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.