Counting Down to Homeward Bound

My spirit is soaring between the sweet anticipation of going home and the bittersweet enjoyment of an incredible experience coming to an end.  We have been in the Caribbean since December 5th, 2019 – initially trapped by Covid, and subsequently waiting for a relatively safe time to fly home.

Our sailing has been constrained to Grenada for the past year when the travel between Caribbean islands became too restrictive and/or expensive to temp us.  This change of events provided us with a previously rare experience to connect more fully with fellow sailors and Grenadians. 

Serenaded by Grenadian on the Shimmy Shack porch
Our great friend and lockdown companion, Herbert on a hike to the Seven Sisters Waterfalls
Lea and Roland on a group hike to the sinking graves organized by Peter and Sally
Michele and Glen on our first dinghy drift

We experienced the changing seasons accompanied by the coming and going of birds, flowering plants, weather, seasonal fruit and vegetables and island traditions and holidays.

Laughing gulls were nowhere to be seen in Carriacou from late December, 2020 until arriving in droves on March 11, 2021

We watched a lovely gesture started by Allison at Paradise Beach Club in creating a row of signs depicting boat names for her dedicated customers during lockdown, expand subsequently into a decorative wall documenting the many boats passing through. Sailors are invited on Wednesdays for Allison’s trademark “Sip and Paint”. Allison supplies the wood and the paint.

Wall of artwork documenting visiting sailboats and tourists at Paradise Beach Club

We have hiked many of the well-worn trails and some less traveled by; the two below, detailed in earlier posts.

Hiking Carriacou – Paradise Beach Club Route

A Hike from Grenada Marine

One of the best consequences of living here for more than a year has been our growing friendship with a French Canadian couple, Sophie and Richard. They introduced us to Train Dominoes and we play with them and many other devotees as much as possible. It combines the elements of chance and skill such that even a novice may sometimes do well.

The beginning “trains” of seven players. On this occasion, George was in last place half way through and wound up winning. When more than seven come to play, additional tables are set up and the highest and lowest scoring players switch tables at specified rounds of the games.

We recently booked flights home May 7th.  While counting the days until we can see our loved ones again, we are packing in as much fun as possible.  We recently sailed from Carriacou to Grenada and have been bay-hopping between St. David’s, Prickly Bay, Woburn Bay (aka Clark’s Ct. Bay), and now Port Louis. Each bay/marina is distinctly different and, in each, it was fun reconnecting with friends who were likewise moving from time to time.

The sails between these bays are short hops and sometimes we make a day of it by sailing way out into the 1000+ feet deep water while fishing.  Other than quite a few barracuda earlier in our stay, I haven’t been enjoying much luck. I never get completely discourage; One of my frequent statements is “You can’t catch a fish if you are not fishing”.

Fishing has been a challenge recently as the sargassum is getting prevalent. On our trip from St.David’s to Prickly Bay we sailed way out and spent a great deal,of time pulling in lines that had snagged huge burdens of weed.  With the boat sailing at 7 knots and rolling over 6 foot waves, it is hard work to bring the lines in.  I persevered and was rewarded.

While pulling in a line I suspected had weed on it, two large mahi jumped out of the water and landed 10 or more feet away, each in an arch from the opposite directions toward the middle of the stern.  At the instant they re-entered the water, one hit the line i was bringing in.  As we troll unmanned lines, this is an infrequent thrill.  I reeled her in and she was a lively acrobat; jumping and diving in her attempts to throw the hook.  We got her in and subdued with vodka and only then discovered we had a second mahi on our other line.  Both were a nice size (~ 30 inches).  It just doesn’t get any better than that!!

A monster
Mahi are beautiful fish
Mahi Sashimi with toasted sesame seeds, and a drizzle of sauce composed of soy sauce, toasted sesame seed oil and wasbi – YUM

We are down to the last two fillets that we will enjoy blackened one evening with the blackening seasoning my brother Michael introduced us to. I already have my hopes set on our sail in the next couple of days to Carriacou. I am certain I’ll have luck on this 6 hour passage.

Sailing in Retirement

Our post-retirement choice to spend much of each year sailing has to be one of the best decisions we have ever made.  We love to travel while learning about the culture, cuisine, lifestyles, flora & fauna and history of our destinations.

Our daughter, Marilla, says we look like we photo-shopped ourselves into this scene. NOT TRUE!!!

We treasure the opportunities to meet new people who appreciate events from uniquely different perspectives than ours.  This takes time.  Bringing our second home along affords us endless destinations and our own timeline.

