Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Bittersweet Ending!

On the final day of the World ARC Rally had finally arrived. There were hugs, tears, thank yous, fun ceremonies, etc. before we left the dock  at the beautiful Capella Resort Marina in Marigot Bay, St. Lucia.

We all dressed our boats with signal flags and our World Cruising Club flags in preparation for the Parade of Yachts. I think we had the most WCC flags of all as we have been doing their rallies since 2010. S/V Trillium looked pretty spiffy all dressed up and ready to strut her stuff!

Unfortunately, Merc and Bob were leaving from Marigot Bay to fly home, so we were on our own with our emotions. They thought we should finish alone since they had not completed the whole circumnavigation. I thought they should stay with us so I had someone with whom to cry! But they had plane reservations ...

Once we were all dressed, we proceeded out of the marina and circled until we all got in the proper order with the smallest boat first and the largest last. Then in formation, we motor-sailed up the coast and into the next bay of the Castries.

The local people were gathered to cheer us along as they know the various rallies bring a lot of money to their communities. They waved and hollered good wishes, etc. as we paraded into the bay and around and out again. 
Parade Of Yachts: It's like herding cats!
Just a few miles further up the coastline, the reality of the Finish Line was waiting for us with photographers and more cheering. It became very emotional at this point!

The overwhelming feeling of accomplishment of having sailed all the way around the world crossing five oceans came home and the tears flowed. Having done it, it doesn’t seem like such an amazing accomplishment; but in reality, it is! I get emotional just trying to finish this blog!
Of course, there was a welcoming party on the dock when we arrived. And there is not party in St. Lucia without Rum Punch. Now, one must be careful with their Rum Punch. It is known to taste sweet and refreshing and goes down easily. But it can also put you down quickly! They have a rum call “Very Strong Rum” and it is! Something like 180 proof!
I do have to admit that I very rarely drink enough to feel tipsy, but on this occasion two little plastic glasses of Rum Punch did me in. It was early afternoon. We had not had any food. And it was hot and sunny with little breeze.. Everyone was laughing and crying. What could be a better way to celebrate?
I recall saying to Dennis, “I AM DRUNK!” And I was! So NOT me! With his help, I made it down the dock, onto the boat and on to my bed. That is the last that I remember. 
A kiss of appreciation from my Captain!
Apparently, the afternoon flew by while we both slept. The big finale dinner was that evening and the bus was leaving the marina at 1830. Since I don’t’ remember going to bed, I know I didn’t set an alarm. For some reason, I woke up at 1825! When I saw the clock, I shouted at Dennis to get up as we were going to miss the bus. 
At that point, I got on the VHF radio and asked anyone listening to please tell the driver we were running “a little late.” Now this is a big event where everyone dresses up. We didn’t have time to shower! I threw on a long dress and twisted my hair up into a knot and added a little hair piece, put on a little mascara and lipstick, earrings and some shoes and jumped off the boat to run up a very long dock! We made the bus! 

The first thing they handed me as we walked into the beautiful venue was a Rum Punch! UGH! It was a Coca Cola night for me! I think I did toast with a little wine, but not much.
The event was lovely and it was fun seeing everyone in their finery. After all, for the past seven months we had been wearing the same clothes most of the time and recognized people by their outfits before seeing their faces.  After a nice meal, photos, speeches from dignitaries and dancing, the party was over – and so was the World ARC 2016-17! 
For us, it was the end of World ARC 2014-15, World ARC 2015-16 and World ARC 2016-17. We met so many wonderful people from all over the world in the three World ARCs in which we participated. We have new friends in many countries and hope to visit them and have them visit us.

When you are out there on the big oceans together, it is a level field. No one cares what you did, how much money you have, how big or small your boat is, how well you sail, etc. We were all there for each other whenever needed and we were concerned for the well-being of everyone.

And our beautiful boat S/V Trillium, a Hallberg-Rassy 46, safely carried us around the world. Not once did I have any fears aboard her - other than was I going to die from sea sickness!  Even though we were one of the smaller boats (at 48.5 feet!), we managed to earn a First, a Second and a Third in the Rally sailing leg events. It is a wonderful world, after all! And a truly amazing experience!

We are so blessed to have had this incredible journey. Our plan is to sail back down to Grenada to leave the boat for hurricane season and return in the fall for a final sail back to the Chesapeake Bay. Trillium will be put up for sale so someone else can have this same experience aboard her. We will return to Michigan for the summer and enjoy having all five kids and their families home for our youngest son's wedding. As the Aussies say: the weddings will be "Done and Dusted!" with this last one. Life is good!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

We Found Paradise - In a Marina!

