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I woke up alone today. And, the boat that bras built.

Yesterday Brenda flew home to CT and I my friend Craig flew in to join me.  Don’t get me wrong, Craig is a great guy but I have to say that it was tough for me to say farewell to Brenda as she passed through security at the airport yesterday, knowing that I would not see her again for at least five weeks.

No, it doesn’t take that long to get from “here to there” but it’s sill early in the season and way too cold to be heading to New England.   Setting aside the cold conditions, there is also too much of a risk of gales in the north Atlantic for me to leave the Caribbean and head north.

Most cruisers don’t head north until mid May so my plan to leave around the 5th is already cutting it a bit close.  However, I am planning to stop in Bermuda, nearly 2/3 of the way home, to be sure that we don’t encounter bad weather as we get to the colder waters north of Bermuda.  I’ll work with Chris Parker, our weather router, to determine the best/safest time to sail the remaining 600 or so miles from Bermuda.

Anyway, Brenda’s gone and Craig is here.  It’s going to be fun to show Craig all the great spots we’ll stop as we make our way to Antigua where I’ll hang out for a bit waiting for my crew to arrive in early May.  There will be plenty to do getting the boat ready and certainly there will be folks around that I can hang out with, but it won’t be the same without Brenda.  It’s ironic that the time we are apart, now that I am retired, is longer than we experienced when I was traveling for business.

In an era of tremendously annoying air travel, I sometimes fantasize about what it would be like to travel on a private jet but am completely clear that I will never know what it’s like.   If I could, I’d just wing my way home for a week or so and come back to begin the run back.  No wait, if I had a plane I’d also have a proper yacht “Bob, Bob, get a grip, you are the only one who is available to bring Pandora north.  Get with the plan.”  Oh, OK.

Speaking of private jets, we ran into the crew of one of those here at the resort in Margot.  It seems that the three of them were hanging out for a few weeks while their employer was vacationing with his family on a nearby island.

So, here’s how the whole private jet thing goes.   Imagine going to the airport, having your car pull up to the stairs of your jet and have only to take two steps to the gangway and up you go.  The doors close and ten minutes later you are on your way.

Once you land in a far away place, a car shows up a few steps away and whisks you to your final destination.  Of course, your luggage follows in yet another car and appears magically at your final destination.

Think that your plans during your three week holiday might change. Changed your mind about spending time with “the wife” and want to find more fun elsewhere ?  Not to worry as your jet and crew are on standby and available at a moments notice, waiting to take you to the destination, that liaison, of your choice.

As your departure time arrives, the head stewardess, captain and co-pilot return to the aircraft and prepare if for your arrival, with our without your family.  Your choice.  They make up the beds and prepare the cabin, catering food and drink, to make your trip back “across the pond” as seamless as possible.

Sounds unbelievable?  No really, it happens, as long as you have the coin.   You do?  Well, this could be you.

Anyway, these same people are the ones that have the magnificent yachts that seem to be in every harbor.

How about the 245′ yacht Cloud 9, launched last may in Italy.  It’s owned by Brett Bundy, one of the richest guy in Australia.    He has started and sold a number of very successful businesses, some sort of related, to me at least, including one that raises cattle for high end beef production and a company called Bras and Things as just two examples.  So, along the way he’s made loads of money, try $650,000,000 or so, some say billions.

Well, Cloud 9 showed up here in Marigot a few days ago, complete with their 25 or so crew.   Nicely done Brett.  As they dropped the mooring holding her bow out from the dock, the guy who does such things looked positively insignificant working under the bow. There are plenty of impressive yachts in this harbor including plenty that are larger than Pandora.  However, it’s hard to believe that this yacht even fit.

She’s sports an impressive profile. As she left the harbor she went by our friends on Endless Summer.  Endless Summer isn’t a small yacht but looks tiny-winy compared to Brett’s boat. The passengers, about 12 in total, verses the 22 crew, looked pretty cool and collected on the afterdeck.  We heard that the “charter” included the board of directors of the University of Texas.  I sure hope that the university, a state school, didn’t foot the bill for the $800,000 weekly charter fee.  I expect not.  Perhaps an “in kind” donation to the university.   All the guys were wearing matching caps.   Hmm…Not sure what this guy does but he looks really official with his headphones on.   So, off the went into the sunset, bound, we later learned, for the Pitons.  The next day Brenda and I stopped there overlooking the harbor where we had taken a mooring only a few weeks prior.  The view of the Pitons from so high up was spectacular.   That tiny dot.  Cloud 9.We had a very nice lunch.  I  wonder what “the board of directors” had?  Ours was great.   Well, this photo is only of one “course”.  We don’t just drink wine all the time.  Well, perhaps we do.Everyone looking for a handout.  This guy landed on our table seemingly about to say “what you looking at?  Pass over a fry!” Here’s the view of where we sat.  It was perhaps the most spectacular vantage point we have ever seen.
One more view of the place where we had our drinks.  Pretty amazing. Oh yeah, the resort has an infinity pool.  Perhaps the only one you will ever see where you might get a nose bleed from the altitude.  On the way back to Pandora, another view of the Pitons.  Really amazing. The road had a remarkable number of twists and turns and always an amazing view around every hairpin corner. Green landscape. By the time we got back to Pandora, switchback after switchback, I  was ready for a nap.  No, it wasn’t the wine.  We shared a single glass knowing that the drive was going to be a challenge.

