December 5th through 16th – Le Phare Bleu Marina

Santa children

Our return to Le Phare Bleu Marina signals the commencement of our transition to life afloat.  The purpose of our stay here at this boutique resort is to prepare Cutter Loose for the long voyage ahead.  As such, it is a period of  intense work…the price to be paid for the pleasures of cruising that lie ahead.

The process of re-commissioning the boat for the winter sailing season involves a thorough cleaning from stem to stern.  This creates a highly chaotic environment during the first few days of our stay.  At times, it looks as if an explosion occurred in the cabin.

chaos

Every piece of stainless steel deck hardware must be polished to resist corrosion.  Below decks, all supplies, parts and clothing are removed from storage bins and lockers.  After a thorough cleaning of storage lockers, supplies are inventoried and returned to their designated space.  To make matters even more challenging, the contents of our shipping barrels must be moved aboard, inventoried and stowed.  The ship’s official stowage plan is updated during this process so that stores can be found quickly when they are needed.

Eric cleaning bow

Talk to any sailor in this neck of the woods and you will quickly learn that boat repairs are a challenging fact of life.  It is a well-documented fact that alien gremlins take up residence on boats during periods of extended storage.  This is especially true in the tropics where extreme heat and humidity create an environment that is conducive to gremlin propagation.  The favorite pastime of this invasive species is to attack and disable electronic devices and other complicated boat systems.

market woman

Consequently, every system and device on board must be tested thoroughly.  Here at the marina, there is convenient access to parts and marine specialists.  If problems exist, it is far better to recognize, diagnose and solve them before taking Cutter Loose to sea.  However, this is much easier said than done.  Problems are not always apparent and marine services are not always available precisely when they are needed, especially at this busy time of year.

Market

During the past week, a defective masthead light and an inoperable fresh water pump have been replaced.  The outboard motor for the dinghy is in the repair shop.  For days on end, we have been patiently awaiting the arrival of the local Spectra dealer to solve a water maker problem that is beyond our capabilities.  On balance, the list of repairs aboard Cutter Loose is manageable.  The real test will occur when we set sail up-island.

Ever so gradually, the boat becomes more orderly and livable.  She is looking quite spiffy at dockside with her freshly waxed hull and recently polished stainless steel deck hardware.

CL at Le Phare

Each day, the reward for hard work is a 5 PM visit to the pool.  Within minutes, the cool water dissipates the 85 degree heat of the afternoon.  The sun fades behind the hills surrounding the marina, casting deep shadows on the beach.  This is the best time of the day.   The evening temperature here is quite comfortable.

pool beers

There are other forms of escape during the re-commissioning process.  Shademan, the cruiser’s preferred taxi driver, provides much needed shopping trips to St. George’s in his van.  This helps to restock an empty galley aboard Cutter Loose. On the return trip, a stop at the Jamaican Jerk Chicken roadside stand eliminates the need to prepare dinner.

Jerk chicken

The owner of Le Phare Bleu (a musician himself) is a Swiss gentleman by the name of Dieter.  He possesses a strong sense of attention to detail and a profound interest in music.  His goal is to showcase Grenadian talent.  Each weekend, there is a musical performance at Le Phare Bleu which attracts a sizeable audience comprised of cruisers and locals alike.

Sunday concert

FLOM concert

Being here at Le Phare Bleu marina also provides an opportunity to connect with other cruisers.  Meet Ray from Portsmouth, England.  He is an avid dinghy sailor and jovial chap who resides part time at his Le Phare Bleu condo.  Our commonality with Ray is the fact that we both own Island Packet 460s.  Actually, Ray owns not just one, but two IP 460s.  He maintains one boat here at Le Phare Bleu and the other in England.  Considering the fact that a total of only twelve 460s have been built by Island Packet Yachts since 2009, it is quite astonishing that a full 25% of the entire fleet is represented by owners currently in residence at this tiny resort on the south coast of Grenada.

Ray and Eric

Other creature comforts here at Le Phare Bleu are more subtle.  After seven months of living ashore, being surrounded by palm trees and the aquamarine waters of the Eastern Caribbean is a welcome change in scenery.  There is nothing quite as comforting as being rocked asleep by the gentle motion of the boat.

stair hike

In the marina, there are several solo males working tirelessly on their boats in anticipation of the arrival of their spouse or significant other.  The re-commissioning process can be tedious and frustrating at times, dealing with things that don’t work anymore and working deliberately to prepare one’s vessel for an extended period of life afloat. I dare say, it is not an easy task.  I am blessed to have a spouse who is a full partner in the process of readying Cutter Loose for the voyage ahead.

Pat in salon

Our despair turns to jubilation on the afternoon of Tuesday, December 16th when Mike from Palm Tree Marine arrives with parts to rebuild the pressure switches on our water maker.  In less than an hour, the water maker springs to life.  After twelve days docked at Le Phare Bleu Marina, we are ready for life on the hook.

Let the winter cruise begin!

The Caranage

 

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Tuesday, December 2nd to Friday, December 5th – arrival in Grenada

 

On Tuesday, the silver bird transports us to another world…one that is quite warm, humid and festooned with dense green vegetation.  We are met at the airport by our driver, Mr. Boney.  He explains that rain has been plentiful of late here in Grenada.  This is good news for the nutmeg crop, but bad news for tomatoes and other garden vegetables.

beach at duskThe hour is late when Boney drops us at La Sagesse, a small but delightful resort on a picturesque bay located on the south coast of Grenada.  From our open-air room on the ocean, we are lulled into a deep sleep by the rhythm of incessant waves lapping on the beach.  Tree frogs ramp up their chorus at sunset, continuing their noisy performance until the break of dawn.  Without missing a beat and not to be outdone, the morning serenade is the lyrical call and response of tropical birds. In terms of sheer volume, these creatures are outstanding and powerful performers.

John and Sammy at La Sagesse (no, they're not married)

John and Sammy at La Sagesse (no, they’re not married)

La Sagesse is an oasis in St. David’s Parish.  Located just a mile from the boatyard at Grenada Marine, it is home to an idyllic crescent-shaped white sand beach lined with coconut palms that bend gracefully towards the water.  Here at La Sagesse, it is virtually impossible not to be on a first name basis with the owners and staff.  Each morning after breakfast in the beachfront dining area, the staff at La Sagesse transports us to the nearby boatyard to commence another hard day of work preparing Cutter Loose for launch.

muddy boatyard

When we arrive at the yard under cloudy skies on Wednesday morning, workers are hovering around Cutter Loose in a last minute effort to prepare her for launch.  Despite the fact that our launch date has been established for months, Grenada Marine is running behind schedule.

