It’s Carnival, Martinique, and it’s party time!

After a few days in St Pierre in the shadow of Mt Pele, our first stop in Martinique, we moved down to Fort de France, the capital.  This is one of our favorite stops where we anchor in a historic harbor sandwiched between a Napoleonic era fort to one side…And a modern city on the other.  Big city or not, the view in the distance is a constant reminder that we are still in the tropics with distant mountains shrouded in clouds and mist. The harbor is busy and very rolly during the day with a constant stream of ferry boats leaving big wakes and cruise ships, sometimes 5 a day, coming and going. Yesterday was the first day of carnival, a four day festival of parades and fun that runs though next Wednesday.  The fun begins each afternoon at 4:00 and continues well into the we hours with near constant drumming and firecracker detonations late into the night.

The parade, which passed us three times, began with what looked like, I guess,  some sort of nod to native Americans. This lady was clearly not a newcomer to such events and knew that she was indeed “looking marvelous”. Not sure what this costume was all about, very elaborate and festooned with  with coconuts. This one was, well, I’m not sure but it was, but it was very elaborate. And an enthusiastic group with REALLY LOUD drumming. Many of the children in the group sported these hats.  What were they all about?  I have no idea. This young woman was clearly having a great time. Spectators, many decorated with face paint, lined the route.
But this guy was perhaps the winner.   Of course, he, like everyone else, had his smartphone.  No pockets I guess. There was something about going in drag was a common theme.  What is it about guys and bikinis?  I’ll have to ask Brenda what she thinks.  A g-string and feather boa?  Is it me?

Not sure where the stuffed giraffe fit in.  I guess you had to be there to see the connection, such as it was. Umbrellas were clearly a theme for this large and LOUD group. The noise of this VERY enthusiastic drummer set off Brenda’s Apple watch alert that she was being exposed to damaging noise in excess of 90db.Clearly feeling the beat, this particularly well put together lady was clearly enjoying herself and posed every few feet for photographers. This young lady seemed a bit insecure in her costume.  Her “get-up”, like many of the others, was so heavy that it had wheels to help her along as well as an “escort” to give her a shove when she was hung up on rough pavement.  Her costume looked vaguely sinister.  Perhaps a rain forest queen?This young woman carried herself in style, never letting her radiant smile fade for even an instant, well perhaps not until she passed us for the third time. This photo of a mother and daughter pretty much sums up what it was like to be there.  I can’t wait till tonight to see what is in store.
And, with all the fun in town the harbor is getting crowded as more cruisers arrive each day.    This is what I woke up to this morning after the wind shifted direction over night.  And yes, they were as close as that.   They were a nice couple from Denmark, taking time off from work to cruise with their two children.   Can I borrow a bit of Grey Poupon?  It’s great sport, watching newcomers look for a spot to anchor and it seems that there is always, sort of, room for one more.

“Dad, I see a spot, over there!”It’s pretty clear that the people of Martinique really know how to put on a party. Brenda and I can’t wait to see what tonight will bring.

It is, after all, party time and the folks in Martinique really know how to put on a party!

Humty, his snake and a saw

When we first arrived in Dominica I took a walk along the main road in town to visit the market and spied this guy with an alarmingly large snake wrapped around his neck.

Separately, I had heard that there was someone living on the beach that salvaged wood in the rain forest from trees that had been knocked down during hurricane Maria that had so decimated the island.

It turned out to be the same guy and his name is Humty.  I’m not positive about the spelling but it is pronounced (Hum-tee).  He told me that he had found the snake in the bush while working.    I wanted to learn more. I had gotten a taste of some of the exotic hardwoods available on the island when we visited the chocolate factory and now wanted to see for myself, how the wood was salvaged.   When I asked about how he cut logs into boards he told me that he just used his chainsaw and free-handed the log into boards.  Now that I had to see…

We agreed to meet the following morning, Sunday at 09:00 and head out.  I had somehow assumed that he had a truck or at least access to one and I was surprised to see him hoist his saw, an alarming one with a blade of some 30″ long, up onto his shoulder and off we walked down the road.  Along the way, and the walk on the road was about two miles,  a friend of his stopped with a pickup truck and gave us a lift.

Before we headed into the forest we stopped at a small general store for something to drink if we became thirsty.  I got a bottle of water and Humty, a beer.  So off we walked into the bush, Humty with this huge saw on his shoulder and beer in the other hand.  Oh yeah, and he had a ganja cigarette in his lips.   And, don’t forget that it was still early on a Sunday morning, a sort of double fisted hair of the dog, I guess.

I can’t say that I had ever thought of beer, “local herbs” and a chainsaw were a great combination, especially first thing on a Sunday morning.  Oh yeah, I almost forgot, he also had a long and quite menacing looking machete. Over the years, I had seen portable sawmills that can turn a log into boards using a really long chainsaw that was guided by rails and other equipment that made the cuts quite precise but the idea of someone cutting logs into boards by eye and a steady hand was something I found hard to imagine.

We didn’t have to go very far into the bush but after perhaps a half mile we crossed a small stream and found our way into a clearing with huge downed trees scattered here and there.  In the clearing some locals had planted a large number of what I learned were coffee tree seedlings along with banana plants.    Humty selected a promising log, some 20″ in diameter and sat down to sharpen his saw, one tooth at a time with a round file.  30 minutes later he was ready to make his first cut. Then he marked the log to a bit over 5′ and removed a section.   His newly sharpened saw went through it like soft balsa.  After rolling the newly cut log onto a base of smaller logs and bracing it up against a small tree, he proceeded to carefully run his saw down the length of the log, marking it for the individual boards he planned to cut, each about 1 1/4″ thick.   The  cuts were more precise than this photo suggests.  He began at the end of the log closest to him and progressively drew the saw from end to end, each cut only a fraction of an inch deeper than the last.    Beginning on the left, after marking all of the boards, he slowly cut deeper and deeper until the board was only supported at the far end by a small uncut wedge of wood.  The process of cutting all the way through the log, end to end, took more than two hours and in the end he had three boards.  He paused once to resharpen his saw, a few gulps of beer and puffs.

All the time the noise of the saw was deafening but no hearing protection needed.   I suppose that to someone who uses a huge chainsaw with shorts and open toe sandals isn’t all that concerned about hearing loss.  However, after twenty years of this sort of work, he still has all of his fingers and toes.

