Tuesday, 16 November 2004

November 16th, 2004 - More Venezuelan Adventures.

London, Tuesday, November 16th.

Diana and I arrived safely back to Elisabeth & Hugh’s here in London today. In a few days we carry on to Norway, on Sunday 28th our grandson Johan Fredrik will be Christened in Oslo, and the next day it’s back to work in Kristiansand and Arendal. We return to Venezuela and White Admiral February 16th, 2005.

Mochima National Park
Since our report dated Cumana, October 26th we have seen a lot more of Venezuela’s exciting and extremely varied country. With Eli and Robert we first sailed to the Mochima National Park just west of Cumana. This large area includes some spectacular islands and numerous protected anchorages. The pretty little village of Mochima is a favorite holiday resort for Venezuelans, has lots of charming posadas (guest-houses) and restaurants, but be aware; the latter are all shut on Tuesdays! And that is when we were there...
After our trip to Orinoco, Robert had met a charming girl from Puerto la Cruz. This is the center of yachting in Venezuela and the next big city west of Cumana. So while he went to see Nathalia by road, the rest of us sailed around to Puerto la Cruz and met them both there. The nearby airport in Barcelona actually proved to be a good starting point for Eli and Robert’s flights back to Norway on 29th. Also we arranged for winter storage of the boat ashore in CMO Marina, Puerto la Cruz two weeks later. This marina lies near the entrance to the huge and luxurious complex of Turistico El Morro, a Venice-like water world of private houses, hotels and shops. Also in the area are no less than 3 golf courses and 9 marinas! But only two of the marinas can accommodate catamarans ashore.
After seeing Eli and Robert safely off Diana and I sailed back to see more Mochima anchorages. The beaches are beautiful and the water warm and mostly clear with some excellent snorkeling. At Playa de Faro we had two weekend nights with the pretty little bay for ourselves, but the days were busy with visiting and partying boats from Puerto la Cruz only ten miles away. Most of the islands in the park area have no feral animals (domestic animals gone wild), so the bird life is abundant and we even encountered a fierce looking, but totally harmless, large iguana. And among the ceiling rafters of the little restaurant we spotted a sleepy boa constrictor! Also he apparently harmless, at least to humans…
Bahia Manare had six fishermen and a couple of dogs living temporarily in shacks on the beach, their main homes being in Marigitar and Cumana. We bought fish and live calamares (squid) from them and became popular when we took photographs and gave them printed copies. Also Diana treated the oldest man, Pedro, for an infected elbow wound. This spectacular bay is on a peninsula and therefore a bit more accessible than the islands. We asked Pedro and his friends if it was a safe place to be anchored. Si! During the day: no problema! Y de noche? - most of the time… But since there are no proper roads, only tortuous paths leading to Bahia Manare, and nobody there at night apart from our six friends, we decided to stay the night. The weather was as calm as it could be.
Later that evening something very touching happened. The six men in their boat had been out for evening light-fishing of calamares, returned at 9.30 pm and gave us several more squids as a gift. And then they anchored next to us, bedded down in their boat with the little petrol generator and their bright lights running all night. Only the dogs ashore were not very pleased and ran along the beach and barked occasionally in the moonlight. I don’t think we’ve ever been better looked after...

Strenuous Fun in the Andean Mountains
After a couple of more stops (see Voyage; GPS-positions, for a complete list) we returned to Puerto la Cruz. At CMO Marina we started preparing the boat for land storage; removing sails and ropes and items on deck, and then we went off to the Venezuelan Andes Mountains for five days as back-packers. On the way we had a day in Caracas, the huge capital city famous for its skyscrapers, traffic jams, pollution, crime and squalid slums on surrounding hillsides. But also for its Grand Sabana, a fun-loving, pedestrians-only area teaming with stalls and humanity and the ever-present loud music. Also Caracas has an excellent underground; the Metro, many parks, monuments, museums and a large historical town centre. Every town in Venezuela has a Plaza Bolivar, a square to commemorate Simon Bolivar, the man largely responsible for the independence of not only Venezuela, but also Columbia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. But Caracas has the Plaza Bolivar with “el Liberador” on a bronze horse and marble pedestal surrounded by a continuous guard of four (mostly) motionless guards.
We then flew to the city of Mérida in the north Andes, landed in the middle of town (!) and discovered not only a city of 300.000 inhabitants but that La Universitad los Andes is nearly 200 years old and has 35.000 students! But Diana and I wanted the real hills, wasted no time and took a taxi straight to the longest cable car in the World, the Teleférico. Only 3 of the 4 sections were open, but we still rose from 1700 m to 4045 m. above the sea in about one hour. Here the air was thin and cold and the landscape dramatically different, dominated by tall, yellow flowers (frailejon), heather and low bushes. Unfortunately, we were now in the clouds and it started raining. We declined the offer of a five hour mule transport to the nearest settlement, the old town of Los Nevados. In fact we did the walk in 4½ hours, found it thoroughly exhausting, but thanks to the scenery; most enjoyable. Not being used to these heights, we got very breathless, occasionally giddy with blurred vision and headache, but the landscape was so dramatic and beautiful that we were quite happy to suffer. Initially we ascended further to 4200 m. It was bitterly cold and with the rain and no gloves my hands were freezing. But gradually the weather improved, and by the time we reached the old indigenous settlement of Los Nevados we enjoyed a mild afternoon with incredible views. En route we passed quite close to Venezuela’s highest mountain, Pico Bolivar. The top is at more than 5000 m and covered by a glacier, but we cannot honestly say that we saw it…
Los Nevados at 2700 m was a delightful stone and mud-brick village with red-tiled roofs clinging to the hillside. 160 farmers live here, they have electricity, a few have motorbikes, but mostly work and transport is done using horses, mules and donkeys. Their farm products are transported on animals up the path to the Teleférico, and from there whisked down to the markets in Mérida. The wooden plows turning the soil of the steep, Andean plots are pulled by oxen, a scene that has not changed for hundreds of years… (We did not see tractors anywhere in this part of Venezuela.)
Los Nevados has adopted to the needs of backpackers and other tourists and almost every home doubles as a posada of sorts. Our meals were simple and filling and the night was cold, but covered in nearly all our clothes and three woolen blankets we slept well. One can live very cheaply in a posada in the Venezuela and especially in the Andes. Diana and I paid 30.000 Bolivares for B&B and dinner for two, i.e. NKr 100 (£, and we had an offer for half that price!
The morning brought clear air and stiff muscles, but after a big breakfast we set of by foot for El Morro, another village supposedly seven hours walk away. On this path/dirt road we met jeeps occasionally, but the road here is cut mostly high up in steep cliff-sides, is very uneven and unprotected and walking must be a lot safer than driving. The occasional road-side alter and cross commemorate unsuccessful journeys… The walk took us just over six hours and was even more spectacular and breath-taking (literally!) than the previous day. A network of tortuous paths among scattered farms over a very big area tempt us to return some day – a backpackers paradise! In El Morro we got a jeep taxi and after two hours were back in Mérida and civilization and booked in at Posada de Montana.

The Condor Project and the Two Lakes
The last two days brought more long, high altitude walks, first to see the condor project near Apartaderos, a trout farm near Santo Domingo and a final long walk to Lago Negro and Lago dos Patos, the latter being in the Sierra Nevada National Park. The condors and the two lakes are around 4000 m altitude and hence quite physically demanding, but we were now getting gradually acclimatised.
The condor is the biggest member of the vulture family, and the largest flying bird on Earth. This almost mythical, Andean bird is harmless to humans and living creatures and is seen in the national emblems of almost every South American country. Yet it was hunted to extinction in Venezuela many years ago. However, a condor project has now successfully raised and released eight birds and more will come. Two adult birds in an aviary are available for visitors, and next door a small centre shows videos and gives out information about these magnificent birds. (And serve coffee and hot chocolate!) The birds are not expert flyers until they are seven years old, but by then they have a three metre wing span, stay aloft for hours and soar to 10.000 m heights. Left alone by humans, they become 50 years old!
The final trek to the two lakes was mostly in clouds and rain, and up the final 2 km to the Lago dos Patos we walked, crawled and climbed on some of the steepest and most hair-raising paths we have ever visited. The return trip from the main road took us more than 5 hours, my feet and hands were wet and freezing, but again it was worth every minute: The flowers, the views between showers and torn clouds, the wilderness! And we never met a soul… By the time we reached Posada in Apartaderos a further three km down the main road at dusk, we had walked at a good pace for more than seven hours since breakfast, and we were pretty pleased with our selves. And after a warm shower, that meal of hot soup followed by grilled trout in front of the open fire of Milfafi was an occasion never to be forgotten!
Next evening we were back on the boat and the humid heat of Puerto la Cruz. Two stranded yachties from Puerto Rico happened to ask us for marina directions as we landed at the airport, so Jacque and Etienne moved in on Posada White Admiral until their hosts arrived a day late next morning.