Deck crew at work!
Our next destination was Marigot Bay, Saint Lucia. It is the gathering place for all of the World ARC fleet before commencing the Parade of Sail into Rodney Bay, SL for the final party and celebration. We had a choice of an overnight sail to Marigot Bay or get up very early and sail to the Pitons, just south of Marigot Bay. Since we had a reservation for a mooring ball between the Gros and Petit Pitons, we opted for the early morning sail, knowing it would be a push to get moored before dark.

So up went the anchor. Goodbye to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We will wave at St. Vincent as we pass. We are not stopping there due to the history of crimes against yachties in their waters. And the government does nothing to punish the criminals. If and when the police come to "investigate" a crime, they don't even take notes or photos of the crime scene. Then the judge dismisses the cases because there is no evidence! Even though the yachties file police reports, nothing happens with it. If they do bother to look for and capture the offenders, they

usually let them out of jail - if they have even bothered to pick them up! Not a good place to be! Most yachts avoid St. Vincent - and there is a similar problem in St. Lucia that is beginning to discourage yacht visits there! Of all the places we have been in the world, the Caribbean feels more threatening than anywhere!
We arrived in the bay between the Pitons just before sunset after a nice passage. The Pitons are so majestic - especially when you are below and looking up. Nature has so many wonders that we have been able to enjoy around the world. And it is even more special when you can share such experiences with family and friends.

The biggest challenge in the Pitons was dealing with the boat boys. Since this area is a designated Marine Park and is under the authority of the Soufriere Marine Management Association, Inc. (SMMA), there is a fee to be paid, but only to those in uniform who can give you an legal receipt. The boat boys want to help you moor and charge you for the moorings, but you still have to pay the SMMA. To appease the pushy boat boys, we ordered a bag of ice at a set price after they had approached us.
Upon their return with the ice, they wanted a lot more money than we had agreed to! Typical boat boy behavior (and these are not little boys!). After an exchange of words, we paid for the ice and sent them away. However, we decided to stay on the boat for dinner and not leave it unattended. We all just had an uncomfortable feeling! That is the sad situation in this part of the Caribbean.

There have been a lot of robberies and even bodily harm done in this area so we did not want to tempt fate. We would spend the night enjoying the beautiful view and move on in the morning.
Sure enough, the ranger came by to collect and we had our official receipt before dark. We shared our concern regarding the aggressive young men who had brought the ice.

After more than 50,000 nautical miles of sailing and thousands of islands and beaches, who would ever think that paradise could be found in a marina! There are marinas and there are marinas! This was a five-star marina in our book.

Actually, it is a resort marina rather than a working marina. That means no real boat services, but you can get fuel and the Customs and Immigration Office is right on the dock.

Since it is a beautiful Capella Resort, we had laundry service pick up and delivery to the boat, use of the two beautiful swimming pools on different levels and a swim-up pool bar, beach towel, and lovely cabanas.

Food and beverage service at pool side was excellent. In fact, we all spent all day at the pool! As a matter of fact, we spent several days at the pool and enjoyed the island fruity libations!
There was one WARC dinner planned and as a group, we planned a second one across the lagoon from the marina at The Rainforest, so we could have a little more time and fun together. Everyone was happy that the long sails were over. But quite sad that the fleet would be breaking up and going separate ways. Even though we joined this WARC fleet at the half-way point, we were warmly received and fit right into the mix. It was a warm and welcoming group of strangers who weren’t sure about new arrivals into their little “family”, just as we were somewhat concerned about being included. All was right in the world!

The World ARC uses the stop in Marigot Bay, St. Lucia as a gathering point and place to rest after a long trek from South Africa to Brazil and all the Carnival activities. It gave us all time to relax for a few days before heading to the finale in Rodney Bay just up the coast a short sail. We will return to Marigot Bay next year when we are sailing from Grenada back to the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland.

On the final day of the World ARC Rally 2016-17, we all dressed our boats with signal flags and our World Cruising Club flags in preparation for the Parade of Yachts. I think we had the most WCC flags of all as we have been doing their rallies since 2010. S/V Trillium looked pretty spiffy all dressed up and ready to strut her stuff! Unfortunately, Merc and Bob were leaving from Marigot Bay to fly home, so we were on our own with our emotions.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Bequia: A Lovely Little Island

Bequia is delightful little island of friendly people. I can see why so many winter cruisers hang out there: many restaurants, laundry services, music, music and more music, customs open everyday and friendly, good island tours, good provisioning, and good anchorages. That is what we all seek!