Meanwhile a small lizard watched from a distance as Humty did his work. He paused from time to time to check his measurements. As one cut was mostly finished he moved onto the next, from left to right.
Once the four cuts were complete with only a small sliver of uncut wood on the end of each board he made the final cut, beginning on the left and the boards fell away. These finished cuts were remarkably consistent and all done by eye. What was left of the log could have yielded a few more boards but I had asked for three so that’s what he cut.  The boards have beautiful figuring. The dark markings are not water staining or rot, it’s the way the trees grow.  Notice how smooth the cuts are.  You would never know that he had just held the saw and cut them freehand.  I have no idea what I will make these boards into but they are remarkable and I’ve never seen anything like it.   The wood is very dense and HEAVY.Even though the wood had fallen nearly three years ago, there was not rot but OMG, they are heavy, perhaps 70lbs each.

Humty, in spite of their weight, hoisted each board and held it over his head, with the saw in the other hand and carried them out.   He enlisted a friend to help carry the final board out. He didn’t miss a beat as he forded down into the stream and up the other side. As I write this we are now in Martinique and for the time being, the boards are still at Humty’s home on the beach.  I am hoping that they will dry out a bit so that they aren’t quite so heavy and I’ll need time to think about how I am going to secure a few hundred pounds of boards down below the cockpit.  I sure don’t want them to come loose along the way as I can only imagine what sort of damage they would do if they started crashing around making a mess of my autopilot and who knows what else when the going gets rough on the trip home,  which it always does.

So there you have it, a guy named Humty, his snake, an alarming saw and don’t forget a beer to get in the mood along with a bit of ganja.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Dominica: Where nature is king and queen

Well, here we are, still in Dominca after a week, the longest we have stayed during our three visits to the island.  The last time we were here was for a short visit following hurricane Maria that devastated the island, stripping nearly everything green and leaving the mountains looking more like New England in February than the lush tropical island that it is.

So, here we are again, two years later, and what a transformation there has been.   While the forest, that covers 75% of the island still has many dead trees poking up above the new growth, the island forests have substantially recovered from the horrible damage that Maria, the category 5 hurricane, wrought.

A few days ago, Brenda and I, along with a dozen of our closest cruisers friends, hired a driver to take us around the island.  Our destinations included, a tiny family run chocolate factory, a beautiful waterfall with a perfect swimming hole in the heart of the mountain rainforest, a dip in a family run hot spring and a terrific lunch overlooking a river and yet another waterfall.

It’s not hard to find waterfalls in Dominica as we were told that the island boasts some 365 rivers, one for every day of the year.   Funny, how that magic “365” number works, Antigua supposedly has the same number of beaches.  A coincidence?

Whatever the number of rivers, the island is beautiful and what a day it was.

Our first stop, after about an hour in the bus from Falmouth, winding our way around switchback to switchback high up into the rain forest, finally arriving at this tiny “factory” tucked in among the trees with a beautiful view of the ocean in the distance. This little family run business makes terrific chocolate, all of which is sold here on the island. a total of 2,000 lbs per year, in many creative flavors.

Interestingly, the higher percentage of cocoa that is in the bars, the less sweet it is with the balance of ingredients primarily cane sugar making up the difference.  So, chocolate labeled 100% cocoa is bitter and not sweet at all and milk chocolate having the largest percentage of sugar. They grow cocoa beans and coffee on the property.  This is what a raw cocoa seed pod looks like.  The white soft material is sweet and covers the cocoa beans, each pod has a cluster of beans inside. The wet raw beans are put into these wooden bins, covered with banana leaves where they are left to ferment for a several days.  The beans are then separated from any liquid from the fermentation and spread to dry on open racks. The dry but still raw beans are about 1/2″ long and already smell like chocolate. Then the beans are roasted in a special oven at, I think, 250 degrees F. While the process is fairly primitive, it is carefully controlled by modern equipment.  I wonder if the “emergency stop” button sets off an alarm meant to keep someone from eating too much chocolate?  Hmm…After roasting the beans are roughly cracked to separate the outer hull from the meat of the bean. Then they are put into this machine, where air is blown into the pipe, the force of air carrying the lighter husks up and away, separating, as you might say, “The wheat from the chaff”.  It’s simple and ingenious and effective.   The “good” stuff, which is heavier, falls into the black bin and the “chaff” goes up the tube and down into the white bucket. Next the “cleaned” beans are ground into a rough paste by rollers that turn around in the bucket.  At this point, they really smell like chocolate.An additional step puts the chocolate into an even finer grinder/roller that smooths things out into a very smooth paste.   Finally, depending on the particular flavor that is planned, they mix in the appropriate amount of cane sugar and any flavoring that might be needed, like ginger or hot pepper, two examples.   Then the mixture is poured into molds to harden, prior to packaging and labeling.  They produce many flavors and we tried nearly all of them.  Hungry for more? Unless you are in Dominca, or good friends with Brenda, your’e out of luck as their product is only available on the island.   Of course, you too can take a tour as they happily welcome visitors. This chocolate is very much “home made” as the father/daughter owners have actually built a home above the “factory” where she lives with her boyfriend.    I was quite taken by the design of the house and tropical woods used in the construction, wood that was cut from trees knocked down during the hurricane.

The wood, and I understand that it goes by it’s local name of the Galba Tree, and looks a lot like mahogany, if a bit heavier.  While he didn’t mention it to me, it seems that this tree is fairly rare.  I purchased two 4′ long boards from him.  It’s not quite enough to make a table from but perhaps I can make some cutting boards out of the pieces.  It’s a beautiful wood. After hearing of my interest in the wood and how he built his home, I was invited up to take a look inside.   It was like visiting an enchanted tree house in the forest. A very nice functional kitchen.  And a spectacular view of the ocean in the distance.  What a wonderful spot.  If you ever get an opportunity to visit, I recommend you  do.  A small business living off of the land and yet respectful of the forest which sort of sums up things here in Dominca, the nature island.

But wait, there’s more!