Well, that’s it.  The “end” of our cruise together this season.  Our last stop, St Lucia is really a beautiful country but right now, it’s the place where Brenda flew the coupe and that makes me sad as it’s going to be a long time till I see her again.

I am so bummed.  I woke up alone today.  But I did get to write about bras.

“OH Bob, get over it.  That’s so sick.  Just shut up!”

Sorry for being whiny.

Starboard tack from now on.

Well, that’s it.  We are officially heading north and home to CT as of two days ago.  While we didn’t make it all the way to Grenada, our plan early in the season, we made it very close, less than 50 miles.  Next year, perhaps.

With the consistent easterly trades, we have spent most of the winter on a port tack, always heading south.   So, now it’s time to “tack” and head north again.

As if to say “don’t forget us”, we were greeted by a fabulous rainbow in Bequia as we left to head north yesterday after clearing out.  As I write this we are on a mooring in Marigot, St Lucia, where Brenda will head out on Friday and my friend Craig will join me for ten days.  Craig and I will make our way up to Antigua and I’ll be joined by crew for the run home.

It’s going to be tough for me to be left behind when Brenda heads home as it will be about 6 weeks until I arrive home.  It’s too early to head north with Pandora, it snowed in CT last week, I am told, so I have to hang around for a few weeks before heading out.  To head north any sooner would be dangerous, with the threat of strong late season “nor’easters”.   Not my first choice.

However, on a positive note, it’s been great visiting so many new places which will make our run south next winter easier as we will already have a better feel for which spots to visit again.

One of the best spots where we spent time was surely Bequia, with many places to eat out as well as being a terrific spot to have work done on the boat.  We will surely be back next season to have more varnishing work done by Winfield and perhaps some more canvas work too.

We enjoyed our time meeting up with the many couples that we met through the Salty Dawg Rally.  In Bequia we participated in a “dinghy drift” organized by fellow “Dawg” Lynn on Roxy.  She’s a high energy girl and to spend time with her is always fun.   Alas, she’s not in this photo.  As if the evening wasn’t fun enough already, we were treated to perhaps the most spectacular tropical sunset of the season.  Made even better with Sea Cloud II in the frame.  After a bitAfter Bequia we headed south to the Tobago Cays, described by some as a lot like the Bahamas with beautiful turquoise waters.  And great snorkeling, if not great pictures.  I guess it’s time for a new underwater camera.   With this camera I guess I have to say “you had to be there”.

Iguanas guarding their turf. This guy stuck his head up near Pandora as we were weighing anchor as if to say “see yah!”We also visited nearby Mayreau, an island that I had never heard of, ,like many in the Greandines, until we decided to head the short distance there from the Tobago Cays.    It’s a tiny island with lovely brightly painted homes on the steep hillside. A Catholic church occupies the highest point on the island.Charming. The view of the Cays from the back of the church was fabulous. 
And south toward Union Island and Carriacou beckon for next season.  While nearby mountainous St Vincent gets lots of rain, only a few miles south, Mayreau is very arid.  The locals work hard to collect water in cisterns, this one behind the church is the largest I have seen.  The runoff collects at the bottom of the half acre stone and cement catchment area. In this arid climate cactus was everywhere.  These flowers were very showy and fist size.  Nothing says “I am not for lunch” like a cactus. Of course, what’s a post without a view of Pandora in the harbor?  We were anchored with “buddy-boat” Roxy, home to our friends Lynn and Mark.    They plan to summer in Trinidad and head to the western Caribbean next winter.  We hope to see them again soon.
This is the view of the nearby beach, the best we have seen in the Caribbean.   We had it all to ourselves.
The beach was well kept, free of litter and wonderful soft sand.   The four of us spent a long time soaking in the clear water off of the beach.  We decided to break up the 80 mile run from Mayreau back to Marigot into two legs.  We had to return to Bequia to check out and then continue on to Marigot, another 60 miles north.   We had heard that the run between St Vincent and St Lucia is among the roughest in the islands and yesterday’s passage was true to that legend as it was when we headed south.   As we made our way north,  we encountered steep waves on a close reach.  The relentless trade winds push water past the islands, into the Caribbean sea at speeds of up to two knots and always to the west.

Fortunately, in the lee of St Vincent the waters were calm.    It’s a beautiful island but crime is a problem so almost nobody stops there.  It’s unfortunate that the authorities are unable to do anything to make it safer.   The nearby mountainside was spectacular and lush. It was alarming to see this boat, with what looked like a machine gun go roaring by.  It looked like a harpoon.  Glad that they didn’t come close.  I know that they do hunt whales in St Vincent but thought that the weren’t able to use motorized boats, only rowing and sail.  Hmm.  I wonder what else they can hunt that needs that sort of firepower? On the other hand, this fisherman, a long way from shore, was decidedly low tech.   He waved as we passed him. One of the best parts of cruising the eastern Caribbean is that the wind, while pretty strong at times, amd consistently from the east.  Sometimes ENE or ESE but just about always from the east.   So, as we headed south we were ALWAYS on a port tack.

So now, on a starboard tack.  I guess we must be heading home.  Time to move all the loose stuff down below to the leeward side.   Well, at least until we get far enough north to loose the trades.

Brenda hasn’t even gone yet and I am feeling a bit “peckish”.   I’ll miss here.


