December 25th, 1996

Port Elizabeth, Bequia


'Christmas in the Caribbean,
Snowbirds fill the air.
Christmas in the Caribbean,
Lots of presents everywhere.

We don't live in a hurry,
send away for mistletoe,
Christmas in the Caribbean,
we have everything but snow.'

(J. Buffett)


Dear Friends,

There are a few places in the Caribbean that cruisers gather for Christmas and down island the place to be is Bequia. We are anchored in Admiralty Bay with some two to three hundred other boats. There are flags from around the world flying in the strong trade winds. At night many of the boats (including Pirate Jenny) are gaily decorated with coloured Christmas lights. Throughout the small, picturesque town of Port Elizabeth the words "Merry Christmas" can be heard in almost every language. Missing are the scarves and gloves and heavy warm clothing as folks dressed in tee shirts, shorts and bathing suits mill through the shops in search of small treasures to exchange Christmas morning. An enterprising groups of local young men sit alongside the dinghy dock singing reggae style Christmas Carols to the sounds of their percussion instruments which include several plastic gallon water jugs, sticks and coconuts. We shared a "pot luck" Christmas dinner with Tammy and Dale and 10 other old and new friends aboard "Time Bandit" with whom we have traveled off and on since St. Thomas. Early this morning we even had a visit from Santa who, in keeping with the spirit of the Caribbean, rode through the anchorage on an inner tube towed not by his usual eight reindeer but rather a 75 horse Yamaha.

Bequia water front

Frangipani restaurant - Bequia

And when it rains it pours

It is very strange for me to spend Christmas so far from my family and many friends back in Canada. However, the warmth and good fellowship of the members of our small traveling community has made this wonderful and memorable Christmas.

Last time I wrote we had just arrived in Trinidad. 'Cruising' Trinidad basically means 'parking' the boat in the Chagaramus area and renting a car or taking the bus to see the island. The waters of the gulf of Paria are clouded with the silt and effluent of Venezuela's Orinoco River and the few anchorages on the protected west coast of the island are very crowded with everything from cruising yachts to freighters. The only nice anchorages are a few small bays in the three islands at the north eastern tip of the main island. These are all located with a five mile distance of Chagaramus. Along the north coast there are two or three bays that offer some protection but all are very exposed to any northerly wind or swell which is quite common during the winter months. This is not to suggest that anyone should miss Trinidad just that the island must be seen by land.

In all we spent 3 weeks in Trinidad but did very little sightseeing. My 'To Do' list was still quite long and I spent most days back and forth from the various chandler shops, sail loft, woodworking shop and the upholstery shop. Though things went much faster than in Puerto La Cruz the days seemed to slip by as the list slowly became shorter. By the time I was ready to leave I had the bimini top made, new screens for the hatches, new cockpit cushions, a small modification to the main sail, converted a hanging locker to shelves and fixed numerous small problems. Someone once described cruising as "Boat maintenance in exotic places". A very apt definition.

Pirate Jenny with her new bimini and cushions

On December 10th with my list somewhat shortened, I cleared customs and immigration out of Trinidad and moved to Scotland Bay to prepare for my passage to Grenada. Scotland Bay is just three miles from the anchorage in Chagaramus but is a world apart. The small, clean, well protected bay is surrounded by lush tropical greenery. There are no shoreside facilities nor in fact any sign of civilization. I anchored off a small beach to clean the bottom and prepare the boat for the 80 mile passage. Evelyn had returned home to Ottawa so this was my first single-handed, overnight passage. I was making the trip in the company of my friends Luca and Patty aboard RORO IV but with only one person onboard it is important to try to plan and prepare for everything. Even the simplest of tasks can be somewhat overwhelming with only two tired hands in large seas. I took extra care to be sure the boat was ready.

With a report of stable weather, small seas of four to six feet and light winds of 10 knots (unfortunately from the north east), we lifted anchors at midnight to begin the 16 hour passage. Between the islands of the windward chain, the waters of the Atlantic flow into the Caribbean to complete the large circular flow that starts along the south Florida coast as the Gulf Stream. The currents in this area a generally quite strong. Between Trinidad and Grenada when the tide is coming in the current can reach four knots and sets in a west to north westerly direction. What this means to a boat traveling at 6 knots is that each hour spent heading north you travel 6 miles north and you are also travel as much as 4 miles west. In a sailboat with light northeast winds and a destination almost due north navigation can be a bit tricky. Not wanting to visit Costa Rica just yet, I motorsailed all but the last few hours to increase my speed and help keep the boat pointing higher into the wind.

