Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Man Boat

Living on Strolla had always been a bit rustic, but when Becca left us, life aboard ship devolved into is most basic masculine form.  All prior restraint was now gone.  None of us had been wearing underwear for quite some time by this point but, now Mark gave up on clothing all together.  Most mornings after that, the only thing he wore during his morning calisthenics on the foredeck, were a pair of sunglasses.  Nate took to picking his cuticles and scraping the dead skin from his back with a 3.5 ft machete he'd bought in the Dominican Republic.  The blade had rusted deeply in the damp salt air and the boat was filled with Nate's rusty brown shavings.  

All of us have given up on using dishes.  We were tired of cleaning them. The preferred method aboard Strolla had always been to wash the dirty dishes in a bucket of sea water out in the cockpit, scrub them good, and then into the cabin for a quick rinse in the sink with the fresh water.  This dramatically conserved our fresh water stores and got us at least another week between fill ups.  However, depending on where we'd anchored for the night and the cleanliness of the harbor water there, it was at times questionable if this system actually made the dishes cleaner.

With Becca no longer there to hold the line, the pots remained dirty on the stove top and the snippings of the meal before became the base for the meal to come, like sourdough bread.  Our personal bowls and silverware went into the sink the first day out of St. Lucia so that they didn't go flying across the cabin while we were underway.  There, they had hands washed over them and cans strained on them, so there they stayed.  We now eat off our bodies, hands, thighs, and lap. 

 If the conditions are right, and the meal is big enough to require the extra space, we'll lie flat on our backs and eat off our stomachs.  This has the added advantage of allowing the belly button to be used to hold dipping sauces and seasonings.  Cleanup is simple.  We just roll our bare, sun browned bodies over the side like sea elephants.  We float beside the boat motionlessly, and the little fishes of these tropical waters come over and do the cleaning for us.  Truly a tropical paradise we live in.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Goodbye Becca

Fort Vieux is where one of the two airports on St. Lucia is and where Becca left us.  Money was low, commitments back home were pressing (or so she said), and it was time for her to go.  We had about a day to spend in the town.  Becca's flight left the next afternoon.  After a good swim to wash myself and my clothes, Mark and I wandered around town, looking for internet access.  Nate stayed to help Becca pack.  

Fort Vieux is not a stop for cruise ships or even private boaters to any large extent.  The only draw there is the airport and there is another one on the island farther north, closer to the resorts.  Its a regular, working town, not particularly pretty, not set up with the amenities that transient sailors desire, no showers, no WiFi, no pricey little tourist restaurants serving American food.  As Mark and I walked along the streets, though we were the only two white people in sight, no one paid us a second's notice.  After having been followed and harassed everywhere we went in Soufriere by beggars and taxi drivers and tour guides, it was great to be ignored.
We all walked Becca in to town her last morning but Mark and I peeled off at the internet cafe and let Nate go with her alone to the airport.  It was a long walk with little shade.  When Nate returned, sad and sweat stained, our crew now reduced to three, we joined him silently in the street and headed for the harbor.

Along the way, we stopped to pick up a family value meal from Kentucky Fried Chicken.  I haven't seen a McDonald's since leaving Florida, but there seems to be a KFC on every island and there's always a line.  These people like their fried chicken.  Back by the water, we bought pirate necklaces with pendants of polished drift wood from an emaciated old man sitting out on the fishing wharf, then took the dinghy out to where Strolla lay at anchor.  It was amazing how much faster the little boat went with only three people in it.

The value meal was supposed to feed a family of six.  Although we finished it without too much difficulty, we felt lucky to all be wearing bathing suits with elastic waistbands.  When the last greasy crumb of chicken skin had been licked up, the last biscuit used to wipe up the last dollop of mashed potatoes and gravy, we settled back into various positions of repose, sated past the point of comfort.  As we reclined in silence, watching the drop to the watery horizon, bare-chested save for our new necklaces, each was lost in his own thoughts, wondering what the trip would be like without Becca.

Becca, you will be missed...


Saturday, March 26, 2011

St. Lucia

The next stop down the line was at Rodney Bay on the northern end of St. Lucia.  The overnight trip from Martinique to St. Lucia was Becca's last overnight sail, her last longer trip aboard Strolla so she took the opportunity to do a few things she hadn't done yet this trip.  Namely, climbing the mast.