From there we headed deeper into the rain forest, winding our way, switchback to switchback, to visit what is locally known as The Emerald Pool, a swimming hole deep in the wilderness and yet still accessible with a short walk on a well groomed path.  I am always struck by the lush plants of all kinds.  This tree ern “fiddle head” is much larger than it looks, the thickness of a broom handle.  The path to the pool meanders a short distance past rapids to an observation area and then you are there. The water, while not “martini” cold, will make you catch your breath when you dip in, is a lot cooler than the surrounding air as it thunders down into the pool.

You have to be careful not to get to close to the falling water as it packs quite a punch during it’s 40′ drop and will drive you under.  Here I am, close but just far out into the pool.  The noise was deafening. Maureen, can you hear me now?  What?My friend Bill, looked like he was thinking about auditioning for a part in Pirates of the Caribbean, much of which was filmed on the island.  Unlike many of the cruisers on the French boats, Bill is wearing a bathing suit.  At least I think he is.  Bill?  Hard to tell…As you would expect, where there are mountains and lots of water, there is hydro power.  This setup, with a large pipe running vertically down a cliff, powers a small turbine generator.  And, with some 300″ of rainfall each year, there is a constant supply of water to run the turbines.
Unfortunately, in spite of the abundant sunshine, wind and water, only about 1/4 of the energy produced on Dominica is renewable.  Hopefully, this will increase in the coming years.

Our stop for lunch was a remarkable spot perched on the side of a ravine, just down the hill a bit from the Pool.  The food was quite good and the view even better. In the distance you can see the double exit spouts from the hydro generator.  Ok, so our last stop of the day, and by this time we had driven around 3/4 of the island, was a natural hot spring.   The charming spot was run by a local family and tapped into naturally hot springs.  The island has a number of active volcanoes and what they call “boiling lakes” where the water coming out of the ground is so hot, it boils.

The water was muddy and warm, but fortunately, not boiling. There were three pools, each progressively smaller, and each with water that was a bit hotter but still a good temperature for a tropical mountain soak.   As we were up in the mountains, where the air was cooler, it felt good to be in the warm water.   You can see the spout that is pouring warm/hot water into the pool.  The water was almost to hot to touch and quite murky.   I didn’t want to think to hard about what sort of “bugs” might be growing in the pool.  However, the pools were not crowded and had a good amount of water flowing into them so I guess it was ok.   No odd skin lesions yet…  Bill, Maureen?  Any boils breaking out?  Brenda?All and all, we had a wonderful day and even though we were visiting some of the most popular spots on the islands, they weren’t crowded.  No surprise on an island with only about 600 hotel rooms.

We won’t be heading south to Martinique for a few more days, still hoping for a break in the strong winds.  In the mean time, we will be spending time with our cruising buddies and in a day or two will visit a reservation where the descendants of the once mighty Carib Indians live.

These people, once known as fierce warriors, are now known for their beautiful baskets and other hand crafts and it will be fun to see how they practice these skills.  Brenda purchased a particularly exquisite example of one of these baskets a few days ago and wrote about that and other observations about the cruising lifestyle and our visit to Dominica.  It’s worth reading so click here.

I expect that we will both have plenty more to say after we spend another day touring Dominica, where the love of nature is indeed King and Queen.


Pinned in Dominica.

It’s a beautiful day here in Dominica with bright sun that just peeked out following a parade of rain squalls beginning overnight.  This view, and it is impressive, to say the least, was completely obscured by rain and fog until a few moments ago.

As this illustrates, In Dominica, with some parts of the island getting 300″ of ran each year, we are securely within the “islands that kiss the clouds”.  This harbor, Portsmouth Dominica, is on the very north west part of the island and while it is wide open to the west, like most harbors in the Windwards, it is wonderfully protected from the strong trade winds and waves and as the wind comes out of the east for about 99% of the time.

Dominica isn’t highly developed like so many islands with only a small tourist trade.  With the exception of cruiser ships that visit, the island only has about 600 hotel rooms as so many were wiped out in the hurricane a few years ago.

For those who visit however, the island has beautiful rain forests and we were told 365 rivers.  There are also many miles of well maintained hiking trails to explore.  It’s a beautiful country.

While this island is not on the radar of your general tourist, it is very popular with cruisers and here in Portsmouth harbor there are dozens of boats visiting at any point during the season.

I will say that the locals are very focused on cruisers and do a lot to encourage them to visit.  Years ago this was not a spot that many visited but a group of locals got together and formed PAYS, the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security and now the harbor is one of the safest in the Caribbean.   They organize tours and twice a week host barbecue parties with all you can eat chicken and rum punch.  They also host a week long event Yachtie Appreciation Week.

Our run from Les Saintes was a VERY bumpy 25 mile run on a very close reach, with with plenty of spray flying over the decks.  Not Brenda’s favorite!

We had decided to leave come to Portsmouth as we learned that the trade winds would be peaking near 30kts for perhaps a week or longer and we, along with a half dozen other boats that we are “buddy boating” with decided that it was time to move on, so here we are.

Yesterday we spent the day ashore with a dozen of our cruiser buddies to go on a tour of the island, something that we had not done before.  It included a visit to a tiny family run chocolate factory, a hot spring as well as a swim at the bottom of a waterfall, aptly named The Emerald Pool.  I’ll be writing about all that in the next day or two.  It was a great day.  I even was able to purchase a few tropical hardwood boards cut from trees that came down in the hurricane from the owner of the chocolate factory.

We have also enjoyed time at a local restaurant run by a couple that split their time between Texas and here in Dominica.  Co-owner, Toni makes terrific rotis, a sort of Caribbean burrito with chicken and potatoes wrapped in a tortilla.  The actual recipe can vary a lot and sometimes the chicken inside includes bones and all.  I’m here to say that they were great.  No bones.

The day before we headed here a bunch of our cruiser friends met on the beach in Les Saintes for a pot luck cookout.  Everyone brought something to share.  Our contribution, purchased at one of the terrific groceries on the island, were delicate little lamb tenderloins.   Brenda made a wonderful marinade for them and they were quite a hit hot off the grill.

