Thursday, January 28, 2010

Heading north

This is a very fine example of a nutmeg tree. It is about 10 m high and had hundreds of nutmegs growing on it. Almost all of these trees in Grenada were killed by the hurricane. This is in St Vincent near Wallialabou.

Here is the hapless vessel 'Roundabout' aground on the Roundabout Reef in Clifton, Union Island. The dozen or so boats eventually got it off after about half an hour/

Cacao plant in Grenada. All of the various kinds of plants grow in what appears to be a jungle but has been carefully planted.

This cruiser was also a magician. After the tutoring she gave an impromptu performance. You could not have asked for a more rapt audience.

This is part of the Rivers rum factory. The crushed sugar cane is put into these open stone basins to partly evaporate. At this stage it looks like nasty sludge.

We are now in Rodney Bay, St Lucia so we are two degrees of latitude (120 nautical miles) north of our furthest south position on the south coast of Grenada. St Lucia was one of the islands we skipped on the way south by doing an overnight passage from Guadeloupe to St Vincent on the way down.

We have had terrific sailing up from Grenada. We went on the windward side of Grenada on the way to Carriacou (most people go on the leeward (western) side since it gives one a better angle to the wind, but we had to deal with strong and shifting currents. At one point the boat’s heading as shown by the compass was about 30 degrees different than our course over the bottom as shown by the GPS. We also noticed that there is a line of unmarked rocks extending out from a marked rock on the chart – by something over 100 m.

Carriacou is part of Grenada even though it is only about two miles from Union Island, which is part of St Vincent and the Grenadines – so you have to clear out of one country and then clear into the other country, a bit of an inconvenience to say the least. From Union Island we had a tremendous sail to Bequia where we stayed for a few days. We left there a day or so before our original plans because there were good winds forecast for a couple of days (more easterly than northeasterly). We skipped going to Kingstown, the capital of St Vincent and stopped instead in Wallilabou on the west coast. This pretty spot’s main claim to fame is that the three Pirates of the Caribbean movies were partly filmed here. The remains of the some of the permanent sets are there and there are tours from cruise ships and the like to see them (not really worth it). The remarkable thing is how small the set is for the town in the movies – only a few store fronts that they must shoot from different angles and with different barrels, cannons and bales in front to make it look like a different place.

The harbour in Wallilabou (they do have great names here!) is very deep and you need to drop an anchor quite close to shore (still in 50`+ of water) and have a `line handler` take a stern line ashore to tie to a tree root or whatever. From there we had another terrific sail of 58 miles to Rodney Bay and arrived in time (330 pm) to clear customs here. We will stay here for a week or so to do some boat repair/upgrade stuff and major shopping.

It is remarkable how different each of these bigger islands is from its neighbours even though the basic geology and weather factors are the same. St Vincent and Dominica are lush, even on the leeward slope. The mountains in St Vincent seem `sharper` than the neighbours even though St Lucia is famous for the two Pitons (mountains) in the south. St Lucia seems much richer with modern supermarkets and a huge marina set up to handle even very big yachts (100`+).

From here we will be going to Martinique and are already trying to figure out how many bottles of wine we can store onboard. Before I close for now, so comments on other highlights of the past few weeks.

Grenada – Tour and Tutoring
We went on all-day tour of the island with about 10 people in one of the large taxis that are ubiquitous everywhere you go outside the rich countries (including Jordan and southern Africa). Different tour guides have different specialities and Cutty’s was the island’s plants. On Grenada this was fascinating because the island’s nickname is the Spice Island. We got to see how nutmeg, cinnamon, cacao, and about a dozen other crops grow. Until the big hurricane in 2004 Grenada was the second largest source of nutmeg in the world. The hurricane killed so many nutmeg trees that production fell by 90%. (Grenada is still #3 in the world so nutmeg is not widely grown.) The new trees will start to produce in the next couple of years so nutmeg prices may drop I guess. We also visited the (only) nutmeg processing plant. Much of the work is done by hand. This large wooden building filled with sacks of dried and drying nutmeg is just a catastrophic fire waiting to happen.

On the tour we also visited a quite remarkable rum processing plant. The most high-tech things in the plant are a few plastic pipes and valves of the sort that you could pick up at a Home Depot. Other than that the whole thing looked like it could have come directly from 1850. It is powered by a very large iron waterwheel that was made in England in 1780 and has been at the mill since then. Other than that, it is only gravity that is used to move the liquid through the production process. They only make over-proof rum and if the stuff is not at least 75% alcohol it is put back into a fermentation tank for another go. This is probably a good thing since hygiene is not impressive – and yes we did buy some as a souvenir.

We also spent a morning tutoring at a hurricane shelter in a place called Mount Airy that was both high in the hills and quite airy. This is a program that has been going for a few years where any interested cruisers go on a Saturday morning to help. June spent time reading stories with a couple of girls (8 and 9), while I did math and English help with two older boys. For me it was interesting to be able to contrast this with the volunteering I did in Lesotho since the students in both places write the same Cambridge overseas exams at the end of high school.


