Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cleaning purging and dragging - fun and games at St. Georges anchorage

This week is supposed to be all about planning, organising, cleaning, preparing. We’re hosting a full family of guests on the weekend.
We took a trial run of where we’d sail and what we’d show our visitors, and all went well.
Now we’re back in Grenada, anchored outside the main city, St. Georges. At night you can fool yourself into believing there’s a huge metropolis out there, with all the lights. The truth is that it’s a sleepy little harbor town with a big boat yard and a cute little market behind a bustling bus station. 
St. Georges port city, Grenada
Being here allows us to refuel, fill the water tanks, get cleaning supplies and provision food for the trip next week.
We’ve got to defrost the freezer, clean all cabins and heads (washrooms), get new sheets, floor rugs, service the engines, and finally seal the escape hatch windows.
That last items sounds a bit scary. To explain: Lagoon Cats, along with the clever design of engines under the aft beds, have interior, down-facing window/hatches in the same cabins, that provide a lovely view of the turquoise water below. Their true purpose however, is to open if and when your catamaran has capsized and you need to escape.
Standard older Lagoon escape hatch window in aft cabins
Now you might ask, why would we be sealing those up?! The simple answer is that they leak. Whenever we are out in big seas, salt water leaks in and creates a little annoying pool of water in our bedroom, on the side shelf.
New Lagoons have been designed with this bottom facing window completely sealed. There is an ominous looking hammer beside it, so there is no confusion as to it’s real purpose.
So, once JW agreed to put a hammer down beside these hatches, I agreed we could/should seal them up. I am trying with all my might to keep the visual of requiring these at any time from my mind!
So this morning started off quite productively. JW opened and cleaned the rims of the escape hatch in preparation for sealing with silicone. Then I stripped the bed, in preparation for JW to service the engine.
Minutes later he had lifted the engine cover board and I spun round asking,
“Where’s the sheets?!”
“You took them off just now…?”
“But I can’t find them?!”
We both spun round in the tiny cabin, into the hallway, bumped into each other 5 times, checking every crevice. Then JW joked,
“You didn’t throw them here on the side shelf, where that window is now open…”
“Let’s check”
I peered down the hatch, but nothing. It seemed absurd anyway.
Then JW disappeared up the steps and stood out on the back sugar scoop (stoop) and called out,
“Yep. There they are.” He pointed off beyond the boat.
Indeed, wading deep and far behind us, but visible, my lovely turquoise bedsheets, donated to the ocean. I was so furious, frustrated, silly. (I knew we'd be able to laugh about this at some stage but certainly not now). I can’t believe I’d thrown them out the window literally into the sea!
After a slight altercation about who’s fault this was and whether they could be retrieved, JW donned a snorkel mask a mooring hook and jumped in. But they were too far and too deep, and no doubt to heavy to recover. So he hopped out, rinsed off and declared we’d just have to buy more.  We carried on with the chores. JW as before, and me with that deep down, biting my cheeks, stomping up-and-down, tearing things up kind of anger just below the surface …. GRRRRR
But as this lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to long lasting depression or anger, I’d arranged with my cool girl-sailor-buddy that we’d take the dinghy into the beach and go for yummy local doubles (chick pea flat bread with a chick pea curry filling). I could get the new sheets on the same trip.
But then, just as I was organising my backpack, I looked out the window and saw a formidable squall coming hard and fast across the water from the land.
“Wow!” I shouted and within a second, rain and wind had blindsided Shiloh. We ran around closing hatches and then watched as the wind tugged furiously at us and the rain pelted down like opaque sheets.
And we swung wildly on the anchor in every direction, as did the boats around us. But then some of them started to give in to the wind, their anchors had unhooked and were dragging. Some fast, some slow. Our friend’s boat Chaotic Harmony began to move swiftly toward another boat to our left. We called to them repeatedly on the VHF radio but they were not onboard. We weren’t sure what to do, but we couldn’t do nothing.
Then JW, dressed in only his boxers, jumped into the dinghy, wind whipping the waves up around him, I threw him the rope and he headed over to try and push the boat, to prevent it from smashing into the anchored one beside us. Other friends were also in their dinghies, headed fast toward the potential crash.
The family onboard the targeted boat ran up and down their deck with rubber fenders.
And just then, our friend arrived back, having seen the severity of the storm from shore, and he jumped aboard, started the engines and got the boat under control. 
JW up on the bow, the guys rectifying Chaotic Harmony's drag
 At the same time the boat on our right side came sliding by Shiloh, headed out to sea. I called and called the boat name on the VHF radio, but to no avail – the owner was not onboard.
Another friend of ours in a 60ft catamaran was dragging out to sea a bit further away. The rain and wind continued beating the anchorage.
SV-Amarula, dragging out to sea
 I stood, wet and powerless on Shiloh’s back deck, looking at the chaos around me.
Then the boat on our right stopped bobbing away. Their anchor must have caught again (hopefully not on ours!).
I phoned the friends on the 60ft cat, and they had their situation under control.
JW and a couple other friends were onboard Chaotic Harmony and were attempting to re-anchor in a safer place.
And finally the rain softened to a patter. I checked our GPS over and over to confirm – we hadn’t dragged. Not this time.
So, the fun and games were over for the morning. JW arrived back, like a little wet rat. Dripping, drained.
My dream of doubles will have to wait til tomorrow. The sun will have to shine. I have to get up on the canvas bimini with a roller and apply some waterproofing. And I need a dry sunny day.
But there’s got to be an excuse to wait until tomorrow to clean the other cabins as well.
I think it’s time to call a Scrabble tournament with my yachtie-gurlz.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Laundry in paradise