It's beginning to look like a tropical Christmas

It’s beginning to look like a tropical Christmas

 

This is an important opportunity for us to adapt to “island time”.  Eventually, everything will come together.  Launch is postponed for 24 hours to allow time for the workers to complete their tasks, which will, in turn, provide us with valuable time alone on Cutter Loose to bend on the sails and erect the cockpit canvas.

On Cradle

This 24 hour reprieve reduces stress by providing one more relaxing night at La Sagesse.  The following morning, we bid farewell to our friends at La Sagesse to get an early start at the boatyard.  The policy at Grenada Marine is “no cash…no splash”.  After settling our yard bill at 9 AM, the day evolves into a  “hurry up and wait” exercise.

In Lift

 

No amount of cajoling or prodding will hasten our departure.  Launch will occur on Grenada Marine’s schedule.  Finally, Cutter Loose hits the water at 2 PM for the five mile journey west to Le Phare Bleu, a boutique resort/marina where we will spend a week devoted to re-commissioning tasks.

splashdown

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Prologue – The 2015 Voyage of Cutter Loose

 

tree

Winter arrived abruptly on November 18th in Pittsburgh.  Just a few weeks ago, sunshine and the colors of autumn graced our part of the world.  Today, a blast of arctic air descended from Canada, sending the thermometer plunging into the single digits and forcing us indoors.  Adding insult to injury, winds from the NW have been howling at 15 to 20 MPH.  Only a handful of stubborn oak leaves remain attached to otherwise bare branches.  There is a light dusting of snow on the grassy areas.  For days on end, the sky has remained an ominous battleship gray.  These changes signal that the time has come to return to Cutter Loose.

It has been another quiet, hurricane-free season in the Windward Islands. For that, we are profoundly grateful.  During the past seven months, Cutter Loose has remained at rest in the boatyard at Grenada Marine.  Storing a boat anywhere in the Caribbean Basin during hurricane season is risky business…a decision that we do not take lightly.

Grenada Marine

Grenada Marine

As usual, it has been a delight to be living in the land of plenty during the idyllic weather of summer and fall.  Arriving home after a season of cruising in third world countries is a stark reminder of the abundance and conveniences that we take for granted in the United States.  The sheer joy of being reunited with family and friends and enjoying the comforts of home is one of the indirect rewards of cruising.

Highlights of the summer/fall of 2014:

  • bi-weekly “summer camp” regimen of tennis and golf
  • more than 1000 miles of exploration via bicycle, including a six day, 360 mile self-supported ride from Mt. Vernon, VA to Pittsburgh via the C&O Canal Towpath trail and the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail
  • Addleman (Eric’s sister) family reunion in Sandusky, OH
  • a two week automobile tour of Idaho, Montana and Eastern Washington, including a visit in Sandpoint, ID with Colorado friends Barbara and Darwin
  • bicycling with Caribbean 1500 friends Neil and Shaun of s/v Escapade and visiting at their home in Fredericksburg, VA and their summer compound on the Potomac River
  • a small gathering of fraternity brothers (Mark, Tom and Dave) and their spouses at our home
  • an autumn automobile excursion to New England,  including a visit to the FDR Museum, Library and family home in Hyde Park, NY
  • bicycling through the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania on the Pine Creek Gorge rail trail
  • an excellent season of Major League Baseball in Pittsburgh courtesy of the Pittsburgh Pirates, advancing to the playoffs as a wild card entry
Chillin' with Barbara and Darwin in Sandpoint, Idaho

Chillin’ with Barbara and Darwin in Sandpoint, Idaho

Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho

Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho

Four Brothers

Four Brothers

Visiting with Eleanor and Franklin in Hyde Park, NY

Visiting with Eleanor and Franklin in Hyde Park, NY

Wash Intl

Now that summer has faded to a fond memory, a change of venue beckons.  The tide has turned, urging an escape from cold temperatures and gray skies to the sun and warmth of the tropics.  Cheerfully abandoned will be the confines of calendars, appointments and 24-7 connectivity with all of its inherent sound bites, political bickering and constant reminders of hate, indifference and instability in the world.  Ahead lies a less complicated and more peaceful lifestyle…one lived in closer harmony with nature where sunsets and the sound of wind filling the sails become a daily source of entertainment and inspiration.

In this, our third season in the Windward and Leeward Islands, we will complete the loop of our Eastern Caribbean cruise by sailing Cutter Loose from the island nation of Grenada to Annapolis, MD with frequent pauses for rest and relaxation along the way.

Our course will take us north from Grenada through the Windward and Leeward Islands, then west to the US and British Virgin Islands before visiting the Spanish Virgins in Puerto Rico.  From the west coast of Puerto Rico, we will cross the Mona Passage to the Dominican Republic, then steer northwest to the Turks and Caicos before arriving at the tiny island of Mayaguana, our port of entry to the Bahamas.  We plan to spend time in the deserted “Out Islands” of the Bahamas before sailing on to the Exuma chain, Eleuthera and the Abacos.  From the northern Abacos, we’ll ride the favorable current of the Gulf Stream to Charleston, SC or Beaufort, NC, then follow the Atlantic Intra Coastal Waterway to the Chesapeake Bay.

As the crow flies, the distance from Grenada to Annapolis is about 1900 NM.  However, the frequent zigs and zags of cruising will add significant mileage to our journey.  We plan to arrive in Annapolis by Memorial Day.

Why abandon the delightful trade-wind sailing in the Windward and Leeward islands?  Our return to the Chesapeake Bay for the summer of 2015 will significantly reduce the threat of hurricanes.  After three quiet hurricane seasons in the Caribbean, we do not wish to tempt fate.  Annapolis is closer to home, which will enable us to devote attention to deferred boat projects where parts and supplies are abundant and relatively inexpensive.  From here, we will provision and launch a new winter cruise in the autumn of 2015.

