Friday, April 25, 2014

Monster wahoo in Tobago Cays

Wahoo! 4 feet plus!!!
Several days ago, I caught a denizen of the deep to rival my giant lobster in Spanish Wells, Bahamas. Dana, Hanna, and I were sailing fast in rough seas, trolling with my lucky lure (which failed to produce in the last couple sails). I think we had all forgotten about the line in the water when the squeal of the reel abruptly stopped our conversation. Whatever creature had taken the lure was peeling out line faster than anything we’ve landed. I expected line to break at any moment … but the monofilament and metal leader held fast.

We all sprang in action. Dana brought the cockpit cushions down below and retrieved my implements for landing and dispatching the fish. Hanna let out Eventyr’s main and jib to slow our speed, which would make it easier for me to reel in the behemoth. After reeling for about 20 minutes, we finally got a look at the monster. By its missile-like shape and bold blue stripes, I knew it was a wahoo. I also realized it was too big to haul up by hand, so Dana brought up the gaff.

A wahoo for sure!
With our sails flapping to reduce speed, Dana, Hanna and I finally landed the wahoo. I put it out of its misery by spraying strong white rum from Martinique into its gills. Then, I undertook the long process of filleting it underway (since it was way too big to fit in our fridge). The tasty white-fleshed fish was over four feet long and when all was said and done, we had pounds of meat.  For the next several days we ate sashimi with soy sauce and wasabi, ceviche, and grilled and pan-fried fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Upon anchoring, we also traded a couple fillets for a bag of ice with a local hawker on a boat who came to our boat to peddle his wares. Later, on our dinghy we traded a couple more fillets for several limes with some French cruisers on a large sailboat.

Rum in the gills
After catching the oversized wahoo (which really looked like a giant sea snake with his dorsal fin down and freaked out Dana and Hanna) and getting everything back ship shape on Eventyr, we arrived at our destination: the Tobago Cays. We were told these small islands were one of the most gorgeous areas in the Eastern Caribbean, so we were excited. The several cays are surrounded by reef creating a shallow, mostly-protected, sand-bottom, turquoise oasis in the rough Atlantic Ocean. The first thing we did upon waking the next day was to explore one of the uninhabited cays. We were the only dinghy ashore to take advantage of the white sand beach and excellent snorkeling. Dana and I climbed to the top of the island’s one hill to take in the view. Along the way, we ran into a number of white-colored iguanas that live unmolested in the protected marine park that is Tobago Cays.

Hanna gives a wave in Tobago Cays
Dana modeling in front of the view (Eventyr in background)
White iguana
Iguanas, white sand beaches, and snorkeling with cuddle fish and sting rays is cool and all, but we’ve been there, done that. What we were most anxiously anticipating about Tobago Cays was swimming with turtles at the protected turtle viewing area off one of the islands. I was not fully prepared for the experience. We didn’t swim with one or two turtles. We saw dozens! The turtles lazily swam along the bottom gulping down bunches of sea grass. They let us swim right up before slowly moving off. This was an experience truly not to be missed!

Me harassing a couple turtles
Dana enjoying the Tobago Cays turtles
Hanna excited to meet a sea turtle in person
Sea turtle at Tobago Cays. The star of the show
Although the Tobago Cays were amazing, the anchorage was a bit rolly and we’re again on a schedule and needed to move on. To our next stop, we sailed a short distance down wind with following seas for a comfortable change of pace. Our speed topped out at 7.5 knots, which is extremely fast for us! We were headed to Union Island, one of the southern most islands in the Grenadines. Other cruisers recommended anchoring in Chatham Bay to get an off-the-beaten-track look at the island.

Several small, off the grid, generator powered, sand floor beach bars line the calm bay. Upon anchoring, one of the beach bar proprietors motored out to Eventyr to advertise his happy hour and dinner specials. We decided to make a bee line for his pink painted establishment. Seckie, the owner, welcomed us with rum punches for less than $3 US. Dana and I had him cook the remainder of our wahoo and Hanna got lobster. She’s been sorely disappointed in my inability to provide the crew with lobster since my bold promises from the Bahamas. Not only was the food amazing, but the camaraderie was pleasant. We met a couple with their small child on a charter boat, and another couple on a beautiful sailboat with their 19-year-old son and his friend. We swapped stories all night before dinghying back to Eventyr. Hanna even got an invite to tour their sailboat the next morning when I was out for my run to the island's main town to clear us out of customs. There is a level of friendliness in the cruising community that really can’t be topped!