Colonia Tovar – a piece of Germany in Venezuela
White Admiral was safely placed on land on Friday 29th and prepared for three months storage, and Sunday morning we flew back to Caracas. With another 24 hours before the morning flight to London via Atlanta, USA, we rented a car and drove to another famous place, the town of Colonia Tovar. This town in the mountains 60 km SW of Caracas is like a bit of Germany transplanted to Venezuela. 330 immigrants arrived here from Bavaria in 1843 and created a well functioning, but isolated community. Only in the last 50 years have they abandoned German as the main language, allowed marriage to outsiders and had a proper road to the lowlands. On weekdays Colonia Tovar is a sleepy town, but in the weekend lots of visitors crowd the narrow streets. Especially the Caraquenians seem to enjoy the special folklore, sausages and other German-inspired food. And the fertile orchards in the hillsides produce lots of cheap vegetables and fruit, including apples, peaches and strawberries. Diana and I treated ourselves to an excellent lunch in the beautiful hotel Selba Negra.
The starker reality of Venezuela hit us on the road halfway back to Caracas. A serious traffic accident held us up for an hour, and by the time we returned to the busy city it was not only dark but raining. Driving in Caracas after dark is something everybody warns you against: Few road signs, fast cars often with a drunken driver and defect lights, brakes or steering. Generally a lot of crime after dark, drive with all doors locked and do not step out unless in a secure area. But we did manage to fill up the car with petrol and found a safe toilet at the nearest McDonald. The cost of one day’s petrol? – 2.100 Bolivares, ie. NKr 6 or £0,50!

Passport Problems
Next day found us at Caracas International Airport, the car was safely returned, but as we checked in for the flight to London via Atlanta we had an unpleasant surprise: Diana’s nine years old British passport is now unacceptable in USA, even if the bearer is a transit passenger. As from 26th October one must have a new, electronic passport, a fact we, somehow, had missed. Nobody, including the British embassy in Caracas, could do anything about this in less than a day or two, so we had to fly here separate, I via USA as planned, Diana via Madrid after the purchase of a new ticket. But here she is, arrived only four hours after me, well and sound - and NKr 6.000 poorer... So much for trying to save some money by booking via the Internet!

This will be the last sailing/travelling update of 2004. Diana and I plan to write a brief greeting for the website towards the end of the year, but just in case you miss it: Thank you for your cyber-company and for your occasional greeting, either as Update Comment or in the Guestbook, something we enjoy reading very much – do keep it up! And a special thank-you to our dear son, web-master Martin in Oslo, and to fellow Galapagos-enthusiast John Woram in New York. - John posts our positions regularly on the Voyage link (as well as my book on Galapagos). Take heart, John; we did not get to Galapagos this year as originally planned, but we will get there eventually!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everybody!

20 Nov 2004 by Stein & Diana

Sunday, 24 October 2004

Cumana, Venuzuela, 24th October, 2004

Isla Coche

From Isla Margarita we had a pleasant 3 hour sail with only the genoa to the west coast of Isla Coche, an island between Margarita and mainland Venuzuela. It is a few miles long and broad, very dry, consisting of low hills in various hues of brown and red, with a scattering of bushes and cacti. As we approached the beach and anchored, the wind which had been increasing for the previous hour, was gusting at about 30 knots, and gave us no doubt that our anchor had got a good hold on the sandy bottom. Con Amore with Tommy and Susanne had arrived just before us, and lay anchored a little further out. The next day we were joined by Swedes Mads and Barbro on Da Capo, and couple of days later by more Swedes Kjell and Maggy on Emma, and Norwegians Jan and Bjørg on Anne – quite a Scandinavian gathering, with me the Scot the odd one out! The island was a great place for long walks, and a good place to use our bicycles, with earth roads without much traffic. The few thousand souls who live here are mostly fishermen and their families, and some employees of a salt-producing project. There are also two small hotels on the lovely beach on the West coast, with some local tourists and a few Europeans. This is a great place for a holiday if you really want to get away from it all, and don’t need any night-life, apart from cheap drinks.
A great three hour walk along the cliffs of the South coast took us and the crew of Con Amore to the island’s second village, where we had read in the guide was a pleasant restaurant. To our disappointment this was closed as it was low-season, and the proprietoress could not be persuaded to make us any lunch. We ended up sitting on the side of the pavement, with bread, a tin of tuna-fish and bottles of water and juice from the local store. Thus refreshed, we made the long trek back in the hot sun-shine. We discovered that you have to watch where you put your feet; there are small cacti with purple flowers everywhere, which are not quite so attractive hanging on to the back of your ankles! (They even penetrated the soles of our shoes!) One day we took a day trip, with Tommy and Susanne as extra crew, to the large anchorage on the South coast, El Saco, which is a big protected bay, rather shallow, so more suitable for catamarans. We had the place to ourselves, and found a long, deserted beach, full of all kinds of seashells, some of which now make an attractive collection on the side of our cockpit.
Having a catamaran gives one the responsibility of organising parties, as the monohulls have far too small cockpits for a gathering of any size. So on the last night we had a Scandinavian evening/sing-song on White Admiral, with the crews of the five boats which would soon be going their different ways. Everybody brought a different dish, and as usually happens with that kind of arrangement, everybody had enough to feed all, resulting in a great feast with far too much to eat and drink!


We left Isla Coche at dawn on 8th October, motoring quietly in the windless morning. This continued the whole way, so the sails were not unfurled, and the steel genoa took us the 35 n.miles to the city of Cumana. On arriving, I had a little break-through with my Spanish – my first VHF conversation totally in Spanish. I was quite proud when I could tell Stein that they were expecting us!
Cumana is a bustling port of 280,000 people, half of whom seem to earn their living selling goods on the street. The main streets have endless rows of stalls with clothes, kitchen goods, snacks and CDs along the pavements. These music stalls also advertise their goods at full volume, so the atmosphere is like a big fiesta. The centre of town with its pleasant square, old churches, and a castle on the one hill is quite pleasant, but the rest of the place is very ramshakle, lots of broken down houses, rubbish and obvious poverty. The marina is in a particularly seedy area, although there is a prosperous shopping centre just round it, and it is well guarded, so it feels like an oasis in the otherwise general chaos.
On the 10h October, we got the boat ready for guests as Stein’s mum Eli and our younger son Robert were arriving in the evening after a long trip from Norway. They arrived safely, but pretty exhausted after three different flights, and an overnight stop in London at our daughter Elisabeth’s home. We took a day to show them the colourful bustle in Cumana, then we longed for clean water and a quiet anchorage again and set sail on the 12th for Laguna Grande.