The final leg south. Northbound next…

As I write this we are anchored in the Tobago Cays in the Grenadines, the furthest south that we will go on this trip.  At 12 degrees south it is the farthest south that we have been aboard Pandora.   Perhaps next season we will go as far as Grenada which would put us at nearly 11 degrees south.   For sure, 12 degrees north is a lot closer to the Equator than it is to home at 41 degrees north.   It feels like an accomplishment to me.

Just before we left Bequia, and after the regatta was over, there was a mass exodus from the harbor of many of the boats that had come there to participate.  Most of the transient boats left under their own bottom but this one, a Shield I think, was lying along side a tramp freighter.  I wonder where she was headed?A little while later they fitted her with lifting straps. And up she went.  And speaking of going places, I have mentioned in past posts that my plan is to run Pandora north for the summer and do the Salty Dawg rally to Antigua again this November.

After that, it’s possible that we will opt to leave the boat in Grenada or Trinidad next summer as it may not be worth the time and wear and tear on me and Pandora to continue to do the run.   I will say that most of the cruisers I have spoken to about this leave their boats in Grenada or Trinidad during the summer, in part for convenience and also because the cost of labor in the islands is so much less than in the US.   In addition, the craftsmen are first rate.

That has great appeal as there are some projects that I’d like to get done that I just would not be able to afford in the US.  I was very pleased with the canvas work done on my dink as well as the varnishing below at rates that were quite reasonable.  Frankly,  we could not afford to have varnish work done in the US as it just wouldn’t make sense.

We loved the varnish work that Winfield did for us in Bequia.    Some of the finish below was getting a bit scruffy so we had him update some of the trim in the forward head, galley, chart table and companionway.  It turned out to be more disruptive than we had expected with work breaks for Good Friday and Easter, but the finished product is beautiful.  Winfield suggested that we go with bright varnish for the trim and other areas below as it’s a lot more durable than semigloss.   Good call.

It looks beautiful.  Trim that looks too nice to touch The chart table is so shiny I am afraid to use it.  And, now a shiny compaionway that was looking very scruffy. Winfield clearly takes pride in his work.  No surprises and we are very happy with how it turned out.  The bad news, now the rest of the boat looks rough by comparison.  Well, there’s always next year. And, speaking of varnish.   I expect that this beautiful grand lady, Shemara, circa 1938, has plenty.  At over 200′ long she surely has plenty to keep her crew hopping.   Love the classic canoe stern.  How’s that for a swim platform?The refit consumed one million hours of labor over several years.  That’s a big number and it doesn’t even count the massive amount of “stuff” that went into the job.  She’s still a real throwback to a different era, but under her classic skin she is totally modern.  Check out this article, which I recall seeing a while back, to learn more about this magnificent yacht.  She’s got some pretty exotic systems aboard.

And speaking of modern,  this carbon cruiser, Sorceress, recently launched in South Africa, passed us smartly yesterday as we sailed from Bequia where she had been for a few days.  She’s all business.    While designed for cruising, she is a fast racer with a deep draft lifting keel.   She’s quite a boat. Where we are now is a national park, is protected from fishing so the reefs are teeming with fish.   Beautiful beaches too. 
This morning I went snorkeling with some friends.   I took lots of photos and videos with my GoPro but, as usual, I was disappointed with the results.   Somehow, the “high resolution” is anything but.  I saw lots of turtles. This is a beautiful spot and I expect that we will stick around for a few days and then begin our run back up to St Lucia where Brenda will head home. My friend Craig will join me there for the run to Antigua where I will meet up with my crew for the run north to CT.

So, it’s been quite a ride south but soon, it’s northbound for Pandora.


Yachting in Bequia. Easter Regatta 2018

One of the best parts of cruising the Caribbean is the opportunity to see iconic yachts and lots of sailboats.  Unlike US waters where it seems that powerboats are dominant and sailing is ever so slowly fading from the scene, when you get to the Caribbean, especially the southern part, the vast majority of yachts are sailboats and sailing is where it’s at.

In addition to the great variety of yachts, in some of the harbors that we visit we often see some of the smaller cruise ships drop anchor for the day.   Most of them are not memorable but a few days ago Sea Cloud, the largest private yacht in the world when she was launched in 1931 for Marjorie Merriweather Post and her then husband E.F. Hutton of Wall Street fame, came in for the day.  While she was a private yacht in Post’s day, she’s now a very exclusive cruise ship.

During WWII Sea Cloud was requisitioned by a US Navy, for $1 a year and put to work as a weather ship off of the east coast.  After the war she was returned to Post and converted back to a sailing yacht.  However, the cost of the yacht, with her 72 full time crew members proved to be a bit much for her to keep up so Post sold the yacht.

Sea Cloud has had a number of owners since then but beginning in the early 80s she has served as a cruise ship, carrying only 60 passenger and an equal number of crew.  Today she is the oldest cruise ship in regular service anywhere in the world and remains in remarkable condition.

I took a run out to see her.  She’s quite a sight.  Her bowsprit goes on and on. If you want to learn more about this iconic ship, check out this link.

