Thursday, 13 March 2008

Ain’t this the truth…………..

Loved this sign...
So here we sit with turquoise water lapping at the pontoon as a, not too, gentle breeze ruffles the water. A reef extends across the near horizon protecting us from the pounding surf as we rest up after our 5 day trip across the Caribbean Sea to the Dominican Republic. It could almost be idyllic……………….
We left Trinni on 4th Feb much to the surprise of the Customs who couldn’t believe anyone would leave the day carnival started but both us and our close mates, Pete and Lucia, were separately heading out. They were bound for Grenada and us for Martinique. It was always going to be a tough trip as the wind would constantly head us and the current was compounding the misery by pushing us to the west. Well we tried and we tried but as day turned to night and back again I felt my resolve weakening. We heaved to for breakfast which was when I noticed the line attached to the traveller had badly frayed. As this line operates via a sheave on the end of the bowsprit it meant I needed to shin along it like some sort of geriatric trapeze artist(eat your heart out Kevin!) with new line in hand whilst Bee controlled my rate of fall by keeping me securely attached to the boat with the foresail halyard. I realize as I write this that many reading this will not have a bloody clue what I’m on about but as this is a ramble not a text book-tough. If anything really interests you copy and paste the section to us and we’ll explain!! Anyway we got it sorted and tightened up the bobstay whilst we were at it and took the decision to abandon Martinique and head for Grenada. Of course because we weren’t going there we had given our “new’ and fairly up to date charts to our aforementioned friends leaving us with a 25 year old B&W photocopy to work our way into Prickly Bay about 10pm. We got in with no mishap, the only niggle being yotties who have expensive boats at anchor but are too “cool” to have an anchor light on. ‘course the next morning P&L came across, took us ashore, loaned us the money to clear customs and immigration and had us heading out to an anchorage someone had mentioned to them. Actually they’d told them it was pretty useless as there weren’t any boats at anchor…..!! Port Egmont is a largish hurricane hole. The mud is good and clingy, it has no marina and whilst the enclosing hills are now being built upon and the area being developed, for both of us we were made up with the place as we had it to our selves. True at the end of nine days another boat came in but as we were leaving the following day it was no big deal. Ten years ago it will have been wonderful and whilst, for us, the development has spoilt it somewhat at least many of the houses belong to local families and not just winter homes for Brits. So whilst we were there we’d catch a bus into St George, the capital, or ride our bikes into the place. Grenada is not flat by the way so riding represents a serious amount of exercise!! It was whilst we were in St G that Bee discovered a local bakery that sold cheese crozzys and decided they should become a staple part of our diet. Luckily whenever we frequently returned they either had few left or had sold out. Part of the reason for spending so long there was to sit out a serious amount of strong winds that were heading across Grenada and once they eased we headed out along the south coast and up the west coast for another anchorage for the night. We had just got ourselves comfortable settled when we noticed the distinct and unmistakable shape of a sunken boat directly underneath us. Luckily Pete dived down and realised it was the bottom of an old RIB and no real problem. As evening fell we were joined by another boat that we had last seen in Graciosa- Tony and Chris who now live on the Guadiana on the Portuguese side. 

The following day we all left or we did after I’d freed up the throttle/gear lever which had gummed up with salt water. Destination was Carriacou about 35 miles to windward. I’ve written before about going to windward and how, for us, it represents the pits. Actually that’s true of most cruising folk but those blessed with ketches and in particular gaff ketches with long gaffs it represents a long day of despair. We motor-sailed the whole distance and still took the best part of 14 hours which included crossing an underwater volcano with an official exclusion zone…… Some boats were more willing to avoid the area than others. We arrived at the anchorage in the dark of course, although by this time Pete had kindly returned the pack of charts we had passed across to them in Trinni!! We dropped anchor at the back and then ate and slept before moving further in the following day. Carriacou is a pretty neat place and is, of all the islands we have seen, the most unspoilt. The bay had more than just the usual white plastic boat and we spent a few days visiting and being visited by a variety of people. Martin and Roma arrived and entertained us to FAR too much too drink and kept us up until the early hours and I spent a few hours with a 70 year old American who lives on a 60 foot Danish fishing boat and designs the most amazing houses for people. Not a square wall or corner to be seen but curves and arches abound. They really are something else. His other claim to fame as far as I’m concerned is he managed to persuade me to drink rum something I’d not done since 1966………. And the other couple who we became close to were Glenn and Ulrike. He rowed over to ask if we were someone else and we got chatting about DR and Haiti etc. The following day he rowed over with 3 hand drawn chartlets, complete with lat/long references of where to go.  Having used the DR one to get into here I can vouch for its accuracy. 

Of course both Pete and Lucia were leaving at the same time as Glenn and Ulrike and the latter were up and away before we had time to really say goodbye and then P&L were heading off and the crews of each boat waved a forlorn and tearful adios as we wondered when we would next see them.
We left a few days later with the intention of heading for the DR but thought we might just nip back down to Grenada and surprise G&L and hand over the lanolin I’d promised. Had a fast sail back down and eventually tracked them down to another quiet anchorage. Boy, were they surprised to see us. Not least because from where they were sat it looked as though we were going to pile up on the reef….remember those charts that had gone back and forth between us and Pete…well they were back with him again. But we didn’t hit the reef and enjoyed the few days we spent there with them. ‘ course it also gave Bee the chance to hit the bakery in search of cheese crozzies.

