Friday, February 26, 2010

A day in the life of Tobago Cays

Hi all. We’re still in Tobago Cays and having a grand time. Today we started our day with fresh croissants (Jen’s was plain while I and Quinn indulged in chocolate filled) and a local papaya we brought with us from Bequia. Walter, our boat vendor of choice, stops by every afternoon to get our order and then delivers them around 7AM. He is a very nice guy and we’ll have a photo posted with the next update to the web site.

After breakfast we piled into the dinghy and motored over to the reef that protects the anchorage and snorkeled for almost 2 hours. Quinn is getting quite good with the snorkeling and I seldom need to give him any help at all. He still wears his lifejacket while snorkeling as he’s not comfortable being out in open water without it yet. It won’t be long though. He is experimenting with diving below the water like Daddy does, but doesn’t get far with the lifejacket on, of course. The snorkeling was very good, although the coral shows a lot of damage from being scrubbed and coated with sand by a recent hurricane. We saw lots of fish and on the way back to the boat we saw a couple of large sea turtles. It is no wonder they have been hunted to near extinction. Their shells are incredibly beautiful.

After the swim I lounged in the cockpit finishing up a book while Jen gave Quinn a hair cut on the transom steps. Many of the folks on the boats anchored nearby were quite amused as Quinn stood naked on the steps while being rinsed clean of hair trimmings and singing at the top of his lungs “I’m washing the stink off my BUUUUUTTTT, I’m washing the stink off my BUUUUUUTTTT!”.

After the haircut and lunch, it was naptime for all three of us. Jen and I woke up and played a few games of cribbage while snacking on some yummy French cheese and the baguette which was delivered this morning. Quinn woke up and joined us in the snacks and did his usual puttering about the boat before dinner. Suddenly we heard his panicky “Daaaaady!!!!” cry which always means he’s dropped something overside. This time it was his sweat rag, which he’s become quite fond of. Easily retrieved, and the unplanned swim was refreshing after a hot afternoon on the boat.

As we had snacked quite a bit, we decided against the fancy duck dinner Jen was planning. Instead she whipped up some pork and beans. Tomorrow we’ll have the duck.

After dinner Jen worked on the photos we took while snorkeling today and Quinn and I played a few hands of UNO. To his delight, he beat me 3 out of 4 games. As Quinn was getting ready for bed, Jen noticed that we are now pointing northeast instead of southeast. Not a problem other than there is a boat on a mooring ball close to where we’re anchored and with the change in wind direction we’re way to close to them. I pulled in a little scope as the wind has settled and we don’t need so much chain out, but it’s still too close. Tomorrow first thing we’ll haul up the anchor and move over a little.

Randy and Susan left the anchorage yesterday to return to Bequia where they will pick up a couple of friends who have flown down for a visit. We expect them back here Monday or Tuesday, but no firm plans have been made. All three of us enjoy their company quite a lot so we hope they can make it back down here before it is time for us to move on.

Life is good in the Tobago Cays. We look forward to sharing some of our photos when we get high speed internet access back in Bequia or St Vincent sometime next week.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


We’ve made it to Tobago Cays, which at 12° 37’ North Latitude is as far south as we plan to venture this winter. We arrived yesterday afternoon after a short but fun day-sail from Bequia. The 15 – 20 knots on the beam with moderate seas made for a fun sail at 7.5 to 8.5 knots the whole way. When we arrived at the Cays, it was like being back in the Exumas with the beautiful turquoise waters. We are joined here in the Tobago Cays by Susan and Randy Williamson on Windward Passage who have been down here in the area for over a month now. Quinn is quite excited to have Miss Susan around to play with!

The Tobago Cays are now a designated marine park in the Grenadines, which is a group of islands south of of St. Vincent and Bequia. The anchorage we’re in is sheltered by a huge horseshoe coral reef and has good soft sand perfect for anchoring. The marine life is abundant, as the “no take” policy is strictly enforced. After squaring away the boat after the sail, Jen and Quinn joined me for a swim to cool off and we saw many reef fish, several puffer fish and a couple of large stingrays in the first few minutes of the swim. We also found a Heineken can which I dove down to retrieve and toss in the trash. Happily, we almost never see garbage of any sort during our snorkeling and diving.

I am really enjoying this anchorage. The big horseshoe reef protects the anchorage while leaving the view of the open Atlantic and the cooling trade winds unobstructed. The view out our front windows starts with the turquoise waters of the anchorage, then breakers on the reef, then Petit Tabac and open Atlantic. Petit Tabac is the small Cay which starred in the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean, The Curse of the Black Pearl” as the tiny island where Captain Jack Sparrow was marooned. Given the many sea turtles we’ve been seeing here, Jack’s tail of escape using sea turtles seems almost plausible.

This morning we breakfasted on plain and chocolate-filled croissants which were delivered by one of the boat boys that do a good business here. After breakfast we picked up Susan and took the dinghy across the anchorage to the beach that is popular with the turtles. Quinn practiced with his new fins, mask and snorkel (is taking to it like a fish), played with his new boogie board, and of course, played in the sand. It is a very nice beach. There are large iguanas hanging out by the beach, and a lot of turtles just out past the surf. I was able to swim right up to them without them being bothered. They put up with it for a minute or so and then swam slowly but deliberately away to munch on some more sea grass. We’ll have some photos posted soon. On the way back to the beach I swam up on a small (3’) reef shark. I didn’t have the opportunity to take pictures as we surprised each other and he made a quick exit.

