Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Lobster BBQ and meeting the locals

We decided to move to a more sheltered anchorage yesterday afternoon after the wind direction shifted so we are now between the islands of Uchtupu Dummat and Uchutupu Pipigua. In the morning we'd asked some of the locals (bad Spanish and mime) if it was possible to buy some lobsters and ascertained that there would be no fisherman working today (Good Friday, of course); however the message obviously spread and, as we arrived in our new anchorage, a boat arrived alongside and we were invited to pick our lobsters from half a dozen crawling the floorboards.
So the original plan for a beach BBQ was revived and we went ashore onto Uchutupu Pipigua with our Cobb BBQ, chopping board, sharp knife and two nervous-looking lobsters. We'd consulted Rick Stein's wonderful book on how to tackle these armour-plated creatures (at least these ones didn't have the big JCB-type forward pincers) and his recommendation for painless killing was to pop them into the freezer for two hours. We don't have a freezer so Graham tackled the task, whilst Peter went back to collect Dianne, Heidi and the baked potatoes, with a stab to the head before splitting the lobsters for the grill. If you've never tried this, it is tricky work and not great fun (less so for the lobsters) but Graham had the additional pressure of one of the Kuna Indians standing beside him, watching the process with polite interest; he was delighted to take away the long front feelers (whether as a local delicacy or for use as dental picks, we don't know). Anyway, by the time the rest of the crew returned, the lobsters were ready for the BBQ, with a marinade of butter, garlic, herbs and lime and were absolutely delicious.
There are three families living on Uchutupu Pipigua (which is only 100 metres by 350 metres, completely flat and full of palm trees) and as we were cooking the meal about 8 children, from a few months old to about 15, arrived to check us out. Heidi was well prepared and had brought some little exercise books and a pack of coloured pencil so they were delighted with these. They were also keen to have their photos taken and to see the images on the cameras so we're going to take some prints ashore for them today. We got the clear impression that these islanders take great care of their home – the inevitable flotsam and jetsam on the windward coast is gathered and burned – and were happy for us to be there after we'd taken the trouble to introduce ourselves and check that it was ok. Life is incredibly simple on the island; there's a fresh water well but, apart from seafood and abundant coconuts, everything needed to live needs to be brought from the mainland or the bigger islands so we were asked by the older girls if we had any shampoo to spare (so we've searched out some little hotel bottles to take over).
All in all it was a pretty wonderful evening and the bottle of St Emilion (a birthday gift from Stromvogel) was enjoyed as the sun went down.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Graham bags an island

The San Blas islands are absolutely amazing and the Kuna people a really independent race. Yesterday we walked around one of the bigger islands
(about half a mile across, with a few shacks) and there was an old chap sitting in his dugout canoe on the beach mending his fishing lines. In Graham's best (terrible) Spanish we exchanged greetings, shook hands and discovered that his boat, which looked like it was built hundreds of years ago, was only about ten years old. In contrast, further along the beach was a shack with a family making and selling molas embroideries - the daughter (in her late teens) spoke a few words of English and, having ascertained that our boats were anchored within sight, handed us her mobile phone and charger with a request for an overnight re-charge! The traditional molas have also joined the computer age here as they buy neoprene zip-top computer cases on the mainland and sew their molas onto the front.
We are anchored safely behind a reef which stops the swell but gives us a nice cooling breeze across the deck. All around are proper desert islands so Graham bagged one yesterday that we all liked the look of. Admittedly its development opportunities are limited and, with global warming it'll probably disappear all together very soon, but for the moment it's Graham Island and we'll be back to hoist a flag on the solitary palm tree later.
Today is Graham's birthday so we hope to do a beach bbq this evening if we can find a local fisherman to supply the key ingredients. A pretty memorable spot to celebrate a birthday and we'll be snorkelling the clear water later this afternoon.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

