back to the boat, we collapsed, gravity took over and we did not leave again that day. We decided that my birthday observed would be the next day instead!

[Maryanne]Deshaies is a tiny fishing village, but it is also one of the few customs offices in Guadeloupe (the only one on the NW coast) - a point of entrance and exit for passing pleasure boats. It is really a 2 street town, with the river (more like a stream) and a harbour full of local, colorful, fishing boats, with a few dive boats for the occassional tourists. It has a laid back atmosphere, everyone passing you says "bonjour". The beach is a very thin line of large cobbles (very few patches of sand). There has recently been some severe storm damage to many of the buildings that sit alongside the bay. The town dock was gone, a powerboat was in up in the patio/veranda of one home, and a few buildings had whole walls missing. One church, one butchers, one pharmacy (no razors!), however, there were many more restaurants than I would have expected, and a couple of tourist shops, a very small town. It was quick and easy to get to know your way around. We liked it.

La France - Guadeloupe

[Kyle]After spending a couple of weeks at a work, in the winter wasteland that is the NE USA currently, I arrived home, cleared customs, took a cab home from the airport where Maryanne met me to clear customs again (this time to clear us and the boat out of Antigua). I had been officially back in the country for about 2 hours. The next morning we got up very early with the intent of leaving at sunrise for the sail to Guadeloupe. We were low on water and decided it would be more sensible if we refilled in Antigua – we weren’t sure where we would be able to fill in Guadeloupe (and it turned out it would not have been possible). So we delayed our start by a few hours. We had breakfast at the fuel/water dock while we were waiting for them to open. (We purchase water by the gallon – so we had to wait for the store/fuel dock to open). Maryanne “stole” a shower and came back to report it was not worth stealing.

[Maryanne] Since we ended up hanging out at the dock for 2 hours, I decided I’d try and scrub up, and took a shower. Technically the showers were only open for those boats paying for dockage (not those getting fuel and water) – but hey, it was open! The shower turned out to be a cold trickle of water with a non-draining shower pan. I tried to fix the draining problem and I wish I’d never seen what I found when I lifted the floor plan! Yuk!

[Kyle]Once we did leave Antigua, we had a really great, fast, broad reach in strong trade winds to Deshaies (pronounced De-Hay), on the NW corner of Guadeloupe. We arrived mid afternoon but waited until the following day to clear customs (they were not open on the day we arrived). We had a swim in the picturesque little fishing village's bay and soaked up the atmosphere from the boat. The buildings were colorfully painted, and nestled in lush green (very big) hills. About half the boats in the anchorage were also flying their “Q” flags (waiting for customs clearance) so we were not alone in waiting.

Guadeloupe is administered as a region of France; In much the same way Puerto Rico is part of the USA, or the Falkland Islands is part of Britain. The French government treats it as if it was within the mainland of France – no different. The cars have European Union (EU) number plates attached; the Euro is the official currency; entry into France for the boat is equivalent to an entry into the EU and if we stayed too long we would have to pay VAT. But most of all, being in the villages of Guadeloupe, we were to find, feels just like being in any other small French village – Baguettes and all!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Loafing in Antigua

[Maryanne]Shhh... Don't tell Kyle, but while he has been busy working hard and earning a living, I've been pretty lazy and loafing around. Apart from my earlier trip to St. John's, I have read 5 books while he has been away, and done a little more exploring.

Pirates of the Caribbean - Stage

Firstly the local (one show a year) Amateur Dramatics society (Fincham's Follies) put on a one night only show - a spoof "Pirates of the Caribbean"; along with spots of local talent. It was lighthearted fun, an outdoor (sit on the grass and watch) production complete with failing lights, occasional feedback from the sound system, and some very amateur acting - great fun, despite the obvious technical issues. All proceeds went to charity and at the interval they auctioned the amazing backdrop (painted by 3 talented folks) and got $1850 US for it - WOW!

I also took a tour to the Dow Hill Interpretation Center over by Shirley Heights. My guide book reports the multi-media show as "missable", but I had plenty of time and thought I'd give it a go. Unfortunately the show was not working, but I was glad I made the trip as the views were great, and hey, I needed the exercise! Making use of yet more colonial military buildings, and with great views of English Harbour, it was worth it, even without the official show.

