Finally, Sailing!

The delivery process so far has been smooth. Travel to the Islands of Panama went smoothly, and without a hitch. We got underway pretty much right on schedule after filling the tanks with water and fuel.

As is normally expected, winds are uncooperative getting away from the coast of Panama, so we motored for the first 30 hours. But now, the wind has filled in as expected, then boat has kicked up her heels under sail, and we are making good time at almost 8 knots. The forecast is for more of this, almost all the way to Texas. It is fun watching the boat’s new owner’s excitement as they finally get to experience their first real opportunity to sail her as she was meant to.

The boat is doing well. A few minor glitches, but considering the time she spent as a dock queen, she’s doing great.

It’s still avian migration season as birds move from North American south. We had at least three small land bird circle us this afternoon trying to decide if we would make a good place for a break. One warbler has tucked itself snuggly under the dodger for the night.

We are now navigating the shoals off of eastern Nicaragua, our next waypoint is between Yucatan and the western most point of Cuba, and then pretty much a straight shot to Corpus Christi, Texas. Another 10 or 12 days, and we’ll be there.

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Island Hopping

I (Bill) am off on a long delivery of an Amel Super Maramu. The boat is currently in Bocas del Toro, Panama and it will end up in Corpus Christi, Texas, about a fortnight’s sail.

Of course, I am not in Panama, so the trip starts with a flight from Martinique to Bridgetown, Barbados, from Bridgetown a flight to Panama City, and finally from Panama City to Bocas del Toro on Panama’s northeast coast. Arriving about 30 hours after I start.

Today is Friday: If all is in order I should be on my way with the boat’s new owners out of Panama today, or tomorrow.

The weather looks good, at least for the length of forecast I can count on, although the Gulf of Mexico can be a fickle place. Sometimes not enough wind, sometimes too much. We are past the season for tropical storms to be a likely threat, and hopefully just a bit early to need to deal with a strong cold front barreling down from the north.

I will have our Iridium GO with us, so Harmonie’s normal tracking page will be updated with the progress of the delivery.

In the meantime, Karen will be holding down the fort in Martinique. Once I get done with this trip and get back to Harmonie, hopefully we’ll be out cruising on our own schedule away from marinas for a while. It is definitely past time for us to be in places that are less “people-y” for a while.

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Back in France.

Now that we are past the first of November, our insurance company has released us from the box they keep us in for hurricane season. We have left the islands of Grenada behind, and traveled north to Martinique, one of the French islands. Our sail up here was fast and fun, and about 20 hours.

Martinique is the home for the Caribbean service base for Amel, the builder of our boat, so the docks are crowded with sister ships. It’s always fun to see the other boats so much like ours, and meet the owners.

Why Martinique? The prices for dock space here are quite inexpensive (~$600/month), the strength of the dollar makes the high prices for consumer goods tolerable. Prices for boating supplies range from surprising bargains, to insanely expensive (€35 for a roll of masking tape???)

We will need to park Harmonie for a few weeks while I (Bill) take off on a delivery job to help a new Amel owner move their boat from Panama to Texas. Right now I am hanging, waiting, for the last of the preparations to be complete in Panama to have the boat ready to go. It should be about a two week trip.

One of the odd things about being here in part of France, is several weeks ago we read a news article about how there was a critical shortage of prepared mustard in France. Seriously. I dismissed this as just another one of those “click-bait” news stories that are everywhere these days and emphasize drama over facts. Except…

This is the “Moutardes” section of the large supermarket here. EMPTY. Not a single bottle. What is the world coming to? Surely a gastronomic crisis!! French cooking without dijon mustard? Sacre bleu! Fortunately, we stocked up when we where in Sint Maartin, so there is no shortage of dijon mustard aboard the good ship Harmonie! We had some in the creamed eggs on the breakfast table this morning.

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According to Plan

If you work on boats, you quickly learn that the best laid plans of sailors when it comes to repair projects mean very little. The boat gods delight in humbling us with unexpected surprises. So it was with more than a little satisfaction that we completed a complex dance today on time, on budget, and with no surprises.

Our problem was with the main seacock in the engine room. Since it was installed in 1996, Harmonie has had a lot of miles under her keel. The internals of this valve has corroded to the point it was so hard to turn we seriously worried we might not be able to shut it in an emergency, or the force needed to turn it would lead to failure of the valve stem. Just routine operation was needing so much torque we had already bent the handle. It was time to change it out.

Our problem child on the left. The red handled valve on the right is the main fuel cutoff and is in excellent condition.