The Gulf of Cariaco

The Gulf of Cariaco is an inlet in the Venezuelan coast, about 30 miles long and 10 broad. This is a sheltered cruising area, which has been quite popular with foreign yachts, but has recently had fewer, probably due to the general fear of crime which Venezuela has acquired.
We heard in the Marina office that there have been no incidents of crimes involving yachts in recent times here, and set off for Laguna Grande on the North side of the gulf. Sailing is generally pleasant here, as the gulf is sheltered from the ocean swells, but today we had to motor the whole way as again there was almost no wind. Laguna Grande is a large, natural harbour with several anchorages, and only one tiny village at the western end. We chose to go right into the end of the inlet, which felt like being in an enclosed lake. Around us was a colourful desert landscape, with reddish hills edged with green mangrove trees along the water’s edge. No boats, no people, the only sounds were the chirping of crickets and the singing of birds. Paradise! Stein and I had a couple of long walks in the dry hills, Robert showing his superior fitness by running up instead of walking! It is a tough terrain for hiking, the hills are steep and the surface crumbly, and the valleys are full of cacti and acacia other burning or thorny plants. In addition, I disturbed a wasp’s nest and got a sharp sting on my forehead. We saw a large viper on the same walk, but managed to stop in time not to get bitten by him too, although he hissed menacingly at us. The bay was a good place for Robert to practice his wind-surfing, sometimes lots of wind, but no swell. After we had had enough peace and quiet in Laguna Grande, we moved 2 nautical miles to another lovely bay, this one with the little fishing village of Chica, a rather run-down collection of stone houses, a small church and a large bar with blaring music. We had a beer at the bar, which was all they had on the drinks menu, a stroll round the town, which took a few minutes and left early the next morning when the music started up again. We then crossed to the other side of the gulf, about 12 nautical miles, this time with a nice breeze, but dead against us, so motored again. Several dolphins entertained us as they did whenever we ventured into the gulf. Our first anchorage on this side off Mariguitar was very pretty, with a nice beach backed by palm trees, and an airy, pleasant restaurant on the beach, where we got an excellent, reasonably priced meal. The second further West was in a well-protected indentation, with the main road and a public beach at the end of the bay. Here families came in their cars, loudspeakers blaring, and large boxes of food and drinks. Stein and Robert went for a long snorkelling trip as the visibility here was better than on the other side. Then Stein and I went for a walk along the road, where we were stopped by a couple who came from the beach to tell us that it was a dangerous anchorage, they had seen a boat with some people looking carefully at our boat, and thought we should move before dark. Whether their suspicions were right or not we shall never know, but we took their advice and moved back to the quieter north side of the gulf, this time a nice sail in the NE breeze to Puerto Real, another excellent, deep bay for anchoring. The fishing village of Salazar at the entrance was more prosperous than Chica, we managed to buy fish and octopus from the local fishermen, and a few groceries from a simple store. The main street was cheerful, with brightly painted little houses on each side, though some could have done with a bit of touching up. The Venezuelans seem quite relaxed about yachts visiting their small communities, they cheerfully greet us as we pass, and help us if we talk to them, although they don’t come out to the yacht or try to sell us things. This is quite different from the West Indies, where there is always someone trying to make a few dollars. It may be that the language makes them more reserved, as very few speak English. It does make cruising more relaxed.

Orinoco Delta

We had arranged a 3 day trip to the Orinoco Delta from 21-24th October, through a tour operator in Puerto la Cruz (Jakera Tours, which we had read about in the cruising guide) and sailed back to Cumana in time to do some laundry and get ourselves packed. We were picked up in the morning by Allan, a cheerful young Scot, in a rather uncomfortable jeep, and drove 5 hours through the mountains and over the plains to the edge of the delta. There we were met by a fast motor launch called a lancha, and transported for an hour along branches of the Orinoco, banked by dense vegetation, to our camp in the jungle. This is a five star hotel by jungle standards, although the facilities are pretty basic. The main sitting and dining area is charming, a large thatched building with no walls, decorated with palm trees, where one can sit and watch the slow flowing river with its masses of vegetation (mostly small islands of the bora plant) gliding past. It is made even more charming due to the collection of animals which the hotel has collected over the years. These are orphans that they have saved as the area is a national park and the animals are protected.
The comedian of the place is a toucan who hobbles about pecking at people’s shoe-laces and who enjoyed drinking coffee out of Eli’s cup! There are also two magnificent blue and yellow macaw parrots, one of whom likes to have his feathers stroked and obligingly rolls over onto his back. Two howler monkeys, James and Charlie, stroll abut trying to get someone to cuddle them. Charlie is a baby, just a few months old, snuggles up just like a human child, and gets upset if you put him down. There are also some animals in cages, a crocodile, a puma, a tapir and a jaguar. The jaguar is really quite tame, spent the first few months of her life playing among the guests, but the hotel management didn’t dare let her do this anymore when she became big enough to kill people! She likes to be stroked through the cage meshing, and sticks out her paws to be clapped. Most of our time at the camp was spent with our guide Alan and a local Waroa Indian who drove us about in the lancha. Both were excellent guides and did all they could to show us the local wild-life: we went fishing for piranhas and catfish, trekked through dense jungle vegetation, and meandered slowly along the banks of the rivers, looking for birds, monkeys, fresh-water dolphins, and large, blue morpho butterflies. The local Waroans live in open, thatched houses, seem to get all they need from nature, although the ones near the camp have got a taste for modern amenities, and earn some money from selling souvenirs. (Waroa means the canoe people.) Our local guide showed us how to get water from vines, which trees are used to make dugout canoes, the palms they use for building, and the termites and grubs which make good snacks. (Stein tried licking a few termites which he claims tasted nutty, I suddenly wasn’t too hungry!) We bought a few baskets from the ladies, high quality hand-work, and took some photos, Stein and Robert looking like giants beside the small Amerindian people. We couldn’t talk to them, but had a good laugh as the children looked at themselves on the screen of our digital camera. The last morning, Stein and I did some kayaking in modern kayaks, enjoying the peace of the river, Robert tried a local wooden canoe, more of a test of balance, then had a last fishing trip. Then we said goodbye to both animals and people at the camp, and braced ourselves for the long journey home. It had been a great trip, well worth the long journey, and fairly good value for US$ 295 each, including transport, accommodation, all meals and the two guides. It is fun to travel, but it was lovely to get back to White Admiral. Robert had become friendly with Allan, and went off with him at once for a taste of Venezuelan night-life, ended up spending the night at high-class disco with a bunch of foreign students.
We are off again today in White Admiral, this time going west to see a little of the Mochima National park, a protected area of the coast with rich sea-life and beautiful scenery. This will only be for a couple of days, before coming back here to wave Eli and Robert off for their return flights to Norway on the 29th.
25 Oct 2004 by Stein & Diana

Sunday, 3 October 2004

Isla Margarita, Sunday 3rd October

Good morning! The sun is just up ahead and slowly rising beside the burned out hulk of Hotel Concorde (20 charred stories; a tragic fire 15 years ago…). To the left, in the city of Porlamar, the first light is warming numerous other high-rise houses where the local citizens live. Behind that, capped by white clouds, craggy, green mountains. A lot of pelicans are already on the wing leisurely chasing their breakfast, and the first pirogues loaded with nets and brown bodies have passed us heading for the sardines in the outer part of our anchorage - the Bahia la Mar. Many international yachts lie peacefully around us; some of them we know well since we have followed more or less the same route from Chaguaramas in Trinidad to Isla Margarita, Venezuela.

Scotland Bay

We left Humming Bird Marine 20th September in the afternoon and motored the 4 miles to Scotland Bay, a sheltered cove surrounded by dense rain-forest. This is where Utz Müller-Treu sits out the hurricane season, a very good choice, especially this year! We followed the example of his Colin-Archer "Frøken" of Oslo, put out a bow anchor and had him help us to tie our stern line to a big tree ashore. We only had 24 hours in this magical cove. Nobody lives ashore any longer in what is now a national park, but behind the mangroves and beaches are remains of holiday homes, even tennis courts, from the time when the Americans leased the Chaguaramas area for their marine base. The jungle has taken over, and we could not find the path that once led to the top of the hill, but Diana and I still enjoyed a 2 hour climb up and down a dried-out river bed in spite of not getting to any view point. A lot of vines and fallen bamboo made the going slow. We saw many birds and butterflies, big spiders, lovely wild flowers and heard howler monkeys roaring out from several directions (the territorial noise they make is quite amazing in its raw strength - quite unnerving at first!). Back in the bay we had a swim and saw a big turtle before having Utz over for lunch. He is a legendary German-Norwegian sailor whom we have bumped into a couple of places over the last 23 years. He is now planning yet another circumnavigation, but being 72 and having lost the sight on one eye recently does not want to be single-handling any more. Hopefully a German friend will join him before long.