As this anchorage is quite remote, we have no WIFI. Pictures will have to wait until we can get access to it. I’m posting this update via the satellite phone, which has a built in modem that transfers data almost as fast as I can type it! So updates need to be limited to text and xml files for the web site’s blog and “Current Position” sections. We hope the updates work correctly as Jen has no way to test the updates. If you encounter a problem, we’ll get it fixed when we are next in civilization of some sort. If you wonder what it looks like here and can’t wait for our pictures, watch the Pirates movie and you’ll see for yourself. (The palm trees seem to have recovered nicely from the rum bonfire, by the way.)

We plan to stay here a good while as there are many beaches and lots of coral reef to explore! Time to wrap this up as I need to flag down the boat boy to order tomorrow’s croissants and baguettes. Yum.

Friday, February 12, 2010

When the volcano blow

Quinn noticed it first. Daddy, can I have a paper towel? My firetruck is dirty and I want to clean it. I got him a paper towel, thinking it was odd his new firetruck was so dirty he felt he needed to clean it, but didn't really pay any attention. Then, 10 minutes later, he's asking for another paper towel and so I decided to see what the big deal was. He's usually not very interested in things being kept clean! Sure enough, it was covered in grit. Hmmm. Odd. Then Jen noticed that their was a lot of grit building up on the generator hatch out in cockpit and I saw the dusting of grit on the floor by the open door. Suddenly it clicked, and we groaned. With the light winds, we must be getting ash from either the inactive (but smoking) volcano on Guadeloupe, or from Montserrat.

We buttoned the boat up tight and watched as ash built up all over Mirasol's decks. It was still coming down at bedtime and we retired with the hope that it would stop by morning. Happily, when dawn came we weren't getting much of anything settling on our decks although the air was still hazy with ash.

A quick exploration of the decks showed that we had collected about 1/16th inch of very fine grit ash on every surface of the boat, including the mast, standing rigging and lines. WHAT A MESS!

Since the grit would scratch just about anything it was rubbed against, we kept Quinn inside while I started the long process of removing the ash. While Jen and Quinn had a very good session of school (Quinn learned to add 3 to numbers 1-10), I pulled out the hose, flipped the wash-down pump to seawater and started washing Mirasol down.

I am SO happy we have a wash-down pump on board that we can switch from seawater to fresh water. While most the other boaters in the anchorage were using buckets to wash down the decks I had the advantage of being able to hose the boat down. Sluicing the the boat from top to bottom with seawater made me cringe but it was the only way to get her clean, and we certainly didn't have enough fresh water on board to do the job. It took about 3 hours to do a first pass and then a quick rinse of the stainless fittings and winches with some of our fresh water to get her clean enough to operate. We moved into a marina this afternoon so we'll have plenty of fresh water to finish the job. First stay in a marina since mid December.

Jen will post pics soon.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Deshaies, Guadeloupe

We had a fast, wet, and salty passage south from Antigua to Guadeloupe a couple of days ago. We had 25 - 30 knots of wind and 8' - 10' waves, all on the beam, which made for a fast and exciting ride. With 2 reefs in the main and one in the jib, we were hustling along at 8 to 9.5 knots the whole way.

Weaving our way between fish trap floats hiding in the white breaking wave tops we dropped sails and turned into the bay at Deshaies, on the west side of the island of Guadeloupe. We found a place to drop our anchor in about 35 feet of water after looking for an open spot in shallower water. We had hoped to snug up closer to the town, but the anchorage was a little crowded in there and Jen and I prefer plenty of room between us and other boats when anchoring. This is the first time we've had to let out all 200 feet of our chain rode. With 35' of water plus the height of the the deck at 5' above the water, we needed it all to give us the 5:1 scope I like to have in 20 - 30 knots of wind. Although Deshaies is on the lee side of the island, there is a valley that cuts across the island that funnels the trade winds right down into the Deshaies harbor.

The anchor took hold on the first try and didn't budge while backing down hard with both engines. With the gusting winds we decided to stay on the boat for a little over an hour to ensure the anchor was truly stuck before heading in to clear customs. Clearing customs was very easy at a cyber cafe right in the center of of the small town. Later that evening we were treated to a delightful moon rise over the hills of Guadeloupe (photo).

Another boat had less luck in this exercise yesterday. They arrived, dropped anchor and the captain promptly disembarked to row ashore. While he was away, his catamaran broke free and started drifting through the anchorage, heading towards a few other boats and then open sea. Jen and I were on deck watching and it seemed odd that there were several people on board the wayward cat but their engines were not running and no one was trying to retrieve the anchor. Then the reason became clear as we saw the captain rowing franticly trying to catch up with his drifting vessel. Our guess is that he was in a bit of a hurry to clear customs before they closed and left the boat with the engine keys tucked in his pockets. His crew was helpless to do anything without those keys, or knowledge of where the spares might be.

A helpful cruiser with a vested interest (the drifting cat was heading for his boat) jumped in his dinghy and quickly towed the captain back to his boat. Sure enough, as soon as he was back aboard, the engines fired up and the anchor was retrieved. As far as I could see they avoided any serious damage to their or other's boats, with the possible exception of a significant dent their rum provisions once safely again at anchor.