I’m sitting at Tanty Lizzy’s Seaside Fountain. Only there’s no fountain. There is a Tanty Lizzy though, and she’s not someone to mess with.
Yesterday while waiting for our laundry at the friendly Laundromat on the main strip (only street) of Tyrell Bay, sipping beers and playing Scrabble at a cute red picnic table under some cool shade, Tanty herself came trundling out of a dark establishment across the road and rained on our parade, big time. She explained in a few not-so-friendly words, that we were on her property and we had better buy our drinks from her or get the *bleep* out.
We had no idea of course, that the bus shelter/game centre belonged to any bar or restaurant, and apologised profusely, in fear of a beating or worse. By the end of the afternoon, a few beers later (bought from Tanty Lizzy of course), and a couple questionable plates of lambi (conch) stew later, we were all friends. Hence I’m back, but this time I’m blogging.
Blogging at Tanty Lizzy's while waiting for laundry
 What a sight I must be – in a tropical paradise, my little Macbook, camera and iPhone on display, plugging away at the keys, while local fishermen, school children and fellow yachties in their well worn crocs saunter by, going about their day.
I feel the days slipping by, undocumented, one turquoise, salty, sun-soaked day melting into the next. It’s deliciously warm and relaxing and even the exciting moments anchoring, running aground on sand, finding eels in the waves and sailing in ‘perfect conditions’ with our mainsail up in 20knts wind, are all just part of the life.
We've now taken the journey from Grenada up through the southern Grenadines and we are heading very slowly back.
Tonight will be a potluck on the beach with some new and known friends. Last night’s miniature rum squall involved a gang of us on the beach, rum and beer of course, and some snacks that soon became sandy when a little wind gust threw our blanket up and over the fresh guacamole and my second attempt at corn bread. These were the casualties of the night.
The life of a cruiser has in it, all the normal things like laundry, cooking, cleaning (mostly getting rid of sand, salt and mold from the boat). In fact, it has some added frustrations, like EVERYTHING turns to mold if left unattended for longer than a week. JW's last remnant of his 'corporate self', his leather belt was dug out this morning and looked like this:
 But there is the benefit of the constant journey, discovery, conquest. It involves facing your insignificance out there at sea, as a tiny floating blip. The adrenaline flow as you play with the formidable forces of the wind and the massive ocean. 
The arrival at each new bay, like discoverers, I stand up on the bow while JW leads us valiantly in, dodging rocks, fishing lines, mooring balls and other boats, finding our ‘spot’ for the night or week.
It’s all exciting, invigorating, inspiring.
And you get to do your chores in places like this:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Water water everywhere...

