Monday, May 27, 2013

Prickly Bay, Grenada

From St. George's, we only had to sail about 6 miles, but the last two were dead into the wind, waves and current and the two measly miles took us almost two hours!  We later overheard other boats talking about similarly frustrating trips, so we felt redeemed that we weren't the only ones.

Prickly Bay is cruiser central.  There is a radio net every morning to discuss the happenings around town, and through this we were able to set up an island taxi tour and a turtle watching tour, more on those shortly.  We were also able to reconnect with KELLY RAE and set up a hike.  There is a small marina with showers, minimart, and ice, as well as a customs office, and a short dinghy ride brings you to the bus stop and chandlery.  The nice set up and fairly protected bay attracts both cruisers passing through and those spending the hurricane season in Grenada.  The weather has been getting flukier, with more squalls and less consistent winds.  When the calms come, we roll a bit, and as one guy put it so eloquently, "when you're rolling at 3 in the morning, you start to take it a bit personally!"  Most nights are fine, sleep is only disturbed by having to close the hatch when a rain squall comes through.

Our first adventure was a walk around the area.  We were looking for the shopping mall, but several wrong turns showed us a ritzy neighborhood and the medical school college.  It was hot, so we stopped for a couple of tasty beverages along the way.  The next day was our island tour and one of the highlights of all our time in the islands.

"Cutty" picked us up at 9 and became our driver and guide for the next 8 hours.  We drove from the southern end of the island, up through the middle, all the way to the northeast corner and back down the windward side, stopping at several sites, and he showed us much of the flora of the island.  It was evident that plants are his thing, and we were really excited to finally have someone point out all the different types of plants and trees with fruits and flowers.  He showed us how to open cococa pods and suck the yummy flesh from around the seeds, which plants are good for different ailments, including which will stimulate the removal of a cow's afterbirth (probably won't need that knowledge in the future, but it was interesting all the same).  Here's a list of what we can remember seeing: cocoa, cinnamon, lemongrass, banana, coconut, papaya, pineapple, sugar apple, wax apple (introduced by the Tawainese), boli (cut in half it's then called calabash, a very hard shelled inedible fruit that is used for making cups, bowls and spoons), breadfruit, jackfruit, starfruit, ginger, tumeric, garlic flower, helvetica (used in the Chelsea flower show in England where Grenada usually medals), basil, bay, clove, nutmeg, grapefruit, callaloo and dasheen (the leave is large and like a spinach, the root like a yam), chadon beni (relative to cilantro but you have to cook it or it feels like eating fiberglass), cashew, several species of mango, noni (smells terrible, but supposedly a teaspoon of the ooze per day keeps your immune system strong), and others I've already could never starve here, every other tree has something.  He even showed us a plant whose leaves shrink when you touch it, that was planted around farms in slave days so that if a slave tried to run away, the owners could see their foot prints.

We got a little bit of history, and saw firsthand the devastation caused by hurricane Ivan that is still working on recovery.  Grenada was once the world's leading exporter of nutmegs, but the hurricane wiped out most of the trees.  The damaged trees are just starting to fruit again, so farmers are excited. We visited a nutmeg processing station where farmers bring their harvested nutmegs.  The nuts have to be dried for several weeks before they are ready for export and there were lots of drying racks in use.  The process of culling the nutmegs for quality and then removing the outer shell is extremely labor intensive and employs almost a hundred people at each station.  Before the hurricane, there were 17 stations, now there are only 1.5 in operation. We got the sense that this industry was the soul of the country and the hurricane's hardest impact to recover from.

We also visited a cocoa processing station, where farmers bring cocoa beans that have been removed from the pods.  The beans then need to be fermented for 7 days to develop the flavor as we know it, and then dried in the sun for another seven days, while walked through to stir them every half hour so they dry evenly.  Once dried, the beans are sacked up and exported to chocolate making factories all over the world.  Farmers get $1.50 EC a pound for cocoa, which is about 45 cents U.S.

