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