Dow Hill Interpretation Center

On the way I came across this peculiar plant. At first I thought it odd to find a Scottish thistle (I hadn't noticed any thistles here at all so far) but then I realized the flower belonged to the plant, and I was enthralled - it seemed so out of place - what is it? I just call it a tulip thistle, it is so pretty. If you know what it is, please do tell me!

I took an unauthorized route to the Interpretation Center (so I didn't have to row/walk so far). This took me into the (closed to the public) grounds of Clarence House. There is some confusion about when it was built: Some say it was built in 1787 for Prince William when he was based here (later to become King William IV); others that it was built around 1805 for the dockyard commissioner. Until very recently it has been the country residence of the governor-general. In 1960, Princess Margaret spent some time here on her honeymoon. It was obviously a very grand residence, at least until recently as in September of 1998 two hurricanes severely damaged the roof and other parts of the building. The house and grounds appear now to be overgrown and abandoned. All the inside is gutted with no floors in place. Although renovation work clearly started, it looks as though nothing has progressed for several years. It was a prefect place for me to sit and rest, I could enjoy the views of English Harbor while reading a book sat in the window of the top floor in the shade of the veranda, with a breeze - all to myself - Not a bad way to spend an hour.

Clarence House

Of course I have done a few chores, but nothing too strenuous (well the one that was too strenuous I gave up on). I suddenly realized that not only is it December, but Christmas is right around the corner, I had to rush to turn out Christmas cards and get them mailed so they might (possibly) arrive on time. Kyle returns to the boat on Saturday, and already has a full schedule planned, I don't know if I'll be able to keep up with him based on my current pace of life. Ahh, but I'll try.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

My life

[Kyle]After a trip in which I got to spend the night in the snow in Detroit (Ooooh, Detroit!) and Moncton, New Brunswick, I did get to go to the much warmer climate of Arizona for one day. Mom had apparently been waiting for me. There was potato soup, orange slices, fudge, oreos, cake, nuts and a big ol' bottle of tabasco. She was actually pretty good when I swore up and down that I could not eat all of that. I was so full by lunch that I had to beg her not to make anything for dinner, which she mercifully didn't. I'll go back in a couple of days and finish everything off.

For now I'm in Houston for a twice yearly simulator ride. The instructor tries to kill us, we try not to let him get away with it. It takes about six hours for the two of us (Captain and First Officer). It is not fun. I really should be trying to get some sleep.

St John's - Antiguan Capital

[Maryanne]I took the WHOLE DAY off today, and took an early morning bus into the Capital, about a 50 minute drive for less than $2US. I'd researched my day. The local Antigua Tourist office does a great job and recommends just four things: The produce market, the fish market, the Cathedral and the Museum. A bit of research had me adding a few more "to do"'s to that list, but I wasn't sure how much I'd be able to view. One of the main things I really wanted to get done was unlock a phone and purchase a SIM card so I can receive/make calls while here in Antigua.

Superman - Fixes phones now...

The phone was one of my Sister's old ones, very kindly donated to me (she upgrades whenever her plan allows) and we had had no luck unlocking it with the UK provider's instructions and special key. Rather than toss it, I was encouraged to go into one of the many offices that offer the service. With nothing to lose, I was directed to Superman (I'm not kidding), and with a little back and forth throughout the day we actually managed to unlock the phone - Yippie! Superman was full of info, and told me I couldn't use the SIM card / service provider I was planning as the phone used different frequencies - I needed to use Digicel. (Glad I hadn't already wasted my $ on a C&W SIM card). Next time I purchase (or acquire) a phone I need to make sure its tri-band (or whatever it needs to be) for full world wide usage, and with any provider. Anyway - Superman saved the day.

Produce Market

But anyway - back to being a tourist. The bus stop is right by the Produce and Fish markets - so I did get to see them. Next time I'll arrange to do a full produce shop as there was plenty of good fresh options (unlike the local stores); but for today I didn't fancy lugging around groceries while sightseeing.

Next I wandered around town without the aid of a map to get a feel for the place (it is not that big, and on a simple grid system). It is the main stopover point for all the cruise boats to Antigua. Things change on cruise ship day - even some of the one way streets change direction. Today was not a cruise ship day, and I think that was a good thing.