As the Easter Regatta, a pretty big deal in this area, is going on now, a wide variety of yachts, classic and contemporary are here to race.  Everything from J24s to beautiful classics are out making their way around the buoys.    Mah Jong, a teak planked beauty, designed by Sparkman and Stephens, built by Choy Lee and launched in Hong Kong in 1957 is in these waters for the winter.   She summers in Marta’s Vineyard where she was recently rebuilt at the Gannon and Benjamin yard in Vineyard Haven.   She’s a beautiful yawl.  What a lovely stern.  I caught her rounding the weather mark today just behind another classic, Galatea.And around she went. She was hot on the tail of Galatea and they approached the mark, twice that I saw, and still very close together after miles of racing.It was quite a site to see Galatea pass me by.  I don’t know much about her but she’s a beauty.  There are many classics by that name and without fast WiFi I ran out of patience trying to find out more about her history. And off she went to turn down wind.   She’s a lot bigger than she looks in this shot, probably about 80′.  Just behind them were a few of the Carriacou sloops.    These are traditional fishing boats in the Grenadines and are still raced as yachts today. This is a go-fast locally built double ender.  Impressive speed with big sails and a large crew to serve as “rail meat” to keep them upright. And, of course, no race is complete with out the classic J24s and there were plenty racing today. Ok, enough of the race stuff for now.

Yesterday Brenda and I went for a short walk up to an old fort overlooking the harbor.  I feel sorry for whoever had to lug these cannon up from the beach.  The view was impressive.   This is the western part of a large harbor with room for hundreds of boats.  There’s Pandora in the lower right.  The homes on the hill overlooking the harbor are brightly painted in Caribbean colors.  I always get a thrill out of watching the Frigate birds fly by.   They have a huge wingspan, in excess of 6′, the longest of any bird, relative to their size.   I understand that they can sleep while they fly and although they can be seen great distances from land they are unable to land and take off from the water.   One thing is certain, if you love boats and being on the water, Bequia and especially the Easter Regatta, is the place to be.

Perhaps I’ll sign off with a shot of the sunset last evening, a beautiful way to cap off a day in the tropics.  Sure beats snow.
No wait, it’s May.  No more snow up north and I am looking forward to being back in New England for the summer.  Winter in the Caribbean, summers in New England.

It doesn’t get better than that.


Now there’s Hope for Pandora

Bequia has long been known for its fine craftsman, artists and the building of boats, both model and full size as well working on boats like ours that visit the island.

Owning a boat requires a constant investment of time and money as it’s the only way to avoid waking up one day only to realize that you are living aboard a “fixer upper”.   Boat ownership is all about being focused on “fixing her up” so she stays looking good.

We were told that there are some excellent craftsman here on the island and had planned to have some work done while we visited.  In particular, we hoped to have canvas covers or “chaps” made for our dink.  The blazing tropical sun is pretty tough on everything and an inflatable dink is particularly susceptible to decay.  Having one of the better brands like Caribe, ours, does help as they are made with high quality Hypalon but even the best materials will only hold up just so long with near year round use.

So, with that in mind, we decided to have a custom canvas cover made here in Bequia.   We had heard good things about Grenadines Sails and Canvas so I contacted them about the job.  Amazingly, when I showed up they were ready to go and within 24 hours I had installed chaps.  I also had them make a new seat cover, engine cover and lift straps.

I was fascinated with the process of making templates.  It took three hours to prepare the details in plastic sheeting templates to be transferred to canvas in the shop.   I just pulled the dink up on the beach under a tree.  The next day I went back and they installed the finished product, a perfect fit.    The canvas is held in place by a combination of velcro straps and lines.  I had two close my eyes and turn away as he went at the rub rail with an electric drill to make holes that hold the lines that tie the canvas securely to the dink.  I asked him how many times he had slipped and punctured a boat.  He smiled and continued drilling holes. However, it all worked out and the finished job, chaps, engine cover and new seat cover.   The guys posed for a shot with the finished job.  Nice work. So, here’s Pandora’s dink, christened Hope all happy behind the “mother ship”.  “Bob, Bob, what’s with the HOPE thing?”
Ok, so remember the whole “Pandora’s Box” thing?  You know, she opened the box and let out all the evils of the world?  Well, according to legend, all that was left in the box was Hope.  Get it?  Pandora’s Box, Hope?  Pretty clever?  So, our dink is now officially Little Hope.    However, that was just too many letters to fit so Hope it is.

And, “hopefully”, pun intended, Pandora’s dink will now last a lot longer with her snug fitting canvas cover.   The bad news is that now I have yet one more thing to try and keep clean.  Oh well.  Nice dink though.  I’d better be sure and lock it up, always so it doesn’t somehow become somebody else’s Little Hope.

Canvas work is just one of the excellent products that are produced here in Bequia.   There is also a long tradition of building boats and model boats and there are still a number of craftsman that are continuing the tradition.   The model boats are actually carved out of a log from a native tree.  After marking up the log they carve it into a rough shape of the hull.   And, after a while, a finished model boat.  Many actually.   Some are of famous yachts and you can also commission a model of your own boat.  However, the bulk pf the models are of the traditional working boats of Bequia, in particular, those used to hunt whales, which is still legal, if tightly controlled.  They hunt, using only sail powered boats, and harpoon a few humpback whales each year along with a number of smaller pilot whales.

As you’d expect, where there are whales, there would be things made from whales.    We saw the work of a local craftsman and asked him to make up a scrimshaw of a traditional Bequia sailboat on a pilot whale tooth.  Pretty neat.  It’s the closest I’ll ever get to a tattoo.    There is tradition of boat building and they still race them aggressively.  Nice looking boats.
Now for a few random items.