Los Testigos

Leaving Scotland Bay one is quickly back in the open Caribbean. A setting sun, a calm sea and a gentle breeze gave us a perfect start. The Venezuela peninsula on our port side has a bad reputation due to occasional pirate activity, so we headed north for the first 20 miles before heading more westerly for the little island group of Los Testigos. Shortly after noon the next day we anchored in the lovely, clear water off Isla Iguana. A new country - Venezuela! Lots of birds welcomed us, frigate birds, pelicans and gannets (boobies). Most of the 160 island inhabitants live here and this is where we reported to the friendly, local coast-guard who gave us permission to stay a week. A stroll among the open houses behind the beach gave the impression of a relaxed and friendly people; certainly no one objected to being photographed. That we indeed were in a South American country was evident by all the hammocks. Back aboard we weighed anchor and motored one mile across the bay to join the other yachts off Tamarind Beach, Testigo Grande. Strangely we now had an almost purely Scandinavian
gathering; one Danish, three Swedish and three Norwegian yachts!
Here we remained from 22nd to 25th September and had a delightful time: Swimming, snorkelling, hill walking, sand dune walking (good practice for Sahara in April!). We socialized with the yachties and some of the locals along the beach - most of them fishermen busy with nets and lobster-pots. Dinner ashore one night with Susanne & Tommy from Con Amore was at a simple restaurant, the one and only in Los Testigos - called Erotica Te - named after a boat… We thought dinner was at 6 pm, but had to wait two hours as her husband was late returning from Margarita with ingredients. But with the local beer, Polaris at 25 pence(3 kroner) a can, waiting was no big ordeal. During our stay we did a little doctoring as Margareta on Emma had high fever and malaise (probably Dengue fever) and two year old Miguel ashore had a fruity cough. An interesting couple ashore were Brazilian Marianne (27) and Argentinean Pedro (5. They are temporarily living ashore in a very basic, engine-less yacht, doing repairs after damage from hurricane Ivan. The boat has been Pedro's home for 9 years, Marianne's for nearly 3. He was a hard-working IBM-worker and painter in Buenos Aires with a broken marriage who opted for a new and simple life. This appears to have been an unqualified success, both seemed very happy. We exchanged paintings for provisions and rope, I spent an afternoon repairing and lengthening their anchor rope, and they also came aboard for lunch one day. Our boat must have seemed very sophisticated compared to their simple one, but they didn't seem to be impressed or envious. Long may they remain so contented! Unfortunately, they had only had their boat man-hauled up on the beach for maintenance (by 40 locals!) shortly before Ivan struck. The surf undermined the beach, the boat fell over (with Marianne and Pedro inside) and sustained damage to the mast and the rudder. So another afternoon's project was straightening the mast by bending it between two palm trees. This operation was led by Tommy on Con Amore.

Isla Margarita

A day-sail took us 50 miles west to the large island of Margarita. Some years ago this was a popular holiday destination both for Europeans and Venezuelans. Tourism is still important, but Margarita has declined compared to its former glory. The reason may be too many poor locals and too much crime. So when using Senor Juan Bravo, an ex-Chilean sea captain as a clearing-in agent, everybody gets a 10 min lecture on how to avoid being robbed or mugged and how to get the best exchange rate for US Dollars! No tourist seems to use the official exchange rate of Bolivares 1900 for each US Dollar (unless you have to pay by credit card.) Everybody seems to bring US$ in cash and change in the local black market usually at 2400-2500. In the streets you get offers of 3000, but these are usually quick-fingered card-tricksters operating as smart criminals. You may think you get 3000, but end up with 1500!!
Here are some beautiful sites and some squalid, dilapidated areas. Unfortunately also a lot of rubbish and other signs of community neglect, especially in and around Porlamar, the biggest town. Poverty and unemployment is a central problem. 80% of Venezuela's 26 mill. population are poor. The minimal wage is B 230/hour - less than one Norwegian krone! But basic food and fuel are extremely cheap. When shopping in a top, modern supermarket, Diana worked out that she got nearly 3 times the normal amount for her money. She could even have shopped much more cheaply by just buying local produce, the imported goods are the same prices or more than at home. Petrol is about 2 pence( 20 øre) per litre, and diesel, brought out to the boat and pumped aboard, came to less than 5 pence (50 øre)per litre!! A dinner at a good restaurant will cost about 8 pounds (100 kroner), including wine. For shoppers Porlamar is a dream - street after street with nice stores and simple stalls of good buys in clothes, shoes and all sort of summer wear… Using Internet and doing international calls is also very reasonable. So is hiring a car. Yesterday with Tommy & Susanne we drove around the eastern part of this big island, visiting the charming towns of La Valle, Ascuncion and Juan Griego and doing a boat trip through the mangroves in another national park, this time beautifully maintained.
Here we saw ospreys (fishing eagle), one even with a fish in his claws, admired the patterns of the mangrove roots, our driver pointing out wild-life missed by us. He caught little sea horses hanging on to roots with their tails for us to see. They were put back afterwards and seemed quite used to it!
After we left Trinidad the climate has been a lot drier and more pleasant and we had not had a drop of rain - until 3 minutes before we were back last night! But the tropical downpour that cascaded horizontally from the black sky soaked us in seconds and was followed by gusts of wind, thunder and lightening. Several other yachts dragged their anchor. But today the sky is again clear and we are planning to sail 20 miles southwest to the small island of Coche. Then we have only 40 miles to Cumana where Robert and Eli are arriving in a week on October 10th . They will spend three weeks with us. We may leave the boat in a marina and take an inland expedition for a few days. See the Angel Falls? Visit the Orinoco delta? Or the Andes mountains? - This vast country has a lot to offer!
04 Oct 2004 by Stein & Diana

Monday, 20 September 2004

Humming Bird Marina, Chaguaramas, Trinidad, Sunday, Septembe

Stein is actually at a medial conference today, a meeting of the Trinidad and Tobago Medical Association, with a lot of interesting lectures on the agenda so he has gone to get a taste of the local medical attitudes. Meanwhile I have done a bit of cleaning and tidying so that we are ship-shape for leaving for Venezuela in 2 days. I am now sitting in bikini at the chart-table, one towel under me and another to wipe away the sweat, glass of cold water within reach and a fan blowing beside me. Did you guess that it is hot? Yes, 36 degrees Centigrade to be exact, or about 90 Fahrenheit. It is also humid, and there have been thunder-showers most afternoons. We have learned the hard lesson that we cannot leave the small, side hatches open to get some air while we are out, as we are still drying out books that got wet a few days ago, when an incredible amount of water came in from these showers.

I arrived here ten days ago from Canada, having first had to delay my flight to Miami by three days because of hurricane Frances, then sit in Miami Airport for anther two as the flight to Trinidad was cancelled because of Ivan. So it was great to get here, and we are very happy that we chose to leave our boat in this almost hurricane-free island. We have seen boats limping in from Grenada, with holes in the hull, or rigging torn down, and these are the ones that survived, most of the others are lying in broken heaps, together with their owners destroyed dreams of cruising. One of the boats here which is awaiting expensive repairs was selling off their unnecessary items the other day, so we are now the proud owners of two folding bikes, something which we have been thinking about for some time. So, family and friends who are thinking about a sailing holiday, we can now offer cycle-trips as part of the fun!

White Admiral is getting better all the time, and this is the reason for staying so long, here in Chaguaramas one can get anything done on a boat. In fact it is a dangerous place to be, and it is time we move on before we use any more money on her! We now have a more efficient fridge, which Stein has rebuilt, its salt water cooling pump is also replaced, and have had a targa built at the stern. This is a stainless steel arch over the back of the boat where our new solar panels can get good exposure, and the latest acquisition is a wind generator which Stein wired up last night. This is a locally made product with a very good reputation, called KISS, which stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid! There is no wind blowing at the moment, so we don’t know yet if this will solve our electricity needs… Running a fridge in the tropics presents a big power problem for every yacht.
We have become fonder of Trinidad since our return. People are friendly and helpful, and one doesn’t feel like a tourist all the time. We visited the local market on Saturday morning, an impressive array of fruits, vegetables, fish and meat, with prices clearly displayed, smiling vendors who didn’t mind having their photo taken, and no hassle to buy. Quite a change from some of the other islands.

We have had a day trip to see some of the island, including the Asa Wright nature centre. With our guide Jesse James, a local taxi driver who has become the yachting community’s friend, advisor and tour operator, we did a round trip, sampling some of the island’s culinary delicacies on the way. We now know what “doubles” and “bake and shark” are; the first a chick-pea curry wrapped in a dough-like pancake, and the other a soft bun with deep-fried shark with various spicy sauces and toppings – Mmm! The nature centre is renowned for its plants and birds. There is a large feeding area which is alive with thousands of birds of different species, including many brightly coloured humming-birds. No doubt the group of serious ornithologists in their khaki shirts and shorts knew the names of many, as they peered through their large telescopes on tripods. We also saw butterflies, iguanas and the large rodent called agouti. The road home took us along the breath-taking north coast road with steep cliffs, tropical rain-forests and occasional beautiful beaches like the Maracas Bay. Stopping to view the scenery we were given impromptu performance by the local Calypso Man. A calypso is really a ballad, often on contemporary and social issues, and the experts can sing and rhyme away on any given topic.
We are now lying in a small marina called Humming Bird Marina, a casual family run business, where we came in to have the welding work done to put up the wind generator, but have stayed as it is cheap and pleasant. We even have Norwegian neighbours, Tommy and Susanne Andersen from Halden who are sailing on “Con Amore”, a 37 foot Bostrøm. Yesterday, they shared some wonderful, large shrimps from the market with us, and we will be able to enjoy their company again as we are taking the same route to the islands off Venezuela.

