Monthly Archives: March 2018

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.

Martinique and the lushness of nature’s work.

A few days ago Brenda and I rented a car in Le Marin and set out to tour the northwestern part of Martinique.   The island is too large to tour in a single day so we chose to focus on a loop that took us up about ¾ of the way to the northern tip of the island, near the summit of Mt Pelee.  The currently dormant volcano that last exploded in 1902 is the highest mountain on the island, nearly 4,000’ feet.  The eruption caught residents completely buy surprise  in nearby St Pierre, the capitol of the country at the time, killing every living sole with the exception of two, one imprisoned in a sturdy jail cell and the other on the edge of town who survived but was severely burned.  We did visit the town briefly on our way back to Pandora but I’ll save that for a subsequent post.

So, back to our road trip.

While the southern part of the island, where we have been staying, is more lush than Antigua and some of the other lower islands, much of the northern half of the island is more mountainous and home to spectacular rain forest, harboring lush and, thick with trees, vines, moss and wonderful orchids.

As we made our way north along the winding highway we made our way through mountain ridges and valleys, with constant switchbacks as we went up into the hills, higher and higher in elevation.  The temperatures decreased noticeably as the elevation increased and the vegetation lining the roads became thicker and thicker.It was great fun driving along, white knuckles and all, making what seemed like impossible turns as the road made it’s way through the mountainous terrain.   Suddenly, around yet another sharp bend in the road, we came upon a quick moving stream.  It was beautiful.  The waters rushing down from the mountains was crystal clear and wonderfully cool.  A bit farther up from the road was a family lounging in the river. One bather had impossibly long hair, reaching to the ground.  I’ll bet that he has wicked split ends.   I wonder if his hair was as long as our granddaughter Tori when he was born. At most any point along the way Pelee was in view, towering over the landscape, shrouded in fog.  As we approached the summit by road the view, well, there wasn’t a view.   I guess that’s why they call it a “cloud forest”. Along the way we happened upon Domaine d’Emeraude, part of the Martinique National Park System.   Good luck with the site, it appears to be available only in French.   I sure wish I had payed attention to French in High school.  It’s a part of the Martinique national park system.  The reception building was very contemporary. On site was an interpretative museum of the natural history of the island.  Unfortunately, like their website, all the information was in French but well done.  A beautiful setting.  Reflecting pools lined the front of the building.  As y0u entered the building you were greeted by a beautifully displayed 3D map of the island, displayed under glass on the floor.  It was a bit unnerving to stand on the glass.  The manicured grounds surrounding the main buildings were beautifully presented. Beyond the organized parts of the preserve were miles of trails, every inch paved with cement slabs.  I was told that the bags of concrete were carried in by hand and cast in place.   In spite of the near constant moisture the rough surface of the path offered sure footing.   I can not imagine the number of workers that it took to lay all of the pathways beginning in the 1970s, I believe. Some areas along the pathways offered dramatic views.
More often than not, the jungle was thick and you could see only a short distance.
I just loved the giant ferns that were everywhere, some 40′ tall. There are many species of orchids in the forest.   Most grow hundreds of feet up in the treetop canopy but some thrive in the deep shade on the forest floor.

Some are very showy.This one, I believe is pollinated by a moth at night and has a strong sweet scent in the evening. This orchid’s flowers were less than 1/2″ long.  This flower, not an orchid, looked more like a paper origami sculpture than a flower, tiny and delicate.
This one is in the lily family. Everything from the towering trees to the smallest twigs were a riot of growth.  This heavily laden branch was only about 1/2″ thick. Bromeliads were everywhere. Not your typical Chiquita banana.  As we walked through the forest there were a number of rough shelters where we could sit and enjoy the solitude and, I expect, escape the rain when necessary.  Tiny leaves carpeting the trunk of a tree.  The leaves are so small that you’d easily miss them if you weren’t paying close attention.Dainty leaves so fragile it’s hard to believe that they can compete for the available light.
A wonderful mix of textures.  Some not so dainty.   This showy bract stands nearly 2′ tall and a flaming red that stands out in the forest. A not so dainty emerging fern fiddle.  Of course, plenty of massive plants all fighting to reach the sun. After so many years with our own home greenhouse that required a huge amount of care it’s remarkable to see these plants in their native land, where nature does all her magnificent work.

