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Back in Antigua, it feels like home again.

Brenda and I did an overnight run from St Lucia to Antigua, arriving here yesterday, Tuesday.  We had a very fast passage, making the nearly 200 miles in just over 24 hours at a speed of just under 8kts, respectable by any measure for a fully loaded cruising boat in wind under 20kts.

After leaving St Lucia we passed Martinique, then Dominica and finally, Guadeloupe, a passage that took a single day after spending two months heading the other way.  Not a lot to show from the passage except that it was nice to see the islands as we sailed by.As Pandora cuts through the waves, we scare up a lot of flying fish and the seabirds have learned to fly over the waves just in front of our bow to catch the fish that jump out of the water, as they scurry out of our way.  This is a brown booby, an impressive bird that lives just about all of it’s life offshore, only going to land to lay eggs.  This may be another shot of a booby but I am not sure.  I could not find a photo that matched but I think it’s another species. We also passed a large school of very enthusiastic dolphins that leapt from the water, but they are notoriously difficult to photograph.  Sorry, no images.

I’ve mentioned that I am upgrading our house battery bank to lithium in May when I take Pandora to a boatyard in Deltaville VA.  At that time I am also going to have an attachment point welded to the radar arch so that I can add a wind generator, something that I have wanted to do for years as a way to boost our charging options.

While our solar array works great on a sunny day, the sun doesn’t shine at night and the batteries take a big hit from the large refrigeration load along with all the instruments when we are on passage.  With a wind generator, we can take advantage of stronger winds that happen at night and also on cloudy, less settled days to help boost the batteries.

I am also told that lithium batteries also take a charge faster than more traditional lead-acid batteries so details to come on that front.

It’s nice to be back in Antigua after being away for a few months.  Yesterday afternoon, when I went to check in with customs and immigration, I saw several folks that stopped to say hi.  It is nice to feel welcome.

I’ll be focused on setting up events for the arrival of the Salty Dawg Rally fleet next fall and hope to have all of the events scheduled before I leave the island for the season.

Later this week one of the biggest events of the season, the Classic Yacht Regatta, begins here in Antigua, with several days of racing that brings out out a large selection of classic sailing yachts of all sizes.

My favorite of all is Columbia, a reproduction of a classic fishing boat.  Columbia was built a few years ago in FL.  I was fortunate to get aboard for a tour a few years ago and wrote about her in this post.

I have been focused on getting aboard her for some racing for the last few years and today I was introduced to her captain by my friend Franklyn, the commodore of the Antigua Yacht Club.  Seth, the captain, was very nice but said that he wouldn’t know for sure until later tomorrow if there is a slot for me.  Fingers crossed.  it would be awesome to be aboard for three days of racing on such a spectacular yacht. And, speaking of schooners.  Ashanti, at over 100′ long, is a beauty and I was aboard her as well back in 2018 for a Tot club event which I wrote about in this post.   The owner is a Tot Club member and has offered to again host the group for a Tot on Saturday and Brenda and I are planning to attend, totally!  We are also going to the Tot this evening and it will be fun to reconnect with my Tot Club friends.  It is rare to see so many wonderful boats in one place and the Classics is one that draws them.  I walked the docks today for a gander.

The schooner on the left is one that I have toured and written about in the past.  Her name is Mary Rose, the last schooner built by the great designer and yacht builder, Nat Herreshoff, known as the “wizard of Bristol”. The yachts that pack the marina are certainly not all classics and there are quite a few that are so huge that they dwarf even the biggest sailboats.    One of the largest is the Mayan Queen at 306′ long.  Her “beach club”, as the sunning area on the stern of yachts is referred to, gives a good feel for her scale.  Imagine how large the interior space is?It is fitting that this one is called Alpha Nero, as the is “alpha” in every way and no slouch at 270′.  She is reported to belong to a Russian.  Not surprisingly, nearly all of the yachts owned by Russians have fled the area as of weeks ago as sanctions have been levied on many of them in reprisal for the invasion of Ukraine.  An anchor and chain is a huge weight on a boat and one way to address this is to store your yacht’s anchor on a tender.  This boat is designed to carry the anchor for a maxi race boat.   They deploy the anchor and pass the chain to the “mother ship”.  And, they won’t have to wait long for the anchor to be delivered with over 1,000 hp.   Yup, another Russian owns this boat.  The boat that they tender is Scorpios, a 125′ racing yacht, one of the fastest in the world, launched in 2021.  Impressive graphics.And, speaking of tenders, how about Garson, a 21o’ long yacht designed to carry around “toys” that you don’t want cluttering up your “mother ship”.   I’ve seen her before. And, any yacht worth it’s station in life needs to have a proper tender.  This sort is referred to as a “limousine tender” for good reason. She belongs to Limitless, which is what your bank account would need to look like if you owned a yacht like this.   She is 315′ long, again, huge.   Her owner is Leslie Wexner, the founder of The Limited.  He acquired a number of other iconic brands including Abercrombie and Fitch and Victoria’s Secret.   Note the open area on the starboard quarter.  That is the “garage” for the tender pictured above. A huge amount of work goes into keeping a yacht in, well, “yachting trim”.  These guys were washing the side of a huge sailing yacht today.   This tender carries it’s own water supply, kept full from the dock by a large hose. I guess that by carrying their own water they can have an adequate supply even if the pressure from shore isn’t enough to spray high on the hull.  Why didn’t I think of that?And, with a large yacht, you need large fenders, and lots of them.  Notice the ones laying sideways on the dock.  A rigger is working on one of their forestays and roller furler that is really, really long.  Most of the yachts here have been built fairly recently but not this beauty, Talitha, 271′ long, built in 1930 for the founder of Packard Cars.   She is currently owned Mark Getty, the son of JP Getty.   Interestingly, Mark Getty founded Getty Images, a clearinghouse for professional photographs used worldwide. It is clear that Mark has fabulous taste.   Boy, would I love to get aboard her for a tour. Ok, one more photo of a sailing yacht that is a big contrast to all the ladies that are in town for the Classic Yacht Regatta.  She is the maxi racer named “Controlling The Animal, L4”, a mouthful of a name, launched in 2021.  She is one of the fastest racing yachts in the world and she really looks the part. It’s great to be back in Antigua again, where I made landfall back in November.  There is no shortage of magnificent yachts to look at, that’s for sure.
Tonight Brenda and I will be attending a meeting of the Tot Club and it will be fun to reconnect with friends.  Perhaps I can get a replacement membership card to put in my new wallet, when I finally get it.  Remember that lost wallet, the one I lost when I was in Martinique?  So far, nobody has tried to use any of the credit cards that I lost.   Fingers crossed that they won’t…

Over the last few months we have been to some amazing places and it’s hard to believe that our time in the Caribbean this season is just about over.  One thing for sure is that the Classic Yacht Regatta will be great fun and it’s good to be back in Antigua again, our Caribbean “home” away from home.