Tomorrow, we check out, pay our bill here, and sail round to Scotland Bay, for one last night in a lovely, quiet anchorage with an old friend, German Utz Müller-Treu in his Norwegian-registrered Colin-Archer “Frøken”. Utz normally lives aboard in Bequia, but is sheltering here in Trinidad in the hurricane-season (a good choice considering the damage Ivan did further north!). He is a now 72 year old, has sailed round the world alone two and a half times. We first met him in New Zealand 24 years ago. He is an old sea-dog, fond of the hard stuff, and full of tales of the oceans.
Then we are off to try out my newly acquired Spanish in Venezuela!

This is Stein back from a whole day of medical lectures at the Crown Plaza Hotel, Port of Spain. My head is now jammed with facts about the health situation in this part of the World! The conference was well attended and the standard of lectures and posters was excellent, even the food was good! The meeting was honoured by lectures from overseas visitors as well as local dignitaries like the Minister of Health, Mr John Rahael and the President of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, His Excellency Prof. Max Richards, himself a past medical doctor. And both these men were also good speakers!

20 Sep 2004 by Stein & Diana

Monday, 30 August 2004

London, Monday August 30th 2004: Summer report

Farewell Isobel Young (1913-2004)

Our summer break in Norway is over and I am on a slow journey back to our yacht in Trinidad, stopping over in London where I’m staying with Elisabeth & Hugh. Eli is staying behind in Norway this time, and Diana is not with me, either. - She had to fly from Kristiansand to Canada a few days ago as her mother, Isobel, became seriously ill. She got there just in time before Isobel became unconscious; she passed away quietly early this morning. Had she lived 8 more days she would have become 91 years old. The last few years she repeatedly said she was feeling her high age and was ready to go. Fortunately, she remained mentally alert and played a good hand of bridge until two weeks before she died. And I could not have asked for a more welcoming and easy-going mother-in-law. I have known her since 1967. The enclosed picture (see Pictures) was taken last year on her 90th birthday when a large crowd of family gathered to celebrate the event with her in Oakville.

Arrival of Johan Fredrik Hoff

While some go, others arrive. July 19th witnessed the birth of our second grandchild in Oslo; Johan Fredrik Hoff. So Isobel also got the happy news of her great grandchild while she was still quite well. Johan weighed in at 4,3 kg, was a bit blue around the edges due to a doubly knotted naval cord being wrapped around his neck (some maritime omen?), but was soon fine and ready for a world of milk, nappies, cuddles and care. I last saw Johan, his parents Camilla & Martin and “big” sister, Hedda (turned 2 in March aboard White Admiral) in Oslo yesterday. But the first time was when he was only 4 days old and they all came to show him off in Kristiansand.
One reason for me going to Oslo this last weekend in Norway was to give Camilla a wee break by looking after Hedda and at the same time assisting our sons Martin & Robert who competed in the Birkebeiner race. This gruelling mountain bike race attracted nearly 11.000 entrants, who left in large groups from Rena at 250 m altitude, wound their way across the mountains at a height of 900 m and finished in Lillehammer, 89 muddy km later. It was Martin’s 4th and Robert’s 1st. They both did very well, although Robert found he had too little clothes in the cold drizzle in the middle, and Martin had problems with grit in the gears and had to stand and peddle all the slopes. That gave him such a sore back. Both still claimed it was fun! Certainly we all thoroughly enjoyed the super shellfish meal Camilla had ready for us back home Saturday night…

Work and work-outs; a new challenge ahead.

Looking back on our 3 months’ interlude in Norway I better start with the beginning: Diana, Eli and I landed at Torp airport near Sandefjord 26th May. During the next week we had caught up with a number of family members and good friends, had helped Eli to settle at her summer cottage at the island of Veierland, bought a 10 year old Volvo and rented a small house in Kristiansand (our own house is being rented out until next year). 7th June I started work as a consultant locum at the Cardiology Dpt., Kristiansand Hospital (SSK). I kept that up for 11 weeks and thoroughly enjoyed it; even enjoyed the occasional all night duties I offered to do. Apart from the satisfaction of being part of a well-functioning, modern, medical team and being responsible for a number of hospital beds, it became a much needed revision of internal medicine. And I even learned some new skills! An old ambition has been to master (trans-thoracic) cardiac ultrasound examination. These machines being very expensive, I never did any cardiac echo all the years I was in private practice. After my 11 weeks at SSK I cannot claim to be either an expert or even very good at it, but given a couple more locums and I should become quite useful! (I’ll be back in the same job in late November for 2 months as we are keeping White Admiral in the Caribbean for another year, at least.)
Diana worked a total of 6 weeks doing ophthalmology locums in private practice, i.e. the same type of work she did the last several years. She did not enjoy it as much as I, but the good income she generated is certainly welcome. Maybe she will also look to the hospitals for future work. It means more team work, more shared responsibility, more varied and much more sociable work.
When we arrived in Norway in late May the trees were still in lighter shades of green, the weather was warm, and the long evenings were filled with lilac and jasmine fragrance. This inspired us to do a lot of walking, so why not some tempo-walking? (Kinder to aging knees after all those years of frequent jogging.) So we bought sticks and started tempo-walking more seriously. And with all that wonderful nature close by and long, mild evenings we found it an activity we really enjoyed. So we now have set our eyes on a new challenge, the Marathon des Sables.
It was John Peck, from New Horizons (participant in the Atlantic Rowing Regatta earlier this year), who convinced us that this super-marathon in the Moroccan Sahara desert is just the right challenge for Diana and I. So come 7th April 2005 we should be among the 600 starters. These slightly insane people not only volunteer, but actually pay a high entrance fee to cover 240 km of Sahara by foot in 6 races of 25 to 82 km in one week. The fittest ones will run the whole distance carrying all food, clothes and spares needed en route. The only facilities provided during the race are a daily nine litres of water per person and a tarpaulin for shelter at night. No beds. Stays at a five star hotel is provided at either end of the race, so the contrast to the tarpaulins and freeze-dried meals can hardly be greater… Readers interested in more details should go to www.saharamarathon.co.uk.

Swedish-Norwegian wedding

Before rounding up this 2004 report of the Scandinavian summer, two more trips deserve a special mentioning: Visiting Dagmar and Christian Platou’s new mountain cottage at Haglebu (near Gol). Here our good friends joined us in stick-walking trips to several of the nearby heights. Check out the enclosed pictures. And 20th August we found ourselves on the island of Blidø in the Stockholm archipelago celebrating the wedding of Eivind and Malin. Eivind is the oldest son of my cousin Geir Hoff and wife Sissel. (Geir and I are double cousins and grew up almost like brothers, had a lot of fun together both as boys and as we studied medicine and rowed together in Glasgow.) Most of the guests were there for the full three days - Diana and I had to restrict our visit to 36 memorable hours. The married couple are both political scientists and work with EU and EFTA affairs in Brussels, Belgium. So with all their international friends it was a truly cosmopolitan wedding with speeches switching between Swedish, Norwegian, English and French. And with Malin coming from an artistic family we also had lots of music and entertainment. The wedding ceremony itself was civil and held outside beside the sea and fortunately blessed with good weather.
But no such blessing during our rain-filled and rather boring drive back and forth the whole width of flattish South Sweden - 900 km each way from Kristiansand... (It’s going to be train or plane for us the next time!)
Finally, I hope you found my terrestrial, temperate summer review of some interest. But I promise that the next greeting will be from the maritime, tropical world of White Admiral; it will be posted either in Trinidad or Venezuela.
30 Aug 2004 by Stein & Diana