San Blas Culture Shock

After all these weeks in the Caribbean islands where tourism is commonplace and home comforts can be found, albeit at a price, the San Blas islands come as a welcome and intriguing change. Although part of Panama, the islands are a self-governing state and the native Kuna Indians go about their uncomplicated lives (mainly based around fishing and agriculture) without pandering to the visiting foreigners in yachts (the place is off the more general tourist track, though a few small cruise ships do visit a tourist-orientated island a few miles along the coast). That's not to say that the locals don't come and try to sell you things, of course; within a couple of hours of arriving two women in a dug-out canoe arrived alongside and were quietly persistent in their sales pitch (not in English of course) for their beautifully hand-stitched molas (multi-layered embroidery for which they are rightly renowned). We had an entertaining half hour of viewing the range of molas (stuffed into a large plastic bucket to protect them from the not inconsiderable amount of water sloshing around in the bottom of the canoe) and bought two bags embroidered with brightly coloured fish designs.
Since the dug-out canoe is still very much the transport of choice here we decided to launch our inflatable kayak, rather than the dinghy and outboard, to go ashore to clear in on Porvenir. There's a tiny military outpost on the island, staffed by very bored Panamanian conscripts, and we discovered that the Immigration Officer wouldn't be here until tomorrow. However the charming Customs Officer gently relieved us of nearly $200 US for a Panamanian Cruising Permit then the tiny Kuna Council Officer (Peter and I must look like giants to the Kunas, who come runners up to the Pygmies in the world's shortness awards) took a further $30 for a San Blas Island permit; can't wait to find out how much the Immigration Officer will demand....
Formalities completed we explored the island fully. Ten minutes later, our exhaustive tour completed, we decided that food and beer would be a good idea and crossed the airstrip runway to the 'restaurant' (a wooden shack by the east beach); the smiling Kuna gentleman in the tiny kitchen produced deliciously-cooked fish with rice and lentils, accompanied by tins of Panamanian beer, for very little money. Everyone we have met has been friendly and welcoming and we've managed to communicate the basics in pigeon-Spanish as English is not spoken here.  Refreshed and replete we walked back to the quay to discover, to our delight, that the weekly floating supermarket had arrived from the mainland – an open boat stocked to the gunwales with fresh fruit and veg plus beers and soft drinks – so we had more entertainment selecting additional stores which were tossed up to us on the quayside (a new sport is born – Grocery Catch; just how much more fun would this be in Sainsbury's? Not only would it relieve the monotony of pushing the trolley around the aisles, it would improve the nation's hand-to-eye coordination and even encourage a new and better generation of cricketers). Our new purchases made for an excellent salad supper; we slept very soundly afterwards.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Safely into Porvenir, San Blas

Just a quick report to say that both Stormvogel and Maunie arrived at the tiny island of Porvenir (009 degrees 33.33 minutes north, 78 degrees 56.86 minutes west) at 7.00am local time. We've moved another time zone in this voyage so are now on GMT-5.
As reported in the last blog we had to keep our speed down overnight to arrive in daylight so sauntered along at 5 knots or so when we could easily have been doing 7. Even so, the average speed for the 682 mile passage was over 6 knots. Unfortunately whilst we arrived in the first light, we also coincided with a huge rain squall which reduced visibility to only 300 metres; at least it washed all the sticky salt off the boat. By the time we'd anchored, the rain had cleared and we have the beginnings of a warm if cloudy day.
Porvenir has a maximum altitude of about 2 metres above sea level and isn't really inhabited; there are a few huts and palm trees and it looks as though there is some human intervention going on to prevent the island from eroding away altogether. However it has a very small airstrip ( a relic of WW2 when the Americans built it) which takes up the full length of the island and so there is a Customs post here for us to clear in to Panama, once we've had a bit of a kip. The neighbouring island has wooden and tin huts crowded together along the water and we have already seen native Kuna Indians paddling wooden canoes and sailing small lug-sailed fishing boats. We can't wait to explore the islands.
There won't be wifi here so we'll continue to be reliant on the sat phone for emails and updates so that will limit our ability to add photos to the blog but we'll try to select a few pics over the next few days to give you and idea of the place.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

110 miles to San Blas - and what a difference a (decent) night makes

Spirits are high on board Maunie this morning thanks to some really good sleep at last. Yesterday evening the wind backed round to the NNE so we were able to reach (with the wind from our side rather than from dead behind) – and this mean that the boat was a lot more stable our bunk was an oasis of calm.
We are now just 110 miles from our destination and are in the unfamiliar position of trying to slow down. The islands ahead are tiny, surrounded by reefs and have no navigation lights so it's absolutely vital that we arrive in daylight. As a result we need to keep our speed below about 5.5 knots to get there after first light tomorrow (Wednesday) so we are reefed down as though ready for a gale when we only have a nice Force 5 to god-news text to contend with.
We had a good news text on the sat phone from Matt & Charlotte on Gallinago – the have fixed their gearbox and are on their way. They will head directly for San Blas so we hope that they will arrive when we are still in the islands (if not we'll rendevous in Panama). It'll be great to see them again and they must be very relieved to be sailing after so much time (nearly a month) in Grenada trying to resolve the problem.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Typically Windy