Rodney Bay is surrounded by a string of beach side resorts and a marina.  Not much else there but, all four of us met and became friends this past Summer working at Jackson Lake Lodge, a Vail Resorts property.  We knew they also owned a hotel on Rodney Bay and were curious to see it.  We did.  It was your basic tropical resort, expensive and sterile, little to do except lie on the beach and bake.  I get enough sun.  I seek the shade.  We took a quick walk through, dipped a toe in the pool, briefly thought about steeling some towels, and left. 

Further down the coast, we stopped in at Soufriere, a beautiful, deep bay in the shadow of the Pitons, two jagged mountains rising straight up from the water's edge.  Here, we had our first encounter with "boat boys," local boys in motor launches who come out and give unrequested, unnecessary assistance in exchange for tips.  We'd been warned that these boat boys could be aggressive but, no one had told us what exactly they did. 

When the first two motored up to us in their skiff, five miles out from the bay, and asked where we were headed, we told them.  Why be rude?  And, when they approached us again one mile from the bay asking if we needed a mooring, we said, "sure, why not?"  By the time we realized what they were up to they'd already spent enough time and fuel on us that they weren't leaving without a tip.  They led us to an empty mooring, held up the mooring line and then kept their hands held up after I'd taken it, waiting for money.  I gave them a five.  They insisted on twenty.  I laughed.  They remained bobbing next to us, staring sullenly.  We sat on our boat and stared back.  They saw the empty beer cans in the cockpit and asked for a beer.  I laughed again and gave them each a warm can.  They took the beer, threw the five on the floor of their boat contemptuously, and motored off.  That was the last time I was nice to boat boys.
The town of Soufriere wasn't much of a place.  It was dirty, dilapidated, and what businesses there were, were closed down for the weekend.  A quick walk through convinced us we didn't want to spend another second there.  We spent the night on the boat and left early the next morning, bound for Fort Vieux on the island's southern tip.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fun with the French

From Guadalupe we jumped down to Martinique, another French island.  In between we passed Dominica, which hurt to miss, but we were on a schedule now and had to make time.  Becca had a flight to catch.  It was an overnight sail and the biggest event was a rain squall that hit just after sunrise.  Becca said she saw a waterspout but didn't point it out to anyone until after it had dissipated.  Becca's observations are suspect.

Saint Pierre is no longer the main port on Martinique, nor is it the island's capital.  Both of these things changed when the nearby Mount Pelee volcano erupted in 1902.  The "Paris of the Caribbean" was totally destroyed with a loss of more than 30,000 lives.  The only survivor was a drunk who's stone jail cell protected him from the destruction.  He was badly burned over most of his body and still managed to survive in his cell for nearly a week before being rescued.  He was later picked up by the Barnum and Bailey Circus and toured the world as part of their side show.  Mark and I learned all this at the town's volcano museum, where we also got to see boxes of nails welded together and a church bell that had been crushed like soft clay. 

The island is also famous for its rum industry.  Apparently, Martinique is to rum what Scotland is to whiskey.  The closest distillery to Saint Pierre, and the only one in walking distance, is the Depaz distillery, just outside of town.  Off we went.  The day was brutally hot and it was long steep walk, but there was free rum at the end of it so we kept going.

The Depaz distillery was a beautiful property, up on a hill overlooking the town and harbor, nestled amongst the sugar cane fields, harvested to make its rum.  The tour was free, self guided, ending in the gift shop where samples were handed out freely and without limit.  We were behind a what appeared to be a French high school field trip on the tour.  Fun field trip.  And, were more than a little surprised to watch them file into the gift shop where each and every one of them partook freely of the samples before filling their arms with liquor bottles and staggering to the cashier counter.  I wish I was raised French.

Welcome to the Windward Islands

A couple days on Virgin Gorda refreshed and revitalized us.  Two and a half months, constantly on the go, packed into our little boat in the steadily rising heat, had left all four of us feeling a bit weary and burnt out.  With our enthusiasm for exploration recharged, we were ready to move on.  Becca, by now feeling the keenest pangs of financial stress, had bought a plane ticket home from St. Lucia, 350 miles away.  We had six days.