Antigua and Barbuda Museum

I found the Museum, and it opened at 8:30am; pretty impressive. It's in a fantastic building (the old courthouse) and has some interesting stuff from the early Arawak and Carib settlers, through to the end of the Colonial era, but really not terribly well done (think school project). None of the artifacts are in any kind of climate controlled environment, and those few that have labels, many are falling (or have fallen) off. But concentrating on the SPIRIT of the thing, it did teach me a bit about the islands, and especially about the slave era; there was even a slave uprising, pretty well planned, but not successful.

Just wandering the Streets of St Johns quickly confuses ones sense of the place. Some buildings are huge, modern, clean, and shiny; some are small, but well cared for and brightly painted; but many (most) are older, ramshackled and apparently uncared for (even some in regular use). The streets are interesting and the sidewalks, where they exist, are really uneven. This is NOT a town for anyone in a wheelchair or even who had difficultly walking. Curbs sometimes rise (or fall) 2' or more. Holes opening into the gutter (possibly sewage(?)) are frequent, in some areas the wide gutter is covered with nice wooden planking (making it easy to walk along), in others it is sometimes almost impossible to step and stay dry. Despite all that, there was NO litter that I could see (although there was the odd dead (drowned?) rat.

The island has lost many of its original buildings due to fire, hurricane and earthquake; very few streets have a set feel, each building often being of a totally different era, building material and quality to the next. Oh - and did I mention Christmas? It's strange to find oneself in a Caribbean Island and be bombarded with Christmas music, trees and decorations... very strange.

St John's Cathedral with impressive wooden interior

Next - St John's Cathedral. It stands high in the town so its towers are clearly visible from the sea. Although stone on the outside, it is fully encased in wood on the inside and I bet that makes for some wonderful acoustics. Like many cathedrals, the grounds are a cemetery, but to the locals it is like any other park - someplace to hang out in the shade, read, eat or catch up with friends (especially the local school kids). Nobody was giving the building, nor its grounds, any of the usual reverence (despite being a very Christian society). One quirk I found in the church was a florescent light hanging from the ceiling - strapped to a wooden prop from an airplane - very peculiar; I could find no way of learning the history of the building nor the prop from within the Cathedral.

I rushed through Heritage Quay, which is a very upscale outdoors shopping center selling posh named goods to the cruise ship passengers - Eeeek! Not my scene.

Scenes from the tranquil Redcliffe Quay

Finally I came across, what for me was the gem of the city - Redcliffe Quay; full of old stone buildings and established tree-shaded courtyards from the colonial days. Now filled with shops (many still intended for the yuppie end of the market) and restaurants, but so picturesque and peaceful. I could have pulled out a book and hung out there all day long - just beautiful.

Botanical Gardens

After all this, my phone still wasn't ready - so I decided to find the Botanical Gardens. The first 3 groups of people i asked (locals) had never heard of it; I fared better with the old 'uns and it really wasn't far away. En route, I found a mystery lighthouse which I could not decide if it had been moved to this odd (inland and partially hidden behind a gas station) location or if things had just been added around it... It was surrounded with mini-golf carts long overgrown with vines and flowers.. As for the Botanical Gardens - Again (as I'd quickly come to expect) no information about the native planting, but another tranquil spot, it was smaller and simpler than I'd expected. They had an impressive looking children's climbing / play area until I got up close and witnessed rotting wood and missing ladder rungs, a few of the paths were badly flooded and I had to detour to get to the other side (you always want to see what's on the other side right?). The only others in the park were solitary guys apparently sleeping on some of the benches provided. I didn't think they were homeless, just Siesta-ing? Not 100% sure. Anyway I didn't linger.

My phone was still not ready so I decided to venture to Fort James.. I figured if I just followed the coast around St John's town I would find it. From a distance I could see the old stone structures high on a hill and I just headed for it... about 2 miles maybe. I finally made it and could not find an entrance. I felt there must be a road so I just rounded the hill a little further, and a Little further - past the container shipping compound until I eventually got to the secure Coast Guard compound and the end of the road. I could SEE the building but I could not work out how to get there... Hmmm.. I braved the secure coast guard compound and asked how I could get up to the fort?.. Oh - that's not Fort James - you are not in the right place.

Not Fort James - What is that up there? and How DO I get there?

I never did find out what was atop that hill, but another 3 mile walk and I found myself in the right place. To get there (being on a peninsula of sorts) you first have to pass Fort James's beach, which is wonderful. Lots of trees for shade, public open air showers for rinsing off the salt water after a swim, and beautiful sandy beaches; how I wished I had my swim stuff with me, I was hot and dusty after the walk - it would have been great to jump in that water.