Since we've been in the Caribbean we have been tuning into the excellent daily weather forecast by a chap called Chris Parker; he broadcasts over the long range SSB frequencies from somewhere in Florida so we can hear it, sometimes through a fair bit of background noise, even down here off the Columbian coast.
He always describes this stretch of Columbian coastline, near Santa Marta at 75 degrees west, as 'typically windy' and last night it certainly was that. Actually the wind wasn't too much of a problem but the swell was awful. Poor old Maunie bucked and twisted and rolled over the big (3-4 metre) waves and poor old Graham & Dianne bounced grimly around the boat; sleep was near impossible. We were relieved to move further west of this typically ruddy uncomfortable zone this morning with the wind back to a more manageable Force 5 and the seas, whilst still inducing a fair mount of roll, are much more benign.
In spite of the conditions, though, we set the bread-maker into action last night, as well as the water-maker, so it was a reassuring, if incongruous, sensation to have the smell of freshly-baked bread, so reminiscent of life on land,  wafting through a boat that was doing everything possible to remind us that we were somewhere very different. We'll be glad to return to more sheltered waters.
Otherwise all's well here – we just crossed tracks with Stormvogel (both boats are on wind-vane steering so it's nigh-impossible to keep the same course) and she passed about 20 metres behind us. Rolling majestically.
Not much else to report apart from the increasing number of ships that we are sighting, heading to or from the Panama Canal. The waters will only get busier as we close in on Colon. We'll divert off the merchant vessel path to head to an island called Porvenir in the San Blas archipelago.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Surfin' Stormvogel

Stormvogel surfing the waves
The nice thing about sailing with another boat is that there's  an opportunity to get a perspective on the size of the waves that's more difficult to gauge from the motion of our own boat. This was taken this morning as Stormvogel encountered some particularly large rollers just behind us.

Bonaire to San Blas Day 3 - a bad night for the Flying Fish

Hello from 12 degrees 26 minutes north, 72 degrees 42 minutes west – or 34 miles north west of Peninsula de la Guajira, Columbia.
We had a pretty good night though, as the forecast predicted, the wind increased to Force 6 (about 22 knots) and the waves increased in size, making the task of the windvane self-steering systems more challenging. On Maunie, Winnie the Windpilotdid a sterling job of keeping us on course but Peter on Stormvogel reported that his Hydrovane windvane steering struggled with the conditions so he had to revert to the battery-draining electrical autopilot and even that didn't like the conditions much. We both had to perform gybes (turning the boats so that the wind direction moves from one aft quarter to the other, involving lots of deck work to rest the sails and yankee pole) but there was bright moonlight to work in so it all went pretty smoothly.
This morning has dawned with a perfect blue sky which is good news as our solar panels can get on with the job of silently recharging the batteries after the night when navigation lights as well as the navigation instruments and cabin lights impart a heavy load. We've got into the routine of running the diesel generator for just an hour after nightfall to ensure we have enough power reserves for the night, which is way better than the three or sometimes four hours a day we had to run it on the Atlantic crossing when we didn't have the solar panels.
After breakfast Dianne, who had done the 03.00 to 07.00 watch, retired to her bunk and so a spot of boat tidying and a shower are on the agenda for the skipper this morning. Wind has dropped a bit and the waves are smaller and more regular than last night so we 're making much more comfortable progress.
Finally we have some deaths to report, I'm afraid. Last night was a bad one for Flying Fish, of which there are hundreds around here. The bigger ones have a flying range of up to 200m and go at a helluva speed but unfortunately if there happens to be a boat in the way they don't appear to be able to take avoiding action. Dianne was hit in the back by one on her watch and this morning we threw 8 rather whiffy corpses over the side. They'd either flown aboard or been washed aboard in a wave so ended their days on the side decks.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Bonaire to San Blas, day 2

