We are now 18 hours into our three-day crossing from Grenada to Bonaire and we've set a course to keep us at least 30 miles north of the outlying Venezuelan islands en route. They had a bit of a reputation for piracy in recent years and, with the recent death of Chavez, we're not sure what the current political climate is like so we are taking no chances.
So far the voyage has been pretty good, once we got away from the wind-shadow cast by the hills of Grenada; we had fluky winds and confused, rolly waves for about the first 20 miles. As ever, it takes a while to acclimatise to life aboard a rolling boat, with all the sounds of the waves and the water rushing past the hull, so we didn't sleep that well in our four-hour off-watches. 'Stormvogel' has been within a mile of us all night so it's been reassuring to see their masthead navigation light twinkling in an otherwise fairly empty bit of ocean (just one huge oil tanker, 1400ft long, passed us); it's odd to think that we first sailed together across the English Channel back in September and what started as the 'Biscay Alliance' has turned into a very firm friendship. Anyway, as the night progressed, the boat steadied down and we are making good speed, with our Windpilot windvane taking care of the steering duties.
With Maunie pretty much sailing herself the duties of the crew are limited to keeping a good lookout and preparing meals, so we have plenty of time to think and talk. Those who have sailed with us before will not be surprised to hear that food is a top topic. We spent the last couple of days in Grenada buying food provisions for the voyage and were delighted to find some excellent fresh fruit, veg and meat. Grenada has lots going for it in the food area – rich volcanic soil, a really wet rainy season from June to December and no shortage of sunshine – so much of the produce is grown organically and is sold in the local markets. We also discovered a brilliant butcher who buys local beef, lamb, chicken and pork and produces cuts of meet far superior to the imported stuff found in the bigger supermarkets. The only problem is that the island is mountainous and much of it covered by thick, protected rainforest so there is a limit to how much food can be produced locally; as a result there's a lot of imported food, mostly from the States but some from Europe too.
With all the recent media coverage of the 'May contain traces of horse' debacle, we can only hope that more people will take a greater interest in where their food comes from and what's actually in it. The horsemeat story reached the Caribbean pretty much instantly in these days of global e-news. Two days after the story broke we were in the tiny Union Island, which belongs to Saint Vincent, where a small cafe offered Beef Lasagne as the daily special. Marie, the owner, is from Paris but has lived on Union for 14 years; she was quick to point out that the Lasagne was "definitely beef, not 'orse. How do I know zis? Well, zer are no 'orses on the island!" It was delicious.
Whether we like it or not, food is a global business dominated by multi-billion dollar companies with corporate shareholders demanding high yields on their investments so it shouldn't come as a great surprise to find that, every now and then, corners are cut and blind eyes are turned. Independent, local and farm-based businesses like Yeo Valley are becoming increasingly rare in this ultra-competitive world market but they offer a level of authenticity, traceabilty and provenance that consumers can trust.
Food brands are big business and we've found it fascinating (and depressing) to see which ones dominate the local markets in the places which we've visited. With the exception of France, we've found foreign brands in dominant positions in supermarkets, with the locally-produced offerings relegated to smaller areas of the shelves and fridges. The brand names don't always translate well, of course, so we've been amused to find the following ones on sale in various ports: Bonka coffee, Tosh crackers, Sulky nuts, Smucker's jams and Bimbo bread. We've also just tried an American yogurt called Axelrod, which sounds like a car part but tasted ok (though not to Yeo Valley standards, of course). Every now and then, though, it's refreshing to find a proper British brand that we love and respect so we were delighted to find Dorset Cereals on sale in Grenada.
It'll be really interesting to see what we find when we get into the Pacific – we'll stock up again in Panama City when we go through the Panama Canal in mid-April so we're sure to find a few more novel brands. Just hope they don't contain traces of horse.