Monthly Archives: February 2023

The Martinique Yole, not a flash in the pan.

We are anchored in Grande Anse a lovely and large cove on the western side of Martinique.  We expect to be here for a few days before heading over to St Anne, the southern most harbor in Martinique.

The mile long sandy beach is lined with many beach bars to choose from.There is a very nice promenade along the water behind the bars. Of course, Pandora at anchor.  Yes, you do have to look hard to see her in the center. When we were near Fort de France, we were treated to a number of races by these amazing traditional sailing boats that I have learned are known as Yoles.  These narrow, unballasted open boats are decedents of traditional fishing boats and are unique to Martinique.

This link gives an excellent overview of the history of these fascinating craft.   These races are hotly contested and a major source of pride for the locals.

The races begin with the boats all lined up on a beach.  And then they are off.  When the gun goes off, everyone scrambles to get the boats going.   I took this short video while waiting for a ferry to take us to Fort de France to go to Carnival for the day.These narrow boats are heavily canvased and with no ballast, they rely on crew hiking out on bamboo poles to steady them.   To watch these boats go by, and they are fast, is an impressive sight.  Crew hike out on the bamboo poles to keep the boat from tipping over and sinking.    In and out on the poles to balance the boat as the wind gusts or shifts. Sometimes they are just holding on trying not to fall into the water. And sometimes it doesn’t go well. No need to stop, just don’t run over the swimmers. It takes a lot of big guys to keep the boats upright. Sailing these tippy boats is very athletic.  I am told that this is THE sport of Martinique.There are a lot of close encounters.  As the boats are so fast, they complete the races in less than 3o minutes.
This is a short professionally edited video from a few years ago.  Well done and pretty well captures the intensity of the competition.It was great to see these boats and their hard working crews make their way around the course.

With the designation as a UNESCO world heritage fleet, and the enthusiasm of the racers and everyone in Martinique, the future of this class is surely secure.

I guess I will close with a few photos that sort of captured a green flash last night, I think our third of the season here in the Caribbean.   What a beautiful way to end the day, rum punch in hand.  Actually, we were drinking Mai Tais.  Details, details…

Just before the sun set below the horizon. Getting closer. And, the brief flash of green.  Don’t see it?  Trust me.  I guess you had to be there or perhaps it was the rum…Hmm…Forgive me for what will surely seem like an awkward segue but here goes.

Yolos endure, unlike a green flash-in-the-pan…

Not my best ending, I’ll admit.

Time to jump on a zoom call.  Just love that Starlink.

Starlink. Too good to be true?

In mid January I wrote about my first exposure to Starlink as a source of affordable broadband internet on a boat.

At the time, we had just installed it aboard and were getting to know the unit.  It was an amazing realization to have access to internet speeds that were higher than we get at home with fiber optic cables.  In some ways the speed, price and ease of use seemed too good to be true.  Follow this link to my first reaction. 

So, here we are a month later and I have learned a lot about the system and what we might expect in the coming months.

As a refresher, there are three versions of Starlink, residential, mobile and maritime.

Residential is designed to be mounted on a home or other stationary object.   The cost, in addition to the purchase of the dish, is a bit more than cable at $110 a month on an annual plan.  In spite of being a little more expensive than traditional cable services, there is a waiting list for shipping because of such high interest.

The RV unit is what I ordered for Pandora, a system designed to use on a camper, for example, but not necessarily from a moving object.   The unit itself cost $700 plus a service at $135 a month and you can cancel or restart the plan a month at a time.   It’s really designed to be used in the country where you purchase it but we and many others have taken delivery in the US and are now using it on our boats here in the Caribbean.  As a point of interest, there has been a lot of talk about what happens if you take delivery of a unit in the US and use it in the Caribbean as that is a totally different area and we are supposed to use it in the same continent where it is delivered.  Well, I found out last night when I received a notice that my monthly fee was going to go up to $150/month.  Still reasonable if a bit pricy.  The reason for the price increase wasn’t clear and didn’t specifically note my location.  I guess, details to come.