We invite you to follow our journey by visiting this blog at your convenience.  If you wish, you may click  the “subscribe” button on the Cutter Loose website and enter your e mail address.  You will receive a notification via e mail each time a new post is available for viewing.

During our time away, news from home is a precious commodity.  E mail from friends and family is the highlight of our day.  Please stay in touch.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Barrels of parts and supplies being shipped to Grenada

Barrels of parts and supplies being shipped to Grenada

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April 27th to April 30th – Grenada Marine and La Sagesse

 

On Sunday, April 27th, Cutter Loose is underway from La Phare Bleu Marina to St. David’s Harbor for the final segment of the 2013/2014 winter cruise.  Today’s journey is a scant five nautical miles in distance, but seems twice as long.  A two-knot favorable current is pushing us directly into 23-knot, easterly trade winds.  Wind against current…always a deterrent.  Cutter Loose is in washing machine mode today, bucking and pounding her way into six-to-eight foot seas with torrents of green water crashing on the foredeck.  The stainless steel deck hardware, meticulously polished at La Phare Bleu Marina, is saturated in salt by the time we arrive in St. David’s Harbor.

CL in slingAt 8:45 AM on Monday, the annoying beep-beep-beep of the Grenada Marine travelift grows louder as it proceeds to the launch slipway for its 9 AM reunion with Cutter Loose.   Once the lifting slings are in place beneath the keel, the short step from the swim platform onto the dock is a transformative experience.  In that blink of an eye, our transition from sea creatures to land lubbers is complete.

CL in yardBy their very nature, all boat yards are harsh environments.  The temperature is already well into the 80s and the humidity is paralyzing.  For the next three days, we will endure the hot, dusty and noisy conditions in the yard while undertaking final preparations for  summer/fall (aka hurricane season) storage.  Gazing at this landscape, one cannot help but imagine how this scene might appear at the height of a major storm.   In her welded steel cradle with ratcheted tie-down straps, Cutter Loose would probably survive all but the severest of storms.  But the materials, supplies and other miscellaneous stuff scattered throughout the yard would rapidly become airborne projectiles.  This disconcerting thought is counter-productive to our mission.  The path of least resistance is to devote our undivided attention to the final shut-down task list.

La Sagesse BeachThe perfect antidote to work in the yard by day is an overnight stay at nearby La Sagessse Resort.  Each day at 5 PM, a driver from La Sagesse arrives in the yard to transport our aching, dirty, sweaty bodies to the tropical paradise that awaits us in the adjacent bay.  Within minutes of our arrival at La Sagesse, it is off to the beach for a swim.  Once immersed, one’s body temperature drops and the day’s work in the yard fades to a distant memory.  A shower, a glass of wine and dinner at the resort’s open-air restaurant completes the humanization process and prepares us for another day of work in the yard.

 

CL strippedEach day, the list of unfinished tasks and our remaining time in Grenada become shorter.  Finally, on Wednesday 4/29 at 5 PM, the preparatory work aboard Cutter Loose is declared complete.  With an affectionate pat on the stern, we bid her farewell and promise to return in December.

 

La Sagesse

That evening, Caribbean 1500 friends Neil and Shaun of s/v Escapade join us for dinner at La Sagesse.  There is much to discuss, not the least of which involves our respective float plans for the 2014/2015 season.  Ironically, the sailing season began at La Sagesse in the company of Neil and Shaun in early December.  Tonight, the season ends over dinner at La Sagesse.  They have become “bookend” friends.

La Sag Orchids

 

Back in our oceanfront room, the lights are out early in anticipation of a 5 AM departure from La Sagesse in the morning.  Time and the silver bird to Miami wait for no man.

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April 19th to April 27th – La Phare Bleu Marina

 

Marina

 

Our 2014 sailing season has dwindled down to one final week afloat at La Phare Bleu Marina in Calivigny Bay.  This is de-commissioning week, i.e., the process of cleaning, shutting down boat systems and preparing Cutter Loose for summer storage.

 

Beach

CL dock shotEach day, tasks listed on our four page de-commissioning checklist are crossed off as they are completed.  The work is routine and mundane, yet satisfying.  Much of this work is accomplished in cramped quarters on one’s hands and knees…torture for the joints, but a purposeful exercise in humility and contortionism.

 

Bougainvillea

 

Brunch plateOn Easter Sunday, we set aside our boat chores to attend brunch at Whisper Cove Marina with friends Donna and Steve of s/v Summer Love and Hilma of IP 38 Blue Gull. The mellow entertainment today is provided by Cecil, a classical guitarist with an extensive repertoire committed entirely to memory. The buffet is quite good, as usual.  The gazpacho, in particular, is excellent.

 

Cecil Easter

glen pam rogerEach afternoon, soaring temperatures and humidity send us scampering to the pool for a cooling dip.   Our pool companions for the week are Glen and Pam aboard IP 38 Blue Pearl who are here at La Phare Bleu for identical purposes.  We first met these folks in November of 2012 at Francis Bay in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  These recurring, chance encounters are one of the most enjoyable aspects of cruising. These congenial Canadian cruisers contribute to the convivial atmosphere here at La Phare Bleu.

flowers

Pete DavenportYet another pleasant surprise this week is a visit from Pete, our friend from Virginia Beach who served as an able crew member aboard Cutter Loose for the 2012 Caribbean 1500.  Recently retired, Pete is in Grenada on a shopping trip.  He is considering the purchase of a previously-owned sailing catamaran that is currently in storage at Spice Island boat yard in Prickly Bay.  Spending time with Pete brings back good memories of our nine days together at sea in transit from Hampton, VA to Tortola.  We wish Pete and Kathy all the best as they begin their transformation to the cruising lifestyle.

Ixora

 

Having fulfilled our purpose at La Phare Bleu, Cutter Loose will move east to St. David’s Harbor on Sunday, 4/27 where we will await our appointment with the Grenada Marine Travelift early on Monday morning.

 

 

The so-called "traveler's palm" points east and west

The so-called “traveler’s palm” points east and west

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April 13th to April 18th – Prickly Bay to Clarkes Court Bay, Grenada

Grand Anse BeachApril 13th marks the beginning of our final week of relaxed cruising and sightseeing before commencing the process of de-commissioning Cutter Loose for summer storage.  On Sunday afternoon 4/13, it is off to Grande Anse to enjoy a sunset view at the beach followed by dinner and live music at Umbrellas beach bar in company with friends Donna and Steve of s/v Summer Love.

