Category Archives: Uncategorized

The biggest kids in the Caribbean 600

As I sit at the kitchen counter here in CT I must report that the temperature outside is a balmy 46 degrees and all the snow, including what I  posted a photo of just yesterday, is gone.   However, 46 is a long way from the 80s temperatures of where Pandora is in Martinique and I am none too happy with all that.  Anyway, I guess it’s not all that cold.

Happily, the Caribbean 600 race is underway, with nearly 90 entries, a record fleet, which is good as it will give me something to write about.   This video is a pre-race overview and is worth watching.  And, I’d better write about it PDQ as the leading boats are more than half of the way to the finish line and the race only left yesterday.   Actually, the leading boat, Phaedo 3, a 70′ go fast trimaran, no make that go EXTREEMLY FAST racer, is owned by a 36 year old Lloyd Thornburg. It’s interesting to note that his father, Garrett, co-founded a mortgage company back in 1993 and made a lot, no make that a LOT of money.  The company went bankrupt in 2009.  Remember the crash of 2008?  However, it seems that Lloyd’s dad made out alright in spite of the market collapse as now his son Lloyd can spend his time racing around the world.   Phaedo isn’t his only boat as he also owns a large 60′ carbon Gunboat cat that he cruises, I guess.

This is an interesting quote from an interview he did with Forbes Magazine.

“This the scariest thing I’ve done,” he confides. “I fly, skydive, drive fast cars, but the MOD is scarier. All those other things are scary for a minute or a few minutes at a time, but this boat shows you what you’re capable of after being miserable, and tired, and soaked in fear for 24 hours, 30 hours. You could wake up upside down in the freezing cold water in the dark…”

His newest boat Phaedo 3 is a real screamer and is leading the 90 boat fleet.  This boat, only a few years old, took line honors as the first to finish in the 2015 Caribbean 600 race and that was  the very first regatta that she was in.I’ll bet it was upsetting to some of the race veterans to have a first timer skunk them all. She’s a really fast boat. As I watched that video I was struck by how many of the boats and sights I recognized from our time in Antigua. It’s a really nice place to visit if you are into sailing like I am.

Another yacht leading the pack is also a trimaran, Paradox.  This boat is particularly interesting as it’s set up as a racer/cruiser, unlike most other fast boats, this one is also used for family cruising.  She looks fast and is capable of speeds in the 30s.   I’m not sure if this information is current but it appears that she’s for sale.  Want to get there fast?  She may be the boat for you.   Check out her listing hereMulti ulls, yachts with more than one hull, two or three, are really tricky to sail in strong winds as the risk of capsize is high.   Actually, last night one of the cats in the 600 did just that, the 70′ Fujin.   This photo is of her at the start of the race yesterday from Yachts and Racing.   I guess she’s not going all that fast now. Read about her capsize and see a few photos of her by following this link.   I am sure that there will be plenty of commentary about this in the coming weeks.

And speaking of things going bump in the night.  Another competitor among the leaders of the pack is Rambler 100.   She’s one of the fastest monohulls in the world and her owner, George David, former chairman of United Technologies, if I’m right, also owns Rambler 88.  She’s leading the monohull feet, even ahead of her bigger sister Rambler 100.    With two major ocean racers to keep up David must have quite a payroll.

His bigger boat, Rambler 100, lost her keel in the Fastnet race in 2011.   Imagine what it’s like to be blasting along one minute and upside down the next.  And, that’s what happened.   Fast ocean racing is a high stakes game, that’s for sure. These boats are certainly different than the type of cruising boats that most of us have.  This video, a series of interviews with skippers of some of the fastest boats in the 2015 trans Atlantic race gives a pretty good feel for what these boats are like.  Some great footage of them underway including Phaedo 3, Rambler 88 and Paradox.It’s remarkable to see these videos but even better to be sailing in these waters over the winter and seeing these boats first hand.  Last winter Brenda and I were making a run from St Barths to Antigua and ended up right in the middle of the fleet during last year’s running of the Caribbean 600.  To see these boats scream by as the sun rose in the east was a sight to behold.   Follow this link to the post that I wrote about that chance encounter with the fleet that day.

As I finish up this post it’s mid morning and the leaders are closing in on the last third of the leg.   That’s a lot of boats.  And, here are the leaders, rounding the south side of Guadeloupe.   The tri to the right is Phaedo 3, the green one on the bottom is Rambler 88 (green) taking a different road, number three Rambler 100 (white) and Paradox after that.