This is the group of cruisers that we are traveling with.  It does seem that cruisers tend to move around as a sort of flock. And, speaking of “flocks”, I spied this growing family when I visited the local bakery to pick up come baguettes the other day.  I can’t imagine chickens wandering around a restaurant in the US.  And, of course, where there a chicks, there are roosters.  The views along the beach are very colorful  with homes and boats are painted bright, happy colors.
Nearly every morning, beautiful sunrises.  
We see flags from many countries.  Do you know where this one is from?  Flags that are black and white are very rare.   I believe that only two countries have flags that are this color.   Double gold stars if you know the name of both countries or, and this is a hint, the flag of a region of a particular country. A few days ago, I went ashore to check out the tiny town here in Dominica and was impressed with the locally made baskets.  In the interest of full disclosure, I was also looking for ice cream.  Success on both counts.  Brenda and I returned to the shop the next day.  She ended up buying an exquisitely made one at another store.  Along with all that she does, Brenda is also a very accomplished basket maker.

Brenda liked this tiny shop on the beach.  That makes at least three Brenda’s in Dominica as I ran into a fellow cruiser a few days ago also named Brenda. Anyway, I expect that we will be here in Dominica for at least a week the trades are up and it’s even rougher in the ocean than it was when we arrived here from Les Saintes, with seas running at nearly 10′.  When the weather router, Chris Parker, describes conditions as “very salty”, Brenda, in particular, feel that it’s best to stay put.

I guess that’s about it for now so stay tuned for more scintillating details from Pandora and her crew as we make the best of things while we are pinned down by the trades.

And, yes, it’s a beautiful day here in Dominica.

France, France and, well, baguettes.

We have entered our second “week in France”, first in Deshais and now in Les Saints, both a part of Guadeloupe, the first island to the south from Antigua.

Brenda and I visited France, the one “across the Pond” back in September, when we flew, not sailed, across the Atlantic, rented cars and moved from hotel to hotel for two weeks including a week with our son Christopher and his partner Melody.  It was a great trip and while we were “in France” it’s a lot different than being “in France” aboard Pandora now.

Now that we are “in France” again, our schedule is pretty loose with no deadlines to speak of except perhaps keeping a wary eye on the weather so we don’t end up having to move south when the wind and seas are up.  So far, it’s been very calm and we are enjoying the tranquility, warm water and balmy temperatures.

Each day is much the same as the one before with a leisurely start to the day with morning starting at sunrise, coffee and a baguette or croissant followed by a look at the news in the US, depressing, with all the wrangling in Washington.  After that, Brenda generally knits, weaves or works on her book and sometimes practices here new ukulele, which she hopes to master, somewhat, by the end of the season.  I think that she is making great progress although she doesn’t see it that way.   Most days, we fit in a morning swim before getting serious about our chores, such as they are and usually an afternoon swim and perhaps another before dinner.  Of course, it takes more than a few laps around Pandora to work off that morning croissant.

Our cockpit looks a bit like a greenhouse including a few tiny orchids that we smuggled into Antigua, buried deep in our luggage.  They love it here, like we do, and have burst into bloom. Pandora’s hard dodger can be a bit hot when the winds are calm which is almost never and offers a welcome respite from the strong tropical sunshine.    Brenda took this shot, while I made coffee down below, as we made our way south along the west coast of Guadeloupe on our way to Les Saints the other day.   In the lee of the island the waters are very calm and the wind, not so much. The view of Deshais from our stern shows how tiny the cove really is, with a lone sailboat just peaking out,  more of an indent, than a harbor. And the mountains of Guadeloupe in the morning haze to the south were beautiful.  Here in Les Saintes we spend some time most days hunting for groceries, a rewarding effort as there is a remarkable selection of wonderful French food to choose from, and many places to purchase fresh bread and terrific cheeses.  Of course, who can resist a nice little rose wine for less than ten euros.   In the US these shops would bill themselves as “gourmet” but here high quality is just expected.

And, speaking of great food, today we purchased a bag of Lamb Chops from New Zealand.  Some of our cruising friends are planing a beach cookout and we will bring them along to toss on the grill.

This tiny cluster of islands are very popular with tourists from France who fly directly to Guadeloupe and take the short ferry ride here.  When the ferries arrive each morning they disgorge hundreds of tourists that turn the tiny village from sleepy to bustling in moments, only to melt away as they take shuttles to the inns and hotels scattered throughout the island.The waterfront is so charming with a very convenient dock to pull up our dink. The waterfront looks like a tiny little village on the Mediterranean. Every view better than the last. The mural on this building near the town landing says it well. There are plenty of reasonably priced places to enjoy a terrific French meal.  Last evening we went out for dinner with our friends Mark and Lynn from Roxy and had an amazing dinner of fois gras and lamb chops.  Yum.

Fresh food is abundant here and some of the homes have lush gardens. Papayas so big you could never finish even one. Our first stop after leaving Antigua, before Les Saintes was Deshais, a tiny fishing village on the Northwest coast of Guadeloupe.  The harbor can be pretty rolly with a wrap-around swell and the swell was up when we arrived.  Fortunately, the swell dropped after a day and made for a pleasant visit.

The town, more of a village, and smaller than the town here in Les Saintes, is very quaint, a sort of French shabby chic.The town dock can be a bit tricky when the surf is on, as it was during our visit so we took our dink down the little canal on the Deshais river.   We were told that the week before we arrived the waves were breaking at the mouth of this canal. The swell in the harbor can be so bad that they have to remove the top of the dock to keep it from blowing off with the waves crashing against the shore.   Even when it’s calm, the town dock can be a bit of a challenge to land on. You can walk a short distance up the river and swim in one of the small pools between the cascades on the river, more of a stream, actually.  The water is a bit milky and I expect that is because the water leaches out of limestone springs.    As it is coming directly down from the mountains I doubt it’s polluted.  After this I went in for a swim.  It was chilly but what a change of pace.  Fresh Water!The main street in town is lined with colorful restaurants and shops. We had a terrific meal, French of course, here with some cruiser friends. Each restaurant is more charming than the next.   This particular one is featured in the TV series, Death in Paradise.  Buildings on the waterfront are beaten up from time to time in storms.  I guess this one hasn’t been repaired quite yet.  Fishing is a big part of what goes on in Deshais and every evening and into the early morning before dawn we were rocking and rolling as the fisherman headed out and returned with their days catch.
And, of course, where there are fish there are pelicans looking to find a way to prove that their “mouth can hold more than their belly can.”   I was just happy that they weren’t killing time waiting for their next meal aboard Pandora.Brenda and I spent a day with some friends from a boat Billy Ruffin and toured the nearby botanical gardens, one of the best in the Caribbean.  The view from the visitors center is first rate.
They have a large collection of koi that are always ready for a handout. All of these fish, and there are hundreds of them, are up to two feet long.  While the gardens are mostly focused on plants, there are a number of birds to enjoy including these beautiful parrots that live in a large open air aviary that you can enter and see up close. And who doesn’t like flamingos?This big macaw, seeming to challenge “what you lookin at?” And, of course, lots of plants and flowers, far too many to show here. These puffy flowers show up before the leaves on this tree.  They are 10′ puffs of pink against a perfect blue sky. I love the contrast of the red roofs, a signature style here, against the clear blue tropical sky and even bluer ocean. From the edge of the property, a view of the boats in the harbor.   That’s Pandora, third from the right. Pandora up close. So here we are in Les Saintes, one of our favorite spots to spend time.  We’ve taken a mooring for a week but it looks like we may have to make a run to Martinique soon as the winds are likely to pick up quite a bit and we need to be there or in St Lucia in a few weeks when we hope that the new compressor for our fridge will arrive and none too soon as it’s sounding worse each day.  I sure hope that it doesn’t give up the ghost before the new one arrives.