Finally, we visited a local rum factory that has not changed production methods since they opened in 1785.  The rum is pure sugar cane alcohol and potent stuff, but they use a water wheel to grind the cane juice from the sugar cane stalk, then use the dried stalks for the fire to heat the juice to concentrate it and the river water is again used in the distilling process.  Nothing goes to waste but it too is labor intensive and their methods restrict output, so only Grenadians can purchase this nearly toxic rum.  The rum is clear, because it isn't aged at all, it's almost like moonshine and just walking around the factory gaves us a headache.

We also saw a bit of the rainforest, a waterfall muddy from all the recent rain, and some of the local monkeys keeping their distance in the trees.  We really liked this tour and Cutty was a great guide.

The next day we met up with Rich from KELLY RAE and took the bus to St. George's, then hopped another bus back into the rainforest and hiked to Seven Sisters Falls.  We went for a short swim and hiked back out and up to the top, hoping to sight the monkeys again, but they weren't around.  We had lunch and grabbed a bus back to town and stopped off at the market to get a few spices then walked around the inner harbor back toward the marina we had stayed in and stopped at a bakery for an afternoon snack.  We grabbed a bus back to Prickly Bay and went for a swim to wash off the grime.  It was a fun but tiring day, it's been awhile since we did that much walking!

We took a down day, just puttering on the boat, reading and Chris working hard on his navigation guide.  Sunday was rainy, so we stayed put and hoped it would clear up for our evening turtle tour.  It rained on the 1.5 hour drive up, but it stopped just as we arrived.  We got a quick briefing and headed out to the beach.  Watching these giant leatherback turtle mamas come out of the surf in the moonlight and make their way up the beach was a sight to behold.  The size of a small car, they were dark masses against the foaming sea and we stayed clear until they were comfortably digging their nests.

Using their powerful, large back flippers, they dug holes over two feet deep and laid in over a hundred eggs each, then used those flippers and their body weight to pack the nest closed and covered.  Then they threw sand around everywhere to camoflauge the scene and headed back toward the water.  The whole process took less than an hour.  We saw four different mamas, and were told there were 3 more down the beach.  Each mama will come ashore every 9-10 days for about two months and lay a nest, and then the eggs take 2 months to mature and hatch.  The researchers on sight that tagged the turtles and counted eggs as she laid them have determined that in a season, a mama leatherback will lay 1000 eggs, and research shows that of those 1000 eggs, only ONE will survive to adult hood.  Almost makes you want to cry, especially after seeing how much effort they take to ensure their nest has the best chance of survival.

The hatchlings are only about the size of Kellee's hand and get preyed upon by everything from birds to crabs, and that's before they even make it the 15 feet to the sea!  It was an awesome experience to say the least.  And the rain held off, which made it even better!

Today we'll tidy the boat and get a few groceries, have dinner with Rich, and tomorrow the weather looks good for the crossing to Trinidad.  We'll clear out and stow the boat in the morning and set sail before lunch.  If all goes well, we should be in Trinidad by Wednesday afternoon.  We have a sense of completeness to our Caribbean experience after last night's turtle encounter and are itching to be on our way towards our next adventure.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Union Island to St. George's, Grenada

Since last post, we stopped in Union Island, our last island in the St. Vincent Grenadines chain.  We spent one night in Chatham Bay, a beautiful bay with only a few other boats.  It was here that Chris hauled Kellee up the mast for the pictures in the last post.  From there, we rounded the corner to Clifton, the main anchorage for the island.  We got some fresh food and opted to try kite surfing at the local school.  The location was perfect, right on the windward edge, with a protective reef and a lagoon sand bar, so we could stand in waist high water as we tried to figure it out.  The weather turned ugly in the middle of our lesson, so we came back the next day to finish.  Our instructor "Butter" was awesome, and very patient with us.  We got the hang of flying the kite, but when you put the board on, well, regular surfing is much easier.  We both managed to get up and going, but only made it about 20 feet before some specatular face plants.  Butter was impressed with how far we got in one lesson and seemed optimistic, we're not so sure.  If another opportunity presents itself to practice, maybe we will.