I guess we will hear more as the race finishes.  If you want to check things out yourself, try this link to the race tracker.    So, there you have it, the Caribbean 600 race is underway and nearly over for the leaders already.  Me?  I’m up in the north with snow, well at least snow was on the ground yesterday, and Pandora’s in Martinique, waiting for us to return in a few weeks.  Meanwhile, the biggest and fastest kids are duking it out in heavy conditions down in the Caribbean.

Oh yeah, I have had a cold for a while and Brenda might be coming down with one too.  Oh boy.  I sure hope that doesn’t keep us from seeing Rob, Kandice and little Tori.   Fingers crossed.

Wow! It’s different up north

Well, it’s happened, we are now back in CT and home for the next two weeks.   As we have for the last 6 winters, we had made sure that the house was thoroughly winterized with antifreeze in the boiler, all domestic water pipes blown out and antifreeze in the toilets, dishwasher… before we shut the front door to head south.

So, now it’s late February, the house is warm (sort of), the water turned on and all that work, getting the house closed up is, well, down the drain, literally.   

We arrived late yesterday afternoon to a wintry landscape of snow and ice.   This is the view out of our front door a few moments ago.   Note the nod to nautical, the anchor on the porch.  Contrast that to the sunset behind Pandora, our last night aboard.   “Behind” is the operative word.  Sunsets in the Caribbean are always behind the boat as the wind is always from the east.   How inconvenient it would be to have to crane our necks if it wasn’t always behind us.   Love those trade winds. So much for tropics for the next two weeks.

So back to arriving home.   I had set the furnace to a cool 40 degrees for the winter when we left and somewhere along the line the furnace failed and when I went to turn up the heat, NOTHING HAPPENED.   Yikes, it was 43 in the house and no way to make it warmer.

After a quick call to the oil company and our plumber, I realized that I could try the reset button on the furnace and voila, it turned on.  However, I still want to have someone out to look things over as I have no idea what caused it to fail and somewhere along the way it had gotten VERY COLD inside.   So cold that water inside the fridge froze.   That’s cold.

Well, it’s now warm in the house, although that is a relative description as I now have on an undershirt, long sleeve shirt, fleece, long pants, socks.  Well, you get the picture and that’s in contrast to my normal tropical attire of shorts.  Just shorts,  that’s it with the addition of a shirt to keep the sun off as needed.   Oh yeah, while the water here is frozen, the water in Martinique is “dip worthy”.  Hmm…

And, speaking of Martinique, Pandora is now on a mooring in Le Marin, which has the least expensive moorings I have ever encountered.   Believe it or not, Pandora’s monthly rate for the mooring is about $135 a month.   A MONTH!  Can you believe it?  Not to torture the price thing too much but a mooring in Sag Harbor, The Hamptons in NY,  for Pandora at 47′ is $94/night.  That’s for ONE NIGHT!   In Martha’s Vineyard it’s in the $50/night range and Nantucket around $85/night.

And, to tie up Med Moor on the dock is cheap too, something like $35/night.   The place is so reasonably priced that the entire year is booked, with short windows sometimes available for transient visits, by December of the PRIOR YEAR, including summer in-water storage.   Amazing.

t’s no surprise that the place, with 600 slips, some say as many as 1,000 and hundreds of moorings, is always full as it’s so reasonably priced.   Pandora is actually in this shot but she’s so far out in the harbor that she doesn’t even show up.   I’d estimate that in the general area there are perhaps as many as 2,000 boats in slips, on moorings and at anchor at any given time.   And, as you can imagine, just about any sort of marine related service is readily at hand and at reasonable prices.
So here we are in CT for two weeks, punctuated with visits to MD and our family, before heading back to Pandora to resume our visit to the Windward Islands, south to Grenada.

After that?  Not sure but I am leaning toward bringing Pandora north this spring in spite of the fact that it’s such a long trip back north,  a real slog.

For now, I’ll just focus on staying warm and look forward to the fun of re-winterizing the house once again before we head back to Martinique.

After a few months in tropical weather, all I can say is “wow, it’s different up here”.

A taste of Maine in Martinique

It’s rare to see a classic boat here in Martinique where the only really old ones are generally nearly or totally derelict.   However, as we moved from St Anne to Le Marin today, to put Pandora on a mooring, this lovely motorsailer passed us going the other way.She’s a beauty, built in the 50s, a steel motorsailer.   This video talks about her recent refit in Belfast Maine.It’s indeed rare to see classics south of Antigua and a treat.  I only wish that I had seen her when she was anchored in St Anne so I could have gotten some better shots.  Anyway, we saw her.   Her cruising schedule is taking her far and wide this season although she was shipped from Newport to the American Virgins by ship.  Want to follow her?  Check out her FaceBook page.  Not a lot of current information there although it seems that she was designed by Walter McGinnis in Boston and build by Abeking and Rasmussen in Germany, the same yard that built the iconic Concordia Yawls.

