Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Les Saintes

  After saying goodbye to Guadeloupe, we sailed over to Les Saintes, a small archipelago south of Guadeloupe, for a couple days of sightseeing before heading out into the Caribbean Sea again.

  The islands are beautiful and mostly empty, with the exception of a small town with all the usual French wonders - baguettes, bokits, homemade coconut sorbet, speedos, etc.  We've done some exploring, but mostly just swimming and working on projects around the boat.

   The weather has been great, although it is a bit rolly in the anchorage here.  Tomorrow we head out to sea for an overnight transit of about 80 miles to the other major French island in the region, Martinique.  We'll spend about 10 days there, then backtrack to the independent nation of Dominica (said to be a natural wonder), for some more hiking/climbing and the visit of our friend Heather.

   There are some more pictures posted from our time on Guadeloupe on the "pictures" link above, as well as a new video on the "videos" link.

   Spring will be sprung soon, and we look forward to welcoming the sun's arrival back into the northern hemisphere, if for no other reason than to make our celestial navigation calculations that much easier.  For those north of us, however, we hope it brings you milder weather!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Guadeloupe part 4

Today wraps up a fun filled adventurous week in Guadeloupe.  With all of our boat projects done, we rented a car and picked up our friend Erin at the airport.  We spent the week in style, our first week off the boat since St. Thomas, over 3 months ago.  The resort Erin picked was swanky, with a wonderfully refreshing pool, delicious restaurant and bar and beach front property.  Not content to lounge around, we embarked on a week of "active vacationing."  Every morning started off right, with fresh patisseries from the local bake shop.

The first day we drove the Route de Traversee, through the mountains of the western island of Guadeloupe.  Yes, Guadeloupe, shaped like a butterfly, is technically two islands.  The western one is called Basse Terre and is mountainous with rainforest lushness.  The eastern one is called Grand Terre and is more flat, filled with farms and some nice beaches.  The boat and resort are right in the middle, making exploration convenient.   So, we worked our way to the leeward coast, which we had come down by Navigator, and rented kayaks to show Erin the awesome snorkeling we had discovered at the Jacques Cousteau underwater reserve.  We spent the morning snorkeling and exploring Pigeon Island and kayaked back for lunch.  We were rather ravaged from all the exercise, so the kayak proprietor recommended the "bokit" truck across the street.  After Chris asserted himself as next in line (in French no less)...aside: the French have no concept of the queue, being "next in line" is highly debatable.  Anyway, he brought forth ridiculicious bokits.  Our new favorite sandwich.  Its a fried dough sandwich, delivered warm, with ham and cheese inside.  Unbelievably awesome.

That afternoon we worked our way north along the coast, hoping to check out the "house of cocoa" but it was mysteriously absent, so we continued on to the Botanical Gardens in Deshais (pronounced Day-ay).  We took the macro photo lens and got some fun pictures of flowers close up, and marveled at the diversity of flora.  The fauna were quite fun as well.  The koi fish, the parakeets and the goats were all VERY eager to be fed and Kellee did her best to accommodate.  She drew the birds like moths to a flame and ended up with several on her arm.  The goats were fun to watch, especially the kids as they head butted each other for a better spot.  We drove back to the hotel and enjoyed a nice creole meal, Chris' french gets better with each restaurant!  We crashed pretty early after our fun filled day, a pattern destined to repeat itself for the rest of the week.

The next morning we got another early start and included sandwiches with our breakfast order from the bake shop and drove back to Basse Terre to conquer La Soufriere, the volcano summit and highest point in the lesser antillies.  We were fogged in for some of the hike, but found a beautiful overlook just before the peak that was extremely lush and verdant.  The peak was like walking on the surface of the moon, and the volcano is still venting poisonous gas.  It got so bad our eyes started watering, so we evacuated the sulfurous peak to enjoy lunch at the previously mentioned overlook.  It was fun to hear "bon appetite!" as other hikers passed by.  After a successful climb down, we made our way over to the "Chutes de Carbet"  which are two 300 foot waterfalls in line with each other.  You can see both from the trail entrance, but since it was getting later in the day, we opted to just check out the close one, only a 30 minute hike.  It looked like the river had taken out some of the trail, so we had to scramble up rocks in the river to get to the pool.  It was surprisingly chilly!  Not to pass up an opportunity, Erin and Kellee jumped in for a quick photo.  By the time they got out, they were so cold, they were reminded of snowballs.... Dinner was quite the adventure.  We were hoping for pizza, but apparently every pizza joint in Guadeloupe is closed on Mondays, so we opted for the place next door.  Since the menu was not appetizing, but we had already sat down, so we got "accras boudin".  It was interesting, like a mushy sausage, but tasted okay.  Later, when we googled what it was and found out that we ate pork entrails and blood, a tsunami of mirth was expelled.  Eck!  Oh well, gotta try everything once right?

The next day's adventure was to circumnavigate Grand Terre, the eastern island.  We first stopped in a beach town of Saint Anne and checked out the tents on the beach peddling wares.  The day before we had introduced Erin to the local bananas and pineapples, which are much sweeter than what you find at home.  She exclaimed, "these are WAY better than chiquita bananas (scoot scoot!)" so we stocked up at a market stall in Saint Anne.  We also got some spices, a curry and another spice mix to use with chicken.