Duhkxy attracts a great deal of attention

We also love being under sail – the quiet, wind-powered, motion of sailing on tranquil days and the challenges afforded on blustery days and high seas.  Neither of us get seasick (knock on wood).

Be advised, boat maintenance is part of the package.

In addition to endless cleaning and polishing, boat malfunctions and repairs are as much a part of the experience as the excitement and leisure.  Get together with other cruisers and the conversation will invariably touch upon each other’s current boat problems and often great stories of past mishaps and near disasters.

Once again, our refrigerator, on its coldest setting, is struggling to keep the temperature near 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Centigrade).  This after having the refrigerator on three occasions found to be low on coolant, re-charged, and checked for leaks (none found). We also installed a new compressor and ventilation.  A funny thing about this is that two cruisers we have become friends with are meeting with the same refrigerator serviceman after us on consecutive days for exactly the same recurrent problem.  A third sailing couple we have befriended managed this same recurrent problem for two years by recharging the fridge themselves until the leak became large enough to be found and repaired.

Best to know your way around electronics and computer technology

Our plans this morning were to sail beyond Petite Martinique into the great depths of the Atlantic Ocean and catch some mahi mahi, tuna, or what have you.  We are approaching the end of our monthly WiFi data allotment so George decided to “quickly” install a couple of updates to our navigational software (wind, speed, direction…).

1.  Find thumb drive and move data to other device

2.  Download software updates – Monitors do not recognize data 

3.  Troubleshoot – solution, must use Foxfire to download

4.  Download Foxfire and software updates.

Here is where it gets interesting

5. B&G monitors in the cockpit are glued in.  Access requires disassembling ceiling in head; invariably this type of work disrupts most areas within the cabin.

6. Install updates – One USB port did not have enough space for thumb drive.

7. Download to smaller thumb drive (thanks Herbert) and complete data installation – Success!!

8. Instruments show no data – Troubleshoot – on phone with B&G technicians – 3 in total – success!!!

Decide to replace ceiling clamps broken by over zealous workmen who installed traveler

Discover ceiling clamps are glued in. Replace with alternate type of clamp and put ceiling back in place.

3:30 pm – We will go fishing tomorrow.

It is sometimes frustrating, but for the most part it is all part of the “adventure”.

The refrigerator is still not working properly.

Trigger Fish and Fishing Bats

Trigger Fish

After spending a fun-filled week in Tyrell Bay we returned to Sandy Island and were astonished to find that our most favorite, as well as everyone else’s favorite, mooring was open. Life is good.

Getting ready to swim to shore I was dangling my feet off our swim platform and felt a very painful stab on my ankle. I caught a glimpse of the culprit – a trigger fish darting to the underside of Ice Floe. As many times as I put my hand or foot into the water, the fish darted out in attack-mode. I took a couple of photos from above the water.

My attempts to get a shot under water were met with immediate and swift attacks and many failed shots save these below that I managed to get before he/she banged headlong into the camera.

Silly triggerfish

There are 40 varieties of triggerfish and most are strikingly beautiful.

George and I have observed many over the years, but this is the first time we observed the characteristic aggressive behavior they are known for. Generally, it is felt to be associated with their defense of a breeding territory. This territory is conical from the bottom to the top so it is advised that if being attacked you move horizontally, rather than vertically.

Fishing Bats

One evening George was lifting our dinghy for the night. It had gotten quite dark and he had his headlamp on. As the light shined over the water he caught a glimpse of something large flying over the surface of the water. He called me to the bow and we both watched as several darted back and forth presumably scooping up the many small fry that frequently jump from the water. At the time we knew of no night fishing birds, and the flight pattern was typically bat-like so we immediately Googled “fishing bats”

It was a challenge getting a photo of the nasty triggerfish, but it was impossible to get my own of the Greater Bulldog Fishing Bat we observed that night – so I borrowed one from the internet.

They are decidedly not cute and if that is not enough, they are a very large bat. Their bodies are just shy 5 inches in length and they have a wingspan that can exceed 2 feet. They use echolocation to detect water ripples made by the fish and use the pouch between their legs to scoop the fish up and their sharp claws to catch and cling to it. They are found from Mexico to Northern Argentina and also most Caribbean islands.

We have been living in Grenada since December 5th, 2019 and rarely a day goes by that we do not observe or learn something new.