How about a pretty heron?
Brenda and I enjoyed walking along the seawall.  There are a number of nice places to eat along the way.  Right near the walkway we spied this moray eel swimming in the shallows.  The water in the harbor is quite clear.
And, under the category of “multi-talented”.  How about this sign for an gallery/doctor office?  The same guy, BTW.I wonder if this guy’s dink has new chaps?  Canvas covers for his helicopter, more likely?   For sure.
Several years ago we sailed on this huge ketch Marie.  She’s here too, along with a few other massive sailboats.   It seems that she was here for  some informal racing against several other “big girls” today as they all left at the same time and milled around for a while before they took off.  I was hoping to stop by later and see if any of the crew that we met are still around.   The experience of sailing on such a magnificent yacht was something else, let me tell you.  You can see a number of posts about this experience but click here to see one about a party aboard that we went to.   Want to see some of the up close shots of Marie?  Click here.    It would sure be great to be aboard her again and it was fun to talk to some of the other cruisers we saw last night when they remarked,  “did you see that huge ketch Marie?”.   “Yes, we did, and we have sailed on her.”  They were impressed.  And we were too, let me tell you.

On a more humble note, I was surprised to see this tattered Essex Yacht Club burgee hanging in one of the local bars.  I wonder if our club burgee came down to Bequia all the way from Essex CT on a member’s boat or if a member chartered chartering locally and flew it.  I’ll have to ask when we get back to CT.
And, finally, for those who follow this blog, you’ll recognize this Suzuki Carry truck below as similar to one that I have at home and use to get around town.  Mine, new in 1992, is registered as an antique, and is more than 25 years old.   I tried to explain why I have such a silly truck in this post.   Doesn’t make sense to you?  It still doesn’t to Brenda either.   This one is fairly new and it’s not white.  It’s still tiny though.   It sure fits in here better than mine does sharing the roads with huge Ford F150s back in CT.  Well, I guess that’s about all for now, an odd mix of stuff to be sure.  However, one thing that carries through, I hope, is that Bequia is the place to go if you are drawn to things made by people who take pride in their work.   All that with the possible exception of a bird, a few yachts and an odd truck thrown in for good measure.

And yes, for Pandora there’s still a Little Hope in all her new finery and I like that.

And, as Brenda has said, “Bob and the dog, ever HOPEfull.”

At thirteen degrees north, a long way from home.

We are now in Bequia, south of St Vincent and the furthest south we have ever been aboard Pandora.  The island is part of the Grenadines, a number of small islands between St Vincent and Grenada.  It’s a beautiful area and only a few hundred miles from Venezuela.   Many of the folks we have met along the way keep their boats in Grenada or Trinidad, a bit further south from here, but storage there will have to wait another year for Pandora.  As I have mentioned in past posts, leaving Pandora from May to December just doesn’t sit well with me.  That’s a really long time to leave her unattended.

One of the benefits of keeping boats in the Caribbean is that labor rates are low by US standards.   Fortunately, here are excellent crafts people in many of the islands, Bequia for one.   We had heard good things about one of the canvas shops here, in particular, and decided to have canvas chaps made for our dink.  Covers will keep the blazing tropical sun off of the dink and should greatly extend it’s life.

Yesterday the guy from the canvas shop spent three hours making templates for the dink and the finished work will be put on the dink later today.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  We are pretty excited to have matching chaps, seat and engine cover, all in medium grey.

We have also hired a guy to do some varnishing down below on Pandora, the companionway, galley fiddle, navigation station and woodwork in the forward head.  I checked the work that he did for a friend and it looked beautiful.  He says he will be done with the job in a few days so I’ll let you know how it goes.

We were thinking about a new sail cover too but after having the canvas guy look at things today, he thinks it would be OK to put it off until next winter.

We were later arriving in Bequia than expected because we have had so much trouble prying ourselves loose from just about everywhere we have visited, Marigot, our last port, included.   The last day we were in Marigot a beautiful ketch showed up.  She’s Elfje and is owned by a woman, unusual for a superyacht.  I say that it’s “unusual” as that’s how it was described in one of the  magazines that wrote about her and her yacht.  It seems that mega-yacht ownership is overwhelming a male.  So, the owner is Wendy Schmidt, wife, perhaps ex-wife of Eric Schmidt, co-founder of Google.  Ever wonder who owns these spectacular yachts?  Now you know.  She has spectacular lines, the boat that is. And, speaking of varnish, which I was, she has plenty along with a large enough crew to keep up with it.   I love the color of the boat, Columbia Grey, I am told.  Pandora’s dark green is very hot in the tropical sun and we are considering having her repainted in Antigua, perhaps a medium grey.  Changing her color is complicated and more expensive than just going with the same color again, so we’ll have to see what comes of that.   I have lined up someone to do it when I get to Antigua in mid April but it’s unclear if there will be time to get the job done before I leave to head to New England in early May.
She looks enormous on the dock compared with Pandora out in the harbor. Just about everywhere you go in the southeast Caribbean, “boat boys” approach you selling something.  This guy was selling bananas.  We bought some and paid too much.  He reminded us of the Grinch, in looks, not temperament.  Across the harbor was a trail that led up to the top of the hill.   I climbed up the impossibly steep trail, complete with installed ropes to hold as you pulled yourself up.   I didn’t think I’d make it.  Later I was told that many 20 somethings turn back because it’s so steep.   Go me!  Trust me, it was way, way steeper than it looks in this photo.
At the top, after many stops to catch my breath along the way, I was told to look for the “meditation platform”.   By the time I got there it looked more like a “recovery platform” to me, a place to lay down to listen to my pounding heart as it slowed to normal.   Most of the time really steep paths have many switchbacks to make the climb easier.  Not here.