 

Steve Donna

Beach silhouettes

Patrick Shademan

On Monday 4/14, a hiking trip to one of the most attractive waterfalls on the island has been planned.  A group of nine cruisers cram into Shademan’s taxi for the 45 minute ride to Grand Etang.  Shademan (aka Patrick) specializes in transportation services aimed at the cruising community.  He is a trusted friend here in Grenada.

 

 

Warren GuideJust beyond the Nature Center is the settlement of St. Margaret and the trailhead for a hike to Seven Sisters and Honeymoon Falls. The hike passes through private property and the owner collects a small fee at his trailhead stand.  Our guide today is Warren, a friendly and energetic young man who lives nearby.  Compared to other hikes in the Caribbean, this is an easy 45 minute downhill hike through the rain forest to the falls.

Falls 1 and 2Seven Sisters refers to a series of seven cascading waterfalls.  The more strenuous part of the hike is the steep climb from sisters #6 and #7 at the base to sister #1 at the top of the cascade.  One may return to the base either by descending the trail or by jumping over each waterfall into their respective pools below.

 

E P at falls

 

Warren demonstrates his diving technique while we observe from the refreshingly cool water in the pool below sister #6. Before returning to the trailhead, Warren leads us to yet another nearby attraction known as Honeymoon Falls, so-named because of the heart-shaped pool beneath the falls.

Honeymoon Falls

 

 

 

 

Spice Girl

 

 

 

 

At the conclusion of the hike, Warren introduces us to his sister, Kionna, who offers a convincing smile, encouraging us to purchase some of her freshly harvested spices.

 

Similar to Simpson Bay Lagoon in St. Martin, Prickly Bay is the type of anchorage that does not easily relinquish its grasp on the unwary traveler.  Prickly is easy to enter but difficult to depart.  We have become addicted to shore side amenities, conveniences, sightseeing opportunities and social activities.  Even the invasive swell has treated us rather kindly, remaining benign and rocking us to sleep every night during our stay.  After eleven days at anchor, it is time to move on.

On Tuesday 4/15, the anchor is up in Prickly Bay for the short trip to Clarkes Court Bay, about five miles to the east.  The south coast of Grenada is a series of deeply indented fiord-like bays tucked inside an expansive network of barrier reefs and coastal islands.  These bays offer excellent protection from swells and the prevailing easterly winds.  Mount Hartman Bay, Hog Island Bay, Clarkes Court Bay and Phare Bleu Bay are all interconnected via a series of dinghy passages through cuts in the reef.

Calvigny IslandCutter Loose is anchored in the outer reaches of Clarkes Court Bay just to the west side of the reef at Petite Calvigny Point.  Here, 20 knot easterly winds ventilate and cool the cabin, providing sufficient energy for the wind generator to keep the ship’s batteries fully charged both day and night.  This vantage point offers views of the exclusive resort at nearby Calvigny Island where accommodations may be secured at a cost ranging from $30,000 USD to $124,000 USD per night.  From our anchorage, it is a five minute dinghy ride to Whisper Cove Marina where freshly baked bread is available for purchase every morning beginning at 10:30 AM.

There is a vibrant community of live aboard “condo” cruisers who spend the entire season in these bays, perhaps equal or greater in numbers to that of Prickly Bay.  Many have installed their own permanent moorings where their boats remain year-round.  The area is served by four marinas, each of which features its own bar and restaurant.  The restaurants compete with one another by offering daily specials as well as music and entertainment to attract cruisers.  In addition, Roger’s Beach Bar on Hog Island features a popular barbeque on Sundays.  The morning net on VHF 66 International is the source of all information that connects the cruising community.  A repeater station high in the mountains at Grande Etang makes it possible for all cruisers in Grenada and Carriacou to participate in the morning net, regardless of where they are located on the island.

Maria and othersAccording to an event announcement on the morning net, the social activity for Tuesday evening here at Camp Grenada is a full moon dinghy drift in Mount Hartman Bay.   At sunset, some fifteen dinghies raft together in the Bay.  Several cruisers from yesterday’s hike are in attendance, including Maria and Maurice from s/v Captiva and Diane and Larry from s/v Dove.

 

Hal and IngaEveryone brings an appetizer to share while waiting for the moon to make its appearance.  Ever so gradually, the eastern horizon begins to glow.  By 8 PM, the full moon is overhead, illuminating the entire Bay.  The return trip to Cutter Loose through the maze of anchored boats is made easier by the brilliant moonlight.

 

SunsetOur anchorage in Clarkes Court Bay has been a thoroughly relaxing experience, allowing time for reading, enjoying leisurely lunches ashore at Whisper Cove Marina and becoming familiar with nearby interconnected bays via dinghy.  It is a delightful place to spend the final days of our winter/spring voyage, savoring the laid-back simplicity of the cruising lifestyle.  On Saturday, we will move one bay to the east where Cutter Loose will be docked at La Phare Bleu Marina for a week of cleaning and preparation for summer layup.

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April 12th – Leatherbacks at Levera Beach, Grenada

 

On Saturday 4/12, the telephone rings at 6 PM, just as we are settling into sunset relaxation mode in the cockpit of Cutter Loose.  It is Cutty calling, our island tour guide from earlier in the week.  He explains that there are two last-minute open seats in his van for tonight’s turtle watching expedition at Levera Beach.  He will pick us up at the dinghy dock in 30 minutes.  This sets into motion a frantic rush to stow jackets, red flashlights, food and water into the backpack.

Levera National Park is located at the northeastern tip of Grenada, a 1.5 hour drive from Prickly Bay on narrow, winding roads.  Travelling by van under the cover of darkness provides an interesting glimpse into the lifestyles of Grenadians.  It is Saturday night…time to be out on the street corners and in the small stores and rum shops, conversing and playing dominoes with neighbors and friends.