For now, however, there’s plenty of great food to keep our fridge, as long as the compressor holds up, well stocked.  It’s great to be back in France again.

Can I have another baguette?  Why not…

A walk in the woods, Guadeloupe

We are still here in Deshais, Guadeloupe and this morning were visited by a turtle that has been keeping us company over the last few days.  He’s/She’s about 18″ long. There is a bit of a swell coming into the harbor so we had a somewhat rolly night but the sun is out and it’s a beautiful day.

I am in a little cafe as I write this and spied this little heron as I came ashore.  Yesterday Brenda and I rented a car with some new cruising friends and toured the island of Guadeloupe.   We had lunch in an excellent French restaurant along the way and visited a rum distillery but the highlight of the day was a hike into the rainforest to view Les Chutes de Carbet a spectacular double waterfall with a total combined vertical drop of nearly 600′.

To get there we drove up an impossibly winding narrow road with dozens of switchbacks along the way, some so narrow that two approaching cars could not pass at the same time.   Once we arrived at the entrance to the park, we noticed a number of emergency vehicles lined up.  It wasn’t until later that we saw someone being carried out on a stretcher.  She had obviously fallen somewhere on the trail.   I’ll admit that did give all of us pause and I was extra careful along the way. Near the parking area was an overlook to give us an idea of what we were going to see, the spectacular double falls in the distance. The path we took was labeled as easy and was very well maintained with pavers and wooden walkways the entire way.  However, because of the constant wet from rain and mist, it was still slippery. Everywhere you turned, something was growing, from tiny moss and ferns to trees hundreds of feet tall. It seemed like every branch had something growing on it. Some of the ferns were 40′ tall with fronds that stretched 8′.The path followed the stream up to the falls. The top of the mountain, some 4,000′ tall, was shrouded in clouds and mist. After walking up and down, down and up, we arrived at the overlook with the water crashing down from the lower falls in the distance.   What a view.
There was a little bird looking at us, perhaps hoping for a handout. I am always on the lookout for orchids and didn’t see any.  That’s not unusual as they generally grow high up in the forest canopy, hundreds of feet up where the light is bright but hard to see from the forest floor.

However, a few days ago, I went for a short hike near the harbor and did see some vanilla orchid vines.  They were not in flower but I am pretty sure that ‘s what they are.  This particular species grows pretty close to sea level, not high up in the mountains.   The vines can grow hundreds of feet long and are the source of “vanilla beans”.  The island mountains are so steep and there is only a single road that runs around the perimeter of the island, with what seems like hundreds of switchbacks and winding curves that follow the coastline.   Driving these roads can get tiring after a while as it’s more like a slalom course where going more than 30 kph is tough.

Along the way we visited a distillery, billed as the Musee du Rhum.   It was a bit odd, I’ll admit, to be tasting their wares at 10:00 in the morning. A charming building. Including a mix of new and old.  I swear that I only had a tiny taste.As a museum, they had a very eclectic mix of stuff in their collection.    A number of ship models including such unrelated designs as a Mississippi steamer, Christoper Columbus’s ships and, well, an odd mix.  Along with some life size dinosaur models, both outside and in, they had a huge collection of bugs in frames. Tiny ones all lined up behind glass. Butterflies of all kinds. And lots that I’d hate running into at night. Some bigger than you’d want to imagine, about 12″ long.  To make matters worse, they are the sort that flies, I expect. Of course, everyone’s favorites, horned beetles. Ask yourself, what museum is complete without a collection of sand, all carefully labeled?After the tour of the collection, all I could think of was someone saying “what in the world are we going to do with Dad’s collections?  Have a tag sale?  No, wait, let’s open a museum! Any better ideas?”

Anyway, it was a wonderful, if long, day and a great way to get a feel for what Guadeloupe has to offer.

And, now we have replenished our rum stores aboard Pandora.  Yum.

That and a walk in the woods.  Perfect.

Captain Nat’s last schooner, the Mary Rose

In the summer of 1926, when he was 78 years old, Captain Nat Herreshoff launched what would be his last schooner, the 64′ on deck, Mary Rose.

What sweet lines if the word “sweet” applies to such a powerful sailing yacht. And even more beautiful under a full press of sails.
Mary Rose has had a number of owners over the years including Hugh Hefner, who used her as a set for a 1959 issue of Playboy.  She was called Gallant at that time. Mary Rose is very likely in way better shape these days than the “bunnies” that spent time aboard her nearly 60 years ago.

There have been some bad moments in her past as she was badly damaged in the hurricane of 1938.  Fortunately,  she was rebuilt to sail another day, unlike so many yachts that were lost in that terrible storm. Today she lives a somewhat less exciting life full time in English Harbor, Antigua where I spent time aboard with her owner Gerald.   I had been admiring Mary Rose for a number of years as she swung on her mooring off of the Admiral’s Inn and had wondered how I might get aboard for a look. As luck would have it, Gerald is a member of the Royal Navy Tot Club of Antigua and Barbuda, a group that I am a member of and have written of many times.   