I had arranged with Luca and Patty to keep our radios on channel 68 and to call every half hour to be sure I had not drifted off to sleep. RORO IV also has radar thus an added advantage on this cloudy, moonless night. We sailed within five miles of each other all night so RORO's radar could keep a good lookout for both of us. Every half hour on Luca's watch I was treated to a harmonica version of the Margaraina song. With Patty, who speaks only Italian, it was either just a quick hello or when something appeared on the radar screen "Bart, Bart, Bart, Sheep, Sheep Sheep!". It was a long but uneventful night. Twelve hours later, at noon, with the Island of Grenada in sight and a bit stronger wind I could finally turn off the motor and thoroughly enjoyed the tranquillity of approaching this lovely green Island under sail. We arrived and dropped anchor in the lagoon at St. George's Harbour at 3:00pm. After checking in with customs and immigration and a huge plate of Patty's wonderful pasta I returned home to "Pirate Jenny" for a long awaited sleep.

Approaching St. George's Grenada

The Carenage, St. George's, Grenada

The next morning we played tourist and joined the hundreds of cruise boat passengers in a walk around town. St. George's is a small and very old port town. The town itself is built on a peninsula that forms one side of the larger part of the harbour called the Carenage. At the end of this peninsula Fort George holds a commanding view of the harbour, approaches and the open waters of the Caribbean 200 feet below. A short but steep climb up narrow streets brings you to the sea side of the town where the hustle and bustle of the local market is the focal point. Police dressed in British Colonial white uniforms stand in several intersections directing traffic by hand signals but, the streets in this part of town were not built with cars in mind and the constant flow of traffic can be a bit nerve racking. We stopped at the bank to purchase some of the local currency, the Eastern Caribbean dollar or EC which is valued at 2.65 EC's to the US dollar or about 2 EC's to the Canadian dollar. We then stopped at a small local café overlooking the harbour for a lunch of Roti and a cold Carib beer.

I spent the rest of the afternoon helping Luca set up his new computer. That evening we feasted on yet another of Patty's culinary creations and then when it could be put off no longer said a very difficult 'goodbye'. Luca and Patty would leave at 6:00 the next morning for Guadaloupe then to the Virgin Islands and return with RORO IV to Italy next May. Addresses and promises to keep in touch were exchanged but we had become very good friends over these last few months with many good and happy memories shared and the real possibility than we would not ever have that opportunity again made it a sad farewell. Without question, saying 'goodbye' is the hardest part of cruising. After a few more 'one last drinks of rum' I dinghied home to the sound of "Margaraina" played poorly on a harmonica.

Early the next morning, after two aspirins and a last wave 'goodbye' as RORO IV lifted anchor and headed out of the harbour, I began to prepare 'Pirate Jenny' for the first of a long list of visitors. After the general cleaning and re-organizing to convert the forward cabin from garage/storeroom back to a sleeping compartment I headed to the local supermarket to re-provision. I had been warned by cruisers in Venezuela to stock up before I headed up island but though 'Pirate Jenny' has a great deal of storage for her size, I am still limited as to how much I can carry. My trip through the aisles of the grocery store was a shock! A mid sized bottle of mayonnaise 14.00 EC, a 2 litre bottle of coke 10.00 EC, a small local, frozen steak 16.00 EC, one pound of cold cuts 22.00 EC, even vegetables and fruits were extremely expensive. I can not even imagine how the average Grenadian, who earns one to two hundred EC per week can afford to live. Mainly due to the 'sticker shock' I returned to the boat with very little and had to make a second trip to the store to complete my shopping.

In Puerto La Cruz a taxi ride to town would cost 1,000 bolivar, a little over $2.00 cdn. It cost 70.00 EC, about $35.00 cdn for a return trip to the airport to meet my visitor, a distance of less than a quarter that to town in Puerto La Cruz. The bus from St. George's to about a mile and a half from the airport costs only one EC. The bus does not go to the airport and the taxi for that last mile and a half … 30 EC each way! I'll leave you to imagine my feelings about that situation. It is now clear why there are so many taxi drivers in Grenada and why any vehicle will be instantly converted to a taxi on seeing a white face on the roadside. I was quite anxious to leave Grenada hoping that prices would fall rapidly once we left this cruise ship port. This was not the case. On our trip up to Bequia and our return to Grenada we stopped at several Islands and found the prices very high everywhere.