After an introduction to the lives of leatherback turtles by the volunteers at the Ocean Spirit, Inc. Sea Turtle Conservation Center, our group is escorted to the beach to await the arrival of female turtles.  Three days shy of a full moon and under widely scattered clouds, the white sand beach is illuminated by a dim iridescent glow.  Warm temperatures, light surf and a comfortable breeze to keep the mosquitoes at bay combine to create a picture-perfect night to be on the beach.  Volunteers from the Conservation Center are very strict on protocol.  They pre-warn us to stand to the side and rear of the turtles, but never in front of them.  No flash photography is permitted because turtles are sensitive to light.  Therefore, some of the photos included in this post are borrowed.

Between March and July, Ocean Spirit researchers and volunteers stand watch on this beach every night between 6 PM and 6 AM.  During this five month breeding season, some 1,000 female leatherback turtles arrive here at the place of their birth to bury eggs in the sand.  Nocturnal arrivals and departures reduce the likelihood of predators unearthing the eggs.  Since leatherback turtles are an endangered species, researchers measure and tag the turtles and record the location and number of eggs deposited in the nest.  Many of the turtles returning here have already been tagged.

measuring turtleAround 9 PM, excitement builds as volunteers announce that the first female turtle of the evening has just landed on the beach about a half mile from our staging area.  By the time we arrive on the scene, the female leatherback has already unloaded her cargo of eggs.  Because the location she has chosen for her nest is dangerously close to the surf, Ocean Spirit researchers intervene to catch the eggs as they are being laid.

eggs in nest 2Using sterile gloves and carefully placing the eggs in a bucket, they are relocated to a human-dug nest about one hundred feet further inland.  Meanwhile, mom is busy tidying up her original nest site, oblivious to the fact that her eggs have been relocated.  Once satisfied that the nest site cannot be detected by predators, she crawls slowly back to the sea.

turtle with childLeatherbacks are fascinating creatures.  They are the world’s largest turtles, weighing up to 2,000 pounds.  While their numbers are declining (especially in the Pacific), they can still be found in all oceans of the world.  We are permitted to touch the turtles during their egg-bearing trance.  Their skin is rubbery soft, not a hard shell as with other species of turtles.  Leatherbacks are world travelers.  They undertake the longest migration between breeding and feeding averaging 3,700 miles each way.  Leatherbacks can dive up to 4,000 feet in depth and remain underwater for up to 85 minutes before returning to the surface for air.  Their average lifespan in the wild is 45 years.  Their favorite food is jellyfish.  Males remain at sea for their entire lives while females return to the same nesting area about once every three years to bury their offspring.

man with turtleA short distance away, a second female turtle has arrived on the beach.  She is massive, measuring five feet in length and two feet in height.  Unlike turtle #1 earlier this evening, turtle #2 selects a nesting spot further inland, thus eliminating the need to excavate an alternative nest and relocate the eggs.  Turtle #2 swings her large front and rear flippers in a circular motion to sweep away the dry sand on the surface until underlying wet sand is discovered.  Slowly and methodically, she rotates her back flippers to carve a perfectly symmetrical indentation in the sand, two feet deep and one foot in diameter.

eggs in nestSatisfied with the layout of her nest, she deposits 70 to 100 eggs.  Some of the eggs have yolks (future turtles) while others have no yolks, the purpose of which is to provide moisture and buffer the nest.  Approximately 70 days from today, the hatchlings will emerge from the nest and scramble straight to the sea.  It is estimated that only one in a thousand leatherback hatchlings survive into adulthood.

returning to the seaThe entire process from arrival to departure requires about two hours of strenuous work on the part of the female turtle.  Shortly after 11 PM, turtle #2 and the crew of Cutter Loose return to their respective watery homes.  Tonight’s moonlit spectacle of nature has been an incredible experience…one that will be remembered for a lifetime.

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April 3rd to April 10th – Carriacou to Grenada

 

On Thursday, 4/3, the anchor is up in Tyrrel Bay at 8 AM for our final, open-ocean, trade wind sailing day of the season.  Our destination today is Prickly Bay on the south coast of Grenada, a distance of 38 nautical miles.  The wind is light out of the east today.  Cutter Loose is barely making 4 knots on a slow but steady broad reach towards Grenada, the Spice Island.  The tidal rips and the constantly changing currents near Ile de Ronde make for some interesting navigational challenges.  When the trade winds are howling, the bumpy and confused sea state in this cut can be a source of frustration.  But today, the water is calm.  It is a day to relax and enjoy this slow-paced, off-the-wind sail.

In the lee of Grenada, the sails begin to stall and flutter in diminished wind.  Moisture-laden cumulus clouds passing over the mountainous northern half of Grenada create occasional gusts which fill the sails and improve boat speed.  As the capital city of St. Georges passes to port, the clouds suddenly begin to appear dark and ominous.  Nearing the airport at Point Saline, the wind is gusting to 25 knots, catching Cutter Loose over-canvassed and sending its crew into rapid sail reduction mode.  Now within three miles of our destination, our turn to the east places the wind-driven waves squarely on the bow.  The squall diminishes in intensity on final approach to Prickly Bay.  Once in the protection of the harbor, the water becomes flat as the anchor is set at 3:45 PM.   From here, Cutter Loose is less than ten miles from the yard at Grenada Marine where she will rest ashore during the forthcoming hurricane season.

Each morning, departing aircraft passing overhead in Prickly Bay serve as a constant reminder that the sailing season is nearly at its end and that our remaining time here in the Eastern Caribbean is brief.  On May 1st, the silver bird will carry us home.  One of our priorities this season is to allow sufficient time for inland exploration of Grenada and to enjoy the camaraderie of sailors who call this place home.  Prickly Bay will serve as our base for shore side activities during the next few weeks.  There are two dinghy docks in this anchorage that provide access to grocery stores, restaurants, laundry services, boat supplies, public buses and taxi services.   In addition, there is public Internet service available in the Bay.  Despite its deserved reputation as being a little rolly, Prickly Bay is a safe and convenient place to be.

Hash sceneEvery Saturday afternoon at 4 PM in Grenada, an avid group of 50 to 150 runners and walkers meet to participate in the weekly HASH.  This event is sponsored and organized by Grenada Hash House Harriers, a local running club.  The HASH is a run/walk event, normally along a remote trail through the jungle.  In advance of the event, the HASH master selects a person known as the hare to mark the route with small clumps of shredded paper. The starting/ending point is usually a pub or a park, the location of which is announced via e mail a few days prior to the event.