Sunday, 23 May 2004

London, UK, May 23rd: Final sail to Trinidad

I’m writing this in Kensington, London at Elisabeth (our daughter) and Hugh’s house, so as planned we have left the boat for summer storage in Trinidad and are slowly on our way back to Norway. And with a lot of rain and humid heat in Grenada and Trinidad lately, it is pleasant again to breathe cool, dry European air in long twilight evenings – not to mention the fun of seeing family and friends - and catching up with some classical culture...
After our last report, we remained at anchor in the Lagoon, St George for another week (of daily rain…) and had time to socialize with other yachties. Breeze was the first and last Norwegian yacht we had met since Mindelo, Cape Verde. They had to move on quickly, but we spent some time with two nice couples on the Swedish yachts Miz Mae (Lilly & Thomas) and Malinda (Eva & Leif). The Grenada Yacht Club is an open, friendly, relaxed place where food and drinks, laundry and several other facilities are reasonably priced. No wonder some yachts get their anchors stuck for good, like the French, green and rusty yacht named Boof next to us…We also took the opportunity to see more of St George and the surrounding area by foot. The old Fort George on the hill between the two halves of the capital has a commanding view of the town and adjacent coast, and looks over to the island jail on top of another hill just east of the Lagoon. In the fort’s quadrangle is a bronze plaque commemorating the execution of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and most of his cabinet in October 1983. This brutal action enraged the international community and prompted an invasion of USA-supported CariCom forces. Self-appointed PM Bernard Courd was arrested and thrown in the jail on the hill where he remains to this day. (Maurice Bishop was a Castro-inspired socialist with idealistic visions, but his methods were rough and dictatorial. Courd, a former party colleague, engineered a coup, but proved to be even rougher.)
Posters outlining the history of Fort George (initially built by the French in 1705) reminded us of how the Caribbean islands used to change hands: Grenada was originally annexed by France in 1650 (from the native Caribs, who were more or less annihilated), but Britain took over in 1763, France again in 1779 and British finally in 1783. Independence was declared in 1973, but the country remains a member of the British Commonwealth.
Monday 10th May in the afternoon we cleaned the mud and clay from the anchor, motored outside to drift along Grand Anse Bay and have a refreshing swim before hoisting sails for Trinidad. Shortly afterwards a succession of rain squalls with gale force gusts caught up with us and sent us spinning past the SW cape. The weather settled after an hour, but seas became choppy and the movements as rough as back in the North Sea last July. The reason is a long, shallow continental shelf and a lot of current south of the island. But shortening sails improved conditions inside, and in the wee hours of the morning is was almost comfortable. Dawn revealed the hills of Trinidad looming ahead, an oil rig and several large ships and to the west we could also make out the NE cape of Venezuela.
In the passage we had nearly two knots current against us and made painfully slow progress, but there was plenty to look at and entertain us; lush, green hillsides and lots of birds – the familiar laughing gulls, gannets, pelicans and frigate birds and – for the first time – large vultures. Suddenly we became aware of a high pitched noise. Engine problems? No, the infernal music was from cicadas on land! Just inside the passage we were met by five large dolphins, an encounter that always gives us a feeling of being welcome and never fails to make us happy!
Just before noon we tied up at the Customs & Immigration Dock at Chaguaramas. After a lot of paperwork we moved to a buoy outside Peake’s Yacht Services (PYS). At Peake’s we arranged for lifting out two days later on the 14th, a few days earlier than originally planned
The Chaguaramas area was originally an American naval base, but after they left it has developed into the biggest concentration of yachting and boating facilities we have seen so far on our travels. PYS is only one of several marinas catering for storage on land and repairs/maintenance, but there are also boat builders and a profusion of shops including chandlers and hardware shops. There are also sail makers, carpenters, engineers, welders, painters, and experts on refrigeration, electrics and electronics. The area is well kept and tidy, with hardly any litter (unusual for the Caribbean, I’m afraid). Around all this maritime activity is beautiful, wild rain forest as the area is also a national park.
While waiting for hauling out, we motored the two miles around the peninsula to the Carenage anchorage. This was rolly and uncomfortable at first but towards evening became beautifully calm as described in our guide. Then we also noticed a number of people fishing along the shore. They kept hauling in long, shiny fish, but we could not make out what kind exactly. Well, we soon found out, for as Diana and I took a row ashore to the yacht club a long, flat and shiny fish with large teeth suddenly jumped into the dinghy! (And Diana nearly jumped out!) But the fish met its end with a quick blow from the oar and was eaten for dinner next day (tasted OK, but too many small bones). The fish looks a little like a flat snake mackerel, but with the wrong tail. (We still do not know its correct name, if you recognize it from the picture, let us know!)
PYS proved to be as efficient and professional as their reputation, we were safely and quickly lifted out, pressure-hosed and placed beside other catamarans in the back of the marina. Diana and I stayed aboard while Eli moved into the small hotel run by the Bight Restaurant at the waterfront. So for the last few mornings we woke up to calls and songs from a variety of birds, including parrots and the yellow-breasted kiskadee – named after its characteristic call. In between a lot of boat work and packing these last days we did a little sightseeing. However, the centre of the capital Port of Spain late one Sunday afternoon had a lot of emaciated street dwellers and beggars and did not seem very inviting to us. But our trip to the Caroni Swamp was a real adventure. The ranger who drove the boat was excellent and pointed out many “hidden” animals in the mangroves and the brackish waters. – Among these were a large snake hanging above us in a ball, an ant eater that looked a bit like a teddy bear and a cayman (alligator) with only eyes and nostrils showing. But the main object of the trip, the scarlet ibis, national bird of Trinidad & Tobago, did not need pointing out! In the evening this brilliantly coloured bird returns from the beaches to roost in the mangroves; 15.000 in this area alone! With the red ibis also come flocks of white and blue herons, and with the bright green mangroves as a backdrop, the whole migration is a truly colourful spectacle.
Rain the final day was a nuisance, but by midnight and after a lot of hard work, the boat and we were finally ready. After a short sleep a taxi collected us at 4 am, so in the early hours of 19th May we patted White Admiral goodbye, see you 1st September!
BWIA brought us to Barbados where we had almost the whole day before the Virgin Atlantic flight to London in the evening. But Dora Herbert had kindly invited us to Port St Charles for lunch with some of her family, so in spite of yet more rain this turned out to be a most enjoyable day. Eli had a good sleep, Diana a long swim and a jog on the beach, I had a good work-out in the PSC gym and we all had an excellent lunch; thank you Dora!
Main event here in London has been the Ocean Rowing Society dinner Friday 21st. 100 people made it a capacity crowd at the distinguished Army & Navy Club, Pall Mall, and ORC Director Kenneth Crutchlow was in his element. The dinner was honoured by the presence of the Governor of Barbados and his wife. And we enjoyed meeting again nearly all the rowers we had seen leaving La Gomera Jan 20th , most of whom we also met again in Barbados. Two rowers missing, however, were Henry Dale and Louis Ginglo, who had only reached Barbados his week. (Louis as the last rower arrived the day before the dinner (to Kenneth’s great relief) after spending 121 days at sea! It was a night especially for the rowers and their relatives. Speeches and prizes were given, and we on White Admiral were also shown appreciation for our support.
That was two days ago. But yesterday also provided a special occasion for Diana and I. We left Eli to watch the FA Cup final, and secured last-minute tickets to the English National Opera were we saw The Valkyrie by Richard Wagner. It is our first live Wagner opera experience and it was amazing. With two intervals the performance lasted 5 hours. But there was never a dull moment as the drama, the music and the singing was enthralling, almost overwhelming. Afterwards, on our way to the Underground Diana and I walked hand-in-hand in the cool, clear night past famous landmarks like Trafalgar and Leicester Square, and lots of others enjoying London’s sights and shows by night. We talked in awe about our great musical event, and felt very privileged and happy to share such amazing experiences from such different environments as the Caroni Swamp and the English National Opera…
23 May 2004 by Stein & Diana