Fort James's Beach and views of the bay

Fort James

Eventually, I made it to the Fort; it was in reasonable condition, if just a little overgrown in places. I was the only visitor, nothing was labeled, no signage anywhere - a completely abandoned site. The inner fort was filled with more modern buildings long abandoned (earthquake?) that looked like they had once housed a gift shop and snack store. Some of the trails were blocked by huge spiderwebs with nasty looking spiders sat in them; I diverted as necessary. The powder house is standing and in good condition, and lots of old cannons are still up there (some very overgrown, but most clear). There WAS a wonderful looking restaurant there with stunning views of the fort, the beach and the bay which was very enticing (but I had to get back to my phone before the stores closed). So after viewing the ruins and cannons and appreciating the knock-out views as best you can alone - off I set back on the road to "town". If I find myself back there, I will definitely plan to have at least a drink in that restaurant (Russell's).

I was especially grateful on the walk back for a lift from Stacey who was off to work in town and gave me a ride the 3 miles. Whew.

Antigua is a place of some stunning natural beauty. Much of it's history is associated with colonialism, and I'm sure there must be mixed feelings about that in the community. However, everything (even one small park I found dedicated to the slave uprising and its ringleader) seems to be poorly looked after and decaying, clearly little valued by the community; I saw nothing newly built to be impressed by that may even hint as a tourist attraction or even an asset for the locals. It's a shame but it may be a case of see what's left while you can, since no money is being spent on protecting or maintaining what is there, let alone improving on it. OK, so they WERE installing new windows in the museum, I'm not 100% accurate in my statement, but close enough to be as much saddened by my tour as impressed.

I did finally pick up my phone and purchased a SIM card for the area; by then I was so tired (walking and the sun!) that I meandered back to the bus station and hopped a ride home. The buses here have set routes, but no set timetable. Each is owned individually, and they leave the bus station when they are full (or otherwise good and ready). The buses tend to be mini-buses (several rows of 3 fixed seats - one seat, the isle and a double seat the width of the van). But the aisle can be blocked by an extra fold out seat to carry extra passengers - I was the last on the bus and had one of the folding seats. At each stop, all of us in the aisle row had to pile out of, and fold away our seats, let the passenger(s) at the back off, and reverse the process. We repeated this until we were thinned out enough to no longer need the spare seats. I made it home just in time to row to the boat in the last of the daylight - whew, I'll sleep well tonight. I can hardly believe I've written so much but its is as much for Kyle as anyone else, so sorry he can't be here to enjoy, I know he would have LOVED exploring the Fort. If he'd have been around, I'd have been way more likely to stop in some of the enticing restaurants I struggled to walk by. Next time..... Oh and maybe watch a cricket game too...?

Falmouth Harbour

[Maryanne]English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour are so close, there is only a 1/4 mile walk between them. Falmouth Harbour is home to the Yacht Club and Mega Yachts; and since the Charter Boat show starts here this week there are plenty of pretty impressive boats and hard working crews about. I go to Falmouth Harbour for filling propane, the book swap, and basic groceries. Last night they were holding a start of the season hospitality event, where all the stores of the Marina there stayed open late and offered free nibbles and alcohol. Now normally once it is dark it is very close to my bed time, so I knew I would not stay long - but free food AND alcohol - I had to go.

I still find it almost impossible to befriend anyone here, and being on my own made it a little uncomfortable (the alcohol helped!). Anyway, I was grateful, for the music and spirit of the event.

On route to the event, I passed this a mobile bank; I've never seen one of these before - How's that for recycling those old London red buses?

Poor Kyle is busy working, but had managed to take a day to be fussed over by his Mom, so I wasn't too guilty about having fun without him.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Forgive me!

[Maryanne]Several weeks ago someone emailed me and offered to put me in touch with a friend in Antigua. I should have replied at the time but we were distracted wtih boat stuff.. NOW I'm digging back in the archives and I've lost the email, and although I can't take up the offer, I at least wanted to say THANK YOU. Since I lost the email I can't reply - but please don't think I was ungrateful - it was a wonderfully kind offer. If you see this please email me again so I can at least be reminded who proposed such a wonderful opportunity.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

What worked!

[Maryanne]Warning - this post is LONG and really intended for boaters, especially Gemini Owners, others would be completely disinterested - so don't blame me if you keep reading....