Starboard tack from now on…

Well, after sending two weeks in Marigot, St Lucia, it was time to begin our run north to Antigua.   It was a real treat to spend time at the lovely resort attached to the marina and to enjoy the views of Pandora with the ocean in the distance.  I took this phot from the bow of Che, the huge cat that I have mentioned in past posts.  It was wonderful to watch the fiery sunsets every evening.  And see the colors change with the minutes.  It’s amazing how quickly it gets dark every night. Yesterday, Brenda and I sailed less than ten miles north from Marigot to Rodney Bay where we went into yet another marina to spend two days with our friends Bill and Maureen of Kalunamoo, marking the beginning of our run north and the beginning of the end of our season in the Caribbean.  The marina staff was nice enough to put us next to each other on the dock. You may recall that Bill and Maureen were our mentors back in 2012 when we made our first trip down the ICW on our way to the Bahamas.   They proceeded us in the Caribbean by a few years, but ultimately we followed them again, so here we are.

We will begin our near 200 mile run north on Monday with  an overnight to Antigua beginning tomorrow morning, Monday.As the wind is nearly always from the east, we have spent the entire season as we have headed south on a port tack and now that we are turning to the north, we will be on a starboard tack.  This will also be the case for the 200 mile from Antigua to the USVI where I will join the Homeward Bound Rally in May.

I expect that we will continue on a starboard tack much of the way until Pandora is north of the Bahamas on our passage to the US.  As Pandora moves farther north we will encounter the SW prevailing winds on the US East Coast that are dominant.

We’d prefer to move to Antigua doing short 70 or so mile jumps over a three or four day period, but the wind will shift back to a more NE direction on Tuesday and we really want to avoid being hard on the wind for the nearly 200 mile run to Antigua.  Sure, we could wait but that means being here for perhaps another week and that’s too long.

This time of year the trades begin to shift to a slightly more ESE direction so it’s generally easier to head north than south, unlike earlier in the season when ENE was the norm, favoring southbound runs.

The wind won’t be particularly strong, at about 15kts with gusts to 20, so we should have a decent run and I am guessing that it will take about 26-31 hours to go the 185 miles.  Along the way we will pass Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe so if we decide that we want to stop, there are plenty of options.

I will, as always, have my tracker transmitting our position so feel free to follow along.  See the link “where in the world is Pandora” on the top of this page.

We really enjoyed our time at the Marigot Bay Resort and I am looking forward to organizing a rendezvous next March with the Dawgs as spending a week or two there is a nice way to break up the season.

In addition to the lovely pool that is the centerpiece of the resort, there is a very nice spa where Brenda spent some time.   The entrance to the spa area is, I guess, best described as Zen with a plunge pool near the entrance.  I did wonder if anyone had ever sat in the two white chairs.  If you prefer a small plunge pool with a water feature, this is for you.They also have a steam room so you can get all hot and then jump into the nearby pool.  And, all of this is available to folks on the docks and moorings.  Such a deal.

The day before we headed out to Rodney Bay, we rented a car with Stephanie and Jim to tour the island.  To say that driving on the left on those narrow and winding roads was challenging, doesn’t begin to do justice to driving in St Lucia.  It’s a bit hair-raising.

Along with a number of the other islands in the eastern Caribbean, St Lucia has an active volcano.  Most of the evidence of what’s happening down deep in the earth is the presence of hot springs and steam vents.   This spot looks really nasty and nothing can grow.   The smell is a strong odor of sulfur.  Not a place I’d want to have a picnic. I understand that the venting steam is a near permanent fixture of the area. The island has been volcanically active for millions of years.  In past millenniums, violently so as evidenced by the pitons, the cones of long extinct volcanos.  These formations are all that is left after the softer outer parts of the structure weathered away and left the hard igneous rock.  This view from an overlook along the winding, switchback road.  Of course, what’s an overlook without a couples photo?We visited a chocolate factory and store.  What a variety, including chocolate infused gin.  And Brenda, being a gin girl, had to get a bottle. The product displays were in very cleverly modified steel shipping containers.    Below, in their restaurant, we had coffee and a snack. Later, we had lunch at Ladera, a spot overlooking the Pitons.  It is perhaps the best view of any place we have ever had a meal.    A lovely open air spot, high above the water. The view of the few yachts on moorings, in more than 100′ of water, far below.  Zoom in on the one big yacht and you can see that it is Excellence, owned by an American, Herb Chambers.  He owns a slew of automobile dealerships in the North East, US.  She is a spectacular yacht, one of two that he owns.  This one was built in Germany a few years ago.  She can be yours for a week for about $100k.

Of course, if you split the charter with another couple, like the group in this video, it’s half price, a mere $50k plus expenses and tip.   I can tell you, if I had the coin, this boat would be on my list. The owner lives on the CT River not far from our club in Essex.  However, this boat never comes up the river, spending it’s time in the Caribbean and likely the Med in the summer.  His smaller one, a mere 150′ long, is also named Excellence.  Not bad Herb. Well done.

After lunch we visited one of the many beautiful waterfalls on the island.  This one, diamond falls, is not far from the sulphur vents so the water spilling over the falls is warm and mineral laden.   The water stained the rocks and was a dark grey.   We were told that the color of the water changes day to day as the leaching of water from the vents evolves.
Brenda and Stephanie enjoy each other’s company.  Just down stream from the falls are a series of mineral bath pools.  We all donned bathing suits and enjoyed time soaking.  It was nice to be there alone as the crowds in past visits were pretty large.  Interestingly, the water in the pool was clear during this visit and last time, a coco brown.  So ends the southbound journey of Pandora for this season.   Even though we are thousands of miles from home, it still feels like the end.

Perhaps I’ll close with a photo of Pandora, under sail, taken for us by a friend.  Of course, you know that we were sailing south, because we were on a port tack. So much for that, it’s starboard tack from now on.  Well, mostly…

Oh yea, a special thanks to my friend Maureen, yes that Maureen, to point out that I really messed up the whole port and starboard tack thing.  I fixed it…I think…

Yes, I know that there are still a few typos.    Such is life…

Help, I need to connect!

Over the years we have been cruising, especially the last ten years when we spent much of each winter afloat, we have increasingly been focused on having Internet connectivity where ever we are.

Back before I retired in 2012 we spent several time in Maine most summers and as cell coverage in much of Maine was and still is terrible so we were always trying to find Wi-Fi that we could tap into.

Early on, we put a Wi-Fi booster aboard with the hope of tapping into routers that were too far away but we only had limited success on that front, as more and more routers required a password.  And to get that code, we needed to visit, eat a meal or pay for time in an Internet Cafe.

When we were in Cuba in 2016 this problem was particularly acute as there was no way for us to “phone home” and the only way to communicate with family during the two months that we were there was by purchasing scratch off paper passes for computer time in a Cuban government hotel.  These “passes” had a scratch off area that revealed a code to be into a browser on a computer terminal.   It was supremely frustrating and the speed,  really slow.  Think AOL dial-up speeds.  Just doing a blog post, assuming that all the text was written prior to logging on, often took 90 minutes and three “passes”.  And, getting these passes was often very difficult as they were in limited supply and many users were hording them, just in case.

So years later, as we expanded our cruising horizons to the Bahamas and now the Caribbean, the quest for connectivity continues to be a focus and while access is a lot better, our expectations have increased faster than the connectivity available will allow.