We're making good progress but this is a relatively long (680 mile) passage so we'll be at sea for 5 days.
Our last full day in Bonaire saw us hire bikes to cycle around the southern half of the island. In hindsight, we were a tad optimistic given that the only ones available were sit-up-and-beg Dutch city bikes so we were pretty exhausted by the end of the 30 mile trip. The island is very arid and the road back through the centre felt like Mexico, with cactus all around.
So far our sail has gone pretty well. Last evening it was enlivened by a close encounter with, first a pod of dolphins under our bows and then a super tanker at sea. Bonaire has a huge Venezuelan-owned oil storage terminal on its north west coast and so there are several tankers waiting for the right price on the spot market to go and load up for world exports. The water is far too deep for them to anchor so they shut down their engines and drift slowly northwards away from the island until their receive orders to load. Normally we'd go nowhere near the sharp end of a tanker but we radioed this one and he confirmed he wasn't under power so we passed about 300m ahead of him.
As we write, we are north of the Venezuelan / Columbian border and we'll stay in deep water, following the 1000m depth contour, as we turn left a bit down towards the Panama coastline and the beautiful San Blas islands. The coast around Santa Marta, Columbia, has a reputation for being windy so we'll have a couple of bumpy nights ahead, though the forecast looks pretty steady. All being well we'll arrive on Wednesday morning.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Diving Bonaire

WOW!!! Clear water and bright colours even at 18m depth, with around 200 different species of tropical fish on the reef. No need to use a boat - you just walk in to the sea and there it all is. The water was warm (26 degrees) so Dianne snorkeled above us and spotted a large Black Spotted Ray. Brilliant!

It's a real shame that we don't have time for more but we must press on - we leave tomorrow, missing the equally lovely island of Curacao, for a 680 mile passage to the San Blas islands, just 80 miles east of Colon (the start of the Panama Canal). 

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Blue Water, Boats and Bird-life in Bonaire

Here are a few photos from Bonaire (if the very slow wifi will cope!). Today we walked around town and north past all the moored yachts; our original plan to hire bikes was thwarted by the very special business hours the hire place keeps but hopefully we'll do that on Thursday. Meanwhile we've booked a dive and snorkel tomorrow afternoon. Mind you, just snorkeling around Maunie is pretty special - lots of tropical fish and the sea goes very dark just behind her as the depth plummets very quickly.

Maunie and Stormvogel moored off the beach

There is a lot of interesting widlife here - on our walk we came across some huge brightly coloured lizards, Egrets (we've had a few), a Pelican and various Waders and Terns.

Down at the salt flats to the south there are Pink Flamingos so we can't wait to see them.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Safely arrived in Bonaire, albeit with a toast-related injury

We arrived in Kralendijk, Bonaire, at around 03.00 today so, once we had rounded the southern tip of the island, we had a nice reach up the west coast. The island is low-lying, unlike all the Windwards we've visited, so we had flat water but a nice steady Force 5 in its lee. Of course it was dark so we were trying to work out the coastline as we sailed up towards the lights of the town. Once again, the amazingly well-matched boats meant that Maunie and Stormvogel were only 3/4 of a mile apart after 400 miles of sailing so we both set about looking for mooring buoys off the town beach; we have a powerful hand-held searchlight so we eventually found two vacant moorings together and by 4.00am we could crash into our bunk delighted to have a non-moving boat once again. We were pretty exhausted so only woke up at 10.30 and have been into town (very Dutch) to clear in with the authorities and to check the quality of the Amstel beer.
Overall it was a very good passage – 403 miles in 61 hours so an average of 6.6 knots and a best 24-hour run of 158 miles. As ever we sailed safely and fast but have to report an injury; Graham sustained a very painful blow to one of his toes in a bizarre toast-related incident. Dianne had just made a round of toast for breakfast yesterday morning and almost, but not quite, dropped it on route to the cockpit as Maunie lurched off a big wave; she let out an involuntary scream as it happened which woke Graham from his snooze causing him to fall off the cockpit seat and bashing the said toe in the process. Very nasty bruising and lots of pain but Dianne now promises not to do it again, after, of course, providing first class medical treatment.
So we're delighted to be here. As promised the water is crystal clear and it's really warm. We'll post some photos once we've explored further.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