It’s worth noting that the “fine print” states that our access may be limited if we stray too far from home for too long.  Fingers crossed on that point.

The third version and the most expensive is their Maritime version, designed for use on commercial vessels, mega yachts and cruise ships.    The hardware costs several thousand and carries a monthly service plan of about $5,000.

I understand that the maritime version has advertised speeds of between 300 and 400 baud, hugely fast.   Even on Pandora we have seen speeds upwards of 100 baud in an area that they identify as having modest coverage.   Where we are, near the yellow arrow, shows as limited coverage.  This is a visual representation of what will be a galaxy of satellites to be launched in the coming years, in the thousands, many more than are up there now.   It’s pretty amazing.There are loads of YouTube videos on Starlink but this one is an excellent overview of the program and how it works.  It also goes into other types of communication but if you want to see Starlink alone, go to about 9 minutes and 30 seconds in the video and start there. This video is an excellent explanation of what is “behind the curtain”.  It’s remarkable that a private company, Musk, has accomplished something of this magnitude.    After years of chasing wifi and dealing with crappy cell connections, Starlink just feels like a miracle.

And, sometimes miracles aren’t what they seem and when I ordered the RV version, designed to be used in the US from a van, and had it brought down to Antigua, I was fearful that Starlink would catch on and say “whoa!, that’s not what we sent you the unit for!”,  and cut me off.

I still fear that will happen as they have a maritime version for marine use, even if it costs WAY more than I could ever afford.  And, in the fine print that explains the terms of service for RV, it’s clear that we are not following the rules and I have been wondering if they might cut me off.

However, last night I received an email that alerted me to a price increase to $150/month, and thanking me for my support.  I’ll admit that when I saw the email I was expecting something much worse.

So, is Starlink too good to be true?  Time will tell if they restrict the RV version but for now it seems pretty awesome and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the good times will continue to roll.

For the moment I still have the antenna mounted on the deck but when we are in a marina in St Lucia in March I’ll move it up onto the radar arch in a semi-permanent install and reconsider the best options when I get Pandora home next summer.

If beauty is as beauty does, than this is indeed a beautiful antenna.Internet speeds on a boat faster than home?  It’s here.  Well, at least until Musk changes his mind…

Into every life a little rain must fall

In spite of all the experience we have, or perhaps because of that, we seem to be destined to repeat some of the same problems again and again when we are cruising.

Back in 2014, during our second winter in the Bahamas, we became solidly stuck on the bottom when we tried to pull up our anchor.  I pulled and pulled and finally gave up on retrieving my anchor only to go swimming to pull it out from under the limestone ledge where it had become wedged.  It looked terrible and ultimately, I had to toss it and get another anchor.   This is what it looked like at the time when I finally got it aboard.   Pretty mangled.Well, a few days ago when we tried to anchor in the harbor off of Fort de France to visit for Carnival, we were having a terrible time anchoring and after about 5 tries, accompanied by advice for perhaps a half dozen other cruisers, we finally were firmly hooked.    However, in spite of our best efforts, we decided that we were just too close to another boat and decided to leave.

Unfortunately, as we began to retrieve our anchor, we realized that it wasn’t coming up.  I pulled and pulled on it and we moved the boat to different angles with no results.  The way that the boat came up short when the chain went taught, was really alarming.

However, finally we were able to get it back except that they shank was badly mangled, bent perhaps 30 degrees.  Deja vous all over again.  Only, this time our anchor is a stainless steel anchor that would cost about $2,500 to replace, a lot more than the one we damaged years ago.

Anyway, I shipped tthe anchor and we hightailed out of Fort de France and headed across the bay to lick our wounds.  I am hopeful that when we are in La Marin next week that there will be a shop that can address this and bend the shank back into place.  Fingers crossed.

The good news is that we were able to pull it up finally, if damaged as it was way too deep for me to dive on it and to get a diver on short notice wasn’t going to work out particularly well, I expect.

However, we moved across the harbor to a little village and took a ferry over to Ft de France yesterday to enjoy some of the festivities.  I understand from some friends that are still over there, that it’s been crazy with boat after boat coming in and trying to anchor in impossibly tight conditions.  Glad we moved.

