Wednesday, June 15, 2011

St Vincent and the Grenadines Sailing - Part 2

We left off in the Tobago Keys, one of our favorite places in the Grenadines.  We had a fantastic spot in the anchorage, great holding ground, spectacular beaches and uninhabited islands to explore, fantastic snorkeling and a steady breeze keeping us cool at night.  It just doesn't get much better than this!

 One of our days spent in the Tobago Keys we went for a little hike up to the top of one of the islands early in the morning to beat the heat.

On our way up to the top of the island we were greeted by this big iguana sunning himself on a tree.  The views are great on top of the islands and it makes for a fun hike up.

We had a bit of the Barracuda left in the ice box and decided to grill it up for lunch when we first arrived in the Keys.  We had a bit of fresh bread some juicy ripe mangos - combined with the spectacular setting this made for an incredible lunch.  We seasoned the barracuda with a little salt, pepper, and lime juice and threw it on the hot grill.  It has to be some of the best fish i've ever had - its a perfect texture for grilling, nice mild white fish that stays juicy but doesn't fall apart - similar to some good fresh mahi.

Sunset is always a one of our favorite times of the day in the Caribbean.  Its a refreshing relief from the blistering sun and heat.  Its also the time for sun-downers which for whatever reason always seem to be some combination of fun, interesting, relaxing and refreshing all at once in the Grenadines - weather ashore or at anchor... 

During our chart brief on our first day we ran into one of Kate's college classmates AC, her husband, sister and her sister husband.  We met up at Mustique briefly but unfortunately they were all a bit green after a rough ride down in the swell and light wind followed by a rolly night in the anchorage.  We were just getting up for breakfast when we looked out and saw them high tailing it out of there - most likely looking for a calm anchorage for the next night... I will admit, going to Mustique for the first night is probably not the best choice if you haven't slept on a boat any time recently...  Fortunately we all met up again in the Tobago Keys where we had them over for drinks one evening.
  We also managed to have them take out picture - Thanks again!
After two days in the Tobago Keys we were out of fresh fish, the fresh fruit was almost gone and the rest of our food stores were running low as well.  Worst of all we were out of rum punch and ice and of course the refrigerator really didn't seem to work...  It was time to re-supply!  Being in the Keys we waited until the sun was well overhead before pulling up the anchor to make sure we could see the water depths a bit better.  After a morning swim and some breakfast we hauled up the anchor and set out for Union Island - the closest place to resupply.
Union Island is an odd place.  Its the only place in the southern Grenadines to resupply but the second you get into the harbor you are instantly wish you had more options....  First you are harassed by the locals who try to sell you a mooring for the night that you wouldn't trust your dingy to let alone a 40' yacht.  Then you read in the guide book that there is good holding ground for anchoring inside the harbor but the second you get there you see the harbor is packed with boats and there is little room to anchor in reasonably shallow water.  Then you  realize that ever place that you could possibly anchor neccesitates that the wind stay out of the east - which it does do most of the time, but if it were to shift to the north or south - your boat would end up on the reef - of course.  So after setting the anchor and climbing in the dingy to go ashore you are left thinking - 'I just pray that the wind doesn't shift' followed by 'wow I'm really glad thats not my boat sitting out there...' Then once you reach the dingy dock you are harassed instantly by some guy who wants you to pay him to take your one bag trash to the dumpster which is only about 500 feet from the dingy dock that you must pass by to get into town...  Of course once we find the one bank on the island we quickly find out that the ATM is broken... Not sure if it was just us but it was just not the most inviting place.  If they were smart the local government would set up and maintain quality moorings that are free for day use and police the boat boys that are pestering the visiting yachts.  Then I would set up a nice dingy dock right in the middle of the down town making it easy to replenish your boat.. They would be a lot more successful this way as it would attract all the boaters passing through to stop in to stock up.

On Mustique we were convinced to buy a soursop - a delicious fruit that just breaks appart in your hand and has a unique sour yet smooth flavor that is very juicy.  We were a little skeptical at first but it was simply spectacular!  While on Union we made a point of stocking up again on one of these as well as mangos, limes, bananas, papayas, and pinapple.  Right down town there are a bunch of fruit stands with a great selection.  We also stopped at the grocery store and a little french food store that had a nice variety of tasty food.  We stocked up on meat and cheese, a few bottles of Ting (tastes like Squirt but not as sweet) imported from Grenada, and Kates favorite, the freshly made yogurt - this time we got it in key lime.  It was probably the best yogurt I have ever tasted!  Worried our boat might run off without us in the busy harbor we headed back to the dingy dock, stocked up on ice and headed back to the boat to get it all situated and ready to sail.  It was only 1:00PM with plenty of sunlight left in the day.  The only question - where to go?