110 miles to go - and the Axelrod fails the bounce test

The perils of handling yogurt in a rolling boat!
Good morning from 21 degrees 21 minutes north, 66 degrees 26 minutes west. (about 30 miles NNE of the Venezuelan island of Puerto El Roque).
Well, this is proper Tradewind sailing alright – the wind's behind us so the yankee foresail is poled out to starboard and the mainsail is out to port, with a preventer line to stop the boom swinging as we roll. Winnie the Windpilot has done an admirable job for the past two days so we haven't had to touch the steering wheel at all. There's a reasonably large swell (about 2 metres) and every now and then Maunie does an unpredictable lurch, one of which caused the pot of Axelrod yogurt to go flying as we were making breakfast this morning. Actually, that has probably been the most dramatic event of the past day or so and Dianne complains that her last night watch (04.00 to 08.00) was boring as she had nothing to do and no ships to avoid.
It's quite a contrast to our Atlantic crossing where we had to contend with rain squalls, gales and then flat calms but, with just two of us aboard now rather than the ARC crew of four, we're not complaining. We've now settled into our watch pattern so yesterday Dianne stood the 08.00 to 14.00 watch, Graham did the 14.00 to 20.00 then Di had 2 night watches (20.00 to midnight and 04.00 to 08.00); the pattern automatically reverses so the next night Graham gets the two night stints. The watches tend to leave you feeling a bit jaded (4 hours sleep, if you can manage to nod off, is enough time to get into a really deep slumber so it's not great being awoken from it) but we can just about keep awake during the night watches (Graham resorts to podcasts on the iPod if it's a struggle to stay alert).
The favourable current which was pushing us along at nearly 2 knots yesterday seems to have left us now but we're still making around 6.5 knots towards Bonaire, via a waypoint which keeps us clear of Venezuelan waters. Overall, helped by the tide, we are several hours ahead of schedule so at the moment it looks as though we'll arrive in the very early hours of Monday morning. Our plan was to come into the port of Kralendijk in daylight so we may have to stooge around a bit. The normal course of events would be to anchor in the shelter of the island, well away from other boats and obstructions, to await daylight but the whole coast of the island is a designated Marine Part so anchoring is strictly forbidden to avoid damaging the coral and other aquatic life; we'll play it by ear when we get there.
Missed the rugby yesterday so please let us know the result of the England – Wales match! BBC World Service didn't mention it when we last checked! Happy St Patrick's Day to our Irish readers. If the wind was less we'd be flying our 'Irish Flag' – Maunie was originally an Irish boat (Maunie of Baltimore) so her cruising spinnaker is in the green, white and orange of the national colours!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Skirting the Venezuelan coast and thinking about food without traces of horse

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.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Leaving Grenada

Today, sob, is our last day in lovely Grenada. We're about to dinghy ashore to clear out with the Customs office and to meet Harry the driver from 'Meat and Meet', a wonderful butcher's and deli based in Whisper Cove, further along the coast. We went there yesterday so our delivery of local chicken, beef and eggs will arrive ready to go straight into the fridge aboard.

After going alongside the little Prickly Bay Marina for some diesel and water we'll set off for Bonaire at about 1.00pm. The voyage is 400nm so will take us just under 3 days so we should arrive in there on Monday. Very sadly, Matt & Charlotte can't set off with us today; after waiting for parts for their gearbox to be sent from Sweden, a whole new gearbox was supplied and fitted under warranty yesterday but Matt reports a 'chattering' noise which the mechanic isn't happy with. So they have more frustrating waiting but will, we hope, catch up with us in Panama.

So it's Maunie and Stormvogel together again for an ocean passage. We'll update the blog from sea.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Preparing for the next voyage

Well Grenada is lovely and we can see why lots of cruising yachts get her and just stay. However, we need to be moving west so hope to be setting sail for Bonaire at the end of the week. So as well as sorting out food supplies, we've been working through the inevitable list of boat maintenance jobs - servicing the water-maker and generator and replacing or repairing anything that looks as though it's getting towards the end of its serviceable life.