I approached Gerald and we spent some time talking about his schooner and fortunately he agreed to host me for a tour.   We set a time to meet.  I was thrilled.

As we approached, her “royal” pedigree shows with the graceful curve of her bow. Gerald keeps here in Antigua full time and stores her, during the hurricane season, in what might be best described as concrete bunker designed to withstand hurricane force winds.   It is in her cocoon that a long list of off-season chores are done to keep her looking new as she prepares to enter her second century.

So, where should I begin?

Perhaps a good place to start is in the cockpit with her lovely wheel and binnacle.    Note the nod to the modern, her lovely brass lamp has been refitted with an LED bulb.
And the original builders plaque commemorating her as design #954.How about these beveled port lights, original of course. And, as you would expect, beautiful deck hatches, worthy of any proper yacht.  Her hardware, and it’s all original, has been refurbished over the years. The goose neck, with it’s interesting vertical bar is worth noting.  When the sail is hoisted, the boom raises up to the top of the slide. Gerald was proud to show me the recent scarf joints on the boom where there had been some decay.  It was beautifully done with perfect hairline glue lines. Everywhere lovely leather covers for shell blocks and covering whatever hardware might mar the decks, varnish or paint. I was taken by what must have been a very innovative piece of hardware on her mast track to hoist the storm sail. One departure from the original designed to make here easier to sail short handed, was the addition of a boom-kin.  Of course, Gerald consulted with experts at the Herreshoff museum in Bristol RI where he sits on the board of directors.   It’s a lovely addition and surely Capt Nat, always the innovator himself, would have approved.  This change made it possible to remove one of the two sets of running backstays, an important simplification. And, on the pointy end. As you head down below.  What a banister and the classic “Herreshoff interior” white panels with varnished wood trim.
Wonderful glazing on the interior cabinets  in the main salon. And a commemorative print when she was launched way back when.   However, no sign of that 1959 cover shot. A very nice, functional galley.  Of course, with the modern conveniences of generator and refrigeration to keep things civilized when cruising.
It’s clear from the stuff stored in the forepeak that she is a yacht that is used and not some sort of static museum piece. Beautiful restored hardware in the two heads complete with modern heads. A very nice master cabin although I expect it is a bit stuffy in the tropical climate. All and all, Mary Rose is a proper yacht with a caring owner and it is clear that he is committed to bringing her into her second century in grand style.

The very last schooner launched by the Wizard himself.

If you are interested in learning more about this remarkable yacht, check out her website from which I borrowed some of the photos in this post documenting her early history.

I am told that there are some great videos on YouTube but they appear to be blocked here in Guadeloupe.

“Isn’t this place just so French.”

After more than three weeks in Antigua we headed off to Deshaies, Guadaloupe yesterday,  a bumpy and fast 50 mile run south to the next island.    This tiny harbor is a popular spot with cruisers and yet, when the wind is up, can be a tricky place to anchor, with winds that can really whip down off of the mountains overlooking the harbor.

It can also be quite unpleasant with a nasty wrap-around swell that can make it really rolly.   Aren’t I making it sound just so great?

In fact, the town dock can be so bumpy that the decking is sometimes removed to keep it from being blown off by the waves.   When I went in to clear Pandora yesterday I found the dock “topless” only an open framework and no deck to walk on.  I had to find another way ashore.

The clearing in process here is such a contrast to Antigua with it’s multiple stops and  fees, just so English.   Here you just visit a local T-shirt shop, fill out a one page form on a PC and you’re done.  As a point of comparison, when I checked Pandora out of Antigua the bill for two months in the harbor, not counting mooring fees, came to $250US.  These fees were in addition to our mooring and dockage fees.  By contrast, my fees yesterday, clearing into Guadeloupe came to a total of $4 Euro.   “Nope, we don’t charge a lot.  Just go buy some of our French wine and cigarettes.  What you don’t smoke.  It’s never too late to start!”

Anyway, we are here in Deshaies and it’s lovely. The village is impossibly charming with a little French bakery and loads of, you guessed it, French restaurants to choose from.   As we got here fairly late yesterday, we ate aboard and enjoyed a bottle of rose, some French cheese and cured meats that I purchased in a charming little shop.  Yum!  No, make that Triple Yum.The harbor can be crowded and arriving late in the day we had to anchor fairly far out in 40′ of water.  It was a bit rolly but this morning we were able to move in closer and it’s much more settled.  At 25′ deep you can clearly see the bottom.  Schools of pilchards or sardines, swim around the boat as well as dolphins and turtles.  It’s quite a spot.  Sorry, no photos.  Have you ever tried to take a photo of a dolphin or turtle.  Good luck catching them at the perfect moment.

Oh yeah, it’s wash day.  Well at least the whites that I hand washed in a mix of ammonia and water.  It works very well and brightens up dingy grey items a bit.
There isn’t much wind right now as the trades are low which is a good time to visit.  Interestingly, while the trades are always from the east, this harbor has an onshore light westerly wind, a sort of Station Wagon effect, where the wind blows over the mountains and curls around 180 degrees in the lee of the island.

This means that when you approach an island that is mountainous the wind will abruptly shift 180 degrees within a few miles, an odd experience.

We will likely be here for a few days or longer and then may head back to Antigua to await the arrival of our new compressor for the fridge.  The old one is still working but I fear that each day may be it’s last.  Fingers crossed that the new one will be ready to ship before the old one is kaput.

Not sure about our next destination, Antigua or somewhere to the south, but getting the new compressor unit installed will be fairly easy in Antigua as opposed to somewhere else where I don’t have any contacts.    I guess that will depend on how long it takes till the new unit is ready to ship as I don’t want to spend all season in Antigua, as nice as it is.

If we do head back to Antigua we are looking forward to a reception like this that greeted a recent arrival from the Talisker’s Whisky Atlantic Challenge rowing race. “Welcome back, Bob and Brenda.  We are so happy you are back!  We missed you so much!”They would be waving American flags, I’d expect.   “Here they come!  I see them coming into the harbor.  Yes, It’s Pandora, I see them, both Bob and Brenda are aboard!  YES!!!”“No wait, it’s only a little rowboat.”Never mind.   For now, it’s great to be somewhere that is “just so French”.  Can I have another baguette?