Chattham Bay, Union Island beach bar
Hanna, a bit nervous but excited for lobster 
Dana and I enjoying the Grenadine sunset
Secki preparing the lobster
Last time I posted, we were in Bequia during the Mount Gay Rum Easter Regatta, and Hanna’s boat had just lost its rudder. Hanna went on to crew on another boat, C-Mos, which ended up placing third in the most competitive division, which her original boat Jaguar, was predicted to win. The weekend finished with a series of parties and an award ceremony. My favorite party was the one on the beach at Lower Bay, where all the locals come out to celebrate their small local double-ender sailboat class. The local racers beached their boats after the race and joined in the drinking, music, and barbequing with those on shore already celebrating.

Post regatta party at Lower Bay in Bequia
C-Mos rounding a buoy during regatta with Hanna aboard
Dana and I got into the excitement of the Regatta in our own way. We’re not the racing types, as we don’t really like heeling over that much, and aren’t too fussy about our sail trim. The captain of Madonna even called us “chickens” for not volunteering to crew on his boat when he was short on crew. Sure enough, the next day, when faced with high winds, his vessel was dismasted. That means his mast broke in half sending the sails into the water and jeopardizing everyone’s safety. Luckily, the three people on board were uninjured and the captain motored out of the race in disgrace and disgust with the time, money and work he would now have to put back into Madonna.

Instead of racing, on the rest day of the regatta, Dana, Hanna and I went for a quick day sail at a time when a professional photographer was out on his dinghy taking photos of boats. Kenmore Henville got some amazing shots of Eventyr in all her glory. Dana and I even got up the courage to heel over a bit for some of the pictures. Hanna loves the excitement of heeling and was happy with our change of pace. Dana and I bought the CD with more than 70 images! Those images will be priceless for years to come.

Eventyr in all her glory
Dana, Hanna, and I are now in Carriacou, an island which is part of Grenada. The people here are incredibly hospitable and we spent today at the lovely, long, white sand Paradise Beach. Tonight we watch live local music and eat lobsters. We can’t complain. Tomorrow we leave for Grenada proper.

Despite the fun the three of us have been having, all good things must come to an end. Hanna has to head back to the real world, flying out of Grenada in a few days. She is extremely sad to go and will be missed dearly on Eventyr. Hopefully, one day the tables will be turned and she and her boyfriend Chris will have Dana and I aboard their yet to be acquired cruising yacht!

Soon after Hanna departs, my mom will arrive in Grenada. Mom is excited for the tropics after enduring this brutal winter. Dana and I can’t wait to have her aboard to get a taste of the adventure. Grenada has beaches, rainforest, beautiful anchorages, and amazing local fruits, vegetables, spices, rum, and chocolate. We can’t wait!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Grenadines and a major decision about the future of the adventure

Decisions, decisions
Greetings from Bequia, Grenadines and the Mount Gay Rum Easter Regatta. Much has transpired since our Philly friends left us in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, and Dana and I have had to make an adventure-changing decision. Needless to say, it's been quite a week.

Last week, we finished our stay at the Rodney Bay Marina. We stayed 11 days in the marina, which is longer than we've stayed in one place since we left Philadelphia. The reason for our extended stay was eight coats of varnish on Eventyr's exterior teak. She looks better than the day we first stepped aboard. Although Dana, Hanna, and I put on four of the coats, Vision and Meshena deserve all the credit. They stripped and sanded all the woodwork down to bare teak and did the first three and final coat. They are true professionals and we really appreciate the work they did. As a side bonus, they're awesome people and we had a ton of fun hanging out with them. Vision went out of his way to show us his island of St. Lucia and made us feel like family. One day, when Dana, Hanna, and I were waiting for the minibus (public bus) to take us to the main town of Castries, Vision waved us down. He took us in his car down to Castries where he brought us to the best local juice shop, brought me to a local barber shop, and took us on a tour of the central market. He even helped us pick out a CD, Jah Cure, which we've been enjoying since.