Ok - after our post What Failed, and on special request from our good friend PY, I promised to make a more positive post on what worked... So here are all the things we could think of to mention.

We had a lot worse weather and seas than we expected so the boat and us took some pounding (the boat is low and the seas are big, AND we spent some time sailing into the wind). It is easy to miss things that work because they simply didn’t draw attention to themselves by breaking.. but here is my list for what it’s worth:

  • Sat phone and data kit, along with the Yotreps position reporting and Sailnet weather /grib subscriptions! This was a HUGE emotional help to us aboard and those on shore following our progress. It never failed us (although sometimes we had to go into the cockpit for a good enough signal).
  • Harness (built into life jacket) & Jacklines – worked well, we had no problems using them for a many forays to the foredeck and elsewhere.
  • Foul weather gear. We really didn’t expect to need this for more than a couple of days of the journey but we ended up wearing it much more than that - it did the job (boots, jackets, and trousers, along with fleece hats and socks). I have the ladies trousers and that makes restroom stops a WHOLE lot easier!
  • Fleece hat with baseball cap style sun visor and fleece ear warmers – I know, I’m a wimp but this makes things so much more bearable when it’s cold and wet out there.
  • Pocket warmers – we had a stash of these on the boat and Kyle particularly (who had early hours watch appreciated them).
  • Check lists – preparing the boat before we left was made easier with our check lists
  • Boat Log – keeping details of position, conditions, etc was made easy (and helped break up the watch) with the log we had prepared and had printed in advance. We also kept a note of failures (and any items we noticed needed addressing at a later date) and have referred back to it often.
  • Twice daily Rig Checks – we discovered a few missing/deformed / chafed items that we were able to resolve before they became an issue.
  • Galley sink foot pump (factory option) and Head sink manual pump installed by us - this enabled us to not use the pressure water and keep batteries for more important needs
  • Small Cooking timer - I use this on my watches to "remind" myself to take a good 360 degree look around - every 5 or 10 minutes. This way I know I won't get too engrossed in my book, or even nod off! Kyle doesn't use it, he's constantly tweaking things.
  • Radar reflector - We witnessed ships alter course for us, but can’t say if due to lights or a radar detection.
  • LED nav lights – again saved on battery power. We witnessed ships alter course for us, but can’t say if due to lights or a radar detection. Our tricolor light broke, but we are putting that down to our sail issues, and not blaming the light (for now)
  • Solar and wind generator – for the most part kept up without our power needs
  • Headlamp – my favorite and constant companion on night watches. The one I have has red or white light, and a brightness adjuster. I could check sail trim, safely go forward to reef/un-reef the mail, read, or just poke around for a snack all really easily, and without disturbing the sleeping off-watch. Kyle stresses that this would be #1 on his list.
  • Shelf stowage security. Even though it is a catamaran, the boat still heels, and waves often lurch the boat and convince things to fly off the shelves or tables. We installed lines to keep things in place on the shelving behind the sofas (galley and nav area) and also in the master bedroom (shelving above the “draws”). All this stuff kept in place. Need to consider adding similar protection for the small shelving under the side windows in the galley and the nav area, as these items regularly tumbled.
  • Pressure cooker: Nice hot food, cooked quickly and safely with no chance of spilling.
  • Helm Seat. This is an option on the boat and although more of a 1.5 than a double it was nice for the little time we had together each day to be able to hang out on the seat. With the noise of the seas it was otherwise difficult to communicate easily if sitting either side of the cockpit. The helm seat also provides a stable place to grab / lean against in the otherwise large cockpit..
  • GPS/Chartplotter with pre-input route – we used it constantly. It occasionally hiccupped but we would not be without it. Although it does sometimes make you feel you are playing a computer game and not really sailing in the middle of the ocean!
  • Autopilot (we only used the wheel autopilot about half the time, but use it and abuse it we did!). Our autopilot and chartplotter are linked and we used the track feature from time to time (although mostly we were on wind or course settings)
  • Radar (to track occasional storms and other traffic) – we found the rare boats we did see would not engage in any radio communication and it was often hard to visually determine what speed or direction they were doing (big seas!). On the one occasion where we came close, the yawing of our boat again made it difficult to tell if we were on a collision course and which was the best way to steer to avoid the other boat having to worry about us – the radar made that decision clear.

