Preparing For Carnival – Pan Practice And Costume-Making

Spending hurricane season in Grenada meant we would be on the island for its carnival celebration. We’d experienced several carnival parades and such during our time in the Western Caribbean, and were excited to be in Grenada for theirs. Being so close to Trinidad, and in the Eastern Caribbean in general, we looked forward to a much bigger event.

Several weeks before carnival began, there was an announcement on the morning net, about a “pre-carnival” event. “Shademan”, one of the local taxi/event drivers (they all go by crazy nicknames), was taking a bus up to watch the local steel pan orchestra practice, and also to see costumes for the various parades being made. We were excited at the idea, and quickly replied to reserve our spot on the bus.

After the usual cramming in like cattle (more on this later), we made the short ride (thankfully) in Shademan’s bus, and arrived at a community center with a large, open concrete area in front of it. Spilling out from under a tarp were pans of all sizes.

I’m used to seeing one or two pans played at a waterfront bar, but never this many in one place, and never of so many different sizes.

We watched several sections practice, made up of children of all ages.

Different sections of the orchestra practiced together, as others players arrived. Here’s a video of a section of the orchestra practicing:

Over time, more players arrived, and by dusk the orchestra was practicing with a complete group.

When they took a break, the band’s director came over to welcome us, and took time to tell us about the orchestra, the pans and how they’re made.

Pans are built using sheet metal. Historically, they have been built from used oil barrels, but currently many instrument makers do not rely on used steel containers, and instead have the bodies manufactured according to their preferences and specifications.

The metal is first stretched into a bowl shape, known as “sinking,” which is usually done with hammers, or the help of air pressure. The note pattern is then marked, and notes of different sizes are shaped and molded into the surface. Each one creates a different note, subtly different from the ones around it, according to their position and size. The note’s size on the pan corresponds to its pitch; the larger the oval, the lower the tone.  Next, the notes are softened and tuned, to get the right notes for each playing area, as well as the desired pitch.

The size of a pan varies from one to another, with the length of the skirt (the cylindrical part of the oil drum) generally corresponding to the high or low range of the drum. A pan may have almost all of the skirt cut off, with many soprano-range notes.

Or, the entire drum may be used, with only a few notes per pan, in which case one person plays a group of pans.

In an orchestra, instruments are grouped together to create sections: horns, woodwinds, strings and percussion. Each section contains instruments that play in various parts of the musical scale, from the very high notes (soprano) to the very low notes (bass). The Steel Drum family of instruments is the same.

I found this great chart, with visuals,  showing types and sizes of pans we saw at the orchestra practice.

p1cph1-t.jpgLEAD                             Melody                                   Soprano
p2cph1.jpgDOUBLE SECONDS       Contra Melody, Harmony         Alto

dble-guitar-t.jpgDOUBLE GUITARS       Rhythm/Chords                       Tenor

cello-pans.jpgTRIPLE CELLOS           Rhythm/Chords Low                Tenor

tenor-bass-t.jpgTENOR BASS               Bass/Rhythm                          Baritone

six-bass-t.jpgSIX BASS                    Bass Line                                Bass

We learned that most bands are a real part of the local community. Young children are encouraged to join a band, from as young as five years old. They learn the art of playing the steel pan, but also are educated in community values and social standards.

After our pan lesson, the director led us into a building where costumes were being made for carnival. We expected a much larger room, and couldn’t believe how much production was going on in the small space.

Women were hard at work sewing and gluing, surrounded by piles of fabric, laces, trims and beads.

Headbands were piled on tables, headpieces hung from the ceiling, and skimpy outfits lined the walls.

The room was filled with different colors and textures, and screamed..Carnival is coming!

We were then lead into an even smaller, adjacent room, which was crammed full of finished pieces. Amid the room full of feathers and sequins, a man was cutting fabric…for still more costumes.

We came back outside to find the air filled with the sound of music and the smell of food. The food tent was up and running, selling barbecue chicken and oil down. The national dish of Grenada, oil down is a one-pot dish found at all island events, and is also made by locals for gatherings of family and friends.

Breadfruit is a staple ingredients in the dish, and vegetables such as carrots, cabbage, are added. Meat and fish, both salted and fresh, and crab are also used. Flour dumplings, lots of fresh coconut milk and turmeric, a key ingredient, round out the dish. Fresh turmeric gives the dish its signature deep gold-yellow hue and adds overall flavor.

There is no one set recipe for oil down, and each household and parish makes it to suit their taste. The oil down served at the pan practice was some of the best we had while on Greneda…delicious! I found a really interesting article about the history of oil down, where its ingredients came from, and how it’s made. Read it here.