We often have difficulty keeping up with major news events. The first we heard about the horrendous earthquake was over the marine weather forecast where they noted that a tsunami warning had been issued for the Caribbean but that it had been cancelled when they were able to calculate that the wave would only be 14 cm high. Since that time it has been heartening to see the response on the islands here as people, who themselves are not very wealthy, have been collecting money and more often goods to send to Haiti. Certainly this is part of the world that is too familiar with natural hazards, most often hurricanes but also volcanic eruptions and even earthquakes and they know the importance of sharing with their neighbours who have suffered.

Kick-em Jenny
In an earlier posting I mentioned the underwater volcano called Kick-em Jenny that is off the coast of Grenada. We visited the National Museum in St. George`s and they had a display on the volcano. There is an exclusion zone around the volcano that is generally ignored (since we travelled up and down the windward side of the island we were always 5 miles or so away) but perhaps it should not be. Turns out that the major risk is not that you will be caught in an explosive eruption. Rather it is that, even an eruption too minor to be noted on the surface, could cause such a release of gas bubbles that the density of the sea water would be reduced to the point that a vessel would just sink without a trace. This was not a happy thought to be sure. BTW, the most recent survey discovered another volcano called Kick-em Jack that is near Jenny. There is no evidence that Jack has erupted in recorded history.

Just a couple of notes about food here. The fruits and vegetables are terrific. The oranges and grapefruit look like limes on the outside (ie, they are not at all orange or yellow) but are juicy and sweet. Not sure if I can eat bananas elsewhere since those we buy here (often from someone’s backyard) have so much flavour. There is also a different variety of pineapple here (much longer and skinnier than those in Canada) that is terrific. Finally, there are the local chickens. They go way beyond free range. You see them wandering everywhere and they just forage for their food and eat whatever they can find. The result is that their meat is somewhat stringier than we are used to but with so much more flavour.

Shopping is quite fun and you are never sure what will be available. The IGA in Grenada the first week we went had everything you could ever want. The second week they had almost no vegetables because the shipment from wherever (Puerto Rico, Florida?) had not arrived.,
There are a lot more ‘types’ of cruising going on than I had imagined. This conclusion occurred to me during our time in Grenada

Some of the types are:
1. The Grenada retirement crowd -- The bays there are almost like a floating retirement community. I certainly don’t mean this in a disparaging way at all. These are very capable cruisers who have come mainly from the US and Canada and are a minimum of 1000 miles from home, some are much further with one couple who sailed here from Alaska and another who purchased a new catamaran in South Africa and then sailed it here. One woman’s husband died suddenly two years ago and she did not want to give up the lifestyle. The only problem was that he had done virtually all of the technical and sailing things onboard. She decided not to give up on her lifestyle and has learned (and is learning) what she needs to know.

These folks have developed a routine that involves travelling rather short distances. They spend the ‘season’, roughly November to May in Grenada and may go as far north as St Lucia or Martinique (maximum of 150 miles). There are two subgroups of this group. Some live on their boats all year while others haul out for the off-season, (ie hurricane season). Many get their boats hauled in Grenada (still some threat of hurricanes), Trinidad (every marine service at good prices but safety issues are becoming a problem), or Venezuela (stuff is remarkably cheap (eg diesel fuel for something like 4 cents a litre) – perhaps how Chavez stays in power, but crime is becoming a real problem; Americans have pretty much abandoned Venezuela but some others are still going there. The year-round cruisers stay in the same locales, although those in Grenada can head south if a storm threatens the island.

2. The Atlantic circuit crowd – These folks are almost totally European. They come to the Caribbean in November/December, typically from the Canary Islands and will return home over the following summer. Many come with the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) which is a combined race and social event – there were something like 225 boats in the ARC this year ranging in size from less than 30 feet to around 80 feet.

3. The North American circuit crowd – We are in this group and we haven’t met any other members yet (perhaps because we headed south very rapidly) although we know they are out there. The pattern is very much like the Atlantic circuit except the trip down is shorter and tougher.

4. The Long-range cruisers – These folks have come a much longer distance to the Caribbean and are likely in the midst of a circumnavigation. We have seen boats from places like New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. The most extreme of these was a woman and her teenage son, who with a woman crew, sail directly from New Zealand to the Atlantic via the Roaring Forties (and even as far south as 58°S) and the Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego, This trip took 60 days on a 38 footer and was described as “not warm”. Have a said the Kiwis are wonderful people but a little crazy. People in this group, in general cruise with quite small boats ranging from a Vega 27 for two Norwegian guys who really looked like Vikings to a boat that looked similar to an Alberg 35 from Australia.

We have seen boats from at least the following countries: Canada, US, Brazil, Argentina, half a dozen Caribbean countries, UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Malta, Luxembourg, Switzerland (including a 30 footer that normally sails on a Swiss lake), South Africa, Morocco, Australia, New Zealand, and several Pacific islands. The countries that seem over-represented based on their populations and distances away are Norway, South Africa, and yes, Canada. At times we wonder who is still in Canada to keep things working.

1 comment:

Rhys said...

I'm doing my best to keep things working, Bruce.

It's good to see that you and June are adapting nicely to your new circumstances.

I will grate a little nutmeg into my evening rum in tribute to your acheivements!