This season has been rainier than normal and two days ago it rained just about all day.  At home when the weather calls for say, 30% chance of showers, this generally means that perhaps a third of the area will see rain.  Here it seems to mean that it will rain a third of the time.  And that day, it was more like rain hard for 10 minutes, sunny for 20 and rain again.  It’s hard to plan activities outdoors in those conditions.

Rain or shine, the view off of our stern, and it’s fairly calm here, is quite beautiful.  A golf course.   Notice the perfectly manicured mangrove hedge at the water.  They even cut little pass-throughs to allow them to get to the waterside to trim that too.   The town nearby is quaint if a bit deserted.  We went ashore to have lunch and look around a bit.  About the only action in town was a farmer’s market but there were not many places to eat.

A very pretty church, something that just about every village has here.And some very nice French Colonial architecture. Before we headed here we were in St Pierre, one of our favorite spots where we planned to spend a few days.   Unfortunately, after the first night the anchorage became very rolly (what’s new?) and we all decided to head to Fort de France.

Before we left, we did visit the Depaz distillery.    This link is interesting and gives a good feel for what it’s about.

A grand entrance to the estate.They have a very nice tasting room that has finally reopened after being closed for a few years because of the pandemic. When our friends Peter and Jane join us in March, I expect that we will be visiting it again as it’s one of my favorite and not far from the harbor.   If you are curious about this place and the history of the island and sugar, take a look at this post I did a few years ago.  I also talked a book, The Sugar Barrons, a very interesting book that’s well worth reading.

San Pierre also has a very interesting history as the once capital of Martinique and the “Paris of the Caribbean” until it was leveled by the explosion of Mt Pele that overlooks the city in 1902.    The explosion killed everyone in the vicinity as super-heated gas and volcanic ash blanketed the city, with some 30,000 dead in moments.   You can still see much of the ruins that have been preserved near the waterfront.  Nowadays, the capital is Fort de France to the south.

I did a more detailed post last season when we visited St Pierre including a discussion about the explosion that destroyed the city.

There’s been plenty going on for the last few weeks but one constant has been rolly anchorages with the exception of where we are now and Dominica.

That harbor in Dominica is huge but more of a roadstead than harbor as it’s completely open to the west.   Because of the large harbor and the popularity of Dominca with cruisers who enjoy hiking on the island, we decided to hold a special rendezvous with the Salty Dawgs and more than 25 boats showing up.  It was nearly a week of fun, barbecue parties, tours and hiking.

Dominica is one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean and the locals really appreciate it when we arrive en-mass.

Along with a number of rum punch soaked barbecues,  a group of of us spent a day planting seedling palm trees down the side of a road, about 200 of them at 20′ intervals.  They took us to a local nursery to pick them up. It seemed like there were as many of us as plants to load so we formed a bucket brigade to get them on the truck. Off we went.  It was hot work but nice to help out.  On another day, three couples hired a driver to take us around the island.   We visited a small local chocolate factory.   These are the chocolate pods all piled up on the ground.  Each pod contains many coco beans, each about the size of a large almond.  The pod, when mature, are about 8″ long.  It’s amazing how tiny these pods begin, sprouting along a branch.  They are solo and only about 1/8″ long. Then they get big but aren’t harvested until they are ripe and yellow. After the pods are opened and seeds removed, they are put in a box and covered with banana leaves to ferment for almost a week.  Then they are cleaned and spread to dry under cover.There are a bunch of other steps that include roasting in special ovens. Then they are crushed and the “hull” is separated from the good parts using air that blows off the hull and lets the heavier parts drop into a hopper. Ultimately they are ground into a smooth paste over a period of days before being melted and poured into molds. As you can imagine, this whole process smells fabulous so who can leave without buying some to take home?