From Virgin Gorda, we turned southeast, cutting down towards Guadalupe, and said goodbye to bashing out way into the Trade Winds.  No more darting between safe harbors during a weather window.  No more playing the night lees, land breezes, and katabatic winds to crawl our way east without one.  Now, we could sail whenever we wanted.  A steady east wind was the best thing for us.  It was as if a great weight had been lifted from our shoulders.  Sailing was no longer like the weary trudge up a sand dune it had become, sliding one step back for every two forward.  It was now the wild, reckless, and carefree romp down the other side with all sails set, bronzed hands light on the helm.  

We were chocking up the fastest speeds of the trip.  From Virgin Gorda we raced through the Anegada Passage and on into the night.  We approached the Dutch island of Saba at dawn.   It was a towering, cliff edged volcano of an island, dark, vibrant green except where the bare, brown, rock broke through.  A tiny cluster of white houses perched halfway up its east face, the only settlement.  There was no safe anchorage.  We admired it from afar as we flew onward.  

The next mountain of green to break the horizon was St. Eustatius, another Dutch island.  Here, we were joined by a pod of dolphins, jumping and playing, zigzagging with speed and grace, back and forth beneath our boat.  The mercury was rising with the sun and Mark determined it was time to take a dip with the dolphins.  We were about twenty miles from land.  No other boats in sight.  The water was a very dark blue and very deep.   We hove to, Mark grabbed his snorkel mask and dove in.  

Ever since, Mark finds ways to bring up his swim with those wise and playful sea mammals.  The truth is, the dolphins disappeared as soon as we stopped moving, and were long gone before Mark's foot ever broke the water's surface.  Perhaps, they decided simply to move on as suddenly as they'd appeared.  Perhaps, when we stopped sailing we stopped being fun to swim with.  Perhaps, they smelled Mark coming and fled in fear.  But, if Mark has swum with dolphins, then so has everyone who's ever swum in the ocean.  

St. Kitts was the next to slide by at sunset, then Nevis in the night, and then Montserrat just after dawn.  This last one is still an active volcano and we'd been warned to pass on its windward side lest we be caught in the fallout of one of its eruptions.   As we neared , we were about ten miles downwind of it.  I was the only one awake.  I flexed my captain's authority and chose the easiest of the two options.  As we passed, I could smell the sulfur and brimstone.

We finally made landfall Guadalupe, in the port of Deshaies.    It was like a tropical France.  Our first contact with the indigenous people was a young man with long ,blond hair pulled back in a ponytail who motored out to us in a dinghy.  With a heavy French accent, he explained that he was going boat to boat in the harbor, taking orders for fresh baguettes and croissants to be delivered at 0630 the next morning.  How could we resist?  They arrived on time, as promised, just as we were ready to weigh anchor.  They were delicious.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Virgin Gorda

We spent a couple nights on Tortola, lounging about, recovering from Jenny's visit.  The big project was repairing the broken fore stay.  We'd left if for after Jenny's departure so that we didn't have to waste a day of her already too short visit to the tropics.  The fore stay had been attached to the end of a small metal bar welded to the mast cap.  It wasn't the weld that broke.  The metal bar itself actually snapped in half.  

With the use of some spare shackles and some existing hardware already mounted to the top of the mast we were able to jury rig it in a way that leaves me feeling quite confident.  It took several trips up and down the mast.  The climbing harness we were using wasn't designed for extended sitting.  We were only able to stay aloft until our feet turned purple and numb.  Then, we had to lower ourselves down and rub the circulation back into our toes.  After my third trip up the mast, my shoulder muscles were trembling and I was soaked in sweat.  I think my river guiding muscles are long gone.

Once Strolla was back in top form, we set our sights east to Virgin Gorda.  The island is covered in round, smooth boulders the size of houses, piled along the shoreline, creating caves over the white sands and turquoise waters.  What brought us were the baths, a string of secluded beaches and coves connected by trails through the boulders.  Pictures of them grace the fronts of every travel brochure and booklet we'd seen.  What kept us was what lay just beyond the well worn trails and beach bars, a seemingly endless string of climbing routes to be discovered and ascended and all to ourselves.  I took a lot of pictures.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Goodbye Jenny.