On another subject, yesterday Brenda and I went for a hike along the shore near St Anne.  It involved some ups and downs, more than Brenda wanted and als0 was a bit longer, no make that a LOT longer, than I had expected.  Oops.

Anyway, it was a beautiful walk.   This view, of the anchorage, shows how many boats are anchored off of St Anne.  A bit farther down, a view to the south toward St Lucia, where we hope to visit when we return from CT in early March. Along the way we saw a number of specimens of this very interesting tree, a Caribbean Birch, called that because the bark peels like a north american birch.   It’s also called a tourist tree, because it is red and peels like a sunburned tourist.  They are very fast growing and look impressive.  Their wood is a dark red like mahogany.  Beautiful. The walk was nice but being longer than expected and the fact that we had to bum a ride with some random Italian tourist and his family at the end didn’t go particularly well with Brenda.   Oops.  And, as our Son Rob would say,  “Nice work.  A CLM, career limiting move Dad”.

For much of the week the locals in Martinique have been celebrating Carnival and even in little St Anne, there was something going on each day.   In the evenings the music would blare and a small parade would make it’s way through town.   This truck had some impressive sound equipment aboard.  You could feel as well as hear the music a long way off.   After it passed, “oh, that’s a lot of speakers”.    No wonder it sounded like it was right in Pandora’s cockpit with us.  Many locals dressed up and marched, or danced along with the parade.  I particularly enjoyed this girl in her costume.   Store bought perhaps but fun never the less.   Cute kid. Well, that’s about all for now.   Tomorrow we pack up for our trip home to the states for two weeks.   Lots of details including someone to keep an eye on Pandora and to water her plants.   Plants you say?  Yes, plants.

We are excited to see the kids and our granddaughter Tori.    Will be fun.   Back to Pandora and south for more exploring after March 5th.

As always, details to come.

Seeing Little Vigilant today reminded me of the coming cold weather up north.  A taste of the coming weather when we head home, a taste of Maine here in Martinique.

The church of St Anne

Well, it’s another windy day here in St Anne, and only a few days till we catch a flight back to the US.  Interestingly, it’s not expensive to fly to CT or NY from Martinique as the discount airline, Norwegian Air flies here non-stop several days a week.  Brenda and I were able to get pretty inexpensive flights of about $250 each, round trip.  Not bad compared to some islands where it costs a lot more, takes two stops and sometimes two days to get home.

One thing for sure is that there isn’t any salt on the decks of boats here as it rains every day here, sometimes for a few brief moments and occasionally in great torrents.   And with the wind, it seems like just about every day somebody’s boat or dink breaks free and must be captured and re-anchored because of the strong winds.   That and the fact that there are about 350 boats anchored makes for a lot of action, wind or not.

Normally, squalls and rainstorms in the Caribbean come with an increase of 5-10kts of additional wind but with the wind already in the 20s, and a wind increase of sometimes 20+ kts, makes for some impressive moments with horizontal winds lashing Pandora.

However, wind or not, there is still plenty of sunshine here and that all comes with temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s, very pleasant actually.

Now that we have been here for about two weeks due to the wind, it’s becoming somewhat difficult to keep myself occupied as witnessed by my more than regular posts.   Actually, to keep everyone from getting cabin fever from being pinned down with strong winds, today there will be a valentine’s pot luck on the beach.  Brenda’s made a terrific almond cake.  I expect that it will be a big hit.

The town center of St Anne is dominated by the Catholic church, the first thing you see when you arrive at the dock.  It’s a busy place with services or activities most every day.   It’s a beautiful building.   The church is famous for it’s pathway depicting the stations of the cross, set up on the hillside behind the church.   Each station depicts an event associated with the Crucifixion of Christ.  As you make your way up the hillside, you go through a series of switchbacks with a station at each turn. From the top is an impressive view of the harbor and mountains in the distance.  Pandora is out there too. The congregation of the church has gone to great effort to make everything just right with whitewashed walls lining the paths.  There are even floodlights and loud speakers lining the pathway, designed to manage thousands of pilgrims that make the journey on special occasions.

Down near the water is a beautiful cemetery with many family crypts.  Not a bad view.I guess that this post is a bit light on detail but I thought I’d share it anyway.

Oh yeah, Happy Valentines Day.  Pandora’s crew will enjoy some bubbly and sauteed duck breast for dinner aboard.