Most recently we purchased a new phone and installed a simcard for Digicel a local carrier that is supposed to give us data coverage in most of the islands of the Caribbean.   It worked perfectly for about 6 weeks but after that I was having trouble getting it “topped up” as the instructions were all in French and while I tried to get things resolved, it finally shut down for lack of payment.  However, today I see that my card was charged for the monthly fee so perhaps things will get better.  Details to come on that front but I am not all that confident…

The point in all of this is that while connectivity is better than ever, well, it’s not that simple and requires jumping through some pretty amazing hoops to keep the information flowing while we move from island to island.  Some of our friends just purchase simcards for each island and swap them out as they move around.

For the last two weeks we have had the luxury of being on a dock here at Marigot Bay Resort, enjoying visits to the pool, meals out and time with friends that are staying here too.   And, best of all, or at least nice, is excellent wifi, assuming that I am willing to come ashore where the signal is strongest.

Along with all the other amazing things that he is involved in, Elon Musk is well on the way toward establishing satellite based wifi that he is planning to make available anywhere on the planet through his burgeoning Starlink internet program.  It is a very ambitious plan but those who have bet against him in the past have regretted it.

Delivering internet access through fiber optic cables or cellular service has always seemed like a very complicated way to handle things and Starlinks plan of using low orbit satellites just makes sense.

All of this is very confusing and hugely complicated to put into service but the promise of the technology will transform how we stay connected.   I found this video that describes, in very clear terms, why this approach may very well be vastly better than what is available now and the probable impact it will have on marine communications.

The commentary is focused on the megayacht community but it isn’t much of a leap to imagine that there will be applications for smaller yachts in a few years.

Check out this fascinating description of the future.When I think about how things have changed over the last few years, I can only imagine what the future will bring.  I just hope that I will be out on the boat when things really get going.

In the meantime, all I can say is that, all I can say is HELP!  I NEED TO CONNECT!

Elon!  Elon!  Are you listening?  It seems he is…

 

 

Chillin in Marigot Bay, St Lucia

It’s hard to believe that our winter of cruising the Caribbean is almost over.   I will admit that Brenda has a somewhat different view of this than I do and is a lot more excited about our flight to the US on April 10th from Antigua.

I like to begin a post with an image that is sort of reflective of what’s going on so here you go.  It’s been hard…chillin.We are spending about two weeks here at the Marigot Bay Resort, tied up at the dock, AC cranking away while we waste water with, sort of, long showers aboard.  Actually, compared to folks on shore, our normal water consumption aboard Pandora is about 15 gallons per day and now on the dock a whopping 30 gallons per day, I’d guess.

Anyway, it’s a nice cushy change of pace. The view from our cockpit is, well, tropical.And while we are spending about $70/day on the dock, the visitors in the hotel are paying about $500/night.   Such a deal! To be able to enjoy the pool while paying about the same cost as a mooring in Martha’s Vineyard is pretty appealing.   Brenda has actually been doing a bit of weaving poolside. Not a bad spot to spend an afternoon. We have met some really interesting folks here including the crew of a nearby mega yacht, a huge catamaran, the third largest in the world.  We have enjoyed some fun evenings aboard Pandora and their digs. How about a singalong?  Her cockpit is wider than Pandora is long.  Big frigging boat. Other “local color” includes a little bird that visits us most days for a snack of banana.  Brenda tells me he/she is a Lesser Antillean Bull Finch.Just to prove that the visitor is really aboard Pandora with our dink “HOPE” in the background, a sort of “proof of life” shot. No wait, this is even better.  He made himself at home in our cabin.  Brenda wasn’t happy about that.  Alas, gone pre-poop.   GO AWAY! This is just so BULLFINCH. The harbor is a very popular spot for party boats to tour.  They come in with music blaring and well lubricated passengers.  I wonder if they have enough life jackets aboard.  Hmm…In the interest of full reporting, chill though I may be, life aboard Pandora here isn’t without it’s mishaps.  The most recent “insult” was compliments of some sloppy docking by a 40′ Sunsail charter boat that tied up near us for one night.  He did a pretty good job of coming in but his inexperience showed when he left and clipped one of my stanchions with his grill.    Fortunately, the damage was limited to the single one.  I was able to bend it, sort of, back in place but it’s clear I’ll need to source a new one when I get home as the top is a full 2″ out of plumb.  And, it should be fun to find a part that was sourced in Finland in 2006 or so.

I have the contact info from the skipper, from the UK who says he will pay for a new one.   I know what you are thinking.  “Good luck with that Bob!”   Yup, we will see how that goes.  At least he didn’t scratch the paint.  No wait, that’s already been done by someone else.    Oh, the bliss of the cruising life and yet another reason to love the charter set.   At least we aren’t in the BVI where they are EVERYWHERE!When I return home I will only be there for about three weeks before I head back to Antigua with my friend Craig.  We will spend about ten days working our way north to the USVI and then will join the Salty Dawg Homeward Bound rally to the US and make landfall in VA where she will receive her lithium battery., house bank, upgrade.

I have mentioned in past posts that one of her three fuel tanks has a leak so I will be down about 1/3 of her fuel for the run home.  With that in mind, I am considering purchasing a collapsible fuel bladder that holds 52 gallons.   This will more than make up for the missing fuel from the leaking tank and when empty, it rolls up into a small package.  It isn’t cheap but being able to avoid another half dozen yellow 5 gallon jugs that sit in the locker empty much of the time, taking up lots of space, is very appealing.

Additionally, once I have that leaking tank back in service again, the bladder will give me additional capacity to make long runs without worrying so much about running out of fuel.   It is larger than it looks but full of fuel it will fit it into one of my vented cockpit lockers.  I can also strap it on the deck under the dink if I choose.   I was told about the use of bladders by the captain of a megayacht who told me that big yachts use this approach to carry more fuel when they have to make long runs that go beyond their fuel limit. One issue, if I put it in the cockpit locker, is how I will transfer the fuel, up hill, into my fuel tanks.  If it’s on deck, gravity will do the trick but below I will need a pump.  After checking a number of sources, this lithium powered pump seems like a good option.  It’s not very expensive, pumps 15 gallons a minute and the battery will last about a half hour between charges.   I am also going to look into a 110v option as that might make the most sense so I won’t have to worry about recharging or the battery going flat between uses.

I always worry about running out of fuel on a l0ng run as it seems that the wind is often light and from an unfavorable direction.   With 25% more fuel I can, in theory, run the engine faster and still have enough fuel to get there in less time.

And finally, in keeping with my “hey, join us for some fun” attitude, I have organized a happy hour at one of the local watering holes for tonight and invited everyone in the marina, cruisers and the crews of some mega-yachts to join us.

It will be fun with a nice mix of folks to meet.   I guess that’s all for now.  So, as our season cruising in the Caribbean moves to a close, coming to you from St Lucia, just chillin.

Our time in Martinique is coming to an end.

Tomorrow Brenda and I hope to head south to St Lucia, our next to last stop before we begin thinking about the end of the season and a return to CT.   I say “we hope” as the wind is expected to be a bit “sporty” which will make for a difficult run but it’s not all that far, about 25 miles. And the wind will be from the beam so Pandora should ride fairly well with a reef in the main, or perhaps two.