As it was now close to Christmas we traveled quite quickly up island. Again we motor sailed due to a north east wind and strong currents. We stopped overnight in Tyrel bay in Carricou, at Petite St. Vincent and Canouan Island before arriving in Admiralty Bay, Bequia on Dec 23rd. On our return to Grenada, thankfully under sail with good winds and moderate seas, we stopped in Salt Whistle Bay on Mayreau for two days ( the entertainment at 4:00pm when all the charter boats attempted to anchor was a chuckle), then Union Island and Carricou before once more anchoring in the lagoon at St. George's.

Petite St. Vincent Resort ($750US/day!) beach

Salt Whistle Bay, Mayreau

Mopian Island

Mom arrives in a few days and we will spend the next month in the Grenadines. I will have more time to explore the islands and anchorages in January and will write more about them then. For the moment I can say that though the islands are expensive and the anchorages crowded, the islands and anchorages are beautiful and safe, the water very clear, the reefs alive and vibrant and the people friendly. The distance between the islands range from a mile or two to sixteen miles. The winds are moderate, usually in the ten to twenty knot range. Sailing is probably somewhat more challenging than the Virgin Islands and very enjoyable.

As the New Year approaches it has now been almost nine months since I left Ottawa in search of the places and experiences I have dreamed of these past fifteen years. Time perhaps, to reflect a little.

Ever since buying my first boat, a Venture 22, I have dreamed of the day I would head out across oceans to discover for myself the solitary palm fringed island anchorages and exotic foreign harbours. Summers were spent learning to properly command and maintain my little vessel. Winters, curled up on the sofa reading of the adventures of Lynn and Larry Pardey, Tristan Jones, Eric and Susan Hiscock, and many others and of course paging glassy eyed through the sailing magazines with their stories and photographs of those magical places along side the articles and photos of the latest models of the half million dollar yachts.

Those fifteen years, buying and equipping four sailboats each a little larger and more seaworthy than the previous, were costly. Not only in the money spent on the boats and equipment but in other ways as well. "take a winter vacation or buy the new spinnaker, go out for dinner or put the money towards the auto pilot". There is also the time involved to chip away at the unending maintenance and taking winter courses in navigation and seamanship skills. It has required a lot of obstinate dedication and my rather myopic attitude has probably cost me a relationship or two. And, in the end leaving a very well paying job for a somewhat uncertain future.So, fifteen years later here I am sailing my own boat through those palm fringed islands. Is it all I dreamed it would be? Well, yes and no.

Ocean / Caribbean Sea sailing is very hard on a boat and crew. My little Nantucket handles it like a trooper, but the salt water, unbelievably strong sun and constant motion in 4 to 8 foot seas take their toll. Everything breaks, everything moves, the only things that don't move are those things that are suppose to move but they're broken. I don't remember anywhere in those wonderful books where the authors spoke of the constant fight to keep things working. No matter how many spares you have on board you will need more and Murphy's law will ensure that the one part you need is the one you don't have. Getting parts from Canada or the States is very expensive and time consuming and obtaining parts locally is next to impossible. It can be very frustrating but it is very much a part of everyday life cruising in a small boat.

The islands and the people have been fantastic. The cruisers we have met and with whom we share this dream have all been interesting, wonderful people. In our experience thus far the native people have for the most part been friendly, helpful and have made us feel very welcome in their country. We have not yet experienced any difficulties with officialdom. Customs officers, Guardia Coastias, Guardia National and Port Captains have all been pleasant and helpful. The islands and anchorages have been more spectacular than I can describe.

I very much miss my daughters Lisa and Keri-anne, my granddaughter Erika, my family and friends and often wish you could all be here too. At times I miss my apartment, anchoring at Phiney's Point on a warm summer week-end and on very rare occasions I've even missed my old job.

If I could turn back the clock would I do it again? ABSOLUTELY.

Happy New Year and best wishes to all.