We cleared out of Union and had a nice downwind sail to Carriacou, an island just north of mainland Grenada and checked in to the country.  We picked up some yummy sandwich supplies at Patty's Deli and motored to Sandy Island, a strip of sand that was almost totally wiped out until a hurricane shored it up with dead coral and the locals planted shrubberies to hold the sand together.  The wind was up, so we did a quick drift snorkel with the dinghy, the fish were not super plentiful, but they were fearless and Chris got some good close up footage. We went ashore for some night photography and moved over to Tyrell Bay on the west end for the following night.  We figured with the dozens of boats in the harbor that there'd be decent services, but as we dinghied through the anchorage, we noticed that most of the boats were either derelict or laid up for the season.  The yacht club advertised showers, but there weren't any to be had, and the cafe menu offered smootheis, but we couldn't get any of those either.  We had our laundry done and saw it hanging on the line when we came to pick it up, kind of odd, to recognize your own clothes in someone else's yard!

Half way between Carriacou and Grenada are a few small islets that don't provide much protection, but we tucked into a small cove for a lunch and snorkel at Isle de Ronde.  Just to the north, we passed "Kick em Jenny," a towering monolith which lived up to its name by throwing up a wave which doused Chris at the helm and knocked some stuff around the cabin.  We have been slowly getting worse about how carefully we secure for sea on these short jumps between islands.  We did two short drift snorkels on Isle de Ronde, the current was very strong there, and did see one very large turtle and some decent reef.  We ate lunch and continued our downwind sail to mainland Grenada and grabbed a mooring at the marine park just north of the main city.

This marine park is newer and protecting the encompassing reef is still a work in progress, but the mooring was solid and the marine patrol guys were very friendly.  The next morning, before the tour groups arrived, we snorkeled the underwater sculpture park.  What a cool concept.  Built of materials which encourage reef growth, and sprinkled over sand patches in between coral heads, we had such fun swimming around looking for dozens of pieces of "living art".  We also came across a curious barricuda, a GIANT school of some small silver fish, and a very intriguing group of squid.  These creatures seem to communicate on a level greater than we humans, and they were not afraid of us at all.  Chris was convinced they were going to kidnap us and take us to their kingdom.

We had spent a very rolly, sleepless night on the mooring and considered our options for the next couple of days.  We want to explore the interior, but with it being a holiday weekend here, everything is closed, so we decided to pull into the marina in St. George's.  It has a pool, showers, internet and water, what more do we need?  We dinghied into town and walked around some of the older buildings, including Fort St. George, presumably the oldest fort in the Carribean, and the site of the execution of the Prime Minister in 1983.   We picked up some groceries and will hang out here staying cool at the pool, until Tuesday, when we'll head to the south end of the island and Prickly Bay, the main cruiser hangout, and our jumping point for the trip to Trinidad.  Hard to believe that this trip that has been years in the planning is coming to the end of the orginial idea.  We still haven't decided how we'll get back to the states, but we know we have to come back.  In fact, we sent the first  notice of our return to the Coast Guard, so the ball is officially rolling...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Canouan, Mayreau and the Tobago Cays

Our journey south through the Grenadines continued this week as we departed Bequia and made stops in Canouan, the Tobago Cays, and Mayreau; all enchanting anchorages.

Canouan was a great stop because of the huge anchorage and nice beach, allowing us to get some filming done for some navigation training videos.  On that front, "The Sailing Channel TV" picked up one of our videos for their site, so that was exciting news.

Otherwise on Canouan, a short hike over to the other side of the island greeted us with a huge coral lagoon for snorkeling.  Unfortunately, Kellee forgot her contacts, and Chris forgot the lens to the underwater no one gets to see anything.