Monday, 3 May 2004

Grenada, 3rd May, 2004

Bequia and St Vincent
We left Barbados on13th April, sailing out into the sun-set, after a
farewell glass of champagne with Kenneth Crutchlow (director of Ocean Rowing Society), the boys from Kilcullen (the support boat), photographer Dixie and Matt Boreham (who had just rowed the Atlantic) with his family. Those not so pleased with us were the birds who were trying to make a nest in our radar reflector, they were whistling angrily above the cross trees as Stein cleared out their little branches for the fourth time – sorry, rainbirds! Port St Charles gradually disappeared astern, and our grateful thoughts went to director Thomas Herbert, who had been so kind to us for the past two months. A gentle, overnight sail in the trade-winds brought Bequia into view, an old favourite from past sailing trips. We anchored in the wonderfully sheltered Admiralty Bay on the West coast, right outside the Whaleboner restaurant run by old friends Albert and Angie Hinkson. Albert had been a patient of Stein’s in 1978 when we lived in Barbados, and it was good to see him at 78 still alive and well and working in the restaurant. He had got a new lease of life by becoming a grand-father! Our other friend in Bequia is Mariann Palmborg, she and ex-partner Peter have been living here since their yacht Fredag ran aground on a reef in the area almost 20 years ago. Apart from eating and chatting with old acquaintances, we took time for some walking on the island and were pleased to see that despite being a little busier, the place was not much changed. Admiralty Bay is still idyllic with colourful fishing and sailing boats on the beach (locally built, of course), and a rim of palm trees. Stein and I spent one day going to St. Vincent to do the wonderful walk over the now dormant volcano, La Soufriere. This I had done in 1996 on my own and I wanted to show Stein. We took the early morning ferry over to the rather chaotic capital Kingstown, found the right minibus up the east coast to where the trail begins, and off we went. The trail goes through banana plantations for abut an hour of brisk walking, then through luxurious rain-forests for anther hour, then over scrub-land above the tree line for abut half an hour. At the rim of the huge crater there is often rain and cloud, which was the case on this trip, and we were soaked with pelting rain as we peered down into the crater with its central mound. After walking around the crater edge, we had trouble finding the right path down, as there was no visibility, and when the path we chose ended up in shoulder high vegetation we had to grudgingly turn and tramp back up again. However, we were then rewarded with the clouds lifting and a fantastic view both into the crater and down to the west coast of the island. Once on the correct path, the descent went down through more luxurious vegetation to the beach on the west coast, a couple of miles north of the nearest road and even further to the nearest town and bus-stop. This last stretch was made easier by a wonderful cold beer at a roadside shack, and some friendly locals who let us sit on the back of their pick-up truck, which we gratefully accepted after the six-hour trek over the mountains. Then we took a minibus back to Kingstown and the ferry over to Bequia - a great day!

On Sunday, 18th April we moved on to Mayreau, another island we know well, this took about 4 hours in a nice easterly breeze. Anchored in Saline Bay, we took the steep walk up the hill to the little catholic church on top of the island. It must still be the church with the best view in the world! Here we met Father Mark, the priest and an enthusiastic protector of the environment. He gave us lots of information abut living conditions and danger to the ecology, and proudly showed us the new community centre which the islanders had built and named after his predecessor Father Robert Divonne, whom we had met on our first visits to the island in 1978 and 1979. This is a beautiful island, but the islanders are poor, with not much else to do than try to make a few dollars from the yachties and cruise-ships which visit.
To clear out of the St.Vincent Grenadines, we had to go to Union Island, previously not one of our favourite places, thanks to an open rubbish dump in town, and not too friendly locals. It is only an hour’s sail from Mayreau, which we did on the morning of 20th April. Checking out was simple, the place looked more colourful and tidy than on our previous visit, with the rubbish dump almost filled in, and nobody gave us any abuse. So our opinion of Union has improved!

Carriacou and Petit Martinique (Grenada Grenadines)
We did our shopping and moved on right away to Petit Martinique in the Grenada Grenadines, another hour’s brisk sail to the south. This is not a port of entry, but we heard that the authorities do not worry if boats spend the night here before checking in. This is a charming island, friendly people, lovely beach, and a pleasant hour and a half walk round the island, partly on the concrete road, and partly on a rather hard to find path a bit overgrown with prickly plants. Obviously not many people walk around! Eli sat in the garden of the Palm Beach restaurant and bar, enjoying a cold rum-punch and chatting to the proprietor Augustina Clement while we went walking. Afterwards Eli and I bought some extremely cheap clothes, which Mrs Clement buys through her daughter in Florida. This is the place to get a bargain, and I bought a dress to wear on my birthday for 30 EC dollars (about £7)!
The next day we checked into the country in Carriacou, after another hour of fresh sailing with just the genoa, anchoring off the beach at the main town of Hillsborough. The checking-in was time-consuming, with four offices to visit, and like most countries there is now a fee for cruising, we paid abut 90 EC dollars (abut £21) for a month’s permit. Carriacou is famous for its boat-building and we took a trip to the east coast to the town of Windward, where we could admire the wooden cargo boats (called “schooners” although they only have one mast) being built on the beach. Now they also build more modern sailing boats and fast boats with powerful outboards that whiz around everywhere (“pirogues”).
There is a lovely little tropical islet called Sandy Island with a few palm trees just outside Hillsborough, where we took a three-hour stop for swimming, snorkelling and pottering about, before moving to Tyrrell Bay, the larger bay in the south of the island where most of the yachts lie. This is a big, well-sheltered bay with a relaxed yacht-club (great callalou soup!), and a large new marina under construction. So there will be even better yacht facilities in the future, but whether it will be so idyllic is questionable.

Turning 60 in Grenada.
Time rushes on, and we had to leave Carriacou on the 24th April, as Elisabeth was due to arrive in Grenada the next day. This was a longer sail of 36 miles, which took seven hours, partly in pouring rain. We anchored in True Blue Bay on the south of the island very close to the air-port. As I stood at the arrival gate at Port Salines air-port, peering to see when Elisabeth would be coming out, suddenly I saw Robert standing grinning in front of me. This was a surprise visit arranged by Stein for my birthday, so it was great to have two of our children to celebrate with. (Would have been nice to have all three, but Martin was in Barbados a month ago.)
The rain which started on our sail to the island unfortunately has continued, so we have had the wettest week since arriving in the Caribbean, with torrential down-pours; seems like the wet season has started early this year. That has not stopped us having a great time together. We hired a car for two days and have ”done” the island as best we can, walking in the rain-forest, visiting a nutmeg processing station (felt like going back to the time of the industrial revolution) and a charming little chocolate factory, feeding the Mona monkeys, and admiring one of the many beautiful water-falls. Here the local boys offer to entertain visitors by jumping from the cliff down into the small pool under the fall. They were impressed, and so were we (and a little nervous), when Robert went up and did the same! A strange visit was to a disused airport, where a couple of old dilapidated Cuban planes lie as a monument to the political trouble here 20 years ago. We had the unusual experience of driving at full speed down the runway!
We did of course also do some sailing, moving to different anchor places, one more on the south coast at Martin’s Marina, then round the south west headland to Morne Rouge Bay, a lovely shallow anchorage, only suitable for multi-hulls, then into the lagoon at the capital St George’s. At these spots, we have walked, trained, swum, and Stein and the younger generation have used the second-hand wind-surfer we picked up in the Canaries. Elisabeth raced off on it, showing us that she has some experience and wanting more wind, and Robert quickly learned the basics, too.
The occasion that Elisabeth and Robert had come for was my 60th birthday on the first of May. Not much one can say abut turning sixty, except that it is great to be alive and well and enjoying life! We had a champagne lunch on board, with cards and presents and songs, and in the evening we went to the Laluna restaurant, which we had been advised was the best on the island.
This a hideaway, luxury resort on a little beach, with the restaurant overlooking the gentle surf and an unbroken horizon. As the sun went down, a big moon was up, the candles and fairy-lights came on, and it felt like a magical place. The menu lived up to its reputation, and with tender filet mignon, good wine and a heavenly coconut cream pie, life seemed pretty good at 60!
Yesterday we waved goodbye to the younger generation at the air-port and walked the few miles back to the lagoon where we are now anchored. We have some minor jobs to do, before we leave in a few days on our last sail for this season, down to Trinidad.