It is also home to many traditional boat builders who still build boats on the local beaches. Today they are building more high tech crafts. At least, the young people are learning the skills and hopefully, the tradition will carry on.

Bequia is known for its whaling station! Yes, they are still killing whales. But before you get upset, there are reasons for it. Those of us who do not live in the various islands around the world fail to realize traditions and actual needs of the islanders. Hunting a whale with a hand-thrown harpoon in an open sailing vessel is a daring feat of bravery and skill. There are few people left with the skills. And it is a tradition they are trying to maintain and share with their young men as a way to demonstrate one's bravery.

By international agreement, the Bequians are allowed to kill up to four whales a year, but often don't kill any. The humpback whales pass on their way south between February and April heading to their winter breeding grounds in the southern hemisphere. The whaling season is limited to these months only.

If a whale is killed, it is taken to a small island on the southeast end of the island, Semplers Cay, for butchering. It is important to understand that every possible useable part of the whale is used and shared with the inhabitants of the whole island. They use the skin, the oil, the meat, the bones, the teeth, etc. for food and crafts and other traditional uses.

A whale had been killed just before we arrived and it was the talk of the town! The scrimshaw artists had new carvings for sale. There was excitement in the air. Unfortunately, one of the cruise lines scheduled to arrive at Bequia cancelled their stop because of the whale killing. Again, outsiders do not understand the significance of some of these traditions. I am not for trophy hunting types of killing wild animals, but I do support the age old traditions of different cultures around the world as long as there is some limits and an awareness of the impact on the species and the environment.

Bequians are a proud people who are descends of settlers from North America who arrived on whaling boats. Others came from farms in Scotland, as slaves from Africa and as freebooters from France. They all live in harmony and are a mixed race today. It is interesting that we don't see the animosity of the African descendants of slaves in most places in the world like those back in the USA. They have moved on and thrive with their focus on the future, not the past.

The four of us enjoyed walking around Port Elizabeth, the main town on the island, located on Admiralty Bay. They have a concrete walk way along the waterfront so you can get to all of the restaurants and hotels along the Belmont Walkway. The Princess Margaret Beach is a long white sand beach with nice swimming and a number of restaurants.

We enjoyed Jack's Beach Bar on the Princess Margaret Beach as it was just in from where we anchored and it has good free WiFi! Sailors are always looking for good Internet access and free is even better. It usually means you must by a beer or burger or something, but the price is right! And their burgers and fried chicken dishes are great!

While browsing in some of the shops, we came upon a new rum: Very Strong Rum! Yes, that is the name of it. As we read the label and laughed at the 180 proof (90% alcohol), a local warned us that we should not drink the stuff! He said it will do us in. Since we are not big rum drinkers, we accepted his advice. Actually, we weren't planning to buy it! But we thanked him for the good advice.

Bob and Merc when off on a hike and Dennis and I went lobster hunting! We were looking for a lobster lunch. And lobster sal
ad at the Gingerbread Café became our favorite lunch. While eating lunch, we noticed that some young men were practicing their swimming strokes.

Since Dennis and his three brothers were high school and college swimmers, he went down on the dock to speak to them. As it turned out, it was the local island swim team practicing for an upcoming inter-island meet. There was no coach or instructor around so he offered them some advice on the butterfly stroke they were attempting. That had been his main stroke when competing.

The next thing I knew, he was in the water, clothes and all, demonstrating and coaching them. I could see how attentive the kids were and willing to try what he was telling them. After a while, there was a marked improvement in their strokes. The team coach appeared and was delighted that the kids were getting some instruction as he only learned from watching You Tube videos! We are still wondering how they did in the meet.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Beautiful Tobago Cays

The Tobago Cays were less than ten miles from Chatham Bay, Union Island, so we raised anchor in the morning and sailed around the west side of Mayreau to the cays. The Tobago Cays are a group of small uninhabited islands on the leeward side of the Horseshoe Reef. The reef protects the cays (keys) from the ocean and makes for a lovely anchorage most of the time. There are many reefs for snorkeling or diving, which also make entering the anchorages somewhat tricky. It is a little easier for catamarans with shallower drafts.

This is a national marine park and they are working hard to protect it. There was a fee for the boat and each passenger per day, but well worth it to be on a mooring buoy and help save the area. We were located next to the turtle watching area off Baradel so it was a short swim against a strong current. I struggled which told me I am really out of shape and need aerobic exercise! I should have used my fins instead of my water shoes then maybe I could have made. Dennis took me to the far side in the dinghy.