The threads on these fittings are odd-balls. One and one half inch British Standard Pipe, Parallel. (BSPP) None of the major chandeliers in the Caribbean had one, and the only manufacturer in the USA did not have any in stock. Luckily, there was a dealer on Amazon who had one and could ship it to our customs broker in Miami.

It is theoretically possible to do this job with the boat in the water. But it is also possible that things can go suddenly very wrong and leave you with a gapping hole in the bottom of the hull. That is always a bad thing. We decided that taking the boat out of the water was the smarter, albeit more expensive, option.

Tyrell Bay Marina on the island of Carriacou has a 150 ton travel lift, and had space in their schedule to accommodate us. We were the first boat out of the water this morning, and were blocked and at work by 9:30AM.

It took some time and effort to get a 24” pipe wrench on the valve, and then enough leverage on it (with a meter long piece of aluminum pipe) to get things moving, but once broken free, everything was downhill. The new valve was fit in place, and the hoses reconnected without incident.

The new valve installed and ready for the next 25 years of service.

We were back in the water by 15:30. No leaks, no drips. Everything as it should be. Tyrell Bay Marina did a bang-up job at a very reasonable price. We are seriously considering having our next bottom job done here.

I am actually really happy with the change. The new valve from Groco, is a better design than the original. A quality bronze casting, a stainless steel handle, with provision for lubricating the valve while the boat is in the water, and a place to make clean connection for the corrosion control bonding wires. The original wasn’t bad, but this is the best available. Harmonie deserves it! She takes good care of us, as long as we take good care of her.

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Time to Move On

Our time here on Grenada is coming to a close. It has been truly a delightful place to visit. To all of our friends who recommended this as a place to spend “hurricane season,” thank you very much.

It is one of the happy places. The locals genuinely love and are proud of their island. Not a lot of them are rich by any standard of the average American, but the cost of living is low, and the basic necessities are cheap. As one of our taxi drivers said, “There is no reason anyone here should go to bed hungry. Food grows on every tree.”

We just celebrated the local holiday of “Thanksgiving.” Which I expected to be a typical harvest festival, but it is not. It is actually a celebration of the American lead “intervention” in 1983 that put an end to a violent marxist coup. Most of the locals do not call it an invasion, and seem to be extraordinarily happy that it happened. Americans, both individually, and in the abstract, are welcomed here.

There are many examples of foreign aid here. The Chinese continue to build housing complexes to replace stock lost to the hurricane in 2005. The Japanese rebuilt several bridges. The locals are happy to accept the largesse, but also openly refer to these projects as “bribes.” In the case of the Chinese to gain a vote against Taiwan in the UN, and for the Japanese, to leverage a vote in the UN in favor of Japan’s whaling industry. When similar projects from the USA and Canada are discussed, they are presented as simple gestures of good-will.

Crime, unlike on some of the neighboring islands, is extremely low, and the scenery is lush and gorgeous.

Plans…

From here in Port Louis, in the next couple of days, we will be heading north toward Carriacou, the northernmost island in the country. We have an urgent need to replace a seacock valve that requires the boat be lifted out of the water for a few hours, and the boatyard in Tyrell Bay can do that for us.

From there, we will head to Martinique. Bill will (probably!) be headed to Panama to do a delivery of an Amel to Texas. Once that 2 to 3 week project is complete, we will continue to move north. Another customer for a pre-purchase survey awaits us in St Thomas, and then we get to explore more of the Bahamas before returning to the USA.

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The Seamonster’s Revenge

It’s a rule: When you fish in places most other people do not, you catch things most other people do not. If you have followed our fishing explorations at all, you have seen that we have extended our fishing world not just by moving to new places on the ocean’s surface, but by fishing deeper…

We recently took Harmonie out to try our luck again at what is called “deep drop” fishing. There really is not a specific number for when fishing gets “deep”, but we were targeting fish at about 1200 feet (360 m). By anybody’s definition, that’s deep.

We were looking for snowy grouper, and queen snapper–which we did not find–but on our first drop to the bottom, we did hook one of these a quarter mile under the boat:

At 65 pounds, one of the bigger fish we have landed recently, the first one in a long time that took both of use to heave over the rail. I looked at as it came aboard and said, “What in the….????”

My first guess was a fish I have had at sushi restaurants, and had a vague idea what they looked like. A quick check of my references and I was pretty sure. An “escolar.” To make a long story short, after much fussing and back and forth, I have changed my mind. It’s a closely related species, an oilfish.

These are quite unusual fish in many ways. They are part of the “deep scattering layer” A dense group of fish, squid and plankton that are highly light-adverse. The very large eyes, with the intensely reflective retina are typical for a creature that hunts in near total darkness. They migrate every day from more than 1000 feet deep during the day, to near the surface at night. This is an impossible thing for most fish to do.