However, once up top, the view was spectacular and worth it. There’s little Pandora way down below. And the view south toward the Pitons, the short run to where we were headed the next day. The Pitons, one of the most photographed sites in the Caribbean, are two 1,000′ tall cones from long extinct volcanoes.   They are impossibly steep and the ocean drops off quickly to more than a mile deep very close to the shore.   We took a mooring in 140′ because of the dropoff.  I have never taken a mooring in that much water.   The gusty winds swirled around us we swung one way or the other by 100′ or more because of the impossibly long scope on the mooring.  It was gusty there, so close to the rising mountains so we had to get help from one of the local “boat boys” to tie up.    As high as the “hill” looks, its actually a lot higher.  As they say, “you had to be there”.  We headed ashore to a very fancy resort on the beach and enjoyed the setting sun from our table under the palms.  It was a “million dollar view” and the bar tab was right in line.  How about $100 for two glasses of wine each and a single appetizer?  The next day we dropped the mooring first thing and headed south to Bequia.    As we rounded the southern tip of St Lucia the seas were very confused with a strong western setting current pushing against us.  That combined with the wind funneling around the headlands made for some pretty “sporty” conditions for the first hour.    In spite of my having carefully secured the dink I was concerned about how much it was moving around in the davits.   Fortunately, no damage.

Following a torrential downpour we were treated to a spectacular view of the Pitons receding in the distance.  It was a long day, nearly 60 miles, as we could not stop in St Vincent, a large island just north of here as it’s not safe.   Too bad that some bad actors have scared off all the cruisers.    All and all, a beautiful sail in moderate winds and all on a beam reach.  It was the best sail yet for the season. 
Bequia is truly an island of boaters and there is a very active junior sailing program with some really nice boats.    They sailed right by us through the turquoise waters. Heading back up wind, they looked like they were having a wonderful time.  To me, this picture just speaks to the exuberance of kids out sailing for an afternoon as they tacked through the anchored boats. The customs house is right near the dinghy dock.  Very Caribbean.  True to form, with it’s English heritage, clearing in was much more complicated than the French islands.
Main street in the village is tree lined and very quaint. I liked this scruffy building framed in flowers.  Everything here is very colorful, even the ferry boats lined up at the dock. Well, I guess that’s about it for today.  The WiFi is really slow and doing this post has taken me FOR EVER.

Yes, we are a long way from home but it’s so beautiful we will surely come back next season.  Perhaps we will even be further south than thirteen degrees.

Did someone say “crossing the equator?”  Not Brenda, that’s for sure.

Ok, ok, one more day…

It’s Wednesday and we are STILL here in Marigot bay and yes, and continue to think about leaving for The Pitons and Bequia.   Hold on though, it’s just so nice here and we hate to rush off.

Besides, another afternoon at the pool sounds pretty good to us and that Indian restaurant up above the marina is still on our list.

Earlier this morning very nice basket weaver came up to Pandora to show us his work, baskets.  We bought one.   You have to admire his entrepreneurial spirit along with his brightly colored skiff.  And speaking of hustle, there are plenty of day boats taking large groups of tourists out for a day of snorkeling and sightseeing.   A parade of these jam packed boats come through the harbor every day.   I wonder if the USCG would approve of their safety equipment?  Perhaps better not to ask.
Ok, how about some boat watching?  I love this little Lyle Hess Bristol Channel Cutter.  She’s one of a long production run for this petite 24′ “go anywhere design.  Tiny and very popular with a cult like following since her introduction in the 80s.  Perhaps something with a bit more creature comfort is what you’re looking for.   RH3 is a beautiful explorer yacht that went through a major refit just a few years ago.  She’s rugged and looks the part of a world cruiser, which she is.  Check out this article about what she’s all about.    Her tenders are impressive and this one, that I guess they must tow around, would fit right in a James Bond movie.   And, that doesn’t even count the two smaller equally sinister looking ones parked on the upper deck.  His and hers?I am particularly struck by this Lefite 44.   She is an 80s vintage and yet doesn’t look it as her owner has lovingly maintained her, along with some excellent craftsmen in Trinidad where she has been stored for a number of summer seasons.    She must be the best of her breed and I understand that she’s for sale.  Bob Perry, perhaps the leading designer of cruising boats, designed her back in 1978.   Read about this iconic design here.   Her recent paint job and fresh canvas really make her shine.  Nice boat.And speaking of nice boats.  How about Pandora sitting pretty in this tiny charming harbor?Well, it’s almost lunchtime and, as usual, not a lot has happened aboard Pandroa so I’d better, as my father used to say, “get the lead out”.   Actually, I have to clear out today so we can leave in the morning for the Pitons and then on to Bequia.   That is, of course, unless we decide to spend one more day here. 

 And, we just have to carve out some time to curl up with a book near the infinity pool.  Right?     

Marigot St Lucia. Why leave?

Well, yesterday we finally left Rodney Bay to sail down to the Pitons but as we passed the tiny harbor of Marigot we decided to check it out.  It’s so tiny on the map that you could easily miss it and we are really glad that we didn’t.   The harbor is completely protected and there are lovely homes scattered on the nearby hillsides as well as a few really nice resorts.   It’s nice to be here for a few days.

