The Monday before Halloween, we weighed anchor and headed north along the Caribbean coast of Grenada. We experienced a near-perfect day of sailing with beam winds and friendly seas. As Karen had detailed in our previous post, we had enjoyed “Camp Grenada”, but we were ready to be in a position to cross back into the hurricane belt and continue our adventure.
We found a beautiful spot off Sandy Island near Carricou and tied up to a mooring ball. A fisherman came by, and we bought a lobster he had just caught, which we steamed for dinner. Caribbean lobsters don’t have claws, but the tail is meatier than the ones we are used to. This was pretty much the perfect day. (Note from Karen: Remember my rapturous post about the Ninja Foodi? Turns out it’s a steamer too! It cooked this lobster perfectly. Perfectly. And I made a little bearnaise sauce with the juices. Mmmmmm….)
After two nights on the mooring ball, we headed to Tyrell Bay to check out of the country of Grenada. Then we were on our way to nearby Union Island. This is one of the islands of St. Vincent and The Grenadines (not to be confused with Grenada), and it is the proud home of a bar, built in the middle of the water, appropriately named “Happy Island.” The story is that the owner created it by gathering empty conch shells and patiently dropping them into the water until he had a foundation high enough to build upon. You can only get there by boat, and it’s a really fun experience.
Union Island can also be a fun place, but has a well-deserved reputation for nickeling and diming you at every turn… when you grab a mooring ball, when you clear into the country, when you eat lunch, when you walk down the street, etc. For instance, at one restaurant (appropriately named “The Local”) we were told that none of the items posted on the menu on the wall were available today and that we would have to order from a different menu. Surprise! Those items on the newly-presented menu were listed in US dollars and were 2.5x more expensive! They literally said “you can’t order those burgers on the menu on the wall. They aren’t available today. You have to order from this list.” (I can only imagine what would happen if someone tried to pull a stunt like that at home). Karen helps keep me from getting into trouble in moments like this.
On Halloween day, we enjoyed a gentle sail north to the beautiful Salt Whistle Bay in Mayreau where we anchored in about 15 feet of water. In some places in the Caribbean, you have to anchor in deeper water due to the way the sea floor drops off sharply from a volcanic shore, and this can be a hassle. The reason is, you need to “pay out” five feet of chain for every one foot of depth so that the anchor can dig in and set at the proper angle. We have 230 feet of rode (anchor chain), which is a lot, but it is still preferable to anchor in 10-15 feet of water when you can. Salt Whistle Bay had a beautiful, sandy bottom and crystal-clear water, so I dove in and inspected the anchor for extra insurance.
Lining the beach at Salt Whistle were a series of shacks serving food and selling hand-made goods, and we chose one for lunch that advertised “Free WIFI” on a hand-written sign posted outside. After we sat down, things unfolded thusly:
Andy, pointing at the sign: “You have WIFI?”
Owner/Waiter: “Yeah Mon.”
Andy: “How do I access it?”
Owner/Waiter: Well Mon… you walk to town. There is a big tree. That is where the internet is. You can’t miss it.”
He was not making this up. I took his advice and walked to the town square, and there was a giant tree with a sign on it for public internet access.
…After synching email and sending a couple of messages, I returned to our table where further fun awaited us:
Different waiter: “You hungry, Mon?
Waiter: “What you want to eat, Mon?”
Andy “What are you cooking today?”
Waiter: “We have fish & chips, Mon.”
Andy: “That sounds great. Two fish and chips, please!”
(Perhaps 45 minutes pass)
Owner/Waiter returns: “Sorry Mon – no bus running to get you fish & chips.”
Andy (having no idea this was an Uber Eats-type arrangement): “Oh! No problem. We have lots of food on the boat.”
Owner/Waiter: “Wait…” (gesturing toward a fellow customer seated at the bar). “That guy has a truck. He will go to town and get fish and chips.”
Before I had time to protest, the guy was backing out in his truck.
Perhaps another 45 minutes pass before the truck returns.
Owner/Waiter bringing take-out boxes of food: “Here you go. No fish today. You get chicken.”
(It was tasty)
While we were waiting for our lunch, we saw a local fisherman come in with some beautiful red snapper, and we bought two from him to cook for dinner. The price for both fish was less than $8 US.
Later that evening, a new friend, RJ (who is a instructor with the sailing school where we learned last year), came by with some of his friends, dressed for Halloween. They invited us to join them for drinks, ashore. How could we say no?