In a few days, back to the US and family.  Happily, a local cruiser will be keeping an eye on Pandora while she’s on a mooring in la Marin.   One less thing to worry about.

It’s windy in paradise. What’s a cruiser to do?

While many of my friends are freezing up in the northeast, we are still here in St Ann Martinique, unable to move, after nearly a week of quite strong winds.   It’s ironic that the sun is out, it’s beautiful with occasional brief showers and yet we can’t go anywhere.   And, there are hundreds of boats that feel about the same way.  Nobody is moving, waiting for a lull in the winds to head off to their next stop, either south or north.

At this point it looks like the wind will begin to slacken in a few days but by that time it will be too close to our departure this weekend to make leave St Ann.  In addition, I am still messing around trying to find someone to keep an eye on Pandora while we leave her on a mooring for the two weeks we will be away.

I have someone to talk to later today who has offered to watch her here in St Ann, but that means leaving her on anchor for the duration and I am not sure of what I think of that option.  The difficulty of trying to figure the do with her for a short two week stretch, has made me leery of what will be involved in leaving her for many months down in Grenada or Trinidad.  I am not sure that I have the energy to do that so perhaps it’s best to just bite the bullet and bring her home to CT in the spring.  Besides, I enjoy working on the boat and I’d surely go into withdraw if I had to be away from Pandora from May to the end of the year.  Besides, perhaps I can sneak away for a few short cruises over the summer.   Fingers crossed.

The good news is that my crew for May, George and Bob seem flexible on my ultimate destination, which is good.

So, back to it’s windy and we can’t leave?   What’s a cruiser to do?

In the world of cruisers, where it takes a whole morning to check email, shop for groceries or do laundry, there seems to be plenty to do to keep busy in spite of the fact that we can’t go anywhere.

As I wrote recently, the local cruiser’s community gathers at least once a week for a pot luck and they just announced a second event for this week, on Wednesday.  We participated in last Friday’s event and it was fun to visit with others for a few hours.   There was a communal grill for us to grill our meat and everyone brought some sort of side dish to share.

There was a really good turnout. One couple even provided some music to set the mood.   Their choice of instruments really set the mood and was a good example of the diversity of the cruising community.Cruisers helping cruisers is the norm just about everywhere and St Ann is no different.   Cruisers are always quick to lend tools of do whatever they can to “pay it forward” and help others.

As I mentioned in my last post, James on Sophie lent me a heat gun, which was invaluable for installing the mast head light.   One way that everyone stays in touch about helping out, sharing ideas and hooking up with others is on the local morning VHF radio net held three days a week.   Brenda and I know that it can be tough to get parts or mail letters back to the US so on today’s net I offered to take any mail to post when we get home.   I also know how tough it can be to get obscure parts in the islands and offered to bring small packages back when we return in early March.  So far, I have been contacted by three cruisers who are looking for help, which is good.  I expect that others will contact us in the next few days.  I am happy to help as others have helped me in the past.

So, back to what’s going on and how a “pinned down cruiser” keeps busy.  As luck would have it, this week is Carnival here in Martinique and St Ann and the locals were sure not to be left out.   There was a very enthusiastic band playing local music.  They even set up a large tent and chairs for the audience to enjoy the music and stay out of the tropical sun.   Elsewhere in Martinique there are parades and a lot more going on but St Ann is trying hard to make it fun.

Later today, if I even finish this posts as getting good Internet isn’t so easy here, I am going to check out renting a car for tomorrow so we can tour the island with another couple who cruised here from Maine.

Perhaps I’ll close of a photo of Pandora sailing along the leeward side of Dominica last week by our friends on Raven. If only every day here could be like that day.    For now, one thing is for sure, that being pinned down in paradise is surely better than being “brr” up north, that’s for sure.

So, what’s a cruiser to do?   I guess I’ll just have to go for a swim this afternoon to wash out the shampoo.   Besides, I do have to stay clean.  Right?  And, I just have to stay busy.

Taking boat repair to new heights

You know the phrase “cruising is nothing more than boat repair in exotic places”?   Well, to torture that phrase a bit, yesterday it was like “cruising aboard Pandora is taking boat repair to new heights”.

On my run south from CT in November the mast top tri-color stopped working, along with other miscellaneous items aboard Pandora.    As the say, “it’s always something” so I purchased a new Signal Mate masthead unit  over the holidays.  It’s a pretty elegant unit sold as water tight.   Ha!   Water tight?  When I took the old unit down it had enough water in it to actually slosh around.   Not good.