What a thrill to see such a riot of life and to be able to savor the lushness of Martinique.  I can’t wait to go back soon.

Well, that’s about it for now.  Off to St Lucia tomorrow or Wednesday and I am sure that island will also have lots to share.

Come back soon.  Please.

It’s windy again. Oh well…

While there was a weather window for heading south while we were in the US for two weeks, the trades are up again and it’s hard to know when we will be able to head south to St Lucia.  Beyond the desire to see something new, we are also anxious to get there to take delivery of the repair parts for Brenda’s head, or “potty” as some would call it, including Brenda.  Of course, it’s really a “head” but when pressed, Brenda will say “potty” with the cutest look on her face.

Anyway, here we are for a few more days in Martinique.   Yesterday I cleaned the bottom of Pandora and let me tell you, it was  a BIG job.   It’s been over a month since I did it and she has sat in a busy and “organically rich” harbor with well over 1,000 boats, without moving for quite a while.  I was stunned when I got into the water and saw the “fur” covering her bottom.  I normally use an aggressive Scotchbrite pad, the same sort that you might use to clean a grill and it usually works quite well.  However, the slime was so thick, think 3/8″, that it loaded up the pad almost immediately.  Fortunately, I was able to use a 6″ flexible putty knife and that took nearly all of the accumulation off fairly easily.

However, it turned out that I was in the water for nearly two hours and was completely pooped when I was done.  I also find that after a cleaning the bottom, as I spend so much time upside down, on my back, looking up at the hull, that I end up fairly nauseous and it takes a few hours to get over it after I am done.

Anyway, it’s mostly cleaned up now but the prop was such a mess that I had to get a really tough brass wire brush today and go at the prop and gear again as the paint failed.  It didn’t wear off, it just stopped working.  When I put on a fresh coat of bottom paint last fall I also put some special prop paint on the running gear.  What a mess.  Yesterday the scrubber just wore away before I was able to get all the growth off.   Don’t buy this product.With literally a thousand boats here in the harbor, let’s just say that the water is “rich”.   And, speaking of rich, when I got out, my shorty suit was completely coated with thousands of tiny shrimp.  It took quite a while to clean them all off.  Brenda wasn’t amused.

I should also mention that our T Mobile phone isn’t working very well as a WiFi  hot-spot here as the speeds are just too slow, at 2G, and WAY slower during the peak daytime.  Actually, it doesn’t work at all most of the time.  Calls are fine but that’s only something that we do occasionally as WiFi calls are fine too.

However, I may have identified a better option that’s available through Google.  It’s called the Google fi phone and has much faster speeds here in the islands and costs a bit less than T Mobile.   I learned about this as one of the cruisers here had asked me to take delivery of a phone for him and set it up while we were in the US.    I was impressed with it and am hopeful that this will pan out foe us as I’d prefer to be able to use a single phone in both the US as well as when we are traveling and not to have to switch back and forth, as we have for the last few years, between T Mobile and Verizon depending on if we are here or in the US.  I am hopeful that it will work well enough in the US so that I can just ditch the Verizon phone, once and for all.

So, with the strong winds and north swell from large storms in the North Atlantic, we are going to stick around here in Martinique but things could be worse.  I say that, in part, because our home in CT is without power for several days now.   Aboard Pandora all that we need is to have the sun come out and all is well with the solar panels doing the work.  And, if it’s cloudy, on comes the generator.  What could be simpler?