  What kind of person would complain about temporary bowel problems when they are sitting in paradise? Crystal clear waters, swimming pool blue, navy patches in the distance, fluffy clouds in the robin’s egg blue sky beyond. Turtles bob up and down past the boat, along with elegant sting rays, smoothly cutting through the water with their black slick cape wings.
 Well yesterday was a write off. There I lay, in a wooden cabin, turquoise bedsheets no substitute for what beckoned through the cabin window. Watching old episodes of House at noon as the sun swapped with tiny rain squalls through the hatch above my head.
I couldn’t move more than a few feet from the head (toilet).
Last night, as JW and I both leapt up and headed to a head each, we figured we better deduce the cause of our suffering.
Boat life involves a lot of conservation and compromise. One of the taken for granted amenities is water. Not the endless ocean around us, but the safe potable kind.
A few bays ago, (well bays and days ago) in a place aptly called Saline Bay, we found a cheap source of water to fill our jugs. Precisely it was free. An abandoned dock had a hose and water pressure. We couldn’t believe our luck. We hauled all our 20 and 25 litre jugs back and forth a few times and replenished our onboard tank.
But then we realised that it was somewhat contaminated. It tasted a bit salty. We decided to use it only for washing bodies, clothes, dishes.
And then days went by, and in the Tobago Cays, an uninhabited paradise that is also a nature reserve, where you must store your rubbish bags onboard and really dig into your stored foods (had you provisioned properly), we forgot the golden water rule.
I was making tea, coffee, boiling noodles and potatoes all in the contaminated water.
And then it all caught up to me. And then JW.
So a day of cream crackers, flat coke, gingerale, teaspoons of honey, plain yogurt (all suggestions courtesy of Google results), and we’re both up and ready once more.
Ready to acknowledge both how fragile we are as humans, and how lucky we are as individuals. Lucky to be experiencing a little patch of this earth that has kept it’s beauty intact. Where flounder fish with both eyes on one side of their bodies, line the white sand, a testament to evolution, and iguanas prowl the little islands, their armour reminiscent of prehistoric ages.
 Where the children today have decided to make floating rafts on the beach with only natural materials, and there is not a television or video game in sight or mind.
I am off to witness turtles with their kaleidoscope shells, snacking on bits of seagrass on the shallow seabed and then gliding swiftly up for air, unbothered by the clunky goggled swimmers around them. 
 I will handwash the laundry and dump our disturbingly accumulating garbage bags another day, in another place.
And I will respect the water in all it’s forms and acknowledge what it does for us every day.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The evolution of a sailor

As I sit sipping my coffee, looking out into the bay, my little tube of lip balm rolls back and forth in a steady rhythm on the table beside me.
It’s 7am. It is a rolly anchorage and we had a bit of a bumpy night. But I slept well.
I’m realising two things – that gone are the nights of lying awake, terrified of the strange noises and constantly worrying about our anchor dragging, sending us out to sea, or into the boat behind us. Secondly, the rise and fall of a swell in the bay doesn’t affect me any longer. I’ve become used to my house pitching up and down, with the horizon peaking through my windows and disappearing just as fast, over and over.
It proves how adaptable the human brain is. There was a day when this movement would have had my tummy gripped in nausea.
Yesterday as we made our way from Union Island to Mayreau, with 21 kn winds on our nose and huge swells rocking Shiloh quite hard, both JW and I realised we’ve overcome seasickness. This journey a month ago would have warranted Gravol or Dramamine or Stugeron.
So many things have changed while they’ve stayed the same. There’s been a paradigm shift within me.
When we made all our plans to leave work, home, land life, I suffered from a deep seated fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what could go wrong, and of my complete inability to face whatever that might be.
But the longer we’ve been at sea, the more great experiences and things that have gone wrong, have made this life all that more believable, manageable, loveable.
A ‘boat boy’ has just motored up to Shiloh. I peek out and a blond blue-eyed rasta man is grinning at me. His big red wooden boat is called ‘Yellow’. He offers me fresh baked baguette. I tell him we’re fine, but thanks and he’s off. I love those moments.
I loved the moment a lot less a few days ago, when we found ourselves motoring forward in a crowded bay, only to hear the one engine fail completely. 
 As we started to drift dangerously back toward an old anchored boat, I flew down the stairs, to the port aft cabin, woke our friend and crew member from her nap, and threw all the bedding out into the hallway so JW could get into the engine compartment underneath and find out what was going on.
Meanwhile we called the friends on our ‘fleet’ (the boats we’ve been traveling with), to let them know what was happening. 
 We enlisted two dinghys to act as the port engine and JW motored forward on the starboard engine while I dropped anchor and we all crossed our fingers, hoping it would set. Once we were securely in place, the team dived down to have a look at our port propeller.
Turns out we had motored right over a dark grey, unmarked fishing rope. It had become completely entangled in the prop as it spun, bringing it to a halt. Hence the engine failing. It had even begun to melt into itself with the heat of the action.
As diving and holding my breath for long periods under water while prying melted rope from a propeller are not yet on my list of skills, I stood above, while members of our fleet spent the couple hours up and down, coming up with chunks of the offending rope.
 This experience was not pleasant. But it was not wracked with the horror it would have been, had we been alone or had we been a month younger at sea. But these things happen.
I’m realising that, just like the rest of life, sailing has it’s ups and downs. Things work out. Things work out much better without the fear and panic.
I now know why boats come so slowly into bays, with crew right on the front tip of the boat, surveying and scrutinizing the water below. I will follow suit.
It’s a learning curve. But now it’s a fun one. Some things will change the more I know, some will stay the same.
Apparently seasoned sailors get their dinghy painters (ropes) caught in their props, and even those who have crossed oceans have been known on occasion, when the winds are high or gusty, to spend sleepless nights, worried about dragging anchor…