Fish muscle and bone is heavier than water. To counteract this, most fish have a gas filled chamber, the swim bladder, in their bodies that adjusts for this and gives the fish an overall density equal to the water they swim in, and lets them hover motionless. The problem is any fish with a normal swim bladder that tried to rise from 1000 feet deep to the surface would explode as the gas in its swim bladder increased in volume by 30 times as the pressure dropped. So a fish that needs to do this needs must have another approach.

The escolar and the oilfish solve this problem in a different way. If I can’t hold a bunch of gas to make me float, then I’ll just make the density of my muscle lower. They do this is by storing large amounts of oil in their flesh, enough to make them just about exactly the same density as water so they maintain a neutral weight in the water without having to worry about gas exploding as they migrate every night.

But these are not “oily” fish in the same way as, say, a herring. The meat is firm, snow white, and very tasty. Raw and cooked they are delicious. If you have ever had “white tuna” at a sushi restaurant, you have almost surely had escolar. If you cook these, the oil melts and runs out of the meat at an amazing rate. It’s like cooking bacon. But the oil has no “fishy” smell or taste.

There is a catch to this…

The fats these fish store in their bodies are not “normal” animal fats or fish oils. They are “waxy esters.” Humans do not have the digestive enzymes to breakdown this type of fat, so if you eat enough of it, it basically acts like a lubricant laxative. While the result is not unhealthy, it is decidedly unpleasant. The general recommendation is that a serving of 6 ounces or less is perfectly safe to eat for most people.

We have found that Bill tolerates this fish quite well as tablefare, Karen…. not so much. So we’ll just skip donating freezer space to these in the future.

I am reminded of a story from our travels several years ago, where we were in Turks and Caicos at a dock with several super yachts. The crew had been out deep drop fishing that day, and told us they had caught a large oilfish that they cooked up as a “special” dinner for the charter guests. I am guessing that this particular set of charter guests wasn’t very popular with the crew. I’m betting there was quite the impatient line for the toilet the next morning… Moral of the story: Always be nice to the help.

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Food and Farms on Grenada

Food in Grenada

There is a lot to learn about food here in Grenada from one exchange Karen had in the grocery store. She commented that it had been days since they had any ginger root at all. The local lady behind her explained, “It’s been raining for three days. Nobody want to be out there digging in the mud!”

Every weekday, there is a van parked along the road with its tailgate open. Inside are many dozens of dozens of eggs being sold by the owner of 2,000 hens that lay the eggs. In the grocery store, chickens look like nothing you have seen in a stateside grocery in a generation. Not the overbreed monstrosities, but something the size and shape of a real bird. Almost no extra fat, and very tasty.

With rich volcanic soil, a stable climate and an even supply of rain, the locals brag that you can plant anything and it will grow.

Here at the marina, there is a small “farmer’s market” every Saturday. There is at least one real farmer there every week. Jenny runs a small farm up in the hills. and a little while ago ran an open house at her homestead. It was an interesting mix of locals, ex-pats of a wide variety, and visitors. Food, music, and a fascinating setting.

The Farm

Located up a steep, narrow, and winding road on the southeast side of the island, Jenny’s farm is just like almost every other patch of land on the island: steep. Flat ground is very rare. The view out to the ocean is spectacular.

The “farm house” is a particularly tropical design. There are shutters, but no glass in the windows. Cold is not an issue in this climate, and at this altitude, the valley below funnels the tradewinds up and through the house. Even this close to the equator, air conditioning is not needed.

The house is surrounded by a wide porch, with an overhanging roof, ensuring that ventilation can continue even in the frequent rain showers. The whole setup makes the difference between “indoors” and “outdoors” sort of fuzzy.

Of course if you open your house to the world, you have to occasionally expect some guests who will have varying degrees of welcome. With neither glass nor screens on the windows, mosquito netting is an important bed accessory.

If you look closely you might see another pair of guests in the bedroom a bit larger than a mosquito… (answer below)

Jenny has an obvious soft spot for animals. She hosts over 20 rescue dogs, a blind pig, a lame donkey, and I am sure more critters that we missed. Oh, the guests in the bedroom picture? Up high on the ceiling, just left of center, a pair of small bats sleeping for the day.

The Big Crops

The big cash crops here are soursop, nutmeg and chocolate. Although there is a lot of land devoted to agriculture you can drive down the roads all over the island and never see anything that looks like a traditional farm. Especially from a distance, you see a lush green hillside that looks like any other patch of tropical forest, but it is actually is a carefully managed farm. Nutmeg and cocao trees grow in mixed culture with bananas and other fruit.