An additional complicating fact is that we have to have a rapid Covid test before we leave here and can’t arrive at the marina more than 24 hours after testing.  We can’t wait till tomorrow to see what the wind is like as the pharmacy isn’t open on Sunday.   While the wind should be less than the winds today, gusting near 30kts, it will still be in the high teens with gusts into the 20s, more wind than I’d like.   That’s not particularly fun so we will have to see how it goes.  Fortunately, bad or not so bad, it’s not all that far to where we will be in the lee of St Lucia.

At this point, Brenda and I are pretty much ready for some pampering at the Marigot Bay Resort, our destination, and are also looking forward to being in a more protected area out of the relentless winds that we’ve seen since we arrived in St Anne.

In the evenings the wind is generally a bit calmer and we always enjoy watching the sunsets.  A few nights ago the view from Pandora’s cockpit was particularly dramatic following a squall that had passed us earlier in the evening.

Behold the glory of nature!  You can almost hear the choir of angels belting out a dramatic chorus.   Always on the lookout for great cloud photos, I summitted this one to the Cloud Appreciation Society to be considered as one of their “Cloud a Day” images.  They share a photo of a cloud every day to their 55,000+ members.  I have submitted a number of photos this season and most were rejected.  However, I learned a few weeks ago that they will be sending out one of my images next Sunday, my second.  When you consider how many members there are and they can only use 365 photos a year, getting mine chosen is a pretty big deal.

We are now into the last month of our cruising season here and we began talking about what we would do with Pandora at the end of the season, shortly after arriving in Antigua.   I was only about half of the way to Antigua last fall when I decided that I needed a break from the slog back and forth and we thought taking her to Trinidad made sense.

That all seemed like a good idea but as we began to think about all the details and costs associated with having someone else do so many of the jobs on Pandora it began to be less of an obvious decision.   I won’t go into all the details that went into our decision but Pandora’s heading north yet again.

So, off we head tomorrow, I hope, to Marigot Bay resort for some luxury time on the dock at a four star resort, time at the pool and to enjoy some meals out.  All, while the AC hums away aboard Panodra and we have unlimited water, hot and cold.

We’ve been there before and for the budget minded, taking a mooring for $30/day gives you the run of the place.  We are going to splurge and go on the dock at about $1/ft per day.  It’s still a steal and less than a mooring most anywhere in New England.  They even have room service on the dock and I expect good wifi.  Movie time anyone?  Take a look at this place?We also hope head a bit farther south to Bequia (pronounced Bekway) for a bit and then return to Marigot in early April where we will leave Pandora for a few weeks.   At that point, both Brenda and I will head back home, open up the house and get the kitchen stuff moved to prepare for the renovation to begin.  New floors, counter tops and painted cabinets are on the list.  It’s going to take a few months to complete the job so we want to get going in early May with the hope that it doesn’t take the entire summer to complete the job.

After a few weeks in CT, I will head back to St Lucia in late April or early May to rejoin Pandora and begin the run north.   My friend Craig will fly back with me and we will make our way north to where we will hook up Alex, my other crew for the run north with the Rally.  The rally is expected to depart from St John this year on May 10th, when we hope to head north to the Chesapeake.

I have mentioned in previous posts that I need to replace the house battery bank and want to upgrade from AGM lead acid to lithium.  This is a fairly big deal as the new batteries will require some different charging equipment and they are also slightly different in dimensions.  The good news is that by replacing the four 8D AGM batteries with Lithium will actually save some 500 lbs and offer us more usable power.

I am told that these batteries, current state of the art, will likely last for longer than I will own the boat, and that assumes that I live to be quite old.  I do hope to live a long time but I am realistic about the number of years I will still be sailing.  Well, perhaps not all that realistic but the good news is that the next owner will have a functional bank with lots of remaining life.

Our time in Martinique has been more than a month and we have seen more of the island than during any other past visit.

A few days ago we rented a car with our friends Jim and Stephanie on Hero.They moved aboard last May and will be sailing the southern Caribbean this coming summer, south of the Hurricane belt and expect to be back in Antigua next November when the fall Rally fleet returns.  Me too…

We visited one of our favorite distilleries, Clement.    It’s quite a place with an elaborate sculpture garden.  As you enter the grounds you are greeted by a dramatic row of palms. As you wander, you pass a reflecting pond.    The sculptures that are placed on the grounds are quite large, like this 8′ tall mask beautifully sited on the edge of the pond. From across the way, the “mask”, in the distance, is framed by this piece. I thought that the siting for this trio was perfect.  I understand that the crops in the distance are rotated between bananas and sugar cane to keep yields high. Another dramatic view was these two 12-15′ high wire pieces.Thinking about that ficus plant you left in your office at the beginning of the pandemic?  I expect that it didn’t fare as well as this one.  And, speaking of “house plants gone wild”, how about this strangling fig?  It’s certainly  living up to it’s name. A display garden, with sugar cane and an old narrow gauge steam engine once used to move freshly cut cane to the factory.  It’s always a rush to process cane as it begins to ferment within hours of being cut.  And, speaking of the factory, this equipment has been long abandoned with production now in nearby modern buildings.  The old steam machinery and distillery are still open for viewing.  These gears once connected a huge steam engine to the cane crushers and other equipment connected by long belts that snaked through the building.

Being around all this exposed equipment must have been hugely dangerous. I read that when working near a cane crushing machine there was always an ax handy just in case someone got their hand in the gears, so that the arm could be swiftly cut off to avoid being fully pulled into the machine and crushed.  What an image.A riot of pipes and pulleys. The huge fermentation vats, each a dozen feet across. Below the building displaying the old factory equipment, a tasting room.   Try all you like at no charge but be prepared to elbow your way to the bar.  Not a lot of social distancing. And some huge warehouses with giant wood barrels for the early aging of the rum.  I have no idea how many barrels one of these holds but they were perhaps 20′ tall.  That’s a lot of rum.Later the rum is transferred into smaller barrels where the rum ages for years and sometimes decades.  A lot of rum being prepared for market. As you can imagine, this sort of production was a source of great wealth and the Clement family was quite well off.  This was the family home up until the middle of of the 20th century.  The place is a picture of elegant tropical living. With beautiful plantings all around.  Of course, their home was up-wind from the factory. We purchased a good stash to share with friends.  “would you care for a tot of rum, imported to the US aboard SV Pandora?”

A friend suggested that we visit the banana museum, and we did.  I’ll admit that I was skeptical but we went anyway and it was very interesting.   I won’t bore you with a litany of how many types there are except to say “I had n0 idea”.

They have a very nice garden with many varieties represented.Well maintained cement pathways winding through a variety of bananas from all over. The views were really beautiful and very lush.On the nearby hillside, many, many bananas.  Bananas that set their fruit in a remarkable spiral. I was struck by the way the fruit grew on this variety.  Sort of like an upside down layer cake.  Many bananas that are only eaten cooked.  Actually, that’s the bulk of the types.  Not sweet.  The type we see in our markets is plantain.   They look like the sweet ones but taste like a raw potato unless cooked.

Some are very tiny.The type that is most commonly grown and the vast bulk sold worldwide are Cavendish.  They are actually clones, all genetically identical and set fruit asexually meaning that they do not need to be pollinated and never develop seeds.