So, before I sign off, I’ll share shots of some neat boats that are here in the marina.   This one seems to be owned by a local business that’s listed on the stern.  A search on the name doesn’t yield much about the boat itself.  I’ll bet that she’s fast.  Not a lot of headroom and likely a really wet ride.  If Pandora were a more extreme design, she’d probably look a lot like this. There are two schooners in the marina, just about the only boats of a traditional design in the area.   Aschanti was built in 1955, me too, actually.  She’s as steel yacht and has gone through a recent complete upgrade.  Now that it’s all paid for, she for sale.  I’ll bet that there is an interesting story behind that.   “Clifford, Clifford, are you listening to me?  You can not spend a one more dime on that F%$#@^% boat.”  Click here if you are in the market, or not. Her varnish is beautiful.  Note the lines set, just so, on the stern. This video,of her recent transatlantic run, gives a pretty good feel for what a blue water passage is like, albeit on a much larger yacht, with a crew, than Pandora.  Love the gambled dining table.   In spite of her sales status, it sure looks like they had fun. Oh yeah, she has an awesome passerrele.   Love the coconut.  Take a look at this helm seat.  Very “Moby”. This one, yet another beautiful schooner, Neorion, left yesterday afternoon.   She is a classic in looks but is a totally modern yacht, built in 1999 and refitted in 2014 in the Netherlands.    This short video gives a nice tour.  There are very few really big yachts here but this, “mini mega yacht” the 108′ La Fenice, looks like she means business in her mat grey paint.   I’ll bet Darth Vador would feel right at home aboard her.   “Hey you, yes you, storm trooper, fetch me a run punch but make it with dark rum and if you tell The Emperor that I drink girly drinks, I’ll crush you.”She was built in 1962 and refitted in 2008.  She’s available for charter.  Need to know more, click here for lots of photos.  She’s charming but modest in her design.  I like the look.  Serious and not frilly.  However, now that I see her interior, Darth might feel that it’s just a bit too welcoming for his taste.  “I’m your father Luke! Go to bed, NOW!…” So, that’s about it on the “wow, neat boat” scene here in Le Marin.  Tomorrow Brenda and I are renting a car to tour the island.  Perhaps we will visit a few more rum distilleries.  Yes, that would do nicely.  

Yes, it’s plenty windy and with that north swell, we’ll just have to endure Martinique a bit longer.

Wish us luck…

Pandora’s potty chronicles!

Oh boy.  Brenda’s potty has malfunctioned and I am stressing out, big time.

As I have mentioned often, because Pandora is a 24v boat, with parts often hard to find, I keep lots of spare parts aboard, just in case.   However, I now know that there is yet another pump that is prone to failure that should have a spare aboard, but don’t.

It’s the “discharge pump” for our Raritan marine “elegance” head.    Believe it or not, this little not-so-elegant wonder has three, count em, three electric pumps and while I have spares for two of the pumps, not the one I need.  And, to make matters worse, it’s not the pump motor that initially failed, it was a tiny seal on the motor shaft that started leaking and flooded the motor with salt water, a decidedly unhealthy combination, to be sure.  I expect that the leak began prior to our trip north but it wasn’t obvious until the motor sat, unused, for the two weeks we were away with the salt doing it’s work.

Oh boy!  The really annoying part of all this is that the part that initially failed is probably worth a few dollars and there is no warning regarding an impending failure until the whole motor is ruined.  It’s a really bad design, to be sure.

As far as “potty chronicals” are concerned, I don’t know if this is common among other members of the “marine Admiralty” but Brenda is particularly sensitive about her “toilet” (say this with a French accent to get the full picture) and she’s not happy, at all as she listens to the roar of the failing pump and watches nasty fluids leak onto the floor when she flushes.

So here I am, ashore at a WiFi spot, working hard to find a source of “potty parts” here in Martinique.  It seems that my best option, after visiting all the possible parts suppliers her in Le Marin is to get it from Island Water World in St Lucia where we will be later in the week.   Wish me luck.

Ok, more than you want to know about “potty” perhaps so I’ll change the subject.

Our trip south from the US on Monday was uneventful and happily our Norwegian Air flight landed on time.  In keeping with a well worn cruising tradition of “planes, trains and automobiles” our journey here was complex, including a  car rental that I canceled when I found a Lyft taxi ride to the airport at the last minute, a flight, Martinique taxi and a friend who was waiting at the marina when we arrived to run me out to Pandora to get my dink.