You might never have hear of soursop, but it has become a recent favorite of the woo-woo health crowd and is supposed to cure everything. You know magical thinking is involved when a tea made from the leaves is touted as a cure of all kinds of things, but ONLY if made from an odd number of leaves. Yeah, right. If you are thinking about soursop as a cure-all, there is as much evidence for it as a cause of a type of Parkinson’s as well. So there is that.

Lucky for the local farmers it grows well here, and they have ready export markets to Trinidad and the USA. The fruit has become so valuable as a cash drop, that soursop rustling has become a thing. Last week two locals were fined under a new law to about half a year’s average annual income for picking fruits from trees they did not own.

Nutmeg was a huge crop here. Brought here by the British in the early 19th century as part of their effort to break the extremely lucrative Dutch monopoly on nutmeg in its native Indonesia. In 2003 Grenada was 2nd or third (depending on who is telling the story) in world nutmeg production. In 2004 Hurricane Ivan destroyed almost all of the trees on the island. New trees have been planted and are now coming into fruit bearing age.

Nutmeg is a medium sized tree, a bit unusual in its a pyramid shape, where most tropical forest trees have high spreading crowns. The fruit has four parts:

The complete fruit of the nutmeg tree.

The yellow outer pulp, a red lacy lining, a hard shell, and the inner nut. The outer pulp is sometimes consumed as a sweet fruit, the red lining is actually the spice “mace”, the inner nut is the actual nutmeg, the most valuable part. The shell of the nut is the only part that has minimal economic value. It is widely used as a garden mulch here on the island. When fully ripe, the fruit splits open and the mace and nut fall to the ground. This makes it easy to spot a cultivated nutmeg tree, the ground under them is kept clear to make it easy to harvest the ripe nuts.

On the left, the nut wrapped in mace, and on the right the raw, unshelled nut.

The Cocao tree grows very well here. It is easily recognized by its large drooping leaves, and the red-brown color of the young leaves.

Cocoa leaves.

The small trees have an unusual fruiting habit. Instead of flowering on new growth, the rather small flowers sprout from the trunk and main branches.

The large seedpods that follow are red or yellow as they ripen depending on variety.

Inside the raw fresh pod, the seeds are encased in a white sticky goo that is sweet and tastes like mango. At this point the seeds themselves are bitter and inedible. In the local markets, this is “wet cocoa.”

The local chocolate factories buy the seeds from the farmers. The chalkboard lists the places they will be buying this week:

The first step in processing is to cover a pile of the wet seeds in banana leaves and leave them to ferment for about a week. They come out of this process a dark brown, and are ready to dry in the sun. Spread on large trays that run on rails so the crop can be pushed under cover if rain threatens.

After a week in the sun, you now have “dry cocoa.” They look a lot like large kidney beans. Some of the larger farmers will do these steps at their farm, to add to the value of their crop. This is the first stable product that can be stored or exported.

The “beans” are now roasted, and the shells removed. This results in a product called “chocolate nibs.” The nibs are very rich in the fat known as “cocoa butter,” so much so that when the nibs are ground a thick liquid known as “chocolate liquor” is the result.

From here on, the processing consists of matching controlling the amount of cocoa butter. If enough cocoa butter is removed that the product is just solid at room temperature, you have “100% chocolate” or “baker’s chocolate.” If essentially all the cocoa butter is removed, you have cocoa power, as would be used to make hot chocolate. Intermediate amounts of cocoa butter make various other grades of chocolate. “White chocolate” is made just from the cocoa butter itself.

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And Back Again…

We have arrived back in Grenada. The primary reason for our side trip to Barbados was to get my (Bill’s) passport renewed at the US Embassy there. Although there is an embassy in Grenada, it seems to carry minimal staffing and could not give a specific timing when they could accept an application. That process was smooth and uneventful. Now we wait…

When we first arrived in Barbados we were instructed to tie up in the main ship harbor to clear customs. We felt like the smallest of small fry tied up to a dock designed for ships that outweigh us by a factor of 50,000 times.

Harmonie tied to the customs dock in Bridgetown, Barbados.

When we returned to the customs office for our clearing out procedure, there was another boat had taken our spot:

The yacht Octopus tied to the same spot.

This is the bow of the SuperYacht Octopus built by the late Paul Allen, founder of Microsoft along with Bill Gates. If you are interested in this 417 foot monster you, and 11 of your closest friends, can charter her (and all her toys) for $2,200,000 per week.