There were maybe a dozen turtles there – certainly not like so many other places where we have been. The area is surrounded by a buoy line to keep dinghies and boats out of the area. Although, the turtles don’t seem to know where the line is as we saw them swimming outside of the area and slowed the dinghy down so as not to hurt one. I was able to shoot a video as I swam alongside one.
Unfortunately, when trying to get in the dinghy to leave, a wave lifted up the dinghy and dumped me into the water. That was not a problem, but the fact that my right leg was still in the boat and caught  under the seat was a problem. My first real injury in the water: a sprained knee! Delta. Alpha. Mike. November. That took me out of snorkeling the next day when the others went to the outer reef where they saw healthy coral and many species of fish. That was good news.

The anchorage is beautiful, but packed with a hundred boats – many big catamarans that run right up in front where it is shallow. The boat boys move in quickly to sell you tee shirts, banana bread, ice and try to sign you up for their concession at the nightly barbeque. Their line is “all of your friends are coming.” Yes, they were, but they were all at different tables because each boat boy has his own business. Mr. Best Price got us first and we thought we were going with another WARC boat, but they had signed on with another vendor, so we were not with them after all. Beware if you are trying to eat there with friends as one boat should make the reservation for the whole party.
The barbeque is a major business and a fun social evening. The food was fine, but not like at Seakie and Vanessa’s. There were a number of different cooks preparing food for their specific vendor. Everyone seems to serve the same thing: your choice of lobster, fish or chicken with rice, fried plantains and potatoes. It is quite a business model - and a tourist hustle! At Vanessa’s, we also had a nice green salad. Having had lobster three nights in a row, it was time to cook dinner on the boat!

We would be moving on to Bequia (pronounced Bek-way) for a couple of nights as it was nearing the time to be in Marigot Bay, St. Lucia. We would clear out of St. Vincent and The Grenadines in Bequia and head to the Pitons of St. Lucia for one night before entering the Marigot Bay harbor. We had reserved a slip at The Marina at Marigot Bay. The fleet would be gathering there and prepare for the final event as a fleet. (OPPS! Here come the tears again.)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

More Lobster and a Beautiful Bay

The dinghy dock inside the tunnel.

Having cleared out of Grenada in Carriacou, we had to stop at Clifton on Union Island to clear into St. Vincent and The Grenadines as it is a different country. Dennis took a water taxi to shore, then hiked to the airport to do the paperwork while Bob and Merc scouted out dinner places. We ended up at The Waterfront (pizza wasn’t great!) and spent the night in the harbor at anchor. it isn't a very exciting place, but we needed a place to stay for the night

Dinner in Clifton
The following morning we motored across to Palm Island. Palm Island is a privately-owned island with a fancy resort now, but Bob’s parents had had a home there for 20 some years and he had not been back since it was sold. At first, it seemed as if they were not going to let us come ashore and look around. 

The beautiful beach at Palm Island!
Upon hearing Bob's story and mentioning his mother’s name (apparently, she was quite a character), the manager alerted the guards that we would be walking to the other side of the island to see the old place. Of course, it has been replaced with a lovely new villa, but the setting was the same and Bob shared a few stories while Dennis and I swung in a seaside hammock. I could have stayed there all day.

We “paid” for our visit with a few cold drinks at the beach bar and the purchase of a few tee shirts and souvenirs from the gift shop. We all wanted to swim on the beautiful beach, but we thought we would be asking too much so we passed on it. It is definitely a resort to check out if you are looking for a tropical paradise. (I later read that guests visiting the island for a meal can swim on the beautiful beach and that we could have stayed on the mooring ball overnight. Delta. Alpha. Mike. November. Why don't I think to read the details before we go ashore?)

The family's beach. Lots of memories.

It was time to move on to Chatham Bay on the west side of Union Island as we wanted to have lobster on the beach at Seckie & Vanessa’s Sun Beach & Eats place. It has been mentioned as the best lobster in the Caribbean and highly recommended by fellow cruisers.

Sun Beach & Eat is one of those open-air restaurants, rugged in typical island-style. We loved it there. The swing was a big hit with Merc. We took our own Sundowners ashore (not sure that was the correct thing to do as they have a bar, but no one commented). We enjoyed the beach chairs and watching the sunset while waiting for dinner.

And we were not disappointed! It was a great meal and very filling. Everything was fresh and homemade. Seckie’s has a secret sauce and it was wonderful. Vanessa works in the kitchen in the back to create the other dishes and dessert. We will return! Maybe on our way back down to Grenada where we will store the boat for hurricane season.

The bay has a nice sandy beach for walking and a reef along the northern wall for snorkeling. We saw a number of beautiful blue sea stars on the white sand below the boat. I love their deep blue color. There isn't that much blue in nature so it makes it more special.