Nearby, also on the estate, were many beautiful flowers.   This one looked a lot like a version of milkweed.  And, a more native version of poinsettia, n0t the highly hybridized versions that we see in the US.  And no tropical garden is complete without orchids.   This one looks like a phalaenopsis but I believe is a native orchid, perhaps oncidium. Very showy flowers on a large bush. So often looking like house plants that escaped. And breadfruit.  It is said that all the breadfruit trees in the new world are descended from those brought on the Bounty by Captain Cook. The rest of the day was spent driving around with beautiful vistas around every bend in the road. This gorge looked a bit intimidating with the gnarly roots of the trees snaking everywhere. A must-stop place in Dominica is known as Red Rock.  It’s an exposed outcropping of red sandstone, weathered over the years into something that looks more like dunes than rocks. A pretty amazing place. Just to prove were there. We visited a place where the mostly dormant volcano vents gasses through the ground.   The place, nestled in the jungle, stands out as a small area with nothing growing and a very strong smell of Sulphur.  Leading down into the crater was lush with tree ferns, some 30′ tall all around. They are just beautiful and only grow above a certain altitude. The hills were carpeted with them.Well, I guess I’ll leave it there for now and follow up with a post soon about Carnival but there is just so much that I can cram into a single post.

All and all, it’s been interesting if a bit challenging with strong winds, unsettled anchorages and, most fun of all, a damaged anchor. Hope that gets fixed soon.  At least it’s still usable if a bit gnarly to look at.

They say that cruising is generally boat repair in exotic places.   Yes, into every life a little rain must fall.  For me, I prefer the wet kind.

Sometimes it’s the other kind and I have a bent anchor to prove it.

Finally, no rolling. Dominica!

We are here in Dominica, known by many as the “nature island”.  We made the run  from Les Saintes a few days ago to join a group of Salty Dawgs, 25 boats strong, who are gathered for a rendezvous that will last nearly a week.

Being here has been a nice respite from the constant rolling in Les Saintes, a combination of ferry traffic along with wrap-around swell from the ocean that plagued us for the nearly week long visit.

Sitting at anchor in a swell is so tiring but you really don’t know how bad it is until it stops.  Well, when a book jumped off of a shelf and landed on Brenda’s head in the middle of the night, she knew it wasn’t good.

Well, it’s stopped here, finally.  And the very sporty run here from Les Saintes was yet another reminder of how much we were looking forward to a calm anchorage.  The 20 mile run between the islands had us in 10′ waves and winds up to 30kts apparent along with two nasty squalls.  Not too much fun.

But it’s calm now and there is a group of guys here that cater to the cruisers and will take you on guided tours, which is very nice.

Dominica has many wonderful hiking trails and some will bring you to the lip of an active volcano that has so much steam rising out of it that it is known as the boiling lake.

We took a hike, brought snacks like some protein bars, and got home after dark.  For an old guy like me, that might have been a bit much. However, what an experience.

There have been nearly nightly get-togethers with free flowing rum punch and barbecue.  This evening we will be doing to a fish fry featuring lion fish caught today by some of our members.  Lion fish are native to SE Asia and are a terribly invasive species here in the Caribbean.  They think that a few fish escaped in FL years ago and have basically taken over reefs in much of the Caribbean, eating just about anything that they come on contact with that will fit in their large mouths.  It’s really terrible the toll that they have taken on native fish, destroying the balance of the reefs.

Sadly, I don’t have my scuba certification so I wasn’t able to participate in the roundup.  However, I did go on two hour hike up one of the smaller peaks.  It was moderate and very enjoyable.    As we reached the summit, I was struck by the view of the ocean.    West of the island the next landfall is, I guess, Panama,  a long way off.   Most of the islands of the Caribbean saw a lot of action as the French and English worked to gain control, primarily to secure the sugar trade that made the islands so critical to commerce.   While Dominica never saw any actual sea battles, the island changed hands between the French and English multiple times.  It is now an independent nation as of the 70s.