We enjoyed our time in Rodney Bay and were pleased that we didn’t encounter any of the reported crime, such as loosing a dink, that we’ve heard happens on  a fairly regular basis.  Actually, had we not heard about these incidents, we would not have had a second thought as we didn’t feel threatened while we were there.  We’d also heard that there were “boat boys” that harassed cruisers but we didn’t see that either.  However, we did make and extra effort of locking the dink at night in addition to pulling it out of the water, which we do, as a rule, wherever we are.  The sunset was beautiful that last evening framing the boat that was anchored behind us. We left shortly after sunrise to make the run down the coast.  We had a short, less than 10 mile run before turning into Marigot.   The western coast of St Lucia is very green and lush. The outer harbor of Marigot is quite narrow and mostly too deep to anchor, however, you can anchor along the side near shore in less than 20′.   There is a beautiful stand of palms along the spit that protects the inner harbor.   They framed the view that greeted me this morning in the early light.  The wind and water were uncharacteristically still.   Those palms really make the place look remote and plenty tropical, like a south seas village.    However, it’s not remote at all with the really lux, Capella Marigot Bay Resort along the inner harbor shore .   While we could have easily anchored in the outer harbor, we opted to take a mooring at $30/day as it comes with WIFI and access to the resort facilities.    Not bad as staying in one of the resort rooms will set you back $400 or more.  Here’s Pandora framed in a view from one of the restaurants. There are actually a number of restaurants to choose from, some alongside infinity pools and many of the rooms have their own mini-pool just outside the room.One cascades into the other. Love the chairs.  George Jetson would have been all about sitting in these. 
If all this isn’t in your budget, you can always go next door and get your hair cut.  Want to rent a small boat yourself.  There’s plenty to choose from on the waterfront.  However, most of the residents, and some of them are particularly well heeled, probably keep their own barber on board.  Tommy Hilfiger’s yacht, Flag pulled in yesterday.  It was amazing to see such a huge yacht navigate in this tiny teacup harbor and pull up to the dock.  They do advertise as being able to handle yachts up to 250′ long and Flag is nearly that big.  I realized that it was Hilfiger’s yacht because his “corporate” flag logo was on the side of the superstructure.  After a bit of digging, I confirmed it.  It’s amazing what you can find on the Internet.  Feel like chartering her?  She’s available for 400,000 Euros a week, plus expenses.   The sailboat next to her is nearly 200′ long.  Tells you how bi Hilfiger’s boat is.  That ketch is a mere 200′ long.  Not too shabby.
Atlante, another resident here when we arrived yesterday, is much smaller at only a tad over 100 feet and is only a few years old.  She’s spectacular.  Check out her site. Beautiful lines.  Love the traditional stern.
Yes, this is a pretty rarefied neighborhood and it’s going to be tough to pry ourselves away.  It’s supposed to get fairly windy for a few days so perhaps we will just have to hang out here for a bit and then move further south.

Oh yeah, when Brenda flies out in April and my friend Craig joins me for the run to Antigua we’ve decided that Marigot is where we make the switch.   That’s good as we haven’t even left and we are looking forward to 0ur next visit which won’t be a long way off.

Tonite we’ve been invited to join a couple on a nearby boat for cocktails.  They leave their boat in Trinidad for the summer each year and it will be interesting to hear what they have to say about the experience.  His boat looks like it’s kept to a pretty high standard so I’ll be interested in what he has to say.

St Lucia, on our way south.

We are anchored in Rodney Bay, St Lucia, the main harbor on the island.  It’s nice to be back in a country where English is the main language but the trade off is that cheese, baguettes and good inexpensive French wine are nowhere to be found.  When we were in St Anne there were plenty to choose from in a village that was “oh so French” with quaint shops and restaurants as well as a busy bakery that churned out a dizzying selection of pastries and breads from sunrise to sunset.

And, speaking of sunset, last evening’s was beautiful, complete with a three masted schooner in the distance. A square rigger ablaze with lights in the twilight.  We’ve been here for two days and plan to leave in the morning to head down-island to the Pitons, perhaps one of the most photographed places in the Caribbean.   After that, we will head to Bequia to rejoin a few of our cruising friends for a few days relaxing in what some say is their favorite island in the chain.

This morning Brenda and I took a hike up to an old British fort, overlooking the harbor.   The view of the harbor down below was impressive. The view south toward the Pitons and a schooner heading out. This harbor was an important stronghold for the British during the 17th and 18th centuries.   Nearby Martinique, which is easily seen from the fort lookout,  was an important port for the French so keeping watch afforded a good view of any impending attack.

Downhill from the fort, ruins of troop housing, still impressive after so many years. When we returned from our hike a fruit and vegetable vendor came to visit in his “eclectic” store.    We bought a variety of produce including this huge and very lumpy lemon.  The produce looked pretty rough compared to what we see in US markets but I expect that what it lacks in good looks will be made up by great taste.   In the US we sometimes forget what local is supposed to look like.  As I headed in to do some errands and this post, I passed a lovely gaff rigged sloop plying the blue waters of the harbor.Well, it’s taken a lot longer to do this post than it should have thanks to really, really SLOOOOW Wifi.   I had to try two different spots until I found a spot where the speed was, sort of, OK.   It seems that mid day is just too busy with lots of folks competing for time on the server and everything just slows to a crawl.

However, I am finally done so I can head back to Pandora to fix, finally, Brenda’s potty.  Fingers crossed that the new parts, specially shipped from the US, do the trick.