The next stop after leaving St. Johns were the Indians, a ring of jagged boulders rising out of the ocean and one of the best snorkeling and diving sights in the Caribbean.  We enjoyed the snorkeling, and climbing up the rocks, but spent most of our time posing for a photos shoot all wearing our "Bill" shirts.  Bill was our river boss while river rafting this past Summer in Wyoming.  I had had some commemorative t-shirts printed up and we wanted a few good photos to send him of us in our "Bill Wear".

After an afternoon in the water, we continued on to Norman's Island in the British Virgin Islands, another recommendation from the friendly information kiosk man in Cruz Bay.  

The island is almost entirely wildlife refuge with a huge protected harbor on the west end filled with mooring buoys.  Permanently at anchor here as well is an old, steel ship converted to a floating restaurant.  There is no bridge and no nearby town.  The restaurant survives entirely on the business of the transient boaters moored in the harbor.  The place is called "Willie T's" and when the sun goes down, there's no where else to go.  So, every night's a party.  We'd been hearing a lot of hype and I was pleased to see it wasn't just idle talk.  I think we made our presence known on the dance floor.  Mark cut his foot open and we decided to go to bed. 

From Willie T's we sailed north to Tortola.  Jenny had a plane to catch back to a job in West Virginia.  Her last night aboard we anchored in a quiet cove for a home cooked dinner and an evening of card playing and reliving our recent adventures.  It had been an eventful week .  The next morning we sailed to the airport, dropped her off in the dinghy and waved as she walked off down the road to the terminal.  Strolla's crew was back to four.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

St. Johns for the Superbowl

We made the short sail from St. Thomas to Cruz Bay on St. John, squeezed our way in among the moored boats next to the ferry dock, and dropped anchor.  Now trying to cram five into our sorely overworked little dinghy, we wanted as short a commute to land as possible.

A quick canvasing of the town and we found the perfect watering hole to watch the Superbowl in, a pour your own drink bar.  Just like in an old western movie, the bartender sets a glass and a bottle on the bar in front of you.  We were still pretty tired from the night before and although we made a valiant effort, nobody's heart was really in it.  I don't even remember who won the game.  Mark is the only real sports enthusiast of the group.  Jenny fell asleep at the table and was drooling into her lap by the start of the fourth quarter.

The next day, I answered some emails while the crew plus one went for a hike in the national park.  Another evening out on the town followed, this time playing a game Jenny introduced us to called pub golf.  We were joined by Cassie and Scott, two United Airlines pilots on vacation who, for some reason, thought we looked like a good time.  With our numbers now swollen to seven, shenanigans ensued, but the evening ended early when Jenny disappeared.  A concerned crew divided the town into search quadrants and wandered the streets in the wee morning hours calling her name.  Jenny had headed back to the dinghy alone where she was eventually discovered sleeping softly in an inch of standing water.

Scott and Cassie turned out to be an excellent addition to the group.  They even took part in our stumbling search efforts.  As we parted ways at the end of the night, I invited them to come sailing with us the next day. A meeting time and place were set and the next morning, still half asleep, sunglasses firmly in place, I dragged myself ashore for the rendezvous.  Imagine my surprise when they actually showed up.  They seemed equally shocked to find that I'd remembered as well.  Happy reunion.  They'd brought lunch and beverages.

With seven aboard Strolla, people were starting to get in each other's way but, the weather was perfect and the distances were short.  We were headed to Carvel Rock, only a couple miles off, where there was an 80 ft jumping cliff.  We'd been told that there had once been a rock climbing company that led climbs up to the top but now was no more.  The jumping spot was a local secret, difficult to get to, difficult to get up.  Mark, Nate, Jenny, and I climbed to the top.  Becca, Cassie, and Scott took a pass.  However, of the four of us, not one had the guts to jump from the full height.  We all chickened out and scrambled down to lower ledges from which to leap in the churning ocean below.  


In total, we spent three days and nights in Cruz Bay and all agreed St. Johns makes our top five favorite places of the trip so far.  We made our goodbyes to Cassie and Scott and set off along the coast towards the British Virgin Islands.  Halfway along the north shore, just outside the national park boundary, we ducking into a small inlet protected by reefs.  Our own private cove.  Conch hunting, snorkeling, campfire on the beach, hammock in the trees.  Perfect.