03 May 2004 by Stein & Diana

Sunday, 11 April 2004

11th April2004 Port St Charles, Barbados

It is a warm and beautiful Easter Morning here at Port St Charles, Barbados. The humming birds are zooming between the blue flowers lining our dock, a pair of fly catchers are twiddling happily (and dropping things!) from the mast head, and it is already 31 degrees inside three hours after sunrise. There is hardly a breath of wind, but the weather man on CBC radio promised some trade winds later... Diana and I have had a jog and a swim before breakfast, we have written some post cards and we are thinking about friends and family, and before I get a report written about the events these last two weeks, we’d like to send you all this Easter Card &
Greeting. Eli sends her regards from the Smyths at Joes River House, St. Joseph (East Barbados), where she is enjoying the luxuries of land life. She moves back aboard tomorrow before we head west towards Bequia on Tuesday 13th. Mariann in Bequia phoned today and wants to have a party when we arrive on Wednesday – great! But meanwhile,

Happy Easter and the Warmest of Wishes to you all, wherever you are. From Diana, Eli and Stein

Thursday, 25 March 2004

25rd March 2004 Port St Charles, Barbados

Nearly a month since our last update and we are still enjoying life in sunny Barbados in the lagoon at Port St Charles. One reason for our delay with this report is that both our laptop computers crashed within 3 days! A local data expert is working on them, and in the meantime we are using the Ocean Rowing Society’s computer. Our two main occupations this past month have been meeting rowing boats and looking after family. Martin, Camilla and little Hedda were here for 10 days from 4th March, which was a great pleasure for us, especially with this chance to get to know our little grand-daughter better. Like most two year olds she is a busy and demanding little girl, full of fun and curious about everything. We had our first children’s birthday party aboard, with balloons, presents, cake and birthday crown, the only thing lacking was other children! We enjoyed doing some baby-sitting, an easy task in the sunshine with both swimming-pool and white beach close at hand, while the parents relaxed and charged their batteries before facing the rest of the Norwegian winter.
Since meeting Queensdale, the fastes boat in the regatta (36 days) and the first four to row across an ocean, White Admiral has been out on five more missions to meet boats arriving. These were: Carpe Diem, the first pair to arrive, with a previous and present member of the British Prachute Regiment aboard, Against All Odds with an American/Zimbabwe pair, Linda with two Englishmen, Pacific Pete with the fist solo rower Sam, also the youngest person ever (23) to have rowed solo across an ocean, Marion Lviv with Pavel (65) from Ukraine, the oldest person to have rowed an ocean and Sea Slug with another young English pair. The most dramatic arrival was Linda, which capsized on Harrison’s Reef off the north-west coast of Barbados as we watched in horror! While I drove White Admiral outside the breakers, Stein took the dinghy with the outboard, and found a passage to the boys who were trying unsuccessfully to right their boat. Stein tried to help them do this, but it was not possible so with all three and the oars in the dinghy they towed the upside-down boat back to White Admiral and with all aboard, we continued towing it to the finish at Port St Charles. The boys and the vessel had minor injuries, but all electronic and most of the electric equipment was destroyed.
Stein also went out one evening with the American yacht Svoboda, to meet Stuart Boreham, the first disabled person to row an ocean. For details and pictures of these ocean rows have a look at www.oceanregatta.com or www.oceanrowing.com (go to Photos).
Another pleasure here has been seeing more of our old Barbadian friends. As well as the ones we mentioned in our last update, we have had a pleasant evening being treated by Stein’s old colleague Oscar Jordan and his wife Marsha, to a lovely restaurant meal a couple of meters from the Caribbean surf, and received more wonderful hospitality from Maureen and Doug Mackenzie, old friends from our fist visit to Barbados in 1977/78.
I plan to take a trip to Canada next week, when there will be a few days pause between boats arriving, to visit my 90 year old mum. We will move on from here in early April en route to Trinidad, via Bequia, the Grenadines, Carriacou and Grenada. We have now booked a place to leave White Admiral in Trinidad towards the end of May, and will return home to Norway and summer jobs when we are absolutely sure that the cold weather has gone!
25 Mar 2004 by Stein & Diana

Tuesday, 17 February 2004

February 17th 2004 - Barbados!

At 0910 local time, ie 1310 GMT we tied up at the immigration/customs jetty, Port St Charles! Position is N13 15,8' W 59 38,7'. We were quickly boarded by three officials, who completed a lot of papers, got the B$25 fee, joined us in an "anchor dram" and declared us officially entered in Barbados! Last night was rough, especially after about 2 am when we again had to reef down the genoa. Took the reef out about 5 am, only to have to re-reef about 7.30 when we got the strongest squalls yet: 37 knots from NE. Off the Arawak Cement factory and Harrison's Reef the wind died, so the last two miles in here we motored slowly while enjoying breakfast in still water for the first time since Mindelo and of course lapped up the lovely sight of this lush, green, beautiful island! Boat's been behaving very well throughout, the crew are all well, our Norwegian mobile phone seems to work also here (SMS should work on 004797179605, but we'll get a local phone card/no. asap).It's now 1310, we've had a little look around, said hello to Derek in the Administration and Ian at the bar, seen the Russian explorer Fedor's son Oscar and assistant Dimitri (Fedor Konyukhov's expected here tomorrow after yet another record-making sail), had a swim and a shower. And chatted to Martin Smyth on the phone. The other three are now off to Speightstown for fresh food for lunch while I will have a wee sleep (mine was the morning duty, also I did not sleep too well before that). Life is good!
17 Feb 2004 by Stein & Diana

Sunday, 1 February 2004

February 2004, Port St Charles, Barbados

Navigation is no longer an art, we knew exactly when Barbados would appear on the horizon, and as expected, on the morning of 17th February we had the delightful sight of the island on portside. The sea was rough as we got closer to round the North Point, with gusts up to 36 knots, so it was a relief to come into more sheltered water on the West coast, and even better to tie up at the Immigration jetty at Port St Charles. But before the sea settled and squalls still battered us we had the most amazing welcome from five large and playful dolphins. Two of the animals treated us to leaps high up in the air just in front of us. (Could they possibly be trained and employed with the Barbados Board of Tourism?!)
At Port St Charles three officers for immigration, customs and health came aboard, well-dressed and very formal, cleared us in with a lot of paper-work, but no problems, and after joining us in a glass of Norwegian aquavit to celebrate our arrival, relaxed and became very chatty and friendly. Later in the day, we were given a berth in the outer lagoon of Port St. Charles. This must be the best berth for a yacht in Barbados! It is a completely sheltered, aquamarine lagoon, with apartments for the rich in well laid-out tropical gardens. Thanks to our previous rowing, helping with the present rowing regatta from La Gomera and the kindness of one of the owners; Thomas Herbert, we have been given this free berth and use of all the facilities. So we are now enjoying a very privileged life, swimming in the pool, keeping fit in the excellent gym, and watching the sun set behind the palm trees with a rum-punch in hand. Beats going to work back home in frozen Norway!
It is also a pleasure to share this with our guests, first with our crew member Frode who was here for nine days, thanks to our fast passage from Cape Verde Islands. Together, we have driven around most of the island, visiting places we know well, and meeting old friends. Stein and I have worked in Barbados twice, in 1978-79 for just over a year, and again in 1988-89 for half a year. So we know the island well and have good friends here. So far we have visited Wendy and Harold Goddard, old sailors whom we met on our first circumnavigation in the Solomon Islands in 1981, and the Smyth family, who are faithful helpers of all yachties who come to the island, giving them weather forecasts on the amateur radio (The Caribbean Maritime Mobile Net) or by e-mail, and often inviting them to their lovely home on the East coast. Frode left us on the 26th, after nearly six weeks aboard, the perfect crew-member – experienced sailor, good fun, easy-going and helpful. The night before he left, he treated us to a second, splendid meal at the restaurant La Mer in the PStC complex, Eli having done the same on the first night ashore. And with the excellent food and service, good wines, and a table at the edge of the water, life seemed wonderful! Welcome back again another time, Frode!
While we are here, we will be meeting the rowing boats which come in, and the winner has already arrived, the four-manned boat Queensgate on the 24th February after a fast 36 day passage from la Gomera. Unfortunately they didn’t beat the record for the fastest row ever across the ocean of 35 days (but that was by 11 men!) but they are the first four to cross and have set a hard standard for future rowers. We took White Admiral a few miles up the coast to meet them, with Kenneth Crutchlow, director of he Ocean Rowing Society, a couple of journalists/film-makers and a few relatives aboard. It was quite moving to see the excited relatives shouting and waving to their loved ones, and follow the boys the last few miles into the harbour here.
Now we have my brother Jim from Toronto and his son Andrew aboard. The arrived from cold Canada yesterday and are just getting used to the shock of 30 centigrade in the shade and blazing sunshine. Next week we are looking forward to seeing our son Martin, daughter-in-law Camilla and grand-daughter Hedda who are coming for ten days.
We will probably stay here until about the end of March, as long as we feel we are not outstaying our welcome, to meet a few more of the rowing teams, and fully enjoy life on our Barbados; Island in the Sun.
28 Feb 2004 by Stein & Diana