One of our favorite places from our last trip was Petite St. Vincent (PSV) which is a private island / high end resort with some of the most amazing beaches in the Caribbean and an elegant restaurant for the gusts that serves up an over the top expensive dinner but a reasonable lunch buffet spread that was incredibly fulfuiling on our last trip.  As it turned out PSV was under new ownership and was being renovated with a lot of construction.  Because of this we opted out of visiting this time around. Listening to a bunch of construction during the inevitable afternoon nap just didn't sound appealing and there was varying news that the hotel / restaurant was closed due to the construction...  Hopefully next time we can visit!  Considering out options we  decided what the heck - its a great day for a sail and pizza on the beach does sound very nice and relaxing...  So off we went back to Mustique!

We had a great sail to Mustique, light-ish winds and a close reach with light swell made it a comfortable sail.  Unfortunately our fishing lines kept picking up sea weed that was floating on the surface which made for a couple of anticlimactic false alarms.  Upon arrival we went strait the mooring ball and once secured it was in for a refreshing dip followed by cocktails, dinner, and early to bed having of course missed out afternoon nap.  We went in first thing in the morning and headed to Sweetie Pie's french bakery for some pastries.  Its something we rarely get at home but taste so good when on vacation...  We then found our taxi driver and headed right back to Maceroni beach.

By this time we had really hit the vacation stride - napping, reading, lazing about with the occasional dip in the surf to cool down.  I found a fantastic little spot under the mangrove tree in the shade to read where it felt about 10 degrees cooler with a nice steady breeze.  

Lunch time came around and it was hard to pass up pizza and beer delivered to you on the beach!

In the morning we were off again to Canuan.  We decided this time against visiting Bequia as it is just too busy of an island.  I think if we were living aboard and cruising full time Bequia would be much more attractive.  It has everything one needs to resupply as well as a number of places that supply parts and such for the boat.  For us it is just too busy and you get the feel that vacation is over a little prematurely.  This being the case we opted for Canuan - an island that we had never really visited previously. 
After releasing the mooring we were off for another great sail!

 Its only about a 3 hour sail from Mustique to Canouan and as luck would have it we managed to land another blackfin tuna on the way!  We had to take turns landing him as we was hooked in the mouth at first but when we tried to land him the hook in the mouth came out leaving only the trailer hook that had him hooked in the side making it a real challenge to fight but we tag teamed it well. 

After our last barracuda catch Kate offered to clean the next fish so after a couple whacks on the noggin with the winch handle the tuna was adequately subdued and Kate went to it like a pro. 

 Kate did a great job filleting her first fish!  What a way to start!

We arrived in Canuan in the early afternoon.  Of course we had the anchor from hell on this boat so setting it was prooving to be a real challenge.  The usual method of just drop it over the side with a mile of chain routine didn't work - it simply wouldn't dig in and would instead drag across the bottom.  This forced manual anchor setting consisting of me diving over the side while the weight of the chain was holding the boat in place.  Then I'd swim out to the anchor and have Kate put the boat into reverse in an attempt to dig the thing in.  Once the slack came out of the chain I would dive down and push the nose of the anchor into the sand and sure enough the boat would do the rest.  If I didn't go down and force the nose in, the anchor would just slide across the bottom ever so nicely with no signs of stopping...  what a pain.  This constantly left me wondering 'so what would happen if the wind shifted say 90 degrees or even 180 degrees?  I'm confidant that if the wind really came up and shifted like that we would just drift away to sea or more likely right onto a reef or if we were lucky just a beach...  fortunately in the Caribbean the trade winds are pretty steady out of the east and the wind never shifted....
Canouan is a really odd place.  Its beautiful, don't get me wrong, but its odd.  Half the island is a gated high-end resort with a golf course which just the idea of a golf course here feels really out of place... we didn't visit the resort but we did visit the other half of the island which has a little town with not much in it.  A few local restaurants, stores, and plenty of goats and chickens, but that is about it  .  Walking through town we were approached by one of the local islanders who insisted on being our "tour guide" even though all we were looking for was a place to get some lunch.  He was either very drunk from the night before, it was Carnival after all, or he wasn't all there.  After following him a ways with several of the other locals suggesting he wasn't totally with it, we unfortunately found out that it was the later.  He did eventually lead us to a place on the beach called "Mangroves" which served up some really great conch fritters and a decent inexpensive lunch.  Our guide wan't very welcome there and insisted we pay him for his help which Kate did only making the situation worse... Eventually he was convinced rather forcibly by some of the locals and we were left in peace on a beautiful beach with our lunch.
We had a wonderful Tuna dinner (we ate an entire tuna between the 2 of us!) and had a great sunset view!
This year we chartered "Winter's Gate" - a 2005 Jeanneau 40.3.  She was a pretty good boat with no issues this time around like we had last time.  Most everything on the boat worked - at least all of the important stuff like the depth finder, engine, sails, windlass, and steering.
We ended up putting her to the test on our last day.  In the Caribbean the weather is deceivingly predictable with partly cloudy skies, a steady breeze out of the east and consistent warm temperatures.  We had weather like this for the last 9 days so why would this last day be any different???  Of course the best weather indicator is to look up in the sky to see what it is doing now, and look in the direction the wind is blowing from to see what it is going to do.  In our case we were tucked in a large anchorage behind some good sized mountains making forecasting difficult if not impossible but then again why would anything be different today that it was for the last 9 days???  