Sugar riches of Martinique.

Tomorrow, after a month in Martinique for Pandora, we head off to St Lucia.  We have heard about problems for cruisers visiting the island as theft and petty crime can be a problem with outboard motors stolen on an alarmingly regular basis.  It’s unfortunate but we have been told that with reasonable precautions, like pulling the dink up into the davits at night, which we do, every night, that the thieves will likely choose someone else’s and leave ours alone.

However, St Lucia it will be as we have parts for Brenda’s toilet waiting for us there and we are excited about getting things back in order.  Well, I can tell you that Brenda’s excited and if it keeps her happy, I am totally game.

After St Lucia we hope to head a somewhat farther south to Bequia and perhaps the Grenadines where we will turn north again so Brenda can fly out of St Lucia for home in April, Friday the 13th, actually, not to put too fine a point on it.  Hmm…

In preparation for leaving tomorrow, I checked out with customs today and we will leave first thing to make the short 22 mile run to Rodney Bay, on the north west corner of the island.  I expect that it will be a “sporty” sail, with 20+kts on the beam and ocean waves of 7-10′.  However, with Pandora’s now clean bottom, we should make the trip in good form.

In my last post I alluded to our visit to a rum distillery and a visit to St Pierre on the northern end of Martinique and I thought that I’d share some of that experience.

There are many distilleries in Martinique and sugarcane is still a major crop.  Sugarcane is a large tropical grass, introduced to the America’s by Columbus, you know “in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue…with sugarcane…”?  It grows well in the local warm and wet climate here.  The industry in the Caribbean began in Barbados in the 1600s and spread through many of the other islands.  Producing and refining sugar has been big business in the islands for hundreds of years now and while cane sugar from the Caribbean has been largely replaced by cheaper sources elsewhere, today’s crop is still important but generally consumed in the production of rum and there is plenty being made here in the islands.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of rum produced in the caribbean, Rhum Agricole made from freshly pressed cane juice, primarily in the French islands, and that made from molasses, a byproduct of cane sugar production.   The latter type is generally associated with British Islands.  Don’t ask me to describe the differences but the link above provides a good overview.  However, it’s safe to say that they both go down easily, especially after the first round.

Brenda and I visited a number of other distilleries a few weeks ago when we rented a car with some friends.  I wrote about our great day in this post.

During our last outing a few days ago we visited the home of Rum Depaz, where they have been making fine rums since 1651.  These grand plantations once used many African slaves to tend to every aspect of the growing and harvesting of sugarcane and the making of rum.  Slavery in the islands was a brutal time but fortunately, modern equipment has made it possible to continue and improve production at much less of a human cost.  There are many excellent books about this dark history and if you’d like to learn more I recommend the book The Sugar Barons,  a well written history of the industry in the islands and it’s brutal past. It is hard to overstate the importance of the Caribbean sugar industry in the 17th and 18th centuries.  During this period, the tiny island of Barbados had exports of sugar that were more valuable than the entire export income of North America.  Great fortunes were made and lost along with a great human toll on both blacks and whites that died in great numbers in these islands.

Plantation owners generally made their homes on the same property where the cane was grown and processed.  Many of the modern operations in Martinique have restored these old homes and now offer tours.  Unfortunately, Brenda and I were too late for a tour here but enjoyed walking the grounds.

It’s pretty clear that the owners of Depaz did pretty well for themselves.  Bougainvillea climb each corner of the massive home. The gardens would have been the envy of any European aristocrat.  No wait, these were European aristocrats.  Nice view. Immediately adjacent to the home is the modern production facility. There are many buildings in the complex. Including the reception center and tasting room.   Unfortunately, they closed before we got there.   However, I was able to beg them to let me in so I could buy a bottle to have my own tasting. While the modern equipment is powered by electricity, water was once the primary driver of the machinery that processed the cane which had to be cut and crushed quickly to avoid premature fermenting in the tropical heat. There are still remnants of the aqueducts that moved water to the factory.   As Martinique is a very wet country, there is usually plenty of water and this spillway was designed to carry away excess water beyond what the factory needed to power the crushing machinery.   The day we were there plenty of water was flowing over the spillway and onto the parking lot. Modern equipment now does the backbreaking work that once took hundreds of slaves. This is the business end of the combine.  The boom at the top employs two massive circular blades to cut the cane and feed it into the steel “maws”.  inside the machine the cane is chopped up and separated from the leaves that are spit out the back to help rebuild the soil.  This is not a machine to be trifled with. After visiting Depaz, we headed to the coast and St Pierre.  Today the city is a popular tourist stop and no longer the capitol of the island.  The local beaches are black volcanic sand and provide an gentle arc along the coast to the north. And south…Main street is lined with small shops and restaurants. Remnants of the once capitol buildings are preserved as a reminder of the power of the volcano.   Unlike Montserrat, Pelee is currently dormant and scientists constantly monitor it for activity. Today’s buildings still retain the charm of what might be called simpler times. Unfortunately, we were late and many of the businesses were closed but it was nice to visit.  Many boats were anchored off of the beach, including Ishtar, sister ship to our last Pandora, our SAGA 43.  Perhaps we will visit aboard Pandora on a future trip through the islands.

It’s fascinating to visit Martinique and learn about the history that shaped this colorful island nation and the effect that sugar has had on every aspect of the island for hundreds of years.