Duhkxy and the Sandy Island Rats

Prelude – Catching up

We are still here in Grenada on Ice Floe, moored off Sandy Island within the Sandy Island / Oyster Bed Marine Protected Area (aka Carriacou Marine Park).  We have been here since March 18th when the majority of Caribbean Island Nations closed their borders.  Our June 18th flight was rescheduled for June 16th and subsequently canceled.  The airport in Grenada will open no sooner than June 30th.  We are now rebooked for July 4th.

How do we spend our days under lockdown?

That is a question we hear quite often so here is a description of our typical days.
We are both reading a lot, and of course I write my Blog every so often.  I spend way too much time reading the news and then I feel depressed and play solitaire on my iPad for an hour, or so.
I am heartened that the outrage played out in the peaceful protests following George Floyd’s death has rekindled the Black Lives Matter movement and drawn international attention to the need for police reform.  I track and graph the pandemic statistics every day.  In my humble opinion, we haven’t seen anything yet.
There is the requisite cooking and cleaning every day, 3 times a day.  Now that the Paradise Beach Club has re-opened we treat ourselves to a visit there a few times each week – sometimes for the best rum punch we have ever had, sometimes for the best fish tacos we have ever had, sometimes for the best lamb fritters we have ever had….
I FaceTime with Riley and Tristan on Wednesdays.  They are both reading me a different book and Tristan recently serenaded me on his ukelele.
Our days are frequently variations of the same, with occasional outings to sail, fish, snorkel, watch the seabirds and turtles around Ice Floe, or take a hike around Carriacou.  Many of these adventures are described in other blogs.
We visit Sandy Island almost every evening with Duhkxy and I will devote the balance of this entry to Duhkxy discovery and fascination with the rats on Sandy Island.

Duhkxy and the Sandy Island Rats

Soon after we arrived I saw the first rat on Sandy Island flash past into a pile of palm fonds.  Several weeks later, George and I both caught a glimpse of several surfing along the branches of a sea grape.
The photo of the cute little rat at the beginning of this blogpost was first seen less than two feet from George’s right shoulder.  I said “George, there is a rat – right there – pointing”.  George asked “Where?”, a bit alarmed.  I pointed again and George, now seeing it, quickly retreated to a safer location.  I then kept staring at the rat, who kept very still in hopes I did not see it.  George pulled the camera from our pack and I captured this adorable shot.
 
Now, as rats go, the Sandy Island rats are quite cute – smaller than nasty dump rats, shaped a bit more like a kangaroo rat, with soft-looking brown fur and big round eyes.  George was having none of it – he does not like rats (or snakes).
 
It was not long after that Duhkxy discovered them and for weeks his favorite past time, while visiting the island, was trying to flush them out and catch one.  He is a clever doggie and it was not long before he succeeded.
 
His favorite game is chase.  Unfortunately, he is too fast, and so are the rats, for me to capture that in a photo.  He has treed them as below.
 
I got you
Get down here and play with me (or let me play with you)

And he forced one into the water.  He would have been in there after it if we had not restrained him.

Admittedly, not as cute as when dry and fluffy.  This rat sure could swim.

Each day brings new discoveries and things to see on Sandy Island.  Each evening a new sunset.

 

Cruiser Debate – Stay safe on boat or head home?

We are heading for home

Every cruiser we have met, who like ourselves had their plans waylaid by the Covid 19 pandemic, has spoken of the pros and cons of either finding a way home or remaining in relative safety on their boat.
 
 
Why stay in Grenada?
 
In the early weeks, those highly motivated to get home had to first get to an island with an operational airport that would let them check in while each day more islands closed their borders and airports.  Quite a few American cruisers headed to Puerto Rico or to the US Virgin islands. These trips took many days with few protected anchorages.  As islands closed their borders, they also prohibited anchoring in their waters.  Once arriving, they repeatedly booked flights that were then canceled.  We chose to stay.
 