Some of you have noted that we didn’t use our enclosure… Hmm. Yes. We really thought the weather would be poor for only a couple of days, and once it was clear it had lasted longer, we still kept thinking “soon!”. The enclosure was buried under things and we kept determining it was not worth the effort to recover and install it. We made a mistake. Also with the enclosure fitted, the access to much of the running rigging is complicated/restricted, and we were uncertain what extra windage the enclosure might add to the boat. Next time we’ll have it installed I think, even if we only expect to need it for a couple of days.

Kind of related was our safety on the boat - here are a few comments on that too..

Safety At Sea

Keeping us aboard
  • We installed tread-master for extra grip. In the odd patches where we tended to walk / put our feet, but found no non-skid installed – this makes wondering around on deck a heck of a lot safer.
  • Tethers, Life jackets with built in harness. Jackline running from each back corner of the boat to the (centered) anchor cleat – and line running high between the inner cockpit roof supports to clip onto. We installed a small pad eye by the door from cabin to cockpit to stow the tether so we can clip in as we leave the cabin.
  • Love seat. We hardly use this for its intended purpose (no view) but this option is good for keeping us aboard if we have to venture out of the cockpit at the back of the boat.

Other safety (rig) items
  • Mainsheet track – line controlled, and adjustable from inside the cockpit (so we don’t have to step out!).
  • Genoa track – car is line controlled and adjustable from inside the cockpit (so we don’t have to step out).
  • Preventer Rigged. Since our head is rarely anywhere near the boom – this is primarily a good item to prevent boom/mast damage due to uncontrolled gybe.
  • Twice daily rig checks – our scheduled time to leave the cockpit – always when we are BOTH up and donned with our safety gear. We often found some worrying lose or missing item, point of chafe etc that we were able to rectify so it would NOT become an issue.

Recognized Rig Safety Danger areas!
  • Reefing and unreefing the main – as factory setup we have to exit the cockpit, which makes us more likely to delay reefing and to “hope” that increasing winds are just temporary – not good. We kept clipped in and used the jack lines, but would often need to reef / un-reef several times in a watch – and generally we did not disturb the sleeping crew!
  • Furling lines for genoa and screacher, and screacher track control lines. To get a decent purchase and angle we find ourselves leaning far out of the cockpit (or in my case straddling the combing) to get a decent purchase on these lines – a potential danger point (but always clipped in!).
  • If the enclosure is on, access to the winches and the furling lines becomes a little more complex - the wall needs to be unzipped and held clear to give access here – not a perfect solution.

  • EPIRB – to be activated if needed (luckily not!)
  • FLOAT PLAN - Before we leave we generate an extensive “float plan” we post this to the web (the URL referenced on our EPIRB registration), and also send copies to our 2 on shore watchers. This includes expected arrival dates, and details about us and the boat. Hopefully never needed, but if it is needed, we think (hope) it is very thorough. (I'm happy to give the URL to any boating friends).
  • Daily communication underway - Using iridium sat phone, data kit and lap top in our case to send and receive emails. Others may consider SSB rather than the Sat phone (after initial setup costs, it is free communication – unlike the sat phone!). Data speed is limited so we restricted communications to Critical and/or very short emails for the most part (we have a separate email account for this purpose)
  • Weather updates daily (reports subscribed to before we left using saildocs services)
  • Daily Grib file forecasts for up to 10 day ahead (again using saildocs services to download the grib file, and purchased OCENS software on PC to view file)
  • Position reports to Yotreps and family daily
  • email update to family daily (and occasional Yotreps postcard)
  • Occasional Blog updates via email too

Note Yotreps and saildocs services are free and deserve a huge THANK YOU from us.
Note also – all this warm feeling about the great communications must be tempered with the fact it could all fail so easily. We do have 2 laptops, but only one sat phone and data kit – I can imagine many scenarios where something breaks and that is the end of our communications. We tell our on-shore support that if they don’t hear from us (provided the EPIRB is not activated) then we are most likely fine and not to raise any alarms until we miss our “overdue” date – provided in our float plan.

  • We didn’t invest in a harness or strap at the cooker – I cook to one side and the galley is really narrow enough to wedge myself in place – even in an unexpected lurch, the narrow galley at least keeps me from flying too far.
  • I do have a PVC apron which I use when cooking on the stove top “just in case” I drop anything on myself (shame I wasn’t wearing it when eating the hot soup at the table that time!).