We continued out to the eastern point of the island, where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean and watched some heavy seas roll up to the cliffs and hiked up to the bluff to take in the view.  The beach was hot, but a woman was selling sorbet (coconut or tropical) in the parking lot, and watching her make it in an old fashioned hand crank ice cream maker made it taste that much better.  We stopped at two beaches on the way back from the eastern point, one on the Atlantic side with some ripping current, and another on the Caribbean side, nice and calm.  We had seen a bokit truck on the drive out and stopped there for lunch...they were even better the second time around.  We headed north to take in more sightseeing and made our way to the northern tip of the island, and what luck! another sorbet maker!  This was the most amazing sorbet/ice cream we had ever had...ever.  It must've had some coconut husk in it because it tasted so fresh, like the coconut had been in the tree that morning...probably not too far from the truth!  We picked up some groceries on the way back and ate home made chicken curry on the Navigator for dinner.

Wednesday's plan was to try kitesurfing, but unfortunately, the trades had been flukey for the past couple of days and looked like they were going to remain so, so no lesson to be had.  We opted to instead go back to the Chutes de Carbet and tackle the first falls, a grueling hike but well worth the effort.  The waterfall was magnificent, but the pool was bright orange from the volcano runoff, so we just stuck our feet in to cool off.  We had brought along baguette sandwiches again and thoroughly enjoyed them beside the running river.  We definitely tired ourselves out on that hike, enjoyed a dip in the pool when we got back to the hotel and finally got some pizza for dinner.  They don't use mozzarella, but instead a cheese called "emmental" which is more like swiss, but it was thin crust and very yummy.

Thursday we took Erin sailing to a nearby cay, did some snorkeling, checked out the island and enjoyed the afternoon on the boat.  We tried the spice we had bought on some chicken and it was awesome, and watched the sunset over the mountains from at anchor.  We dinghyed back to the marina and are at the hotel for the last night.  Tomorrow we'll lounge by the pool for the morning, hit up the boulangerie one last time to stock up on baguette sandwiches and patissieres and seeing Erin safely back home.  We'll fuel up on Saturday morning and head toward Le Saintes, a group of small islands just off the coast of Guadeloupe.  From there we'll probably head to Martinique, the last of the French islands and then back track to Dominica.  Despite the congregation of clutzy people, there were no more miracles on the Hudson. This week has been so much fun, exploring a beautiful island and catching up with a great friend.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Guadeloupe Part 3

    Our week of maintenance in Guadeloupe has wrapped up successfully!  We completed about 20 or so projects on the boat, mostly just routine stuff to keep Navigator happy, but also a few larger projects that needed time at a pier.

    Today we sent Kellee up the mast to check all the hardware topside and to reave a new lifting halyard for our small boat. Yesterday we finally cleaned the sewage system that had been plaguing us for a few weeks...here is a link to a video in case you want to get an inside look at some maintenance! There are also a few new videos posted in the "videos" link, above (now that we have semi-reliable internet). 

  Here in Guadeloupe we are "med-moored" which is not a typically way to tie to a pier in the States - here, you either grab a mooring buoy or drop anchor off the pier, and then slowly back or drive in until your bow or stern is pier side.  It allows the marina to fit more boats in.  But it also gives you a chance to get up close and personal with your neighbors - some of whom are really interesting folks! 
This is a snapshot of who we've met:
- Johann from Germany is sailing his 30 foot steel boat from Germany to North Carolina to meet his daughter, who is a German professor at a local college.
- A young couple from Denmark is departing the Caribbean with their infant to sail across the Atlantic to go home.
- A Swiss couple on a huge boat is here for a few days of R and R.
- A French solo sailor pulled in here with damage to his engine aboard his racing boat...he was on his way to dry dock for repairs!
- A Canadian couple is northbound after spending 6 years in Europe aboard their boat...they live north of Toronto and are looking forward to seeing "the seasons" again. Their little dog yapped all night long...
- A huge steel motor trawler pulled in with a family from Austria and a giant Rottweiler dog (who threatened to eat the little dog on the other boat).

So with our worklist done, we await the arrival of our friend for a week of sightseeing on the island, before we head out again to move south!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Guadeloupe Part 2

   We have settled in to our maintenance routine here in Point-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe.  As you can see by the picture to the left (encrusted salt covering our decks), the boat needs some work.

Here's a typical day:

0600 - Chris wakes up and works a couple hours on his navigation book.  Eats whatever is in the galley left over from the night before or scrounges for candy before Kellee wakes up.

0700 - Kellee wakes up and has nothing to eat, so she starves.