Whilst we were in the marina we took the opportunity to take most of the mainsail down onto the pontoon so that we could do a few running repairs with the sewing machine. We also unpicked the stitching on the sprayhood (a very tedious job) to replace the velcro that fixes a cover to protect the windscreen from harmful UV when we aren't sailing - the same UV had destroyed the velcro's ability to stick, so we have had to make a set of extra little covers to save the new velcro from the same fate! It's amazing how destructive the sun can be here.

It's been an expensive month; the boat insurance renewal has just come through (ouch) and we've splashed out on a new outboard engine for the dinghy. The little 3.5hp was nice and light but struggled a bit with the wight of our big dinghy and in the Pacific we'll be doing long dinghy rides from the anchorages. In Grenada you can still buy new 2-stroke engines (no longer sold in the UK or US) which are much lighter and simpler to maintain than 4-strokes so we now have a splendid 9.8hp Tohatsu which allows the boat to zip around at high speed even fully loaded. Hopefully a fellow yachtie is coming across to buy the old engine from us this evening. Once we get past Panama the spending should stop as, basically, there will be very few places to part with money!

In between all the work we're managing to relax, you'll be relieved to know, and have met some really nice people. Next to us is a Fowey-based Sadler 34 called Jon Jon (we recognised the boat from our visits to Fowey) and further along is another Vancouver, the baby-sister to Maunie at just 27ft, which sailed across the Atlantic at the end of last year. 

Peter and Heidi on Stormvogel arrived here on Sunday with their friends Gabbi and Uwe aboard (who fly home today) and so we'll sail in company with them to Bonaire and Panama; in the meantime it's been great to catch up with them and compare experiences of cruising the Grenadines. We're just waiting for news of the third boat of our little west-bound  fleet, Gallinago. They have had gearbox problems but the new parts have arrived from Sweden so hopefully they will be back in action by the end of the week.

We'll certainly miss the local food here. Yesterday we had the local speciality known as 'Oil Down'; curried chicken with breadfruit (texture a bit like dense potato), callalou (similar to spinach) and plantains (firm-textured fruit which look like bananas but are only for cooking). It was absolutely delicious, very filling and cost only $EC 20 (about a fiver). We are now doing daily work-outs on the foredeck to try to get fit again!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

A tour of Grenada

We have discovered that there are a lot of yachts in the various sheltered anchorages of Grenada who arrived for a couple of weeks and are still here, in some cases years later. As a result there's a very active cruisers' community so if Mexican Dominoes, bingo (yes!) or Hashing (following a trail, running or walking, through interesting terrain) is your thing, then there will be people here with whom to share your interest. Every morning there is a Cruisers' Net on the VHF which, apart from sharing useful information like the weather forecast, allows local businesses to advertise their services.

One such service is Cutty's Island Tours so we joined 11 other yachties from the US and Australia for a full-day's tour of the island which included the rain-forest, a swim in a waterfall, a visit to a nutmeg processing station, a distillery and an organic cocoa plantation which makes rather splendid high-octane dark chocolate. Here are some photos of the day:

The view over St Geoge's - the building in the foreground is the prison. During Hurricane Ivan the roof blew off and most of the inmates escaped!

 The Governor General's mansion, wrecked by Ivan

A refreshing shower in the Annandale waterfall

One of the wild monkeys in the Etang national park (originally brought over from Africa)...

 ... not so wild, now! They have learnt that posing for the camera earns them bananas.

 More Ivan damage - one of the churches up in the mountains

The Rum Distillery:

The waterwheel powering the sugar cane crusher at the River Antoine rum distillery - the production process hasn't changed for a century

 A health & safety officer's worst nightmare - open gears and chain drives and one of the workers standing in the crusher to feed the cane through!
 The crushed cane - some is burnt to boil the sugar syrup, the remainder goes back to the fields as mulch
 The four coppers. The cane juice is moved from the nearest (cool) to farthest (near boiling) to concentrate it ready for 7 days' fermentation followed by distillation.

 Transferring the juice from one copper to the next using, essentially, a saucepan on a long bamboo pole!

 The stills are wood-fired and produce a 75% alcohol white rum!

The Belmont cocoa plantation:

A ripe cocoa pod. The beans inside are white and soft and taste vaguely of citrus at this stage.

 Kelly, our very entertaining guide

 Turning the beans in the drying racks the traditional way - with your feet!