Oh yeah, I should also mention our experience with clearing customs.  Immigration was swift and the agent didn’t even look up to see if we looked like terrorists and there was no customs at all.  I was told that the customs folks don’t stay late at night.  Isn’t that just so French?  I mention this as we have found this to be so typical of the French islands were checking in can normally be done at a kiosk in a T shirt shop with the payment of a few Euros.   Contrast that to Antigua where you have to go from window to window and back again in a process that can take for ever and cost many times more.   I guess that the French just want you to get on with it so you as the’d prefer that you just move on to buy cigarettes and wine.   Did I mention that it seems like EVERYBODY smokes in the French islands?

It was jolting to leave the cold and grey North East and arrive in humid Martinique a few hours later.  Who knew that you could fly direct to Martinique from Providence RI?  As we took off we flew over Narragansett bay, our local cruising grounds for so many years. Not a green leaf in sight and every boat was covered in white plastic. No wonder it’s so dreary in the winter with this thick cloud cover. As we winged our way south at over 500kts the sunset was beautiful with the contrasting deep blue of the stratosphere. Oh yeah, almost forgot.  We had such a terrific time visiting our family.   Our granddaughter is getting big and somehow just keeps getting cuter and cuter. And she loves books.  “Daddy, daddy, hold me on top of your head while I read my favorite.”Perhaps I’ll sign off now with a shot of the sunset last night aboard Pandora accompanied by some great cheese, a fresh baguette and of course, a nice bottle of French wine.    No, not the best shot but, trust me, it was a beautiful evening.  I am worried that the good times may come to a screeching halt if I can’t find a way to put the Pandora’s “potty chronicles” behind me.  Wish me luck.

Sailpandora and 800 posts later? Yikes!

Actually, it was the last post that I did a few days ago that was my 800th post on   Not to put too fine a point on it but there were a few posts before that on a different URL that didn’t get ported over when I moved to Sailpandora.   However, I’ll go with 800+, a milestone in my book.   And, if my average post is something like 600 to 800 words, well, that’s a lot of words, perhaps over a half million words of sometimes “breathless prose”.   Yikes.

Anyway, it’s been a long time since October of 2007 when I did my first post the weekend that we went to Annapolis to check out a SAGA 43 that would become “old Pandora”.

At that time we still owned Elektra, our Tartan 37, a boat that I assumed would be our last. Back then I was still working and only dreaming of winters afloat and retirement seemed a long way off.   During those years, we spent a lot of time cruising Maine.  This shot of Elektra, one of my favorites, was taken in Damrascove cove, off of Booth Bay, Maine. I wrote about that visit to this charming historic island in this post seven years ago.

So, here I am, over 800 posts and now eleven years later, spending the winters in the Caribbean.  Who knew?  Let me tell you, Brenda surely didn’t!   That’s a lot of “water over the dam” or under the keel, whatever. 

And, speaking of water, yesterday was really windy as a massive winter storm churned through the North Atlantic.  Amazingly, the storm, literally thousands of miles from the southern Caribbean, will make passage, even as far away as South America, unpleasant with a large ocean swell.  Yes, the period will be long, 12-15 seconds, but it will be large, never the less.   Note the ruler crossing the storm, it’s nearly 2,000 km long.  That’s a huge storm.  That matters to us as we will only have about 6 weeks till Brenda flies out of St. Lucia in mid April and back to the US so we don’t have a lot of time to hang around Martinique waiting for better conditions to head further south.

It’s my hope that we will make it down to Bequia, as several of our friends have said that is one of their favorite islands.  We’d also like to visit the Grenadines and Grenada which are south of Bequia.   Making it that far would pretty much close the loop for us being able to say that we’ve” sailed the Caribbean” as we wil will have covered much of the ground from Cuba nearly all the way to South America.  And being at 12 degrees north from the Equator would put us farther south than we’ve ever been.   That’s a LONG way from here in CT at 41 degrees north.

As much as I had always dreamed that we’d someday sail to the Caribbean, I have to say that actually doing it is still a bit of a surprise.  Perhaps as much of a shock as realizing that I am into my 11th year of Sailpandora and more than 800 posts.

What’s next?  Well, at least a few more posts, for sure.  Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.