Thursday, June 7, 2012

We've moved!

Weeks ago, a gang of semi-inebriated cruisers, rums and beers in hand, decided we should take a trip out of Grenada. The idea was to head up to Carriacou – the island with over a hundred rum shops and only one gas station - then further up to the Grenadines.
And finally on Tuesday, three boats and their crews lifted anchor from southern Grenada and headed to sea.
For JW and I, this was the maiden voyage away from Grenada’s shores, since we picked up Shiloh in April. And, we had crew!
I have belaboured this – but I will say again that we have met a disproportionate number of amazing people since we arrived in the Caribbean, and this group is no exception. Our crew is Leslie, who has her own Cat, but who’s husband is a helicopter pilot and is away on a contract. She naively accepted the offer to join the gang aboard Shiloh. She may not have believed me when I told her of my complete lack of experience.
Needless to say, she’s been a godsend as far as her sailing experience goes, and it has come in handy a few times. She’s also a great cook and she plays Scrabble! Basically she rocks.
And so we headed off, three cats in a row, out into the lumpy bumpy seas. 
SV Chaotic Harmony embarking on the journey

One of our 'fleet' SV Avatar arriving at Tyrrell Bay
 We played with our sails, tried the jib first and then the main, but had to motor as well, since the wind was not cooperating, and was hitting us straight on the nose the whole way. (I realise this all sounds like I know what I’m talking about or at least the lingo, which is great. The truth is that I obeyed a few orders about which rope to pull or loosen, and watched the sails go up or down. Still not sure how it all works with the wind and angles and sails… But it seems I have actually picked up some of the terms of the trade!)
The whole journey took just less than 8 hours, and we spent that time doing sail adjustments, listening to music, reading, holding on through the bigger waves and basically enjoying the ocean, the sun and the huge cloud patches around and above us. 
Our first evening - sunset on the beach with rum punches!
 We’re three days in now, and Tyrrell Bay in Carriacou has been a great host, despite 30 knot winds and a bit of rain. We’ve had barbeques on the beach and on our boats, and we took a group walk up through her lush forests, and glimpsed the windward side of the island, with it’s crashing waves, from high above. Of course this was followed by an impromptu beer party on the beach.
A view of Shiloh in the centre of the bay, from Slipway restaurant on the beach - Tyrrell Bay
We toured the mangroves, a waterway lined with thick salt water trees, whose stems are laden with oysters. The shallow inlet apparently holds over 200 boats during hurricanes. As we calmly motored through, it seemed surreal that a place like this could be the home to so many huge boats, tied up close to the oyster clumped roots, bashing about in waves and wind, waiting out mother nature’s most ruthless storms.
A look at the mangroves up close

A view of the mangroves from our hike up the hill
A Carriacou school girl we met on our walk
Simon a local entrepreneur (who charged us a hefty amount to fill our water jugs), on his boat
 We are planning to move to Sandy Island and White Island (each less than an hour sail) and then back to Carriacou’s capital Hillsborough to ‘check out’ of the country before heading to Union Island and beyond.
But the wind has other ideas for now. And so we play Scrabble, test the famous (or infamous) pizza at the Lazy Turtle on the beach, do some laundry, swim around with eels, lobsters and sea urchins, and perhaps check out one or two of the 135 or so rum shops. 

Still haven’t seen the one gas station.