Goat looks onAlong the route, there may be one or more trail intersections that are unmarked, in which case, the participants must explore all of the alternative trails until the marked trail is found.  The participants shout “on-on” when they are certain that they have located the marked trail.  This helps to keep others on course.  Runners normally complete the HASH in an hour while walkers finish within 90 minutes.

shredded paper

Virgins christenedAfterwards, food, beverages and entertainment contribute to a street party celebration emceed by Simon the Hashmaster, who by day is an ex-pat marine electronics technician.  Participants are a diverse group of individuals, including children, members of the local running club, university students, cruisers and the public-at-large.  Several seniors in their 80s routinely participate in this event.

hash hikersOn Saturday 4/5, HASH #821 begins and ends at Peggy’s Bar and Grocery Store in Morne Delice, St. David’s Parish.  Today’s trail begins with a steep single-file ascent through thick vegetation.  Some sections of the trail seem to have been blazed just recently. The descents are often trickier than the ascents, requiring slipping and sliding one’s way down steep dirt hillsides, grasping on to tree limbs, roots and rocks where available.  The crowd thins out as the HASH progresses while some participants stop to catch their breath and a sip of water.

hash street sceneBy 5:30 PM, all hashers have arrived back at Peggy’s Bar where the music is thumping and the street party is already well underway.   The Hashmaster distributes certificates to newcomers while dispensing justice to experienced runners who have allegedly broken HASH rules. After an hour or more of celebration, the crowd gradually begins to diminish as we board Shademan’s taxi for the ride back to Prickly Bay.

dinghiesOn Sunday afternoon 4/6, we are met by cruising friends Donna and Steve at nearby Secret Harbor Marina for a two-mile dinghy ride to the outdoor concert at La Phare Bleu Marina.  From Mount Hartmann Bay, our course takes us under the Hog Island Bridge and into Clarke’s Court Bay where a series of buoys mark a dinghy passage across the reef to Calvigny Island.  Since the wind is up today, this turns out to be a wet ride in Steve’s brand new AB dinghy.

Doc AdamsSome thirty dinghies and their occupants are rafted together to listen to rock n roll hits from the 50s performed by guitarist and vocalist Doc Adams, whose functions by day as the island’s chiropractor.  The return trip from La Phare Bleu to Secret Harbor is downwind and dry.  We are back aboard Cutter Loose before dark.

 

On Monday 4/7, we join a group of cruisers on a narrated island tour provided by Cutty, a local taxi driver/tour director/amateur botanist.  Cutty’s brand new jet black Nissan mini-bus (with functioning air conditioning) is an excellent way to observe the countryside and learn more about the island while getting to know other cruisers.  Our tour takes us east along the southern coastal route to the windward side of the island.

Cutty

It is little wonder that Grenada is known as the Spice Island.  The spices most people keep in small jars in their kitchen cupboard grow alongside the road here in Grenada.  Cutty stops the van frequently in the middle of the road to harvest a cashew, nutmeg, clove, allspice, cinnamon or bay leaf from a nearby tree.  Other drivers that we encounter on the roadways during our tour seem to have infinite patience with our frequent stops.  The roads here are in good condition, but very narrow.  Here’s a photo of Cutty serving beans from a ripe cocoa pod.  They have a citrus taste rather than a chocolate taste.

 

cashews

 

 

Cashews grow as an appendage on toxic fruit…one cashew per fruit.

 

 

 

 

 

Cloves

 

 

Dried cloves begin life as a flowering seed.

 

 

 

nutmeg weighin

 

Nutmeg is a cottage industry and cash crop here in Grenada.  Anyone with a nutmeg tree on his or her property can obtain a license to sell their fruit to the local cooperative.  The saying in Grenada is that people with nutmeg trees on their property will always have a few dollars in their pocket.

 

 

nutmeg trays and sacksNutmeg trees are a distinctive yellow-green in color, growing to about 60 feet at full maturity.  Ninety percent of all nutmeg trees on Grenada were lost during Hurricane Ivan in 2007.  New trees planted after Ivan are just now beginning to bear fruit.  In human terms, the average Grenadian lost seven years of supplemental income from the sale of nutmeg due to Ivan’s devastation.  The island’s economy is inherently fragile. Most jobs are concentrated in the seasonal and volatile tourism sector of the economy.  Supplemental income from the sale of fruits and vegetables helps many families to make ends meet.

Nutmeg with mace inside fruit

 

On the tree, the fruit is yellow, about the size of a small apple.  When ripe, the outer pod splits open and the fruit falls to the ground, whereupon it is collected by the owner and delivered to the Grenada Nutmeg Cooperative. The Cooperative pays the owner based on the size and quality of the fruit presented.

nutmeg closeup

 

 

 

MaceNutmeg is actually two spices in one.  Inside is the familiar oval-shaped brown nut covered by red waxy netting.  The red netting is the source of the spice known as mace.  At the Grenada Nutmeg Cooperative in Grenville, the mace is separated and weighed while the nutmeg is sorted on the basis of size and dried in large bins for three months before being sold to spice manufacturers.

Chocolate Guide

 

 

From Grenville, it is on to the chocolate factory at Belmont Estate, followed by lunch at the Belmont’s so-called “sheeple” restaurant (an eating and drinking establishment catering primarily to cruise boat passengers).  Samples of the 100% dark chocolate (no sugar or cocoa butter added) prove a bitter pill to swallow.

 

Belmont Estate

 

River Antoine SignNext is a tour of the historic River Antoine Rum Distillery near the town of Tivoli on the northeast coast of the island.  This facility has distilled rum in the same manner since 1785.  As such, it is the oldest distillery in Grenada.  Rum production is another important local industry, as there are rum shops (small neighborhood bars) on nearly every street in Grenada.

 

Sugar Cane Shack

Water WheelAt the distillery, locally harvested sugar cane is shredded into small pieces by a massive two-story wheel powered by water diverted from a local stream.  The processed juice from the cane is collected in basins and boiled.  The resultant syrupy liquid is then pumped into foul-smelling, open-air fermentation vats where it remains for eight days before being sent to the wood-fired distillation boiler.