Anyway, I was lucky to have the problem crop up before I headed home from Antigua as a few days ago the integrated anchor light in the unit failed as well and as we nearly always anchor out, having a functioning mast top anchor light is critical.

I have been meaning to swap out the old unit for the last month but have continually put it off because of rough anchorages or heavy winds.  However, once the anchor light went I had to deal with it.

The problem is that the winds have been really piping up lately and the idea of being at the top of a 65′ mast in heavy winds, trying to deal with tiny screws, butt connectors and heat shrink tubing, all at the top of a mast, exposed to winds, left me a little, well, not happy.  And, add to that, the fact that I don’t like heights.

Additionally,  I had no idea of how I was going to use a torch to shrink wrap the connection after I finished the job in all that wind.

Have you ever watched a space walk and marveled at how slowly and deliberately the astronauts do their jobs, planning, practicing and planning again to be sure that they have the right tools, steps and process worked out?

No, working on Pandora’s mast top isn’t a spacewalk but it isn’t a “walk in the park” either.  By the time you get up to the top of the mast you don’t want to have to head back down because of a missing screwdriver.  And, to drop a wrench from that height would surely mean a lost tool or worse, a broken hatch.

So, every tool had to be attached to my bosun’s chair by a rope lanyard and placed in the proper pocket to allow me to do the job without tangling the various lines attached to each tool.

Brenda has pulled me up the mast many times over the years and I completely trust her.  We had worked out the process in great detail as there was no way that I could hear her response to any of my questions.

Here I am all (snug?) at the top of Pandora’s mast.  Note the extension cord for the heat gun bowing out in the wind.  The steps…

  1. prepare new masthead unit
  2. pre-attach butt connectors and position shrink wrap tube
  3. arrange 100′ of extension cord to power heat shrinker
  4. head up the mast
  5. collect self and stop shaking from the force of the wind
  6. Tip head back to get brim of hat out of face due to strong wind
  7. try not to look down!
  8. strip wires on mast cable
  9. Caulk out of pocket and remove cap
  10. apply caulk under new unit
  11. cap back on caulk tube and back in pocket
  12. try to fasten with two screws (of course, the didn’t quite line up)  try that with a screw driver attached to a lanyard where the line wraps around and around as screw is driven
  13.  try to line up second screw
  14. again
  15. and again
  16. look at hands now covered with white caulk
  17. wipe caulk off on shirt
  18. tighten screws, finally
  19. “dry test” connections
  20. Brenda turns on mast unit (it worked!)
  21. Brenda turns off unit.  Thumbs up from Brenda to confirm power off
  22. Crimp connector positioned (almost dropped crimper as knot came untied)
  23. re-tie crimper with one free hand and teeth.  Whew!
  24. crimp all three butt connectors
  25. slip shrink tube over connectors
  26. Brenda turns on inverter to power heat gun
  27. use electric heat gun to shrink covering on wire
  28. Brenda turns off inverter so I won’t set the bosun’s chair in fire by accident
  29.  Brenda begins to lower me to deck.
  30. I wave “stop, stop!”  lanyards holding tools are now tangled in backstay and threaten to pull all tools out of the pockets on bosun’s chair.
  31. Ok, all set.  Brenda lowers me to deck.
  32. I kiss deck…

Too much detail you say?  Imagine doing this in a vacuum and with no gravity?   Don’t I look comfy up there?Finally, after about 45 minutes.   Done!  Now, wasn’t that easy?

Imagine doing that in deep space in zero gravity.   It was plenty hard with so many deliberate steps but it was surely easier for me than the folks on the space station.

Anyway, cruising is surely all about fixing boats in exotic places and after yesterday I’ll surely do what I can to be sure that I do the “fixin” when the wind is calm.  Well, at least when I can.

Just to be clear, it’s not always hard.   Here’s me and Brenda enjoying the Superbowl last weekend.   And, I don’t even like football.

Speaking of fun times, we’ll be heading home to the US for a two week visit in about a week.   Can’t wait to see our family and our granddaughter Tori.  She’s getting big.  One more thing…

Tori is “expecting” to be the sister of twins in August.   (note the wording on her shirt)  Good luck to her parents Rob and Kandice.   Can you say “where’s my nanny?”

How we get around, or don’t…

Well, we are still here in Martinique, splitting our time between the busy harbor of Le Marin and the more quiet nearby St Ann.   Both have their charm but the water is clearer and the town much more charming in St Ann so here we are in St Ann again.