Meshena, Vision, Hanna, Dana, and I at Rodney Bay Marina
Our final night in Rodney Bay was crazy. It was one of those unexpected nights that you can't predict. It was Friday night and our plan was to go back to the Friday night street party at Gros Islet where Michael was pick-pocketed the week prior. The night took a turn, however, after having a few drinks at the marina bar with Archie and then meeting Matt. We met Archie previously in Martinique when we were both clearing out of customs. His boat, Janey, is a beautiful Tartan and he is originally from St. Lucia. Matt, a contractor from New York, joined up with us and invited us on his boat,  Carried Away, over on the mega yacht dock. Carried Away is a large, comfortable, well appointed, and air conditioned power boat. We were jealous of Matt's amazing amenities, but in the cruising world, we're all just boaters. Matt invited us on his tender, and instead of heading to the street party, we motored over to dinner in the sand at an amazing upscale restaurant on the other side of the bay. After an incredible dinner of fresh seafood, we dinghied on, with no particular destination in mind. Somehow, we ended up pulling up to the dock of a large house in the bay pumping loud dance music. Hanna was quick off the tender to ask the owner, "is this a club?" He responded, "No, but you're welcome to come in." The owner, Cuthbert was integral in the building the Rodney Bay Marina, and treated us to drinks, music, and a history of the island. Hanna, Dana, Matt, Archie, and I ended the evening for a nightcap on Eventyr after a couple hours at Cuthbert's colorful house. We've since run into Archie in Bequia, where he is crewing on a race boat in the regatta.

Everything, however, comes to an end at some point, and we had to leave Rodney Bay to continue our journey southbound. Lucky for us, we planned to stay in a nearby bay that night, so we didn't have far to sail. Also, Vision happened to live in that town and invited us for a "Rasta dinner." We motored out of Rodney Bay, recounting the fun times we had with our friends just a few days earlier as we raised the main and turned southward. We were all in agreement that we were ready for a change of location after a great stay. No point in overstaying your welcome.

After a lovely sail on a fast beam reach through relatively calm seas, we pulled into Marigot Bay about ten miles south of Rodney bay toward the end of the day. Marigot Bay is a special place and we enjoyed one of our favorite sunsets on Eventyr in a while. The bay is a calm, mangrove-lined lagoon, with a spit of sand and palm trees blocking the open ocean. The sun sets directly behind the palm trees, making for a postcard-worthy photo op. After the sunset, we headed to Vision's house up the hill. His house is a humble two-room dwelling on stilts with a tin roof over looking the valley. His friends Michelle and Ziza were hanging out as well. We sat on the floor, drank wine, and enjoyed Vision's "one pot" stew of millet, pumpkin, and local flora and spices. It was delicious and the company was fabulous. Ziza insisted on calling me Tommy, and I was cool with it. With my boyish haircut and bright primary colored shirt, I think I fit a schoolboy name like Tommy (no offense Tommy T). Our hosts smoked copious amounts of "natural trees," and Ziza and Michelle loved chatting with Hanna and Dana about life, love, and current affairs. the night was full of laughter and toasting. Vision drove Hanna, Dana and I back down to the bay, and we rowed back to Eventyr in the perfectly calm bay. It was a night we won't soon forget.

Marigot Bay
Vision in his home doing dishes 
Me, Ziza, Dana, Hanna, Michelle, and Vision

Sailing out of Marigot Bay
After clearing out of St. Lucia customs in Marigot Bay the next day, we took off for the Pitons. As you may recall, we hiked the Gros Piton with the Philly crew while they were here. What we learned while there was that cruisers can anchor between the Pitons and take in a dramatic view. We couldn't resist. Upon securing a mooring in the deep bay, we set up a guide for a hike up the Petit Piton the next morning. It's called Petit Piton, but it's actually much steeper and more treacherous than the taller Gros Piton we already hiked. Piton Pete, who collects mooring fees, promised to pick us up the next morning at 7 am with a guide (his son) to hike the mountain. He referred to Gros Piton as "the ladies piton," and Petit Piton as "the men's piton."

Petit Piton on the left, Gros on the right
The next morning we were picked up bright and early and dropped at the beach to start our hike. from the beach to the summit was over 2700 feet. Our 18-year-old guide, Naheem, promptly removed his flip flops and guided us up the rocky slope barefoot. The hike was like nothing I've done before. Virtually the entire climb required both hands pulling yourself up with roots, rocks, dirt, or fixed ropes. The view from the top made it all worthwhile. The small summit provided a 360 degree view of St. Lucia.

Trailhead to Petit Piton
Barefoot Naheem giving Hanna some suggestion
Are you sure this is safe?
Don't worry about the drop!
Peak! Gros Piton across the way. Our anchorage in between 
Soufriere, St. Lucia, in the background. Long way down!
Enjoying the view
After a grueling decent involving tons of backward down-climbing, we made it back to the beach. It took about four hours round trip, so it was only noon. The only reasonable thing to do was to dinghy over to the exclusive Sugar Beach Resort for cocktails and pool time. We took advantage of the facilities until they realized we weren't actually guests and kicked us out to the public beach. Oh well. We retired to Eventyr and slept more soundly than ever, despite howling winds that screamed down the valley between the two Pitons.