Living on Ice Floe has provided us with near absolute safety from the Covid 19 pandemic.  We have an infinitesimal risk of encountering anyone who is infected.  Moored in the Marine Park between the Grenada islands of Carriacou and Sandy Island we engage with only a handful of people – cruisers, like ourselves, who had been cruising in the Caribbean for months and several Grenadian citizens who live on Carriacou and have delivered groceries and other necessities to us.  Carriacou has not had a single Covid 19 infection.  We are safe here.
We love spending time on Ice Floe.  She is a modest sized boat, similar to most cruising vessels we see.   It is not a hardship to spend a great deal of time confined to her space.  We also feel some measure of pride in living and eating simply and leaving small footprints on the environment.  Wind provides the energy for our transportation, both wind and solar to make fresh water, to refrigerate our food, and to power our lights and electrical appliances.
It pains us to consider the possibility that, if we go home we may not be able to get back to the islands next season.
Why return home?
We have now been living in the Caribbean since December 5th, 2019 – in this safe and idyllic setting for over 2 months.  So much has changed since we left home.  We have mourned the loss of lives, livelihoods, and our way of life.  We could not have imagined how quickly so many things we have taken for granted have been lost.
We miss our children and grandchildren, and all members of our family.  We miss conversation and friends.  We remind ourselves these longings will not be satisfied by returning home.
A possible opportunity to fly home has emerged, and we feel drawn to return.  Our rational minds cannot provide a cogent reason for voluntarily returning.  We are frightened. 
On Ice Floe, we have not built up any tolerance to the fear of contracting Covid 19.  The death toll from this virus has slowed a bit in the warmer months, as many coronaviruses do.  We see a window of opportunity and are less terrified to fly to the JFK airport.  We put out of our minds our certainty the outbreak will resume in the cooler months to come.
We are drawn to a home that only exists as the physical structure and gardens and memories we created over the past 3 decades.  We hope we will be safe and find some ways to assist others less fortunate than ourselves.  We are not needed here.
 
 
 

St. Martin to St. Barthélemy

St. Martin to St. Bethélemy

We woke from our much-needed sleep to a beautiful sunny day.  Winds were moderate (10-12 knots) as we sailed close-hauled from St. Martin to St. Barts.  With George’s tweaking of the rigging, we managed 5- 7 knots over ground despite unfavorable current.  The combination of the boat’s heeling and a 3-4 foot swell made it challenging to move around, but we only needed to tack once, so we sat back and enjoyed the ride.  We passed by uninhabited islands with distinctly different topography.  We saw turtle heads galore and our first siting of tropic birds.
The first time we saw tropic birds was in the Bahamas.  Sometimes, the white bottom side of the bird takes on a reflection of the turquoise water below – doubly gorgeous.
Our delicious pancakes in the morning held us for quite a while, but eventually, hunger becomes a force compelling enough for me to head down into the hot, stuffy cabin (you can’t sail with the hatches open) to make lunch.  I had a simple lunch planned – burritos – and I have a method where I assemble them and then heat them which requires few dishes and very little time below.
I had the burritos heating up when a large wave threw the boat to the healing side.  At that same moment, one of my kitchen cabinets opened and the contents came careening out, much to the floor.  George called out “Are you OK?”  I hesitated for a moment as my full concentration was holding back the cabinet contents that were still on the counter and assessing the situation.  I then simply said “No” and George from the companionway replied something like “Oh Man…”

The worst of what had fallen was our flour canister (that had been filled the previous day) and our sugar canister.  The sugar acted like tiny ball bearings creating a treacherously slippery floor.

This photo taken mid-way through the clean-up after the bulk of the flour and sugar mixture had been collected off the floor with a dustpan.

As cleanup progressed, waves continued to tip the boat.  The sugar began to absorb moisture, transforming from ball bearings to syrup.  I began to sweat.  As the boat tipped, the slimy mixture below my knees, facilitated my slip-sliding away.  In the picture above, I am grasping the stairs and cabinets as I slid to the starboard side of the boat.

The worst part was that we were aware of the fact that objects on top of the cabinets could bang into the cabinet latch and open it.  We had already purchased a 90 degree plastic strip to install behind the latches to prevent it.  George installed them the following day.

Our mooring in Anse du Colombier (Cove of Colombia) is off a lovely beach banked with boulders sculpted by years of winds and salty waves.

Anse du Colombier (Ice Floe marked)

First thing upon arrival, George took the dinghy to check in with Customs and Immigration.  He could not bring Duhkxy as he had not been cleared for land yet.  Duhkxy and I waited on Ice Floe.
Duhkxy expresses his anxiousness, particularly when parted with George, with ear-piercing shrieks and yelps.  He has gotten much better, but still objects vehemently if he is left behind for a dinghy ride.

Check in went smoothly as George had submitted much of the needed information on-line beforehand.  The Customs agent did not mention Duhkxy so George offered “We have a dog.”  The agent responded in a French accent “You have a dog”.  George went on to offer “He does not bite” that elicited nothing but a blank stare from the Customs agent.  George says he was a bit punchy from being over-tired 😀