0800 - We get to work on boat projects.  Some of the stuff on tap includes:
           - Work on finishing the new sail cover for the mainsail that we started (using our awesome sewing machine).
           - Touch up the varnish around the boat.  It really takes a hit in the tropical sun, so maintenance coats are unfortunately necessary.
           - Clean the entire boat, inside and out.  It is amazing how dirty a little boat can get with two people living on it.  Fortunately, we live in about 150 square feet of space, so it doesn't take too long! 
           - Haul Kellee up the mast to check all our fittings and lubricate anything that needs it. 
           - Replace a couple worn lines such as our auxiliary lifting halyard which we use as our shower-holder...very important.  
           - Clean and inspect the drinking water tanks, which tend to accumulate funk pretty rapidly.           
           - Conduct our routine engine preventative maintenance, such as changing the zincs, cleaning the engine, tightening anything loose, checking fuel and water filters, checking the oil, etc etc.  This time we unfortunately discovered the heat-shielding around our engine exhaust hose was starting to come apart, so we took it off, cleaned it, and re-installed it better.

1100 - Lunch Break!  Walk about 300 yards to the grocery store and pick up a baguette, ham, and cheese, as well as fruit and a tasty beverage or two to eat on the boat.

1200 - During the heat of the day, we tend to work inside, doing stuff like:
          - Renewing our distress-beacon registration.
          - Researching our next port calls.
          - Working on videos or editing pictures.
          - Siesta
          - Uploading or downloading various internet stuff.
          - Fixing any wiring or electrical issues.  This week we installed a new galley light!

1500 - After it cools down a bit, back outside for a few more projects such as:
          - Whipping frayed lines, or tightening up stuff that is working loose.
          - Shining the stainless steel around the boat.
          - Cleaning snorkel gear and other toys.

Of course during the process there are frequent breaks during the process for physical and mental refreshment...

1800 - Dinner onboard.  With a grocery store nearby, it makes it easy to supply with fresh food.  Lately we've been experimenting with bread recipes - last night was an easy cornbread recipe, tonight is a no-yeast flatbread type thing.  We'll see! Occasionally we eat out - there is a pizza place nearby with specials for 9 euros.

Evening - with an internet connection here in Point-a-Pitre, it's easy to loose a couple hours catching up on things we've "missed," like the Harlem Shake, apparently.   

So, not a bad lifestyle here in Guadeloupe!  The only negative thing we've seen so far are the rats on the pier which are about the size of small cats.  So we try not to venture out after dark.  Luckily we are "med-moored" which means the boat doesn't touch the pier at all, so hopefully we are safe!

Here are a few pictures from last week's snorkeling that we didn't get to upload last time:

Friday, March 1, 2013

Guadeloupe Part 1

     We have spent the last few days cruising the coast of Guadeloupe, which is a French Overseas Dependency (think Guam or sort of Hawaii for Americans).  The island is very French, which is a good way to learn a language, but a bit tougher for daily life!  All is well, though, baguettes are within arm's reach at all times.

 Starting before dawn, we had favorable conditions for a fast sail of 45 miles from Antigua.  We arrived in Le Riviere Salee, which is a narrow mangrove river which splits Guadeloupe into two halves.  We spent the night anchored just north of a bridge which was scheduled to open at 0430 and allow us to reach our destination of Pointe-a-Pitre.  Alas, we found out the bridge would not be opening for us, because it is apparently not opening "this year." So we changed plans. 
    Due to the bridge closure, we needed to cover about 75 miles "the long way" around Basse-Terre, the western half of Guadeloupe.  This was not a bad thing at all, just a few extra days we didn't plan on.  It also enabled us to make two really cool stops, the town of Deshaies, and the Pigeon Island Marine Reserve. 
    The first stop was in Deshaies, where we completed customs in a cafe, and met a cool sailor named Rich.  He is cruising the eastern Caribbean in a Pacific Seacraft 34' sailboat named KELLY RAE.  Yes, that is the exact same model boat as us!  He rowed over to say hello, since "it's nice to see other beautiful boats in the anchorage."  He has sailed over 30,000 miles in his boat over the years, and it was nice to see he still loved it as much as we love NAVIGATOR.  We met up later for a hike/river scramble up the Deshaies River.
    The river was cool and clean, and the little waterfalls along the way were really neat to check out, especially since it is dry-season in the eastern Caribbean, and there is not too much flowing water on the islands we have been visiting so far. At the end of the hike, the river narrows to a mini-slot canyon with a 30 foot waterfall at the head and a pool for swimming.

   The second stop was Pigeon Island Marine Reserve, which is also the area of Cousteau Underwater Park.  That's Cousteau as in Jacques Cousteau, everyone's favorite marine biologist and the reason all life-science majors start out as marine biology majors in college.  

   Pigeon Island was definitely in our top 5 or 10 snorkels/dives of all time - the coral was extremely diverse, the water was super clear, and the reef was very healthy.  We were able to get in the water early, before the dive-charter boats arrived, so we pretty much had it to ourselves, and we swam about 1.5 miles around each island, watching the underwater world go by. 

Today, we arrived in Pointe-a-Pitre, where there is a relatively inexpensive (for Euro standards) marina which we are using as our mid-patrol maintenance period...nothing major, just a few jobs that have stacked up.  We also look forward to our friend, Erin, arriving in a few days, when we can catch up on Coast Guard news and laugh about snowballs.