Our sail back to the waters of Grenada was uneventful. We couldn’t get much fishing in during the crossing, the amount of sargassum weed in the ocean here is enormous. Once in the lee of Grenada we did get some lines out, and had good luck getting wahoo to bite, but couldn’t reliably turn strikes into hookups. The one we DID hook we lost at boat side… bummer….

We anchored off Grenada for the night, and lit the flood light on our stern for entertainment. We were not disappointed. Soon we had many small fish swarming in the water. Before long, a bird was darting back and forth grabbing small fish. It was moving so fast and was in the light for such a short time we couldn’t really get a handle on what kind of bird it might be. So out came the camera gear.

It’s a challenge getting a photo of a fast flying bird during the day in full sun. At night, with a (relatively) dim lamp it’s orders of magnitude harder. Not exactly expertly, but good enough we can make a positive ID, and good enough you can see the fish he is feeding on in the water…

Our nighttime fish eating visitor….

Yep… not a bird, but a bat! I had no idea there were fish eating bats. The “Greater Bulldog Bat,” bigger than most bats I am familiar with. Larger than a pigeon, smaller than a big seagull. How does a bat “see” the fish underwater? Well, apparently it doesn’t. Instead it uses its sonar to detect the ripples on the surface made by the fish just under the water, and then grabs them with its legs. Nature never ceases to amaze.

Local fishing boat, Grenada.
Typical summer afternoon rain squall over the Caribbean Sea.
The entrance to Port Louis, Grenada is guarded(?) by the hospital.
The long-line tuna fleet, downtown St George’s, Grenada.
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Docking With the Big Boys

Barbados is the most densely populated of any island in the eastern Caribbean, but for cruising sailors it is distinctly off the beaten path. There are two major reasons for that. First is that it is literally 100 miles off the route that most cruising boats take, the other is that it is an island that is very nearly round, and it has an extremely limited choice of mediocre anchorages.

This lack of visiting boats leads to a couple of follow-on effects. The local regulatory infrastructure is not really in tune with the needs of cruising boats, and the amount of information about cruising the island is limited and is frequently limited, conflicting, out of date, or just plain wrong. It is not even mentioned in our printed cruising guide to the Windward Islands.

Almost all of the data sources we consulted (including the official Barbados web pages) indicated that Port St Charles in the northwest corner of the island was a port of entry, and a place we could easily clear customs. We called the marina there before we left Grenada to confirm the schedule, and found out that they are no longer a port of entry, and we would have to clear in in Bridgetown.

Upon our arrival in Bridgetown, we contacted “Bridgetown Signal” on the radio to let them know of our approach, and we asked permission to anchor in Carlisle Bay and dinghy in to clear customs. Our advance information from usually reliable sources suggested that this was pretty standard. Not true, or at least not true today. They instead directed us to enter the main harbor and tie up to one of the cruise ship docks and only then go to customs.

This is more than a bit of a pain, tying a 53 foot sailboat to a dock designed for a 100,000 ton cruise ship is not simple. Everything from the bollards to the fenders is just not to our scale. Getting off, and back one, the boat is a gymnastic exercise.

Harmonie at the big boy dock. The perspective here is a bit deceiving, it’s a LONG way down to our deck from the quay surface.

Fortunately the weather was benign, and the process went smoothly. The local customs officials were reasonably efficient, but obviously not used to such small vessels. Once we cleared in, we were released to go to the anchorage.

There are a number of boats in the Carlisle Bay anchorage, but they are all local boats and tourist day boats. Not one other visiting cruising boat is visible.

Carlisle Bay is a pretty terrible anchorage. Ocean swell consistently wraps around from the south west, and hits you sideways as you sit to the easterly blowing tradewinds. This means that boats roll… a lot. None of the usual tricks of trying to turn the boat into the waves work for very long because the wind and current change direction through the day. Whatever you do for a comfortable set at noon fails at 17:00 and then it changes again by 23:00.

Carlisle Bay Sunset
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Out and About

We broke out of the marina the other day, and spent some time out fishing. Today, we are taking advantage of favorable winds, and we are sailing over to Barbados. Should be about a 30 hour sail. Usually, this would be straight upwind, but there is enough south in the weather today, we should have an easier time of it.

Why Barbados? Well, because it is there… but more specifically I (Bill) need to renew my passport, and the US Embassy in Grenada is not currently set up to do that. There are a couple of hoops to jump through, but it seems like this is the best way to get that done in the time we have here in the eastern Caribbean.

Barbados is a round island with no natural harbors, and being 100 miles off the beaten path it is not frequently visited by cruising boats. A lot of the online information about formalities is out of date, and inconsistent. We think we have the current data… we’ll find out when we get there!

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