Distillery guide

 

Rum bottles

 

The result is a very potent clear liquid (150 proof or 75% alcohol) that makes one’s head feel light merely by sniffing the stuff.  The bottling department consists of one worker seated at a small table pouring the product by hand into glass bottles.  Free samples are available for all in the tasting showroom, where one may purchase the rum of their choice and/or pre-mixed bottles of passion fruit rum punch.

 

 

Thank you USAFrom the distillery, Cutty drives past Pearls Airport on the beach near Grenville.  This facility was closed in 1984 when the new Maurice Bishop International Airport was opened on the south coast near Point Salines.  Nowadays, the old airport is used for sanctioned drag racing events.  Alongside the runway at Pearls are several Cuban military aircraft that were “de-commissioned” during the U.S.-led invasion of Grenada in 1983.  To this day, most Grenadians express appreciation for the U.S. intervention.

After a final stop at the Grande Etang Forest Reserve to feed bananas to the mona monkeys, it is back to Prickly Bay, just in time for sunset.  Thanks to Cutty’s insights and driving ability, we have come to know the back roads and villages of Grenada as a result of today’s tour.

Esther and OmegaOn Thursday, 4/10 we attend cooking class at True Blue Resort, an easy 20 minute walk from the dinghy dock past St. George’s University.  Resident chefs Esther and Omega demonstrate the fine art of preparing callaloo fritters and fish cakes to a group of 20 some cruisers.  Callaloo is a leafy green, similar in color and consistency to spinach.  Fish cakes are made from boiled salt cod.  Both dishes involve mixing a batter and ladling the mixture into a sauté pan of hot oil.  The result is not exactly health food, but it is a common dish that can be found on most menus in the Eastern Caribbean.

Bike repairDuring our walk back to the dinghy dock, Marc at Mocha Spoke is busy replacing the rear brake cable on my Bike Friday.  In addition to being the owner, barista and chief wrench at this coffee shop/bike rental shop and bicycle touring business, Marc is the organizer of Tour de Spice, a triathalon that will take place here in Grenada on April 27th.  Mocha Spoke is a popular hangout where SGU students are cramming for final exams.  The mocha frappes and intense studying here are quite refreshing.

Each day during the morning cruiser’s net, the VHF radio is buzzing with new and exciting things to do here at Camp Grenada.  We will definitely run out of time before we run out of things to do on the Spice Island.  Stay tuned for further adventures.

Babyface

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March 31st to April 3rd – Union Island to Carriacou

 

Beach shotAfter four days in the Tobago Cays, the anchor is up for the short downwind run to Chatham Bay on the west coast of Union Island.  Chatham Bay is a large, wide-open anchorage surrounded by steep hills.  It is appropriate for cruisers seeking protection from the easterly trades and entertainment at the half dozen beach bars that dot the shore.

 

inside rest looking outwardOther than a few fishermen shacks, there are no dwellings here.  Recently, the government constructed a dirt road that connects Chatham Bay to other areas of Union Island.  As a result, the number of beach bars increased from one to six.  With the sudden increase in competition and the relatively small numbers of cruising boats calling here, these establishments are apparently struggling economically to survive.

Restaurant bldgSoon after the anchor is set, Cutter Loose is approached by a parade of small boats.  After two seasons in the Eastern Caribbean, we have grown accustomed to visits from all manner of salesmen.  Typically, they offer fish, lobster, fruits, vegetables, T-shirts and taxi services.  Today, our visitors are beach restaurateurs offering information about their lunch and dinner specials.  They urge us to make a menu selection and a reservation so that they can prepare adequately.

inside restaurantOur lunch of grilled tuna, fried plantain, rice and slaw at Jerry’s Palm Leaf Bar is delicious and the staff is attentive and engaging.  After lunch, we learn about the underhanded tactics used by some of the Chatham Bay restaurant owners to attract business.  One owner informs us that his outboard motor has been stolen by a competitor, preventing his marketing outreach to incoming yachts.  Another owner allegedly informs visitors that her competitors have recently closed their restaurants for the season.

Everyone seems to agree that there are fewer yachts visiting Union Island these days.  At least in part, this is the result of a 2013 incident at the Frigate Island anchorage a few miles south of here in which a cruising boat was boarded by would-be thieves brandishing machetes. Cutter Loose is one of a dozen cruising boats anchored in Chatham Bay tonight.  Although Chatham Bay has not heretofore been unsafe in any way, safety in numbers is comforting.

Truthfully, we have been uncomfortable with Union Island ever since an aggressive boat boy by the name of Tiger harassed us in Clifton Harbor in April, 2013.  The boat boys here rent moorings, some of which do not belong to them and others of which have been known to go adrift.  There is very limited space to anchor in Clifton Harbor given the preponderance of local boats, an abundance of visiting yachts, an increasing number of moorings and the narrowness of the channel between the reefs.  The boat boys hover near the entrance to the harbor, knowing full well that many skippers will relent and agree to a mooring after several unsuccessful attempts at anchoring.  Ashore, Clifton seems to attract an element of substance abusers and persons with mental disabilities.  To be certain, this element is a small percentage of the population, but sufficient to inspire caution when walking the streets of Clifton.

Why would one choose to visit Clifton Harbor?  It is an outpost in the wilderness, the southernmost community in the Grenadines and an official port of entry to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  Yachts call here to fulfill clearance responsibilities at the Customs office.  It is the price to be paid for the privilege of visiting the Tobago Cays.

On Tuesday, 4/1, the anchor is up in Chatham Bay.  Cutter Loose is underway, motoring into the wind and leaving the reef surrounding Frigate Island to port en route to Clifton Harbor.  The harbor is crowded with visiting yachts, as usual.  Waving off the solicitations of local boat boys, we proceed quickly to a small opening inside the reef where the hook grabs solidly on the sandy bottom.   Because the anchorage is crowded, Cutter Loose is on a short 3:1 scope…not ideal, but hopefully sufficient given the short duration of our stay.

We are greeted at the dinghy dock by a topless woman of African descent wearing what initially appears to be a diaper but turns out to be an over-sized pair of men’s briefs.  She is screaming angrily at nobody in particular. Presumably, this is the official Chamber of Commerce welcome to Clifton.