Each stalk is individually wrapped in a plastic bag to protect them from insects and to promote faster growth.  When the fruit is ripe the part of the plant that bloomed dies and is replaced by a sucker that grows up from the bottom bulb.   Along with the Marigot Bay Resort, we are looking forward to touring St Lucia and again visiting a restaurant that has arguably among the best views anywhere. It overlooks the Pitons, long extinct volcanic cones that rise up dramatically, dominating the landscape. It’s been great visiting Martinique but it’s time to move on.

Let’s hope that the run isn’t all that sporty after all.  Good luck with that!

Can you hear me now? YES, sort of. YIPPEE!

Here we are, hanging out in St Anne, Martinique, a charming spot that we enjoy visiting.  It’s a very nice rural sort of village with a church that dominates the downtown scene.To call it a “town” perhaps overstates things a bit.  This is just about all of it and after dark, it’s even smaller when many of the businesses close. Saturday, yesterday, is market day, with all sorts of vendors showing their wares. The Caribbean is known as the “spice islands” and the vendors do not disappoint with a huge variety to choose from. The diminutive scale of the town is not proportional to the size of the harbor, perhaps the largest anchorage in the Caribbean, about 1.5 miles long and a half mile wide.  Without a panorama to show all the boats, perhaps a shot of the town dock gives a feel for how many boats there are.  You can’t see the other side, but it’s just as packed.  In the distance, part of the fleet, several hundred strong.  I’d guess that this view is about 10% of the total.  Nearby, perhaps a 30 minute run in a dink at high speed, is La Marin, home to a huge marina with more than 1,000 slips.  The number of charter boats is daunting. Just one of many piers lined with dozens, no hundreds, of cats and monohulls, standing by and ready for you to jump on board and head out on holiday.

Don’t want to head out for a week long charter?  Not to worry, you can charter a motorized floating barbecue for a few hours.  We have seen these in the past but never out and about.  In the wind, nearly 20kts today, I can’t imagine that these would be a whole lot of fun with the  umbrella propelling you along in a way that makes the tiny outboard useless.   Don’t like the idea of a black umbrella in the tropical heat?  There are other colors to choose from.  Problem solved, or as some local T shirts advertise, “Pani Pwoblem”.   I am trying to imagine what happens if the grill won’t light.  “Roberto, just squirt more lighter fluid on those, sort of smoldering coals. ”  Wooosh!!!!  Run away!  Run?   On second thought, SWIM AWAYYYYY!Anyway, St Anne is a nice place to hang out in a less commercial environment and yet still close enough to La Marin to be able to buy most anything you might need.

I’ve been reading about the price of gas in the US going up because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and everyone is stressed by gas over $4.00 a gallon.  Here in Martinique it’s a lot more expensive than that.

I purchased about 5 gallons of gas for the dink and our Honda generator, and the total came to over $50,  about $9/gallon.  So there, you spoiled Americans!   One way to get energy gobbling Americans who seem to think that 15mpg is fine for their family car, would be to charge what the rest of the world does for energy.  That would sell a lot of compact cars, PDQ.   The folks that say they are fine with cars that get terrible mileage often say “I can afford it!” or “You only live once.”  Perhaps they would feel differently if it cost $200 to fill that guzzler up every week.

Anyway, off of my soapbox and back to cruising.

On my way back in my dink from shopping and gassing up in La Marin, I passed these unique sailboats racing in the harbor.  It seems that they are called Yoles boats and there is a very active racing fleet.  These races draw thousands of spectators.   Follow this link for a brief overview of their history.  They have an interesting sprit rig.  It looks like sailing them is pretty energetic with a large crew working hard to keep the boats upright. Note how they are steered.  No fancy rudder, just an oar sticking way out the back.   With all that sail way up in the bow, I expect that the boat has a lot of weather helm so having the long oar way out back will give it a lot of leverage.  Better yet, check out this brief video that gives a pretty good feel for how exciting the races are.And finally, to the topic of this post…

A major focus of cruisers, for many years now, has been connectivity.  The ability to get email and stay in touch with family and friends while “off the grid”.

This has been a perennial frustrati and while connectivity gets better each season, increased expectations always seem to outstrip progress.  In the past, the first question asked by anyone when they arrived in a harbor was “where is the best wifi”.  Now, not so much, with the advent of cellular service that can power a hotspot, offering fairly good access to all but the largest files.  Having said that, the service quality can change hour to hour, sometimes amazing and sometimes less so…

In spite of things getting better it is still amazing how much data you can purchase for a reasonable cost in the islands.  While fuel is hugely expensive, when compared to the US, data is a pretty reasonably priced.   For about $45 we get 70 gigs of data for a month, more than enough for most applications with the possible exception of watching movies every night.

The ability to do a blog post from the boat or a zoom meeting with family, all without worrying constantly about running out of data, is a real improvement over years past.

A standout, and not in a good way, on the data front for us, was when we were in Cuba in 2016 and there was no way to use our cell phone or even have access to wifi any kind for the entire two months that we were there.  Being in Cuba was a wonderful experience overall, but it was hugely tempered by being nearly totally isolated from family for the entire time.

Here we are, a little over 5 years later and we can talk to family every day, sometimes more than once and even use video in some areas.  It’s a huge change and certainly one for the better.

In spite of the vast improvement in connectivity, it can be very frustrating as service quality varies greatly from hour to hour and place to place.  In some areas we can easily watch videos and download the current issues of the NY Times, Wallstreet Journal and Times of London to keep up on the latest news.  In other areas, not so much.

As an example, for this post, I did a search to learn more about the Yoles boats and previewed the video that I embedded above.  A few years ago there was no way that I could do that from aboard Pandora.  Now I can.

Yes, being aboard and cruising for the winter involves accepting that we are not nearly as well connected as we are in the US but after years of searching for Wifi ashore to get even access to email, it is a huge improvement to be able to do most everything we wish from aboard, albeit in moderation lest we run out of the allowable data before the end of the month.

Who knows what the next few years will bring but I am sure that it will be great.  The big question will be if the reality will fall short of our ever expanding desire to remain in touch.

For now, between my Google Fi phone and the Digicell data plan, at least we feel more connected than ever. I can only imagine what lies ahead and hope that we are still cruising to enjoy what will come.

Besides, when temperatures drop to the low double digits at home, it’s nice to be here, spending time swimming and visiting Tiki bars to watch the sun go down, like this one, a few steps from the dinghy dock.

I think I’ll have another Lorraine and make that a 50cl grande.  See, I can speak French after all.  For now, we are making the best of what we have and are enjoying sharing video calls with family, especially our three grandchildren Tori, Rhette and Emme.

It’s so great when we ask, “can you hear me now” and they say YES!  Well, at least some of the time.  It’s better than it was and for now so I’ll take it.

Yippee!

 

 

Of course,

 

Change of plans?

Beginning when I was about half way through my run south to Antigua in November, I confidently stated that I was leaving Pandora in Trinidad this summer, talking a year off from the north-south tedium each spring and fall.

I went on then and a number of times since, about the reasons, kitchen remodeling, wear and tear on me and Pandora, simplicity of getting on a plane to get home, plans to travel in the UK this fall, and on and on.