We had around 30 miles that we had to sail and if we were going to make our plane we had to get there before the charter company closed.  You sailors reading this see the obvious flaw in our logic...  Sure enough, just after sticking the bow out past the lee of the island we were slammed with a squall.  The course we needed to go put us right into the 25-30 knot wind and driving rain and with two reefs in the main and barely a shred of jib up we were over powered!  The swell had risen to 12 feet + and we had to make a choice - give it a try because we needed to make our plane and risk it, or head back and wait it out hoping we would still have enough daylight to make it back in time...  We got out the foul weather gear and turned back in to the protection of the island choosing the safer course of action.  4 other boats headed out at the same time, all turning back just as we did.  After getting the sails tamed I headed down below to do review the charts and consider our options.  Further review suggested another option - instead of heading directly to St. Vincent we could sail further west to Bequia on a beam reach, duck behind Bequia hiding in its wind and wave shadow and get into position to make a run at St. Vincent.  From the norther tip of Bequia the sail to St. Vincent is only about an hour and a half and would now be a close reach instead of a beat - more comfortable sailing with respect to the wind and waves!  

I went up and briefed Kate on the plan and we agreed to give it a try.  Turning back around we headed back out, set the sails again with a double reef and about half of the jib and gave it a try.  By now the weather had subsided a little but the swell was still pretty big and it was still raining making it an uncomfortable sail to say the least.  We couldn't see any of the islands we were heading for but fortunately had good charts, a GPS and a compass.  I charted the course and after a couple of hours we could start to make out Bequia and St. Vincent off the bow... what a relief!

I took the helm through the heavy wind as the auto pilot couldn't keep up but once things subsided a little Kate took over and gave me a break.  You can see Canouan in the background off the stern in the picture above.  We were sailing at a pretty good pace and after about 4 hours we had reached Bequia and were safely in the lee of the island much to our relief.  Heading up the western side of Bequia we furled in the jib and motor sailed nearly dead into the wind in the calm water to make some headway against the wind and swell.  If we had plently of time and if it was a bit nicer out we would have gladly sailed it tacking up the coast but we just didn't have the time or desire to be screwing around in these conditions - we just wanted to get back to St. Vincent to check the boat back in, take a long afternoon nap on the mooring, and eat a delicious dinner at the Driftwood...  After motor sailing to the norther tip of the island we fell off the wind, unfurled the jib and had a nice sail from Bequia to St. Vincent.  We made it just in time, the charter company was only open for another hour, just enough time for them to get most of the check-in done (only 8 gallons of diesel used in 10 days!) and get us out on a mooring for the night.  What a relief! 

We took a nice nap - fully exhausted from the day's white knuckled adventure and woke up just in time for a sunset swim and even a shave on the swim deck!
We took the opportunity to get all dressed up nice and went ashore to the Drifftwood restaurant located right at the charter company's facility and had the most wonderful pizza and pasta.  They make their own noodles and the bolonaise was by far the best i have ever had!!!  Of course we ran into Randy again and his girlfriend.  Randy made us some of his special rum punch - it was so good we had 3 a piece!  Fortunately there are no laws in St. Vincent about operating a dingy while under the influence of rum punch...  It was a wonderful and memorable meal to top off a rather exciting day.
The next day we said good bye to Winter's Gate and our friends at the charter company and headed to the airport looking forward to seeing our family again - only once we arrived we found that there were no flights back to Puerto Rico.  The travel agency screwed up in a big way.  After 2 hours on the phone with the travel agency at the airport, indoors with no breeze and no air conditioning we finally had a plan to get us home, only it wasn't until the next day and it was going to cost us $1000 for new tickets home until we could get everything sorted out with her management.  At this point we were stuck and had to get back to our kids and jobs.  We agreed to spend the money since we were left without any other options found a hotel for the night on the beach, had some lunch, a long nap, dinner, back to bed, and then up early for our flights home.  St. Lucia, Antigua, Puerto Rico, Atlanta, and then finally home... we made it.  The next day I received a call at work that the travel agency realized our big travel debacle was their fault and reimbursed us the $1k for the new tickets home - thank goodness!

We had an amazing trip and can't wait to do it again!

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