The next day, we left Salt Whistle Bay for Bequia. Again, we enjoyed perfect winds and friendly seas. I can get used to this! On Saturday, November 2, we arrived in Saint Lucia in the town of Soufrieres and grabbed one of the government’s mooring balls on the southern side. This was an adventure. Even the park rangers got in on the act of trying to fleece us, claiming we had to pay for two nights (in cash, of course) even though we were only staying for one and were departing early in the morning. They were also carrying two receipt books. Nice try. (I was born at night, but I wasn’t born last night). I refused to pay for the second night, and the situation escalated verbally until they finally gave up and sped away. Let me just say that everywhere you go in this town, you find that the hustle is alive and well. Whether or not you need a taxi, someone follows you down the street, urging you to take theirs. Others want to earn a tip for escorting you to Customs or Immigration (which are clearly marked on the map and are only about a block down Main St. from the dinghy dock). When we came back to our dinghy after a great dinner at Orlando’s, we found our storage compartment had been opened up. Fortunately, we did not have anything valuable inside. By this time, I was ready to high tail it out of Soufrieres.
But all of that was more than offset by the beautiful marina we stumbled into while sailing north the next day. Capella Marina in Marigot Bay, Saint Lucia was a wonderful respite. You could not even see it until you were almost past it, but it is a gorgeous “hurricane hole” tucked deep into an area protected from weather by mountains on all sides and mangroves on the shores. They let us tie up to a very secure mooring ball and then use the resort facilities to our hearts’ content. (Spa! Gym! Restaurants!)
Now it was time to pay the piper for all this fun. On Monday, November 4, we docked in Rodney Bay, Saint Lucia to affect some needed repairs. The first order of business was to get the sail drive (think “transmission”) working properly on the starboard engine. We have Yanmar SD-60 sail drives, and the starboard one had quit shifting reliably into forward and reverse. This had made our last dozen (or so) docking/mooring/anchoring maneuvers quite tense, so we had Alwin, a local Yanmar technician come aboard to help us get to the bottom of it.
Fixing it turned out to be a complicated procedure, requiring him to disconnect and hoist the big diesel engine out of the way before he could access the clutches on the sail drive. While he was aboard, I got him to guide me as I rebuilt the generator’s fuel-water separator which had been slowly leaking fuel into the port engine bilge. I really liked working with Alwin, and I learned a ton from him. He was a great problem solver and was very methodical and detail-oriented in the way he approached repairs.
After that, we hauled the boat out of the water to finish the sail drive job. Hauling out is quite the process, where you pull into a slip, and a big, hulking machine drives over you and lifts all 41 tons of you up out of the water with straps. Then it moves you to a spot, on land, where they let you down gently and prop the boat up with platforms and stilts. Congratulations: you are now officially “on the hard”.
While we were hauled out, “Fiber” (who earned his nickname from his expertise working on fiberglass hulls) came to whip our hull into shape. A marine environment is tough on a boat’s hull below the waterline, with barnacles and algae and all kinds of other sea life hitching a free ride. So, we had him scrape, pressure wash, sand, and paint that part of the hull with a special marine paint that resists growth. He buffed out any scratches, removed rust stains, and polished the rest of the hull. Everything looked like new again! We also replaced zincs on the propellers to resist corrosion and had the props cleaned up and painted with a special coating that deters algae and barnacles.
We had one last electronic component to replace from our June lightning strike. It is the AIS that lets us show up on the screen of other boats and allows us to see them on our charts. The onboard computer uses this information to calculate whether or not you might be on a collision course with another ship (this happens more frequently than you would expect), and it alerts you as to precisely when and where that would occur. It’s super-useful in the daytime and downright critical in the dark or when visibility is poor. Combined with the radar, it gives you a great sense of what is going on around you. Our AIS had been working about 20% of the time since June’s near lightning strike. Jon White from Regis Electronics in Saint Lucia came aboard, and he figure out what was wrong in short order. He was one of these guys I instantly took a liking to, and we found we have some mutual interests in software and hardware. I sprung for the replacement Raymarine component and we got it express-shipped and through customs, and Jon had it programmed and installed in the time for us to depart Saint Lucia on schedule. (If you are ever curious to know where Gratitude is, you can see our current AIS position on the Marine Traffic website.
Karen went on a zipline tour on Friday with some of our sailing friends while I stayed behind to coordinate/haggle over/supervise the remaining work being done. Amazingly, we hauled out Wednesday morning, and we “splashed” on Friday afternoon that same week. That was impressively fast, and we were very happy with the work. By the time the sun went down on Friday, I was stupid-tired from all the activity and from standing out in the sun all day. (Note from Karen: The ziplining was a fun way to see some of our Grenada friends and celebrate a birthday. But it made for a long day, with the boat work, getting back on the water, and anchoring in the bay nearby. Once we found a place to eat and made one more quick grocery run, we both crashed into bed before 9:00). Our friends, Shane and MV aboard Gem, refer to 9 pm as “Sailor’s Midnight.” We’re starting to agree.
It’s a great feeling to be underway again with everything working, and Gratitude has picked up a couple of knots in the water thanks to to her newly cleaned and painted hull.