Over the last few months Brenda and I have tried hard to come to grips with the details of taking Pandora to Trinidad, identifying ways to get clothing and gear home and back again in the fall, insurance, lining up tradesman to work on the boat and such.  After trying to get everything in place we rather abruptly decided to just bag it and take Pandora home once more.

Oddly, I have not been able to find a reasonable cost insurance option even though Pandora would be below the hurricane belt for the summer and out of the water.  In spite of this, the cost of insuring her for this period was going to be considerably more than taking her north.  It doesn’t make sense to me but the cost of insurance has gone up a lot as a result of the last few years with major hurricane losses.

I also do a good amount of the work on Pandora myself and to hire all of it out was really going to add up and it was beginning to look like it was going to cost me upwards of twice what I would pay to make the run home and back and that was before having paint work done, the major reason to have her there in the first place.

Perhaps the biggest factor in deciding came up rather abruptly last week when I learned that a friend of mine had started a company to import lithium batteries from China.  I have confidence in him given his technical engineering background along with the fact that the OEM manufacturer, is also a major supplier to BMW and their EV efforts.

I really need to replace Pandora’s battery bank and I hate to just go with lead acid again as I have heard from other cruisers that lithium is just so superior, with substantially faster charging rates and tremendous weight savings, more than 500lbs.

There will also be a number of changes required in my charging system to accommodate the upgrade but, with his help, I expect that I will be able to get it done.  A possible wrinkle will be that some insurance companies will not cover boats with lithium house banks, due to a history of fires from earlier battery designs.  I am told that the chemistry of this generation of batteries today do not have the risks of older designs.   I guess we will have to see what the insurance options are.   Fingers crossed.

I really don’t want to have to do so much of the work on Pandora myself this summer with other things on tap at our “land home” but that’s what we are heading for.

The plan will likely be for Brenda to fly out of St Lucia and back to the US around the 8th of April.   My friend Craig will fly down to spend some time working our way to the USVI and on to the US, in early May.   Details to come…

So, for now, we are here in Martinique, currently anchored in this lovely cove, Grand-Anse,  enjoying the laid back pace with beach bars and a nice long sandy beach.  Our time in Fort de France was punctuated by constant rolling by passing ferries so it’s nice to be away from that.

The beach is lined with small shops and bars with a nicely maintained promenade. A particular highlight of this area is that there are loads of turtles.  Yesterday I was swimming under Pandora and saw one, perhaps 20′ in diameter, munching away on grass under the boat in about 15′ of water.  I swam down and was able to touch, more like pet him on his/her shell.  He didn’t seem to be particularly alarmed by my attention and slowly swam away.    It was quite thrilling, I’ll admit.

For those who don’t want to get their feet wet and still enjoy the turtles, this crazy looking boat makes it’s way slowly around the harbor multiple times a day.  I have no idea if this is a one-of-a-kind glass bottom boat it’s the only one we have seen.  It was in a nearby harbor in 2018 when we were last in the area.  I havent’ been able to find a reference online to this design or where they are made.   There are also a number of pretty amazing boats here, including two restored French fishing boats.  Biche, is the last surviving traditional tuna boat.  She was brought back from an abandoned hulk a number of years ago when she was restored in France.  She’s quite impressive with her unusual yawl rig.  We had seen her sailing in Les Saintes a few weeks ago.  She is accompanied by a smaller and not quite as well maintained cousin, on a nearby mooring. Of course, Pandora looks ok herself, framed by trees on the beach. There are a lot of folks snorkeling in the bay with dive boats heading out multiple times a day.  Some are heading far afield with others just bringing folks to nearby rocky beaches.  Yesterday, when I was talking photos of those two classics, I saw a group on the beach nearby, waving wildly to a dive boat and.  A short time later a rescue chopper appeared.  They hovered over the beach and dropped two EMTs while an inflatable launch ran up on the beach at high speed, delivering a patient.The chopper continued to circle around the area, kicking up sand and spray before landing in a nearby field.The took the stricken swimmer up under some trees and for what seemed like way too long, they worked aggressively to revive him with a series of techs applying CPR.Eventually, an ambulance arrived but there didn’t seem to be any urgency at that point to transport the patient to the hospital.  I am guessing that the outcome wasn’t good.

I often wonder, especially when we are far out to sea on passage, what would happen if one of our crew fell ill.  The prognosis would likely be bleak.

Anyway, the experience of watching the whole episode unfold was sobering and reminds us how fragile life can be.

So, here we are taking it easy aboard Pandora today.  Brenda is hoping to participate in an online webinar by a weaver in Scotland this afternoon and I guess I’ll spend some time “turtling”.

So there you have it, another day, another plan.   So, what’s the plan?  For now I’m positive, sure?, fairly certain?, perhaps? that I am taking Pandora back to the US.

For now, that’s the plan.  I think…

I’ll never make THAT mistake again! Live and learn…I hope.

You’d think that after more than 65 years that I’d have just about used up all the stupid moves available to me.  

They say that “experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want”.  Ok, so I had yet another experience and I hope I learned. 

Well, two days ago I discovered that there is no reason to keep my wallet, with all my credit cards, insurance cards, driver’s license, a good amount of US dollars and other items in my with me at all times.

I wasn’t thinking about the fact that you can’t exchange Greenbacks for Euros here or that I had no need for my US drivers license…or that my various insurance cards are not valid here.  In spite of all this I went everywhere with all that stuff in my wallet.

I also never thought carefully about what would happen if I lost my wallet, which I did.  I have no idea exactly how it happened but I don’t have it anymore with plenty of US cash, about $150, and about $80 Euros, or my three credit cards and debit card, etc, etc, etc…

Where did I loose it?  Hard to say as Brenda and I walked all over the city, stopping at green grocers in the market, along with various other stops along the way.  Sadly, as Brenda did most of the credit card transactions that day, I have NO IDEA when I lost it as I can’t just think about the last time I used it.  None, nada…

It might have dropped out of my pants pocket, which I generally keep zipped closed and fallen in the water when we were heading back to Pandora in the afternoon or it might have dropped somehow when I was pulling my camera out of the wheelie bag that we were dragging everywhere.  I have no idea. 

Anyway, I spent several hours that night compulsively poking through Pandora, time and time again, hoping against hope that my wallet was stuck aboard somewhere weird.   They say that doing the same thing over and over and yet expecting a different outcome is a marker for insanity.  Fair enough…

At this writing, two days later, still no luck.  I also retraced my steps from that day and again, no luck.  Not that I expected anyone to turn in a wallet stuffed with cash and other valuable things, well valuable to me…  I even lost my membership card from the Antigua and Barbuda Royal Navy Tot Club.  

I called Bank of America and they said that as long as there are no weird transactions posted, that we can keep using the same cards (Brenda’s of course but the same account).    Dud I mention that I lost my wallet?  Thought so…

The nice guy at BOA also told me that they could send out new cards and we’d likely have them within about 5 days, allowing time for them to make their way through Customs in Martinique.

Anyway, so far so good, with no suspicious transactions.  Fingers crossed.  As you can imagine, I was really upset when I could not find my wallet and didn’t get a lot of sleep that first night.  However, after spending some time on the phone with the, ever so soothing, BOA rep, I felt a lot better.  He suggested that one option is to do nothing and hope that no weird charges are posted as that will trip the canceling of the card, which would be bad.