The world’s toughest row.

There are plenty of ways to get from one place to another and sailing, at least for me, is probably about the roughest way to get from one place to another that I’d consider.

When I head out from Essex each fall to make my run to Antigua I rely on the wind to keep me moving along and when it’s dead, on comes the motor.  Even with that and all the comforts aboard Pandora, sometimes it feels, well, hard.

On our run south this year there were moments on the 11 day run that were pretty discouraging with adverse winds or no wind at all and there were times when I didn’t think that we would ever get there.

And, once we and other in the fleet arrived here in Antigua we were pretty proud of ourselves, doing something that most sailors never do, a run of 1,500 miles in a small boat.

However, there are some that are driven to do things the REALLY HARD WAY and those teams that compete in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challange rowing race from the Canary Islands to Antigua have elevated “hard” to another level.

These hearty souls, and there are over 30 teams this year, row the entire 3,000 miles from the Canary islands all the way here to English Harbor Antigua, a really long way.

The teams that left the Canary Islands back in early December have begun arriving in English Harbor after weeks at sea and it’s clearly been cause for celebration as they step on land for the first time after so much time at sea.  The crowd, friends and family are on hand to welcome them and what a welcome it has been.

Yesterday, I was on hand to see several of the crews come into the harbor, serenaded by horns from the nearby mega-yachts and onlookers cheering them into the harbor. The guys on this boat, and there were four aboard, really looked excited to be here. A few days ago, a three man team arrived, brothers.   It was quite moving to see them greeted by family and friends. And there were speeches all around.   They were justifiably proud of what they had accomplished.   The MC asked them what the most memorable moment was on the trip and they talked about how a butterfly flew by their boat, following a gale, more than 1,500 miles from anything.  We have had birds land on board Pandora many times, often more than 500 miles from shore,.  Amazing stamina for a tiny insect, flying so far.

A little later, another boat, this time, a two man team, arrived.   They came into view as they neared the dock. I can only imagine  how emotional it must have been for them to arrive after so long at sea and under such tough conditions. These guys were clearly happy with their accomplishment.  I wonder if they were this “buff” at the beginning of their trip.  Probably, but now “super buff” and very happy to be “home”.  Seeing the teams greet family was quite moving.  Most were overcome by emotion as soon as they stepped on the dock,  reunited with loved ones, wives and babies that they had not seen for months. Every moment of each team’s arrival was captured from every angle.
These boats are all nearly identical, only longer or shorter depending on the number of rowing stations.    I am told that some of the boats are shipped home after the race and some sold here in Antigua.  I doubt that they are used more than once by many individual teams.  “Hey guys, that was fun, wana row back?”

These are pretty high tech boats but they still have to be rowed, and rowed and rowed…According to the official site, some facts…

  • Each team will row in excess of 1.5 million oar strokes over a race.

  • Rowers will row for 2 hours, and sleep for 2 hours, constantly, 24 hours a day.

  • More people have climbed Everest than rowed an ocean.

  • The waves the rowers will experience can measure up to 20ft high.

  • There are two safety yachts supporting the teams as they cross the ocean. In the 2013 race, one yacht traveled a massive 9000nm!

  • The 2013 winning Team Locura arrived in Antigua with a blue marlin beak pierced through the hull of the boat.

  • In the 2016 race, solo rower Daryl Farmer arrived in Antigua after 96 days, rowing without a rudder to steer with for nearly 1200miles/40 days.

  • Each rower needs to aim to consume 2.6 gallons of of water per day.

  • Rowers burn in excess of 5,000 calories per day.

  • There is no toilet on board – rowers use a bucket!

  •  Each rower loses nearly 30lbs crossing the Atlantic

Ok, so this is the course.  Looks simple enough.   Not…This short video gives a good feel for what the arrival was like and highlights from some of the races.  There is no doubt about it, this is indeed “The Worlds Toughest Row”.

Nope, not for me and surely not Brenda.  Imagine that one, will you?

We will just stick with this view from Pandora’s cozy cockpit.   How many rainbows can you see in a single day?  Come to Antigua and find out for yourself.

Oh yeah, the fridge is stable for now and a new compressor is on order.  I expect to have it by mid February.  Hope the old one doesn’t finally give up the ghost.

Off to Guadeloupe in a few days with friends.


Life in Antigua. Brutish and short or luxurious?

It’s been very windy for the last few days with gusts in the 40s, conditions that are not uncommon during January when the Caribbean are in the clutches of the “Christmas Winds”.   However, unlike the Bahamas that suffer from clocking winds when a cold front comes through, the winds here are reliably from the east so there is no need to move from place to place as the weather changes.  And, again, unlike the Bahamas, when a cold front pushes south and brings very strong winds to the Bahamas, here it causes the trade winds to relax, something that we hope to see in a few days.   And, as Wednesday is Brenda’s birthday, a little less wind will be welcomed by the birthday girl.

My friend Bill on Kalunamoo contacted me yesterday to see if we’d be interested in moving south with them next week when the winds subside a bit.  However, that’s not in the cards for us, just yet.

And that’s because, in addition to holding onto our hats in the wind, I am still messing around with some important repairs, most notably still unresolved compressor issues for our fridge/freezer.  Just getting someone out to look at the unit has proven to be difficult and at last estimate, it could take as long as another month to resolve the problem which makes the delay in moving due to the high winds, pale by comparison with repair issues.   For now, we have to watch our battery level like a hawk as the compressor really labors and chokes if the voltage isn’t up to snuff, at 90% or better of full charge which means that in spite of abundant sunshine, I am still running our Honda generator every day which I am sure brings joy to our neighbors in the anchorage.

The refrigeration guys told me that once we order a new unit, and that won’t happen until I meet with them early this coming week, it might be three weeks until the unit is even shipped from the US.  There are some options that I hope can speed this up but it’s going to be at least two weeks, I’d guess until things are resolved and we are free to move away from here.

The watermaker is happily now mostly mended and I can at least operate it in manual mode as the “computer” that normally controls the unit doesn’t work.  Unfortunately, the fix that would surely solve the problem will cost at least one boat dollar, a bit rich for my blood at the moment with the pending fridge repair so, for now, I am content to open a few valves, toggle some switches and make water the “old fashioned way”.  Old fashioned or not, I am still in awe that our prized watermaker can magically turn salt water into fresh at the “push of a button” or now, at the push of several buttons, throwing of valves and switches.