After Canouan, we headed over to the Tobago Cays, a group of 4 uninhabited islands protected by two fringing coral reefs.  We had been looking forward to the Cays for some time because of the great reviews.  It ended up being good and ok.  The ok part was that there was about 50 other boats there, and the anchorage was really rocky and crowded.  However the good part was that we were able to snorkel on some reef areas away from the hordes.  We saw tons of turtles and a huge nurse shark (which we frightened without meaning to).  There was also a scary looking barracuda just cruising around checking us out in the weird way only a barracuda can.  The current was so strong that we simply jumped overboard from our dinghy and floated along until we ran out of reef and then reset - like a typewriter.

We left the Tobago Cays and headed over to the island of Mayreau, which as a nice anchorage with a thin patch of land between two opposite facing beaches - perfect for star photography, so we got some good shots of the southern sky.

All the turquoise water in this area had us wanting to get some interesting photos of the boat, so Chris hauled Kellee up the mast and she took some awesome photos from aloft.  One (the one at the top left of this post) was so good we submitted it to a sailing magazine, so we'll have to see what they think about it!

Otherwise, we've been eating through our canned food in the hopes of arriving in Trinidad in a few weeks on fumes, so we don't have to waste any canned chicken.  Kellee whipped up some homemade cinnamon rolls today which was the cause of a well-recieved food coma amongst the crew.

In a few days we'll quit the Grenadines belonging to St. Vincent and head over to the Grenadines belonging to the nation of Grenada, and spend our last 3 weeks there, before the hurricane season starts and our travels take us across the pond.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bequia, St. Vincent & The Grenadines

St. Vincent and the Grenadines are the third to last nation in our trip south.  They are a group of islands stretching over about 60 miles and have some nice reef and anchorages. Our first stop is Bequia, just south of St. Vincent itself.  We've been hit by more and more frequent rain, but in between showers we got out and rode our bikes around the island.

Along the way we visited the turtle sanctuary.  Hawksbill turtles have a couple problems facing them - one is that only about 1 in 1000 live more than a few days due to predation by sharks and jellyfish.  The other problems is that the adults don't live too long because of predation by humans.  As a result the population is obviously declining. A local fisherman who has since retired from fishing harvests newly hatched eggs, raises them until they are 5 years old, and then releases them back into the wild with a better statistically chance of surviving the sharks and jellies.  Regarding the humans, he hosts school kids and tourists in an attempt to educate the populace away from eating turtles.  The effect remains to be seen, but he's released nearly a thousand 5 year old turtles, so hopefully he's making some difference.  Incidentally, he doesn't have the support (or permission) of his government, so we're not sure how the whole thing fits into an ecological perspective, but at least it gives the turtles a shot.

We also did two dives in Bequia, in search of the elusive seahorse.  We finally saw one (and then two others) on a dive near the western end of the island.  They are super hard to find.  As a challenge I won't tell you where the seahorse is in the photo, you can try and find it for yourself.  We've been diving down the chain of islands and this is the first time we've finally seen them.  They are bigger than we thought (TWSS).

Otherwise, we did the usual logistical shuffle of clearing into a new country, trying not to get hassled at the fruit market, and stocking up on whatever we can find to eat.  There are some in-season passionfruits here, so we bought a dozen and made juice today, I thought it came out pretty good, although Kellee said it needed more sugar to avoid the dreaded bitter juice face.

Tomorrow we head off for a short trip to Canouan island and then the Tobago Cays, which we have been looking forward to for some time.

As far as the schedule goes, we'll be tying up in Trinidad on 30 May and hauling the boat out shortly after that for the hurricane season.  After a week of maintenance in dry dock, we'll fly over to France to begin our camping trip through western Europe...we're alternately excited about the trip, but sad to leave Navigator for the season, especially since we have no idea what our destination will be when we pick the boat back up in December...the USCG detailer will have to pick for us!