Officers at the harborfront Customs office inform us that instead of working at their office in the village, Immigration officials are working at the airport today.  They instruct us to proceed to the airport where both Customs and Immigration can be accomplished simultaneously.  Thankfully, the airport is but a 20 minute walk from the harbor.  The Immigration officer at the airport cannot understand why we have been instructed to clear here rather than at the village office.  After several minutes of confusion and indecision, both Customs and Immigration officers agree to process our paperwork.  We are officially cleared for departure from SVG.

Mission accomplished, it is a brief stop at the bakery and a visit to the friendly ladies at the fruit stand before returning to Cutter Loose.  The total elapsed time of our visit is less than two hours.  The anchor is up and we are underway from Clifton Harbor without incident or negative encounter of any kind, notwithstanding the fact that our visit here is unsettling.

Our destination of Petit St. Vincent is only five miles southeast from Clifton Harbor.  Unfortunately, a passing squall increases the wind speed to 20+ knots from the direction of our destination.  Rather than motor into six foot frothy seas, we opt instead for a comfortable broad reach to Tyrrel Bay on the island of Carriacou.

Tyrrel Bay is a large protected body of water nearly surrounded by a semi-circular beach.  It is an official port of entry to the nation of Grenada and Carriacou.  The harbor is filled with work boats and cruising yachts.  There is a small community of liveaboards that spend the entire year in Tyrrel Bay.  Since the Customs office at the boatyard remains open until 4:30 PM, there is plenty of time to clear in before quitting time.  This is our final clearance of the season, since Cutter Loose will remain in Grenada again during the forthcoming Atlantic hurricane season.

To our surprise and delight, cruising friends Paula and Scott are sanding and painting the hull of Scherzo in the yard. We enjoy a barbeque chicken dinner together at the boatyard restaurant.   On Wednesday 4/2, we join in an afternoon cruiser’s game of Mexican Train dominoes where we learn some new twists that add interest and intrigue to the game.  Tomorrow, it is on to Grenada in what will be our final open-water sail of the season.

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March 27th to March 30th – Tobago Cays

 

Our tour of the Grenadines resumes on Thursday, 3/27 with a relaxed downwind sail to the Tobago Cays National Marine Park, located 21 miles southeast of Mustique.  After three days of relative calm, the easterly trade winds are making a comeback today.  At 7:45 AM, the wind is already blowing at a steady 20 knots, making for a smooth and speedy broad reach past the tiny islands of Petit Mustique, Savan and Petit Canouan.   Leaving the island of Canouan to port, the autopilot is set to track a waypoint near the island of Mayreau, the northern gateway to Tobago Cays.

aerial viewOne mile northeast of the northern tip of Mayreau are two large outcroppings known as Baleine Rocks, which are awash in foamy surf.   Once south of Baleine Rocks, a course to the southeast takes us into the Tobago Cays National Marine Park.  Entering the park, the shallower water becomes iridescent turquoise, stunning in its intensity.  Within the park, four tiny islands (Petit Rameau, Petit Bateau, Baradel and Jamesby) are protected from the Atlantic Ocean by the 1.5 mile stretch of Horseshoe Reef located just a stone’s throw to the east.

CL at anchorOcean waves crash furiously on the reef, revealing its underwater presence.  Beyond the reef lies Petit Tabac, a small sand spit dotted with palm trees.  Beyond Petit Tabac lies the continent of Africa, 3000 miles to the east.  Cutter Loose is anchored inside Horseshoe Reef on the windward side of Jamesby Island, where the wind driven chop is a scant one foot despite sustained easterly trade winds of 20 to 25 knots.

Cats at anchorHaving arrived at this, the crown jewel of the Grenadines, the pace aboard Cutter Loose slows to a standstill.  The gradation of brilliant water colors alone provides sufficient entertainment to capture one’s attention for days on end.   Gulls hover effortlessly in the sea breeze in search of sustenance, squawking and squealing with delight at the skirmish of baitfish being driven to the surface by predators.

sunsetEven the constant change in weather is a fascinating sight to behold.  Afternoon squalls appear on the distant eastern horizon, steadily approaching the Cays with their payload of convection, precipitation and enhanced wind.   The residual byproducts of squalls are dramatic late afternoon cloud formations, spawning pink, peach, fiery red and orange sunsets.  Being here is a total escape from life’s distractions.  We are in touch and in tune with nature.

Beach shot 2Our days are filled with reading, listening to music, walking an assortment of beaches, swimming with the sea turtles in the Baradel Island turtle sanctuary, snorkeling on the reef and relaxing in the cockpit playing board games while gazing at our stunning surroundings.  At night, the sky is filled to capacity with stars, planets and constellations.  This is a magical place.

 

Park RangersEvery day, there is an influx and an exodus of cruising boats from the anchorage.  Cutter Loose is one of 18 boats anchored here overnight.  The Park Ranger visits each boat to collect the $10 EC ($3 USD) per person daily fee for the privilege of being in the Park.  Each morning, Mr. Quality arrives in his pirogue bringing freshly baked baguettes from nearby Union Island.  Other boat boys are kept busy guiding bareboat charterers to mooring balls.

lobster shackBoat boys here do not solicit business from cruising yachts unless requested. An occasional fisherman, however, stops alongside to offer a freshly caught fish.  An enterprising young man has set up a gas grill in a shack on the beach where grilled spiny lobster is offered for lunch.  Most of this activity takes place in the narrow cut between the islands of Petit Rameau and Petit Bateau.

lobster cleaning

Lobster table

Beach shot

One of the beauties of remaining at anchor in a remote place for several days is the satisfaction that comes from the freedom of living self-sufficiently aboard Cutter Loose. Given the abundance of wind and sun here in the Cays, our energy needs are fulfilled almost entirely by solar panels and wind generator.  There is sufficient wind and solar energy being generated to power the watermaker simultaneously with refrigeration and other boat systems.  The use of the diesel generator is limited to about 30 minutes each day to heat water for showers and dishwashing.  At 7 AM each morning, the ship’s batteries are nearly fully charged, thanks to the D400 wind generator that never sleeps.

After four relaxing days at anchor in the Tobago Cays, it is time to bid farewell to this lovely setting.  On Monday, 3/31, Cutter Loose will set sail for to Union Island.

Blue White Ketch

 

 

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