Not sure what I will do so for now, perhaps nothing, that’s easy, and I’ll just keep my fingers crossed…

So, back to Fort de France, where we are currently anchored.    The last time we were here was two years ago, less than two weeks before the pandemic shut down everything.  And, once again, this weekend, Carnival will kick into high gear, for the first time since our last visit.

Brenda and I are not certain that we will be comfortable with being in the midst of thousands but we will have to see how the week progresses.

The view from the harbor, with a modern city on one side and a French fort to the other, offers an interesting contrast of old and new with tropical rainforest in the distance. The city skyline is dominated by the St Louis Cathederal, constructed in the late 19th century, the sixth cathedral to occupy that spot.  It’s five predecessors, the first built in the 17th century were all destroyed by earthquakes or hurricanes.  This one is constructed of cast iron which has held up well for more than 100 years.  In spite of many old buildings there are also ultra modern office buildings to the north.And an ancient fort to the South.  Every morning at dawn, dozens of locals swim off of the beach, making their way about a half mile out to a channel marker and back.  The group seems to be overwhelming women that talk loudly as they make their way out to the buoy and back to the beach, clearly taking their time, chatting the entire way.  The fort dominates the southern side of the harbor and at the very end there are design features that look just so French.  I can almost hear a French soldier up on the wall tormenting the English, just like in the Monty Python movie, The Search for the Holy GrailIt’s hard to believe that such a beautiful harbor is in the middle of a busy city and with water so clear that you can see down 25′.What harbor shot is complete without a photo of Pandora at anchor? And, with Carnival beginning later this week, it’s getting busier every day.  Most nights there are local groups practicing drumming, the constant beat that is so much a part of the celebrations.  Brenda and I went out on Sunday evening for a drink and watched as a truck holding dozens of huge speakers made it’s way past us.  The crowds were nothing like we will see when the celebrations begin in a few days.  As you can imagine, this sort of partying brings out all sorts of interesting characters.  How about this set of buns?  And, it is a guy.  I expect that many women would kill for a set like his.   He seemed to be having a great time showing his stuff.   I also saw a woman with screaming green hair and an outfit to match.  Sadly, no photo…There is plenty of skin on display here in the French islands.  The other night, while Brenda and I were enjoying a G&T in the cockpit, a couple motored slowly by in their dink, I guess in the midst of an evening harbor tour.  Perched in the bow, unconcerned was the women, topless.  Sorry, no photo. 

On a nearby small boat, another couple, and every afternoon, she is out doing chores in her birthday suit.   “Honey, can you help me reach this block?”  Boy buns, girl buns.  I need to be fair, right?There is a very long dock on the waterfront to tie up dinks to, it’s several hundred feet long, part of a waterfront park.   Adjacent to this is an extensive historic area with narrow streets and alleys.  Some of the buildings are scruffy but most very interesting to look at.  I enjoyed this café with loads of plantings.  It was Sunday when I took this photo when most everything is closed.I thought that this building had some interesting details.  Note the contrast of the modern office building in the distance.
There is also a large daily green market, likely where I lost my wallet.   I could have purchased a lot of bananas with all the money in that I was carrying.  I sure hope whoever picked up the cash had a lot of trouble converting those US dollars.As of today we aren’t sure if we plan on staying here in Ft de France for Carnival but I’ll admit that it is tempting.  I guess that depends on how confident we are that our two vaccine doses and booster will be in keeping us safe.

I have no idea where my wallet is but perhaps this photo of Pandora from our friends Stephanie and Jim on Hero offers a clue.  Nearby, at the end of the rainbow, perhaps?No wait, is it here aboard, at the end of the rainbow?There you go again Bob, betting on leprechauns.  Don’t forget, you are in France, not Ireland so it’s not likely.

Ok, ok, At least I won’t have to worry any more about loosing my wallet.

Live an learn.  I wonder what I will learn today?  I cringe to think…

St Pierre, more chic than shabby and oh, so historic.

One of the best parts of being in the Caribbean, aside from avoiding the FREEZING winter conditions at home, is the nightly show as the sun sets to the west.

Sunsets in the Caribbean are nearly always impressive and last nights was even better than usual with a local fisherman out for one last set of his net as the sun set to the west.  More about how these industrious fisherman practice their craft a little later in this post.Of course, as Brenda and I sit in the cockpit or up on deck with a glass of wine,  we wonder if we will see the elusive green flash, a momentary pulse of bright green as the sun sets below the horizon.  This phenomenon only happens when the horizon is perfectly clear and lasts less than a second.  Last night was one of those nights and while I sort of missed the “flash” by a fraction of a second, we got it, a green flash!  If you don’t see it in this image, I guess you just had to be there, and we were.

I put the camera on sports mode, taking photos about twice a second as the sun sets.  It drops fast enough that you can see it move lower and lower.And, that iconic flash that, I almost, caught.  I’ve done better but you can sort of see the change of color. It was beautiful and a perfect way to end the day.

Today, the day got off to an equally impressive start with a parade of showers rolling off of Mt Pele, bringing with it a variety of rainbows.   First a partial “bow” against impressive clouds. A bit later, a full rainbow.  This photo doesn’t really give a sense of the scale.  It was really huge. And the colors looked brighter in “real life”.  This close up gives a better feel for how bright it was. The streets in St Pierre, once the capital of Martinique, are a mix of old and really old.  In 1902, Mt Pele, in the distance, capped in clouds, exploded with little warning, leveling the city and killing some 30,000 in a brief moment as superheated gas and ash, in excess of 1,000 degrees, rushed down the mountain.
In the aftermath of destruction, not a building was standing, only charred ruins.  Some of the remains of these ruined buildings are left as a memorial to that fateful day. The destruction was total, leaving not a single building standing. Every person in the city perished except a single very lucky guy who happened to be in jail when Pele exploded, and survived.  Check out this three minute video of the story of the destruction of St Pierre and one man’s very lucky day.Following the eruption, the capital was moved south to Ft de France, which remains the capital to this day.   We will be heading there, I expect, within the next few days so stay tuned on that front.

On that fateful day there were many ships anchored off of the city and most were sunk in moments.   The shore drops off steeply off of the beach so today boats have to anchor as close to the beach as they dare.  This view from the center of the city south, is more peaceful than that day in 1902.   Pandora is anchored way to the south, near the point, as there is a fairly shallow shelf in about 25′ of water so it’s a better spot than near the center of the city.