Le Marin, I am told, boasts the largest harbor and marina in the Windward Islands.  I believe it.  The harbor is a sea of masts with dockage for something like 1,000 boats (Med Moor) and 100 moorings.   It’s been both sunny and rainy for the last week or so with a seemingly constant parade of showers every few hours interspersed by intense beating tropical sun.  Rain or not, the sun outweighs the rain many times over.  At night we are often awakened by a pounding rain that requires us to jump up and close the hatches.

Rain or shine, the silver lining is that each daytime shower is followed by a rainbow, or two.   This one greeted us this morning shortly after sunrise.Many cruisers love St Ann and it seems, hang out here for months at a time as evidenced by the algae growing on their anchor snubber lines, a sure sign that they haven’t moved for quite some time.

I have posted photos of some remarkable boats over the years so perhaps it’s time to post photos of some more humble ways to get around on the water.

How about this?  Care to speculate on what this is all about?   More to the point, which end is the bow?   Try the “blunt” end to the left.  See the pilot’s head sticking out of the top?Laqua Scope?  How about a “glass bottom boat”.  Viewed from the bow?, you can sort of see the large glass portholes in the center hull.   This contraption gave tours of the harbor, teeming with sea turtles, to all comers.   It was out and about all day long ziging and zaging past dozens of snorkelers, including me.   Want to go for a spin?  Check out this on Trip Adviser.If you followed my posts last winter you saw a photo of one of these “donut boats” from France.  They come complete with a grill, outboard motor and umbrella.    Admit it, you need one of these.  Besides, they hold ten.   Personally, I can’t imagine admitting to ten friends that I have one.    I wonder where the 10 PFDs go.This boat proves, once and for all, that anyone can start a business as long as they are creative about it.   How about the appropriately named “pizza boat” a mobile pizza oven on a catamaran?   Brenda’s wondering if it’s safe to move about with a huge 500 degree oven and loads of compressed flammable gas.Of course, like many cruising grounds, it’s important to pick your time to cruise in the right season.    It seems like just about every harbor has at lease one of these “parked” on the beach.  In this case, it’s right up against someone’s home on.  Nice view.
Of course, if you are in a big hurry to get there, the Prince de Cancale, is for you.   There are ton of really racy looking cats and tris in French waters to choose from.  She’s had a very active racing career most recently sporting the colors below.  With all the sponsor graphics, I had a hard time figuring out what the name of the boat was.  I guess she’s done well as she has a lot of sponsors.   This link shows her in all her various colors over the years.  She looks like a screamer with a very successful career since her launching in 2010.  She’s currently on a mooring in Le Marin awaiting her next race.Of course, to simply mess about in boats, or water, all you really need is your dad.  Don’t want to risk your feet in the water?  He can pull you along with your older sister pulling guard duty.  One way or the other, there are a LOT of boats around these parts and as these photos show, they come in all sizes, colors and some aren’t even able to hold the water out.

OK, there you have it.   A post of little importance.  But hey, it’s about boats.

Oh yeah, one more thing.  I have been having problems with my site, in particular, with the “new post alert” function.  It’s being fixed, for a fee, or might be already, so if you had signed up to get alerts, do it again soon as the “tech” is going to delete you and the 8,000 phony “followers” that have signed up over the last few months so we can set things right.

If you are a “real” reader, I so hope that you will re-subscribe and continue along with me.

 

St Ann Martinique. Where cruisers come to play.

It’s Sunday morning and we are still here in St Ann.  Actually, we have decided that we were going to head home for two weeks in late February and are working out the logistics of keeping the boat here as well as what we are going to do to occupy ourselves for the next two weeks before we leave.

Also, as we now have what is, among the cruising community, the strongest magnetic pull home, a grandchild, we have begun thinking about how to continue cruising as well as not be away from family for months at a time.  This is a “universal problem” within the cruising community and each time we meet folks and talk about family visits, they always comment that grand children “can really cramp your cruising style”.  Yes, that appears to be the case for us too.

So, what’s the solution?  Put the boat up on the hard with all the other boats in New England and give up winters afloat?  Not appealing!   Actually, this is complicated by the fact that we really love being home in the summer and personally, I hate cold weather so sailing to Maine in the summer, as great as that would be, would keep us home in the winter.  Not my first choice.

Anyway, there are lots of details to work out and one option is to leave Pandora in Grenada for the summer.   I’ll admit that it’s a real drag running her back and forth to CT and it puts a LOT of wear and tear on the boat and me too.  We have met many cruisers that use their boats over the winter and leave them south for the summer so perhaps that’s an option.

Yes, it will some time to get the boat settled for a long summer in the tropics, but that can’t be much worse than a 1,500 mile schlep north and south with Pandora.