The view of the harbor is pretty impressive.  If you look closely, you can see Pandora. Perhaps this photo will make it easier.  She’s just to the right of center, forth boat in on the center string of moorings.  The grey boat. Our hike took us to the summit that was once a lookout for whomever was in charge at the time.  The fort, Fort Shirley, overlooking the harbor, has been beautifully restored and now is used as a conference center.  Our walk took us past some old ruins of officer’s quarters and even a room that once was used to store cannon balls.  Today the floor is still littered with small “grape shot” iron balls about 1.5′ in diameter.  I was dying to take one, but didn’t.  The strangling fig tree on one of the walls really gave the place a wild vibe and a feel that would make Indiana Jones proud.  This 6″ to 8″ fungus looks a lot like coral but isn’t.   Our guide William said that they called it “land coral”.  I get it…We saw plenty of hermit crabs and small lizards.  This one was clinging to a branch and was about the size of a lemon.  Termite mounds were everywhere.  This one, about 2′ tall.  To me it says “do not disturb”.  I was struck by the symmetry of this delicate vine climbing a small tree. Nearby, visiting for the day, was Sea Cloud, once the largest private yacht in the world when she was owned by Marjorie Merriweather Post, daughter of the founder of Postum Cereal that became General Mills.   She was fabulously wealthy and owned her when she was married to her second husband E.F. Hutton.  Among other homes, she also owned Mar-a-Lago, in Fl, home to “The Donald” these days.

Sea Cloud is now a cruise ship, and a very exclusive one at that.  With the coin, she can be your home too.  Check out her site. She frequents these waters in the winter and we have seen her many times over the years.   She’s here today with all of us “little people” in the distance. She looks much the same as she did when private.This short video gives a feel for just how opulent she is and some interesting views of the ship now juxtaposed against what she was like when she was a private yacht. Yesterday, while some in our group were gazing down into an active volcano, Brenda and I opted to go into town to get some produce at the Saturday market.   Once a week vendors come from all over to show their waresIn addition to those on the streets with colorful umbrellas, there is a pavilion where many vendors set up on tables, overflowing with all sorts of fruit and vegetables.There is also a place to purchase fresh fish.   It’s a messy business and to see guys whacking away with machetes pretty much put  Brenda off of seafood for the day.   It was a noisy splattery business to be sure.   The fist was certainly fresh, having been caught that morning and unloaded less than 100′ from the market. Right off the boat. Nothing says bony to me like a needle fish. This is a really beautiful place but never more beautiful than at sunset.  This ship, a Danish training ship, was anchored behind us with the setting sun glistening on the hull a few days ago. A short while later in the twilight, the sun sets quickly in the Caribbean, she looked different. And yes, it’s as calm as it looks and that’s good.  After a few weeks in rolly anchorages, it’s nice to be in the calm waters in the lee of Dominica.

I guess I’ll close with a shot of the view from the bow of Pandora.  Not bad if I do say so myself. First a swim and it will soon be time for sundowners.

Did I mention that it isn’t rolly?

Cloud appreciation in the Caribbean

So, here we are in one of our favorite places in the Caribbean, Les Saintes, a small archipelago of islands south of the big island of Guadeloupe.  It is a very charming and scenic spot with a lovely fleet of local fishing boats. A main street filled with places to eat.  Nearly all of the vehicles on the island are golf carts and scooters.  And some very colorful homes.  Love this one, pink with a lovely color coordinated Vespa scooter. In spite of the lovely scenery, I’ll admit that it’s a bit rolly here with the constant ferry traffic from mainland Guadeloupe bringing French tourists on holiday.  I understand that there are daily flights from Paris.

Because the water near town is so deep, more than 50′, they have put down moorings and established a designated a no-anchoring zone.   Unfortunately, if you arrive in the afternoon you aren’t likely to find an open mooring and will have to anchor in an area that is pretty exposed and wait for a mooring to open up.

This is almost always what happens to us when we arrive, so the first night is generally uncomfortable with constant rolling,  It was very windy when we arrived and the rolling was some of the worse we have ever had to endure.  Well, at least since the last time we had a “worse night” but I won’t think about that.

A friend of ours, Bill, on Kalunamoo, and a veteran, with his wife Maureen, of more than a dozen seasons in the Caribbean, put together this roll rating system, “Kalunamoo’s 7 stage guide to anchorage roll” to help describe what it can be like to be rocking and rolling at anchor.  Instead of “you had to be here to know”, this rating system, like ratings for  hurricanes and earthquakes, gives us something to compare our experiences to and make it understandable to those who weren’t there.