However, there may be help to bring us back to the “one click” machine option as the watermaker guy still has some ideas for a simpler fix for less than a boat dollar.  I’ll know more about that soon, I hope.

And, now for something completely different.  I decided to try some of the fruits that are common here like star and passion fruits, types that aren’t readily available in the US but are grown here in abundance.  Star fruit is supposed to taste a lot like apple, which is true, but the one I tasted left me unimpressed.

Another fruit that I decided to try was passion fruit.  It looks like a smallish overripe apple, sort of dried out and spotty brown.  Inside the pulpy rind is a filling of soft stuff with black seeds that look to me more like frog eggs than anything else.  The seeds and soft fruit are a bit sour and I was told to mix it with yogurt, which I did.  They tasted much better than this sounds.   The bad news, I now know, is that they have what might be called, to put it delicately, a “lubricating effect” and my stomach etc have been in full revolt for two days now.  Not fun and I guess that I am sort of sworn off on trying unfamiliar tropical fruit for the time being.

However, prior to the recent effects of the passion fruit taking full control, Brenda and I took part, along with some other cruisers, in a tour, put on by the Parks Department, of some of the old ruins along a ridge on the bluff above the dockyard, where many British troops were housed when Nelson’s Dockyard was in operation.

Our docent, Dr Murphy, is very knowledgeable about the history of the island and as a trained archaeologist, was able to make history come alive for us.  He spoke of the life led by those in the British navy when they were stationed here.  Based on what he said, that life was brutish and short, with a fatality rate upwards of 70% per year due to yellow fever, heat stroke and many other illnesses.

It sounded horrible.  But, like those of us that were participating in “Rum in the Ruins”, they had rum.  And, it seems that rum was about all that they had and they had plenty of rum every day, enough to keep them lubricated enough to take the edge off of their miserable life.   I can only imagine what it must have been like to wake up every morning with a raging hangover and have to march in formation with heavy wool uniforms on in the tropical heat.  “Please, please, Captain can I have another rum punch.”

Dr. Murphy even dressed the part.  It’s hard to imagine living in this hot climate dressed in so many layers.   Note the rum punch, issued to us all to “get in the mood” as it were.   I have heard him speak in the past and he was as entertaining as I remembered.  High up on the ridge, overlooking the dockyard, the strong winds were really whipping.  Seeing the tall grass swaying in the breeze was beautiful. He talked about the history of some of the building, each with their own story. His description of the ruins and life in that era gave us a good feel for what life must have been like here so many years ago. I’ve mentioned this in a past post, but from the bluff, you could see Eric Clapton’s compound way down below. After the tour, just as it was getting dark, our group headed back to town.  Interestingly, here in the Caribbean, dusk is very short and sunset to pitch dark is quick, perhaps about 30 minutes.  Not a lot of twilight in these parts.

In the growing twilight, we went for a walk on the docks to see the mega yachts.  Now that the holiday parties in nearby St Barths are over, the marinas are nearly full, with one yacht more spectacular than the next.   It’s interesting to see the dozens of crew that work on these huge boats as they head out for an evening of bar hopping.  It’s easy to guess who is crew as they are all very young and very fit.   I guess that only “beautiful people” need apply.

One of the first we passed on the dock is the 300′ Phoenix.  She sports a huge sculpture of her namesake on her bow.  Check this link to see some remarkable photos of her.   Note that the wood expanse under the stairs isn’t the dock, it’s her sun-deck.
Phoenix 2 was launched for Jan Kulczyk in 2010, then the richest guy in Poland, for a reported $160,000,000.  Unfortunately, under the category of “you can’t take it with you”, Jan died in 2015 at the tender age of 65.  It was reported that he died of complications of surgery.  I believe that Phoenix is now for the use of his family.

Seeing a lineup of these yachts in the twilight is something to behold. Hard to believe that one person can amass enough wealth to afford one of these.  Imagine paying for such a yacht along with a full time staff of some 30 crew.

And, some yachts are so big and have to move around so much stuff and so many toys, that the owners purchase another “shadow yacht” to follow the “mother yacht” around from place to place.  The yacht on the left in this photo is such a vessel, aptly named Garcon as in “Garcon, please fetch my (whatever)”, submarine, sailboat, tender, toys, chopper, whatever.  And speaking of chopper, note the one secured to her upper deck.  Obviously it just wouldn’t be right to clutter up your yacht with an ugly chopper. This recent addition to the relentless need to “keep up with the Joneses” world of the uber-rich has only happened in the last few years but I am sure that you will agree that if you were forced to cram all your stuff into a single yacht it would be quite annoying.  “Garson, can you PLEASE get Dimitri’s chopper off of the sundeck?  I’d like to work on my tan.”

Besides, with only a single yacht it would have to be so ginormous that you wouldn’t be able to get it into your favorite harbors, so it just makes sense to have two.  To keep the cost down, your floating “garage” could have much more spartan conditions than the real yacht.  And, you could hire a cook instead of a chef, to feed the crew, which would be a big savings as well, right?

So that’s why everyone knows that it’s just plain less expensive to have a yacht and a shadow ship, than to have a single yacht that can handle all your stuff.  Check out this site that describes the “why” and see if you agree. 

And speaking of mother yachts, I wrote about EOS, owned by Barry Diller and his wife Diane Von Ferstenburg in my last post.  Up close, on the right, she definitely looks the part of luxury. Across the dock is Phoenix which is so much larger in displacement in spite of being about the same length. Everywhere you look, something more expensive looking than you’d expect.  How about these boarding ladders and most with a intercom to announce yourself.  “Can I trouble you for a bit of Grey Poupon?”  “No, go away!”I guess that’s it for now and as I continue to recover from my ill advised sampling out of the local fruits, I expect that the crew and owners on these huge yachts of wealth know better.

Besides, like those miserable British navy guys, no matter how miserable you get, a Tot of rum will make things seem right.

Yes, life here was once brutish and short but now…not so much, especially for those fortunate enough to have a mega-yacht or better yet, a second one to fit all their stuff.

Don’t forget, Brenda’s birthday is coming up soon.  January 15th.  Just sayin…