Evening cocktail at Sugar Beach between pitons
Sugar Beach pool with Gros Piton backdrop (before getting kicked out)
From St. Lucia, we left early for an all day sail to St. Vincent on a relatively uncomfortable point of sail. Dana and I were grateful to be sailing with the motor off, burning no diesel, after months of motor sailing in to the wind and waves. We were warned that St. Vincent is dangerous, but other cruisers suggested we stay at the small fishing village in Cumberland Bay. It was the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, and I donned my shirt from last year in honor. We arrived in Cumberland Bay late in the afternoon and learned a totally new way to anchor. We dropped the anchor a couple hundred feet off shore, fell back on it, and then a local guy grabbed a stern line and tied the back of our boat to a pole on shore. He then came back and rowed us in to a local restaurant for a delicious dinner of mojitos and fresh Queen Fish. The only problem came upon our return to Eventyr. After boarding Charlie's small, Rasta colored boat, our laughing and joking almost caused us to capsize. Dana and I got thoroughly soaked. The next morning, Charlie said it was one of the funniest things he'd seen in a while. I don't think he would have been as jovial if the boat had been fully turned!

FaceTime in paradise
Boston Strong in Cumberland Bay, St. Vincent
Leaving Cumberland Bay, we motor sailed in light and unfavorable winds to our current location, Bequia. Bequia is the first island of the Grenadines and a major sailing destination. The beach is lined with beach bars, marine supply stores, and locals selling various knick knacks. By pure luck, we're here for their annual Mount Gay Easter Regatta, which started today. Hanna, immediately upon spying the official red Mount Gay Regatta caps, declared that she "needed" one. The problem was, the only way to get one was to participate. Within minutes, Hanna had not only signed up to volunteer, but had been picked up as crew on Jaguar, the boat that was expected to win the most competitive class. Jaguar is a 41-foot, carbon fiber sailboat built for one thing…to win races. Hanna was in for the ride of her life.

Hanna, joining Trinidad's Jaguar, heading out for a practice sail

Jaguar preparing for the Bequia Regatta
I am currently typing this at the first of several days of regatta parties. Hanna just arrived several hours after the race finished, and not triumphantly, as expected. Jaguar was in the lead, heading out into the open ocean with large seas on a day of higher than normal winds. At some point, a noise like an explosion sounded from the rear of the boat and Jaguar violently lurched, almost sending a couple of the 13 crew into the drink. Hanna was actually under water when Jaguar crashed over to its most extreme heel. One of the crew just recounted to me that she saw something float by just after the loud bang, which she thought was a surfboard. The debris turned out to be Jaguar's rudder. Without a rudder, a sailboat has no control over its steering. Jaguar was rescued after some mild panic and aimless floating and was eventually towed back to Admiralty Bay in Bequia, where I currently sit. Good thing there were many salty crew aboard, who knew just what to do in such an emergency. Along the slow journey back to Admiralty Bay, three tow lines broke and one tow boat's engine overheated. Hanna was happy to make it back in one piece. And she wonders why Dana and I aren't into competitive sailboat racing!!!???

We will stay the next few days in Admiralty Bay, anchored off a beautiful beach, before heading further south to the rest of the Grenadines and Grenada. We are having yet more work done on Eventyr to make her look even more pristine. Why all this work done on Eventyr during the midst of our adventure? Well, I mentioned earlier that Dana and I made a major decision about the adventure. What we've decided is to end adventure in Grenada or Trinidad and sell Eventyr.

This decision has been months in the making and very heart-wrenching. Since we first told other cruisers of our route back to Philly, they were consistently concerned about our plan to pass through Venezuela to get to Aruba and Central America. We brushed it off as fear-mongering at first, but recently did some serious research. Turns out Venezuela is extremely unstable in the past few months. Several cruising sailors have been boarded, beaten and robbed miles off shore of even the most remote islands. To avoid Venezuela would mean a 500-mile open ocean journey. Dana and I are not on board for piracy or 500-mile open ocean crossings. The other option is to head back north, but that means traversing the Caribbean during hurricane season. Very few sailors take that path. Our remaining option is to spend the remainder of our time taking it easy in the last few islands of the eastern Caribbean, which are below the hurricane zone.