But time moves on and we had begun thinking of those wonderful northern anchorages that delight us so much and on 29th Feb we headed out from Hog Island, roared along the south side of Grenada yet again and then shaped our course for La Romana in the DR. Whilst we’d been in Hog someone had suggested a change to the gaff vangs that seemed to make sense and so I tried it out. The net effect was it seriously loosened the mizzen lanyards to the point that Bee was convinced the mast was about to fall down. Heaved to and dropped the main, changed the vang and then re-tightened all the lanyards. So that’s about 3 hours work there! Anyway it was blowing a bit and we thought we’d not bother with the main but just use the reefed mizzen, stays’l and #2 foresail. We had one of the best sails of our life. True the current was pushing us sideways but we still covered 110 to 130 miles a day, the boat remained stable and comfortable and the small sail areas made everything very easy. Not until we rounded Saona Island and the wind died did we bother with the main. A brilliant sail and it more than made up for the beats to windward.
Approaching La Romana we were a bit cagey to say the least. The only chart we have is a passage chart and therefore no use for close coastal work. We do have CMap on a computer that we’re able to use and looking at this suggested loads of water but no readily available anchorage. As we got nearer the clouds began to build up behind us and the wind strengthened. We headed toward the entrance with just the stays’l up and the engine running. The entrance was partially blocked or certainly reduced in width by a cruise liner moored up to the harbour wall and it was this combination of factors added to a sea beginning to run into the entrance that decided us and we turned and headed out for an adjacent island. The clouds came on rapidly and we were to be seen scrambling desperately into full oilies to escape the worst of the torrential rain. It came and went in short time and we rounded the island to find half a dozen charter yachts at anchor off a glorious beach populated by empty sun-beds ( a sight that reminded Bee of the war graves in France). Even with the rain the lack of punters on them didn’t make sense but what the heck we dropped anchor and still flying the Q flag we ate and kipped out, exhausted from the last 24 hours (when you first enter a country you need to fly a yellow flag-the letter Q-indicating you have just arrived a need to clear in). Before we slept we had looked at the weather that had come in on Navtex and found we were about to get a couple of combined fronts much as Britain is getting at the moment and decided we’d make an early start and get to Boca Chica before everything went pear-shaped. As we weighed anchor we noticed another cruise liner approaching the island and realised the purpose of the sun-beds. A lucky escape. The trip here was ok and the entrance moderately taxing. However the water is pretty stunning, enough for me to get caught out and find myself having to back off quite hard to get off the sand. The anchorage is no longer it seems as a new marina has been built, buoys laid down and whilst there are few cruising boats here (two) it seems a reasonable spot. It isn’t our style that’s for sure but DR itself is an amazing country. The people have been wonderfully friendly, advising us what stop to get off the bus, flagging down buses going the opposite direction and getting them to drop us off at the correct spot. 

 The marina staff try very hard and succeed in making you feel welcome and certainly the quality of fruit and veg is high, plentiful and cheap. At 66 pesos to the £ and 34 to the US$ we have bought avocado the size of small balloons for 25 pesos, 4 huge peppers for 100 pesos, a pineapple for 25pesos and a water melon the size of a rugby ball for 60pesos
The area we wandered around reminded me of the Ridley Road market in Dalston in the fifties. Except a hundred times or more vibrant, with an amazing cacophony of noise from competing traffic, street vendors and loudspeaker systems. We’d pass stalls heaped with shoes-hundreds of different pairs seemingly piled on top of each other, stalls selling nothing but underwear all interspersed (the stalls not the underwear) with a guy selling dvd’s. 

 Wandering between all this – apart from the punters – were guys striding around selling small items from trays, women with large plastic bowls crammed with peeled oranges and small children toting small house shaped boxes who worked as shoe shine boys. You might think there would be little call for this in a nation where most people wear flip flops or trainers but we saw a young kid vigorously buffing some dudes trainers in an effort to improve his punters street cred. As the, apparently, only representatives of the white race for miles we experienced no harassment or hard sell and we simply wandered around collecting the shopping we needed, which included large ½ gallon pots of drinking yoghurt. I mention this – the harassment not the yoghurt- as by one of those curious coincidences that have a knock on effect we met up with Bee’s brother Paul yesterday. He is on a cruise with his wife Keren and her parents. They had sent us a text saying they would be in the DR at the w/e so we met up. Of course had we not backtracked to Grenada to see Glenn and Ulrike we would have been long gone from here when the text arrived. Interestingly their experience has been one of hassle as the cruise ship organises trips to tourist spots and touts abound. Guess there is a moral in there somewhere…..And a further glorious benefit was an email from P&L saying they hope to be in Haiti soon, meaning we may well meet up with them before we both head north. There is a down side to life in the DR - it takes a little getting used to seeing security guards sat outside buildings armed with pump-action shot guns, of power-boats being driven at 30 knots plus through the moorings and the music which is pumped out at very high volumes. Not just bars but small grocery stores seem to have a need to block the doorway with large speakers, music at volumes so loud that conversation is impossible. But that aside, we feel very positive about the place.
So tomorrow we head out for Ile d’Vache a small island off the SW coat of Haiti. Frank, the part owner of this marina, describes the place as“National Geographic 1950” so we’re looking forward to a bit of piece and quiet before the next bash.