 The new drying racks, under poly-carbonate shelter. The beans take about 7 days to dry and are raked (by hand, not foot) and turned every hour or so during the day.

Our guide, Cutty. He was hugely knowledgeable and would stop, dash into the undergrowth and return with herbs, leaves, fruits and vegetables for us to smell and taste. His tours are highly recommended!

As you'll imagine we don't really want to tear ourselves away from this lovely island but the clock is ticking and we need to be heading west. We'll do a final run to the good supermarkets and hope to be heading for Bonaire (a four day sail) sometime mid-week, weather permitting. 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Diving and snorkeling the Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park

We spent our last morning in Port Louis on an underwater adventure - we signed up for a dive / snorkel around the coast at the Underwater Sculpture Park. It's absolutely fantastic - have a look at the website

Dianne was able to snorkel and look down on Graham and divemaster Ron diving around the sculptures below her. The park was teaming with fish though the first dive on a reef about a mile to the north was really spectacular from a wildlife point of view and Di was able to snorkel the shallow reef whilst Graham dived to around 50ft. The snorkeling was probably just as spectacular, if not more so, as the colours darken very quickly as you dive deeper.

Here are a few photos (from Google so they are a bit low-res) to give you an idea - we loved it!

We have now moved around to the south coast of the island to a very sheltered anchorage called Prickly Bay. The excellent De Big Fish restaurant (no prizes for guessing their speciality) provided a great supper last night and so we're back for roti lunch! We'll do a tour of the island in the next couple of days (the rainforest and waterfalls are spectacular) and then do some serious food shopping in readiness for our next voyage. After all the relaxed cruising we have to get ourselves back into the mindset of long-distance passage-making so we're working through the boat to make sure everything's in order - our very expensive dyneema (a non-stretch Kevlar rope) halyard that keeps the foresail hauled up and tensioned was showing signs of chafe so the sailmakers / riggers have it to repair.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Diving course completed and the novelty of a marina

Sorry for the delay since the last blog; there has been a lot going on!

Graham completed his PADI Open Water Diver course on Wednesday with two consecutive dives (to about 17m and 11m) with his brilliant instructor Conny. Apart from  having to undertake more skills tests (including the simulation of running out of air),the dives provided ample opportunity to see two Hawskbill Turtles at close quarters, a Nurse Shark and a huge variety of fish and lobsters. It was great fun and the very structured leaning process of the course seemed to work very well. If you are ever in Carriacou, we can heartily recommend Conny and Georg at Arawak Divers - their underwater photos are amazing too and there are a few brilliant ones on their website

With a final day in Tyrrel bay to recover from all the excitement and to snorkel around the boat to scrub off the weed that was growing on the propeller in the nice warm water) we had a really wonderful 30 mile sail south to Grenada in pretty much perfect conditions. The route takes you within a couple of miles of an active underwater volcano called Kick 'em Jenny which last erupted in 1939 but has rumbled every now and again ever since. We saw no bubbles or steam so made it safely to the capital port of St George's.

The anchorage outside the port looked very calm but, after a month of anchoring we actually fancied the novelty of a couple of nights in a marina so motored into the very smart Camper & Nicholson Port Louis Marina. By Caribbean standards it's a bit pricey but is still cheaper than most UK marinas and is very well run. It was nice to be able to step ashore without inflating the dinghy, fitting the outboard and finding somewhere safe to tie up and we had an excellent and relaxed supper of some very good stone-baked pizzas.

 Today we've been into town to explore and to buy fresh fruit and veg from the vibrant, noisy but very friendly market (above). Lunch at a little Italian-run bistro (where we were the only customers) was delicious and the National Museum was fascinating, if a bit shabby and lacking in any modern history information (the US invasion is limited to a glass case containing a few spent rounds of ammunition and a paratrooper's beret).

The town has been comprehensively rebuilt after if was hit by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 but there are still buildings with no roofs and lots of damage as a reminder. However today it's busy, noisy and great fun - a nice change after all the quiet anchorages of the past few weeks. We'll stay a couple of days then go back to anchoring in one of the many deep, sheltered bays at the south of the island. Our plan is to leave around the 12th (having re-provisioned and completed a few maintenance jobs) head to Bonaire (fantastic diving!!) and on to Panama. 

A few photos of St George's follow.