Anyway, this is a nice problem to have so I’ll have to begin checking options.

So, back to St Ann.  Yesterday was market day here and everyone, tourists and vendors alike, were out in force.  St Ann is a small coastal village that is focused on tourists and it’s very charming.   There are a few small groceries and a really wonderful bakery serving up breads and pastries of every description.

I always enjoy seeing what sorts of fish are offered up in markets.   This vendor had a mix of what looked like large, colorful, “aquarium fish” including a few impressive brown spotted moray eels.   We have noticed a lot of fishing floats as we sailed where the water is 100′ deep or less.  I expect that they are fish traps.  Lion fish, an accidental invasive import from SE Asia have decimated the reefs in all areas of the Caribbean and are becoming a popular food fish.  This shot isn’t very clear but it’s a pile of Lion fish.    I have speared a few in the Bahamas and they are indeed very tasty.  You have to be very careful of their colorful spines as they are venomous and very painful if you are pricked by one. The market has a very festive atmosphere with vendors selling most anything from T shirts to spices.  There was a fun Caribbean band playing that livened up things nicely. It’s amazing to see the wide variety of spices and liquors that are available here.  Hey, perhaps that’s why these islands are known as the “spice islands”.  It must take hours to set all this up for sale.
The center of the town is dominated by the Catholic Church.  Oops, crooked photo.  Fire that photo editor!!!  It’s lovely, the church, not the photo, if you” get the picture”.   From the outside, it’s stone.  Inside, an impressive use of timber.  I mentioned that there are something like 350 boats anchored off of the beach here and where cruisers congregate they get together for meals and “sundowners”.   The same day we arrived we were invited to a beach barbecue by a friend who’s been coming here for years.   They get together at noon each Friday for a cookout.  The folks here seem to know each other well and are from all over.   Nice group.
Well, that’s about it for now.   Lots to think about for the rest of the season and next year’s cruising plans, such as they are.   For sure, St Ann will continue to be on cruiser’s plans as it does have a lot to offer.  Nice spot.

For Pandora and her crew, plenty of details to come, as always.  For now, enjoying the sights of St Ann.

An artist that paints with foliage and flowers

We are still in Martinique, having arrived here in St Ann on the southern side of the island yesterday.  It’s a huge anchorage with something like 350 boats visiting and there’s still plenty of room for more.   St. Ann is a resort area complete with long sandy beaches and nice places to eat out nearby.  Very charming.

It’s also adjacent to the largest protected harbor in the Windward Islands, Le Marin.   That’s good as we have decided to head home for a “grandaughter fix” for two weeks in late February.   That will be fun as we haven’t seen Rob, Kandice and “not quite as little” Tori for way too long.

Anyway, here we are and it’s clear why this place is so popular.  It’s going to be hard to leave.  Besides, it has the best French bakery we’ve seen so far this season.  Yum…

Back to the subject of this post.   When we were in Fort de France, the capitol of Martinique, we decided to visit a botanical garden, a short bus ride from the city, Jardin de Balata.   Interestingly, it is located on the property of the owner’s family home and while the family doesn’t live there any more, it is now operated as a for-profit enterprise.  It’s beautifully done and unlike many of the gardens we have visited, this one is set up more like series of landscape paintings.  It’s a little hard to explain but you really do feel like you are walking through a series of paintings and less like a garden.

As you enter the gardens you are greeted by a riot of humming birds that are only a few feet away dive bombing each other to get their turn at the feeder. This is the view as you enter the garden.  Beautifully arranged and very inviting. In the distance mountains give scale to the garden nestled in between valleys. With views of the ocean just outside the harbor where we were anchored. The way that the “artist” as he’s described in the audio tour, used plants to create visual patterns, like this row of palms, is stunning.  From another angle it looks very different.   The close cropped grass and moss looked like green velvet.How about a view from the treetops?  Prefer terra-firma?  Even up close, everything was perfect.  Everywhere I looked called out as a wonderful photo like this bamboo lining a path. I loved the visual patterns. Some so tiny you’d miss them if you didn’t look closely.
Wonderful patterns in the foliage.  Clusters of colorful bromeliads growing on a trunk of a tree fern.
Fiddle heads, destined to tower over your head, emerging as thick as your wrist. Ferns so large you expect to see T Rex in the distance.  Wonderful mix of textures and colors.
Glorious subtle patterns of green. Serene water lilies facing the morning sun. Everywhere plants competing for space, constantly adjusted to perfection by the gardeners. Flowers so perfect they don’t look real.    This one stands shoulder height and is the size of a melon.
Hard to imagine that this is real. And, the familiar. Some much more dainty but equally beautiful.All and all, a wonderful place and unlike any other garden we have visited.  Very “painterly” where the plants are the artist’s medium to create his ever changing palate.