First Aid Kit
We did a LOT of research over several years into what we might need. This included many web sites, emails and books, and a couple of trips to our amazing Dr to discuss prescription and other medications we might need. We really didn’t need any of it – but we were ready! Kyle and I also studied for became qualified as and practiced as EMTs (true, Kyle's was years ago, but he doesn't forget ANYTHING); this didn't make us paramedics or anything, but certainly gave us the lingo, so if we needed external medical support we could at least communicate and take any required vital signs, etc.

Life Boat & Grab bag
Again, an item we didn’t need – but we put a lot of thought into it. Our dingy is a Portland Pudgy with the lifeboat options. It hangs on the davits (well strapped in) in case of need (there is so little space on the Gemini to place a traditional life raft AND we felt a life raft that we could practice with would be better than a mystery white box on deck). Before stowing the dinghy it was loaded with water and provisions, along with a host of safety gear. The Grab bag would complement that. Again a lot of research went into the grab bag contents. Actually we didn’t do a very good job of having the grab bag to hand and at the ready – we need to do better here.

Other safety odds and ends

  • I can't stress it enough - A HEADLAMP was really useful in all kinds of sail changes and trim, and to navigate my way to the mast or the foredeck at night – while keeping my hands free for more critical jobs (like holding on!). It also makes it easy to read, check charts, or search for tools or snacks on the night watch without disturbing the sleeping off watch
  • Tool and spares Aplenty

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Return to the Rigging

[Maryanne]We had to return to Angigua to prepare for Kyle's return to the real world of work. When we arrived we were able to download a week's worth of emails, and noted that the local rigger we have been talking with was keen to see the damage first hand and inspect the forestay, which they were concerned would also be damaged and need replacing. However, we have got into a very lazy daily routine, and only really managed to surface for our respective coffee and tea by 9am. Suddenly, we had to have the boat elsewhere by 9:30am. Wow. I'd forgotten we could move so fast.

The rigger managed to climb the rigging, and actually reassured us. Despite finding a couple of extra (previously unknown, but minor issues), many of the known issues were not as dramatic as they could have been; YES they need fixing, and DEFINITELY before any heavy, long distance sailing, but they would last until we haul the boat and un-step the mast in the Spring. The only critical repair was to replace the upper toggle (very deformed), and that can be done by the local rigger without even unstepping the mast (maybe a 15 minute job - certainly no more than an hour!).

The rest of the day was spent getting cash, organizing flights for Kyle and a cab ride to the airport. Once Kyle heads off to work, I'll be back to chore mode and fix all the smaller issues from our trip - but I do hope to make a few more breaks as a tourist and I'll certainly post anything interesting.

We did decide to try Caribbean Taste, a "local" Restaurant (one that seems to be owned by locals and not some ex-pat) that is tucked behind the main street. We passed it several times but always just after we'd eaten, or when it was closed - today we made an effort to go there. It turns out we are not the first: Rachael Ray, in 2005 visited and was impressed with the Conch Salad. Kyle had a Vegetable Roti (a kind of curry burrito) and I had Fish with Fungi (pronounced Foon-Jee, basically a cornmeal dumpling) with a curried tomato sauce and veggies.

There are still a few local dishes we need to try, but most of all I'm looking out for the famed black pineapple, smaller and sweeter than the more common yellow pineapple; I'm hoping to get to the food market in St Johns and try a number of new food experiences! Unfortunately recent heavy rains have washed out most of the crops so many things are hard to find this season - I'll have to see what I can get.

Final Day in Barbuda.. Very wet

Kyle got close up to a ray... Too close for my liking

[Kyle]We decided for our last full day in Barbuda to spend it snorkeling the many reefs surrounding our anchorage (which we still had all to ourselves). We loaded up the dinghy with supplies and provisions, and spent the day anchoring near various reefs using the dinghy as a base camp to explore all the adjacent reefs, move on and repeat!

We spent a whole day doing this. Further out from the beach, but still behind the protection of the main reef system we were able to find several large, diverse colorful reefs, filled with many different corals (soft, hard, fan, etc) and LOTS of multi-colored fishes darting in and out. Highlights were 2 large sting rays; and a family of 8 spiny lobster defending their small overhang, and looking as scary as they could muster (Unfortunately the camera batteries had died by the time we got there, and luckily these lobsters have no claws so it was as much amusing as threatening - they deter most predators by making a noise with their legs!).