Sometimes we feel like we will never find a spot to anchor that is really calm and I will admit that we have both become more immune to a reasonable amount of rolling.  Fortunately, most places aren’t worse than stage 3 “good rocking sleep mode”.  However, unfortunately, it’s often stage 4 “noticeable uncomfortable roll, watch your drink.”

However, on our first night here, before we snagged a mooring closer to town, it was easily approaching stage 6 “Difficult to keep plates, drinks and footings stable! Ready to leave!” and a few times it ventured to stage 7, “WTF! We’re out of here!”

During sundowners that night, a daily ritual I’ll admit, we had to hold on to our wine glasses firmly lest they lurch off of the cockpit table. Overnight was very uncomfortable and things were flying off of shelves and pots and pans were banging against one another in the cabinets.   WTF!  It was ROLLY!

And move we did, as soon as it was light and I saw a boat heading out from the mooring field.  In fact, we weren’t the only ones that wanted to find a better spot and we ended up drag-racing with another boat, albeit at the snails pace of sailboats, as we made for the mooring field.   We won and got the better of the two moorings that opened up.  Mission accomplished!

Brenda has always been prone to motion sickness and many years ago when we were on the aircraft carrier Intrepid, in NYC on the Hudson River, the motion on the ship that day made her quite queasy.   What she didn’t appreciate is that the Intrepid doesn’t actually move at all as it is firmly stuck in the mud.  For her, it was “mind over matter” and it didn’t “matter” that the Intrepid was in the mud and she didn’t feel well.

More than thirty years later, and many less than calm nights, she’s a (little) bit more accustomed to movement and it takes a lot more to make her feel queasy.  So here we are, enjoying Les Saintes, rolling and all, where we expect to spend a week before heading to Dominica, the next island in the chain, to the south.

Ok, enough about rolling.  Let’s talk about clouds.

One of the things that I enjoy most about the Caribbean is watching clouds.  As a “card carrying member” of the Cloud Appreciation Society, out of the UK, I am always on the lookout for clouds that are “worthy” of submitting to the Society, with the hope that they will choose mine and publish it as one of their “Cloud a day” emails.

I learned about this group from the NY Times a few years ago and joined immediately.  Check out this post I did at that time.   I have always loved clouds.

The society has thousands of members and I am member #54,749.

I have gotten a number of my photos published, 4 or 5 I think.  It’s great fun to hear from them after a submission saying “we’ve chosen your cloud”.  My cloud?  Awesome!

Perhaps the most memorable photo chosen was of a “green flash”, something that we watch for every night here in the Caribbean.   I was fascinated by what they wrote to accompany my photo.  Check it out.  It was “blog worthy“.

It’s been a while since I have done any submissions but today I sent in a few.  It’s very hard to know if they are “cloud worthy” but we will see what happens next.   Fingers crossed.

I will say that being a member, and seeing 365 submissions every year, does inspire me to keep track of what is going on up in the sky and nowhere is the sky more interesting than the Caribbean.   Our son Christopher’s partner Melody is a poet and a fellow Cloud Appreciation Society member.  One of these days I’ll send her a photo and she can do a poem.  They will JUST HAVE to publish our joint submission as I doubt that they get many joint submissions.

With all this in mind, I do take a lot of cloud photos.  How about this squirrel?  Well, at least it looks like that to me. Not close enough to tell, you say?  Now do you agree?   Probably not. I am fully focused on clouds at sunrise.  No better way to start the day. Or a bit later as the sun is higher. Or in the middle of the day. Or the plume of the active volcano on Montserrat as we sailed south to Guadeloupe last week. Or the clouds rolling off of the mountaintops of Guadeloupe. And absolutely nothing beats sundowners while watching the rise of a full moon which we enjoyed yesterday evening.  Rolling or not, and it was really rolly that first night here, it’s hard to imagine a place more beautiful to appreciate clouds  than here in the Caribbean aboard Pandora.