Wandering the rum trails of Martinique

For me, one of the most compelling reasons for visiting Martinique, beyond the obvious baguettes and croissants, is to visit some of the many distilleries that are sprinkled around the island.   Well, mission accomplished.  A few days ago, we rented a car with friends Barbara and Ted from Raven to do just that.

However, before I  go on about that, I’ll share a view this morning from Pandora of the nearby city and mountains in the distance.  What a spot.So, back to our outing.  Fortunately, Ted agreed to drive so I could focus on the passing view as well as the many rums that we tried along the way.  In the interest of complete disclosure, I did inhale and sip but didn’t completely finish any one of the many samples that were offered.

Beyond the wonderful rums that we tried, the three distilleries that we visited also had very beautiful grounds that were open for exploring.I may be a “compact” guy but this stand of bamboo is really impressive and big by any standard.   I wonder how they deal with old dead canes.  Brenda and I had bamboo in our yard for many years and I had to use a hammer chipper to grind up the dead canes and mine were only about 1″ in diameter.  You could build a bridge with this stuff. Unlike some of the lower lying islands that we have visited, Martinique has high mountains that reach into the clouds wringingout moisture so there is plenty of rainfall to grow sugarcane.  Along the way we drove through many beautiful lush forest and overlooks with beautiful views of the countryside. Everywhere we went there were views of cultivated fields like this banana farm.“Stop the car!  I see and orchid 0n the side of the road”! A beautiful solitary flower on the top of plants that grew to 4′ in height. As we drove up and down the mountains, the roads wound one way and another through countless switchbacks.   Not a lot of straight roads here. The same was the case of old railroad tracks that predated roads as the key way to get the sugarcane to the distillery for processing as quickly as possible. Tracks like these supported steam powered trains and later, diesel like this one on display at one of the distilleries.  Unlike rums made from molasses, a byproduct of sugar production, rums on Martinique are made directly from the fresh juice squeezed from sugarcane.   It seems that there are a number of varieties of sugarcane, hybrids better suited to different types of rum.   Sugarcane is a perennial plant and is harvested once a year.    While slave labor was the mainstay of cane and rum production for hundreds of years, none of the distilleries that we visited focused particularly on the human toll of this industry.  Fortunately, following the abolition of slavery, the industrial revolution and today’s heavy machinery have found ways to mechanize the industry that for so long relied on forced labor.   I have no idea what this machine does but it sure looks like it means business.Today’s rum distilleries look more like petrochemical refineries. 
The basic physics of the equipment used for distilling rum hasn’t changed much but today’s plants use much larger and more sophisticated versions of this antique copper distillation tower, cut away to reveal it’s inner workings.  It operates on the same principles as today’s massive “crackers” for refining gasoline and, of course, making rum. Much of the equipment used in the traditional crafting of rum looks more like art than industrial equipment. Some of the equipment looks terribly dangerous.  I can only imagine how it was to work around these huge gears as they spun under the power of powerful steam engines.  Rum production has always been big business and has always been associated with prominent families, who’s products still carry their name as they have for generations. However, the factories were once much smaller and buildings located on the grounds also served as home to the owner and his family.  Generations of the Clement family lived here until the mid 80s.They lived very well and hosted dignitaries such as George Bush Sr, in their home.  I’ll bet they served the president some really great rums.  This home now serves as a tasting room and museum.However, modern production techniques or not, rum is still aged in oak barrels and the length of time it is aged and the type of barrel used, gives the rum it’s distinctive flavor and color.   Rum also ages much faster in the warm humid climate of the Caribbean and they say that one year of aging here is equivalent to 4-5 years in a more temperate climate.    That’s one reason, beyond being close the raw material source, that rum has always been associated with the Caribbean. There is big money in rum and the families behind the brands became very wealthy.   The “tasting rooms” and surrounding estates are very elaborate and often include substantial art collections.  This “King Arthur deal” is 10′ tall.
Each estate had buildings, new and old that were more impressive than the last.  Makes you want to buy rum.  Right?
Good thing as there is always a nicely appointed tasting room ready to serve and serve us they did.  Well, I could go on all day about this but I hope you get the picture.    I purchased rums from each distillery and plan on bringing it home aboard Pandora.  Want to know first hand how it tastes?  Come and visit us and you’ll find out for yourself.

One way or the other, we had a great time making our way along the rum trail of Martinique and try as I might, I just could’t try them all.   And, I did try.