Coral reefs are such endlessly fascinating places, with a seemingly unlimited number of nooks and crannies to peer into. The more you look, the more you see colorful creatures of all types in places you had first assumed were empty. It's easy to spend hours examining a small patch and observing the lives led below.

We returned to Footprint to get the boat ready for the return trip to Antigua, but even then I could not resist swimming back out to a couple of our local reefs for one last look, finally being forced home by darkness. What a beautiful place Barbuda is!

The next day we arose early to exit at first decent light; Maryanne piloting us out through the reefs. Once we got into open ocean, we had a nice fast reach back to the relative hustle and bustle of Antigua and English Harbour.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Barbuda Tour Day

[Kyle]George (our Barbuda Guide) had apparently been under the impression that we had a fast dingy with a motor when he told us where to meet him the next day. Since we were rowing, we just took it to the same spot as the previous day and walked the 2 miles down the beach to the designated rendezvous point. We arrived in plenty of time and decided that rather than just hang around, we'd start the walk towards George's house. The agreed time came and went and a few miles later we were still walking (our guide books had warned us that often tours and taxis in Barbuda fail to turn up!). Just as we were starting to think we'd have to walk all the way to his house, he and his car finally came into view. Fortunately he had a cooler full of cold drinks in the back of his truck.

We then got George's version of the Cosmo Kramer reality tour, before he finally summarily deposited us at the boat dock on the west side of town. We boarded the boat and sped off across the lagoon to the Frigate Bird nesting colony on the NW end of the Island. It was not until we actually arrived and the engines were shut off that our boat guide spoke to us and formal introductions were made. Eventually, Clarance turned out to be a very friendly guy. He knew a lot about the birds and let us spend plenty of time just watching and enjoying them.

Frigate Birds (also known as Man-of-War birds, Weather birds and a host of other local names) have the distinction of being the birds with the highest wing area to body weight ratio. This makes them extremely maneuverable, agile fliers. Unlike seabirds, they don't float and can't get their wings wet, so they tend to feed themselves by harassing other birds to drop their catches. We were fortunate in that our visit coincided with mating season, with all the males clucking and showing off their big red throat sacks any time any white breasted female flew overhead. For those that had found a female, there was action to be seen, watching them steal the best nesting materials (in flight to the nest in progress) from each other. We observed the colony for an hour or so, and then made our way back to town to meet up with George for the remainder of his tour.

George is a quiet man, and seemed to think of himself more as taxi driver than tour guide (despite being the local council tourist representative). Maryanne wasn't going to let him get away with that and peppered him with questions during the whole drive - we were going to get our money out of this guy (nearly $200 US). The island was once owned and managed by the Codrington family - the patriarch of which was Governor of the Leeward Islands for a time. The Codringtons had an estate (read: slave colony) on the Island and used it for hunting. We visited the ruins of Codrington Manor, built on the highlands of the island; overgrown with the outlines of stone buildings to see. The best part of this site was the view and the remains of possible gardens. The highlands of Barbuda are a small plateau/spine, 125' above sea level (the rest of the island is VERY low and flat).

For our next and last stop we went to the caves at Two Foot Bay. (On the east of the Island). Legend has it that the bay was named from the story of an escaping slave who put his shoes on backwards, leaving prints in the sand to distract/confuse his pursuers. The highlight of the bay is the beautiful beach and the caves in the highland cliffs that run alongside. We were able to enter one cave at beach level and climb through up to the highland plateau for spectacular views of the white sand beach below and the eastern coastline. Along the length the highlands, rock had tumbled down from cliff and overhangs, leaving giant boulders at the base which have long since covered with greenery. This was a stark backdrop to the smooth sandy beaches alongside. George dropped us off at this site, with a pickup time 90 minutes later. We hadn't known what to expect but 90 minutes was very rushed; I was constantly getting rushed along by Maryanne, who was more mindful of the time. [Maryanne]Kyle was in kid heaven among the cliffs and caves, every time I managed to get him to agree to turn around for our return, he would sneak off for "one more picture", "just the next point", or some such thing. He really enjoyed the place and it was fun (if a little frustrating) to let him have his way.

[Kyle]George, being done with the tour, and to deter any more of Maryanne's questions, simply turned on his car radio (very loud), and returned us to our rendezvous point (while completing a few personal errands en route!).