The spirit of the adventure has always been travel and seeing new places. Sitting in one place does not really count. So, we made the call to see the rest of what we can and head back to Philly earlier than planned. We'll put Eventyr in storage down here and then decide whether we want to sell her here, or have a delivery captain bring her back to the states where she could bring more money. We'll see.

In the meanwhile, we'll be extremely sad to see Hanna leave in the next week or so, but she has to go back to real life too. My mom will be flying in to join us as the end of the month in Grenada and Dana and I are super excited to have her aboard. We feel terrible that we're not able to meet my cousin Casey in Aruba like we planned, but I guess things happen. We also won't be able to sail to Costa Rica to visit Dana's dad, but we'll probably fly over to visit. We still have a couple months left of the adventure and plan to make the best of it. Looks like things won't be getting any less exciting any time soon!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Unforgettable time with Philly friends in St. Lucia

Philly crew (and Hanna) on Gros Piton in St. Lucia
So it really happened! Four couples from Old City, Philadelphia made the trek down to St. Lucia and we were able to spend several amazing days with them. Michael, Mary, John, Megan, Ben, Jackie, John, and Maria got to experience a taste of the adventure. So much happened during our few days, it's hard to fit it all into the blog!

Upon arrival, Dana and I were quick to visit Michael, Mary, John, Meghan, Ben, and Jackie at their villa. We got updated on everything going on in Philly since we left and had a fun evening together. The next morning we were up early to embark on a adventurous hike up Gros Piton along with Hanna. St. Lucia is famous for the Pitons, Gros and Petit. We decided to hike Gros, the taller one. We ended up getting there a bit late and the hike was more arduous than expected. We made it to the halfway point before turning back and were treated to a spectacular view of Petit Piton and the open ocean. Afterward, we had a drink at the luxurious Ladera Hotel where we watched the sunset behind both Pitons. It was an amazing day.

Steep hike up Gros Piton
View of Petit Piton
View from Ladera
But the day wasn't over yet! We spent the night at a street party, where locals and tourists alike come to dance in the streets. We had a delicious grilled fish dinner in an open air tent before heading to the dance. Things started getting a bit crazy later in the night (i.e. Michael lost his phone to a pick pocket), so we decided to take off. We needed a lot of sleep that night after such an eventful day!

Enjoying the Gros Islet street party
The second full day of their visit was spent on Eventyr. Three of the couples joined Hanna, Dana and I on our floating home for a sail. We had great wind and booked south along the coast at close to 7 knots! Everyone was having a great time, and spirits weren't even dampened by a passing shower and building seas. On our way home, we pulled into a calmer spot and anchored to do some swimming and snorkeling off the boat. In no time we were having a diving competition, and I'm still not sure who won, although Meghan's back dive might have taken it. It was awesome having so many people enjoying themselves aboard Eventyr. It's rare she is used just for fun and not as transportation to our next port of call.

Welcoming the Philly crew aboard Eventyr

The Philly ladies on the foredeck as we left the marina
Ben taking a turn at the helm
Dance party on Eventyr's fore deck
Meghan and Dana competing. Nice form!
John and I in a synchronized dive

The whole crew in Eventyr's cockpit under sail
That night was exciting as well. We got to watch UConn beat Florida to go to the NCAA championship game. We basically took over the bar and surprised the other patrons with UConn chants and enthusiastic cheering. UConn went on to win the national championship, which really capped off this amazing year of college basketball.

Make the free throw!
The final full day together was spent as a beach day and Dana and I were able to join all four couples at their resort's beach. It was a pleasant, relaxing day, and everyone was able to wind down and get ready for return to real life (except Dana, Hanna, and I who will continue on with our adventure lifestyle). Ben and Mary were down for the count with some kind of bug, but the rest of the group were able to enjoy the beach. The night was capped off with a fantastic dinner attended by the four couples (excluding the sickies), a fifth couple from Philly down as well, Hanna, Dana and I.

Toasting our final day at the beach with Gasolina (thanks to Mary who brought them)
Doing plank on the beach (Lithe on location)
We said good bye on Monday and were sad to see them leave. We look forward to seeing the whole crew back in Old City once we return. Dana, Hanna, and I spent the last several days sanding and varnishing. Vision and Mesheena, who did our initial sanding and varnishing, will do the final coat to make it look nice. We were proud of ourselves for doing the five coats in between. It's really tough work but it's all part of the adventure! Not to complain about a bit of work, though :-)

Almost the final coat. Looking good!
Tomorrow we leave the Rodney Bay Marina to head further south in St. Lucia. Next week we'll make the jump down to Bequia, in the Grenadines. We're about ready to ramble on.