The problem with anchoring near the city center is that the drop off is so fast that if you were to drag your anchor, even 100′, the anchor and chain would be hanging straight down as you drifted to sea.  There are many spots in the ruins in the city that offer a juxtaposition of old and older like this lovely courtyard.   Notice the sleeping dog near the back wall.  Happy Rover.
I particularly liked the way that this home was built into a stretch of old stone wall.  Nicely done. And, a view of the water over the rooftop.  I love steel roofs. A few days ago we visited what has become our favorite distillery, Depaz, built into the foothills of Pele.  The facility is the only steam powered distillery, I think in the Caribbean if not the world.   It sits on the edge of thousands of acres of cane fields. Heavy machinery is used to move the ground up cane into the crusher which extracts the juice. After the cane is crushed and juice extracted, the remainder is set aside and fed into the boiler that provides steam to the engine that powers the plant. If a picture is worth a thousand words, nothing can do justice to this wonderful steam engine like this little video that I shot of the machine at work.   At less than 30 seconds, it gives a real sense of this wonderful piece of engineering in action.   Enjoy…After extracting the sugar juice it is fermented for two days and then put into a distillation tower that gasses off and then collects the alcohol.Then the distilled alcohol is put into oak barrels and aged, in some cases for a decade before being bottled.  Each year about 10% of the rum evaporates from the barrels, an amount called “the angel’s share”.  As a result of this, a bit more is added each year to top up the barrel.  So, if you purchase a rum that has been aged for a number of years, some of the rum has been added on a yearly basis to keep the barrel full.  In some cases, the barrels that the rum is aged in are discarded Port barrels or other types from the US and Europe.  The use of old barrels gives rums a special taste.

These barrels are actually empty, waiting to be filled.  When they are full, they are placed on their side. The rum business has always been profitable as witnessed by this impressive manor home, once the home of the owners of Depaz. Nice view.  I can imagine Mr Depaz sitting on the front porch, perhaps sipping an old fashioned rum punch, feeling pretty proud of himself, master of all he can see and such.  The manor homes on these estates are always sited upwind from the factory.  As you can imagine, boiling sugar water and the near constant crushing of the cane gives off a sickly sweet smell of molasses.   Not something that you’d want wafting into your home, day and night.  Following lunch at the Depaz restaurant with some friends, Brenda and I opted to walk the 1.5 miles back to town.  Down hill all the way and rain showers kept us from getting too hot.  It was a very nice walk.  Brenda has a new straw hat that she has decorated with a lovely scarf.  I finished the ensemble with some fresh flowers plucked along the side of the road.
It’s always a treat to see what grows in people’s gardens and long the roadside.  How about a mix of orchids and bougainvillea?Ok, so back to the fisherman I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

In spite of the fact that the next piece of land to the west as we look out to sea, is probably Honduras, it’s fairly settled along this coastline.  However, before dawn each morning the rocking and rolling begins when the many small fishing boats head out to fish.

In many cases, they are fishing for pilchards, or large sardines.   These 8″ long fish are considered a local delicacy that is sold in the market every morning, fresh from the boat, along with a good variety of other options. Yesterday I purchased a good sized chunk of tuna.  See the tuna “mother” off to the right of this photo?  That was where the tuna I purchased came from.  It was yummy. Also in the market, a huge variety of local vegetables.  We are particularly fond of the tomatoes, very different from the bio-engineered tasteless variety that are available in the US during the winter. So, these small boats head out to fish, early in the morning, often very close to where we are anchored.  The boats generally have two fisherman on board.  First they toss bits of palm fronds onto the water which will bring the fish to the surface.

When they see a promising school of fish, they power in a large circle, paying out their purse net over the side. This boat did their work right in front of anchored Pandora. After securing both ends of the long net together, they pull on the draw string that closes up the bottom of the next, trapping their catch.  Notice the guy on the left who is beating the water with an oar, to scare the fish back into the middle of the net to keep them from escaping under their boat before the net is fully secured.  They then pull one end of the net back aboard, slowly closing in on the school.The net gets smaller and smaller as they draw it aboard.As the net is brought back aboard they carefully pull the individual fish and toss them into a basket.It is an amazing process to watch these fisherman pursue their craft.   I expect that with the exception of using outboard motors, not much has changed for generations.

St Pierre has a long history and it is hard to imagine the horror of that day in 102 that captured the attention of the world.

We aren’t sure how long we will remain here but for now Brenda and I are enjoying spending time in St Pierre, what was once called “The Paris of the Caribbean”.  It’s still lovely and a nice mix of not to shabby and pretty chic.

That’s about it for now as Brenda and I are heading to a local Gauguin museum with our friends from Higlander.

More to come…

What’s best about cruising the French Islands?

It’s hard to say what the best part of being in the French Islands this winter.  It might be the fabulous cuisine, or perhaps the wonderful assortment of fine foods in the markets.  Gone are the rows and rows of junk food that you find in American markets.  Who needs hundreds of yards of chips, soda and sugary cereals.  Here are rows of fine chocolates, cheeses and pates. And, don’t forget about all the great wines and rums to choose from, all at prices that are unimaginable in the US.

Perhaps it’s the simplicity of clearing in and out of the French islands.  Yesterday when we went ashore to clear into customs in St Pierre, we were greeted warmly by the customs officer.  We filled out entry forms on a freshly sanitized computer.  After a few minutes, I printed out my papers and had them stamped.  When I asked what I owed, the official pointed casually to a donation cup, seeming to say  “pay what you want”.   In Deshaies, Guadeloupe the fee was 3 Euros.  I’ll pay that.

I guess the French just want us to spend money on wine, cheese and pastry.  I’m all for that.

Are the sunsets that greet us each evening while we are enjoying a “sundowner” what makes this so special?  Sure, they are great but in the interest of fairness,  sunsets are fabulous at every island.  Perhaps it’s the magnificent scenery of the tall cloud shrouded mountains looming over the quaint villages that make visiting here so special.  We won’t think about the more than 30,000 that died in 1902 when Pele, this peak and still active volcano, blew it’s top and wiped out St Pierre in few scalding moments.   Is it the near hourly rainbows that we see in the mornings and late afternoons as the showers in the nearby rainforests pass through the anchorage?Those short lived showers are a great way to keep Pandora salt free after a sporty run between islands.  We buddy boated with our friends on Highlander to get here a few days ago from Les Saintes.Everyone wants a photo of their boat under sail and I got a few great ones of Highlander.  What’s not to love about a view from Pandora of St Pierre in the late afternoon light?
Or, perhaps the passing of a classic Cornish Crabber as she sailed into the harbor in Les Saintes.Or, the view of the harbor from Fort Napoleon. Ok, perhaps it’s the turquois waters of the nearby reefs that makes these islands so special. Or a visit to a nearby beach.   Ok, the view to the left was sandy but not quite a dramatic.  Complete with swaying palms.  Admittedly, it was, as Brenda woud say, “blowing a gale”. If you like spying local color, look up and see a hefty iguana, feeling pretty proud of himself seeming to say “hey, what you looking at buddy?  You can leave now!”But, the best part of all, and what makes visiting most any island, is time with fellow cruisers, fellow Salty Dawgs, that hang out much of the season together.  “everybody into the pool!”
Whatever it is that makes cruising in the Caribbean great, it’s surely better in the French islands.  Ok, it’s at least as good as most any place other than enduring the cold up north, here in the French Islands.

And, al0ng with great food, wine and terrific scenery, is the rum.  Today, off to nearby Depaz distillery for a tour, tasting and a great lunch.  Yup, cruising with al the basic food groups with the Dawgs.

So, that’s my report and I’ll wrap this up so I can head to the market to buy some fresh tuna for dinner tonight.  Perhaps a baguette too.

It’s all this and more that’s “best” about being in the French islands this season.