Vanessa asked if we had any clothing that we would like to get off the boat as they could use anything we didn’t want. Of course, we did! I had been stowing a bag for give-away as I know how little the island people have. Some of my shoes had run their course and the soles are too slippery for the deck and some of my clothes had seen a better day so off they went to shore for her family. I will continue to collect things for them as we will go there for another meal next year.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Casting Off Toward the North

Our first stop after leaving Port Louis Marina in St. George’s harbor was in Tyrell Bay, Carriacou, which part of Grenada. The anchoring guide suggests that the bay is vast and peaceful. That is was, but it was also filled with boats! March and April are the prime chartering months of the sailing season so there were many "week long warriors" in the anchorages and on the VHF!

It is a nice anchorage though, and we found a nice little beach with a great sandy bottom for swimming. Actually, it was the first time in a very long time that we had been where it was safe to swim. No sharks, jellyfish or crocodiles! It was so refreshing! And I found some interesting sand glass, too.

The Slipway Restaurant was recommended as were reservations for dinner. Since we were clearing out of Grenada, we stopped there for a nice lunch. The guys tried a local beer and thought we should bring a bottle – empty, of course – back to our boys in California as they brew beer. Somehow the bottle disappeared from the table before we could abscond with it! Maybe next year, kids.
The sail from Grenada to Carriacou caught me off guard and mal de mare struck again; although, I did manage to prevent to worst by lying in my berth the whole trip. I guess I am just used to downwind sailing now. While sailing to windward, the waves were playing with my brain. I was very happy to be at anchor when we finally reached Tyrell Bay, Carriacou and had a couple of days at anchor. This is the clearing out point on the north end of Grenada before moving onto Union Island below St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We will have to clear in at Union and out again in Bequia before going to St. Lucia for the final rally party.
Simon, the lobster man – and anything else he can sell you – came by and asked if we would like some lobsters, fish or oysters. Of course, we went for the lobster and a dozen oysters. When he returned with his “catch of the day,” we were overwhelmed with the size of the lobsters! Three of them totaled 13 pounds! They were huge – and delicious. The guys made a mess cleaning them on the teak deck. Dennis cooked them on the grill and we had enough left over to make a lobster and papaya salad from lunch the next day.

Only the locals are allowed to catch the lobsters and the ones they bring to the boats are huge! Of course, they sell them by the pound and think all cruisers are rich. They were very tender even though they were so big. Lobster is relatively inexpensive here compared to flying in Maine lobsters at home. These are the ones without big claws so there is less meat there. They also provide a source of income on these islands where there is little work and small incomes.

Personally, I can't stand the sight of people eating raw oysters so I just turned my back while the others enjoyed those slippery, slimy things! Apparently, they grow in the mangroves, but only locals can harvest them. (I later read in the cruising guide that it is illegal to harvest oysters in the mangroves and it states that cruisers should not buy from the locals! Opps!)

This was our first time in the Windward Islands that run south from Martinique, to St. Lucia, through St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which include the Tobago Cays, and onto Union, Carriacou and finally to Grenada. They are the last link before Trinidad and South America.

I had the wrong idea about the name. I thought these islands would have stronger winds than the Leeward Islands, but that is not the case. The name is related to the location of the islands as they create an arc toward the southwest as you travel down the island chain. The British named them Windward because you have to beat into the wind to sail north. The trade winds provide good sailing with slower passages on the leeward side of the islands and some real romps between islands.

Our plan was to make several stops on our way north. Since Merc and Bob had spent some time in the area over the last ten years, we took our lead from them when setting our course. The next stop was at Sandy Island just around the corner between L’Esterte Bay and Hillsborough Bay. It was a small islet with a nice beach and a snorkeling area. It is a protected area so we had to take a mooring buoy.

The current was quite strong, so we drifted from one end of the sandy spit to the other. The coral was in bad shape and there wasn’t much to see. We later learned that we should have gone further up the island to find better snorkeling so we will have to try it again. In a way, we are very spoiled by the lovely snorkeling we have had throughout the world so this was disappointing.

Two nights there was enough. At least we had several WARC boats there so we had Sundowners on the beach. The biggest challenge was that Dennis lost one of his hearing aids in the sand after snorkeling and didn’t realize it until we got back to the boat. He and Bob went back to hunt for it, but the wind was shifting the sands and the tide had changed since we were there.

When we went for Sundowners on the beach with several other WARC boats, the S/Y Into The Blue gang helped search again, but it was a lost cause. So it will be a challenge with communications until we get home and get another set of hearing aids. So enjoy the company and the sunset as tomorrow is another day!