By now, official practice was over, and the orchestra was playing for fun. The thunderous sound of all those pans was amazing. Here’s a video of these talented musicians, one of which having an extra good time:

We stayed and enjoyed the music, and our oil down, until Shademan came around to gather us back to the bus. It had been such an interesting, informative and fun evening! We were glad to have had a behind-the-scenes look at carnival preparations, as well as a delicious dinner, and were now extra excited for the upcoming festivities! Here are more photos of our evening of pan music and costume-making.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Our Grenada Island Tour With Cutty

Scott and I try to see and learn as much about our surroundings as possible in each location we visit. On Grenada, cruisers raved about seeing the island with Cutty’s Tours. We were told that Cutty, a local Grenadian, is full of knowledge about the island’s history, culture, animals and plants, so when there was an opening in one of his tours, we jumped at it. Settle in…we saw a lot and learned much.

First, a quick bit of island history…

Christopher Columbus sighted Grenada in 1498, during his third voyage
to the Americas. However, it wasn’t until 1609, that English tobacco planters attempted to settle the island; within a year, most were killed by the Carib Indians. Forty years later, the French purchased the island from the Carib, for a few hatchets, some glass beads and two bottles of brandy (not a bad deal!).

As you might imagine, not all of the Carib were pleased with the deal, and skirmishes continued until the French chased the last of the Indians to the northern end of the island. Rather than submit to the colonists, the remaining Carib, men, women and children, jumped to their deaths from the island’s cliffs.

Like many Caribbean islands, control of Grenada shifted back and forth between France and Britain, until France seceded the island to the British under the Treaty of Paris, in 1783.

Grenada received its independence on  February 7th, 1974. By 1979, the state of the island’s politics had become a concern to American officials, when the leftist Maurice Bishop seized power and began to develop close relations with Cuba. In 1983, another Marxist, Bernard Coard, had Bishop assassinated and took control of the government. Protesters clashed with the new government, violence escalated and in little more than a week, Grenada’s government was overthrown.

There were nearly 1,000 Americans in Grenada at the time, many of them students at the island’s medical school. Citing concerns for danger to these citizens, and fears of a repeat of the Iran Hostage Crisis, President Ronald Reagan ordered nearly 2,000 U.S. troops to Grenada. They soon found themselves facing opposition from Grenadian armed forces, and groups of Cuban military engineers, who were on there to repair and expand the island’s airport.

The fact that U.S. forces had to rely on minimal intelligence about the situation, and about the island, didn’t help matters (maps used by many of them were, in fact, old tourist maps of the island!) As a result, Reagan ordered in more troops, and by the time the fighting was done (in a matter of weeks), nearly 6,000 U.S. troops were in Grenada. Nearly 20 of these troops were killed and over a hundred wounded; over 60 Grenadian and Cuban troops were killed.

The invasion resulted in the appointment of an interim government, followed by democratic elections in 1984 (The country has remained a democratic nation since that time). Grenadians appreciated the fact that there had been relatively few civilian casualties, as well as the return to democratic elections. The date of the invasion is now a national holiday on the island, called Thanksgiving Day, which commemorates the freeing, after the invasion, of several political prisoners, who were later elected into office.

On to the island sights, sounds and smells…

The volcanic, mountainous island of Grenada, with its many rivers and waterfalls, was formed as an underwater volcano approximately 2 million years ago. Six smaller islands at the southern end of the Grenadines island chain belong to the island as well. Here’s a good image of the island, that I found online:

Being on the southern edge of the hurricane belt, Grenada has suffered only three hurricanes in fifty years: Janet in 1958,  Ivan in 2004 and Emily in 2005. Here are some  images of Spice Island Marine, located near us in Prickly Bay, before and after hurricane Ivan.

Known as the “Spice Island,” Grenada is a leading producer of many spices: cinnamon, clove, ginger, mace, allspice, orange/citrus peels, and especially nutmeg. They are all important exports for the island, and provide twenty percent of the world’s supply. In addition, Grenada is the world’s second largest producer of nutmeg exporters, after Indonesia.

We began our tour with a view down to the harbour at St. Georges, and it wasn’t long before Cutty pulled the van over, to root in the roadside plants and trees. We all waited near the van, as Cutty showed us juvenile coffee beans, cinnamon bark, turmeric, bay leaves and grapefruit.

Our first stop was Annandale Falls, one of Grenada’s many waterfalls. Located just steps from the main road, we made our way to the viewing deck, passing wild cilantro along the way (three long leaves, at center of photo). Some of the locals put on quite a show, jumping into the water below the falls, from the rocks above.

Next, we made our way into the rain forest, and Grand Etang National Park. This area of the island receives a whopping 160 inches of rain a year, in contrast to 45 inches in the lower elevations. In addition to views of a volcanic crater lake (a naturally water-filled crater, of one of Grenada’s extinct volcanoes), we were here in hopes of seeing the Mona monkeys who live in the area.

Our Aussie friends, Mark and Deb were also on the tour with us, and we all patiently waited while Cutty called out to the monkeys. It wasn’t long before they came into view, and he soon coaxed them out from the edge of the treeline.

The Mona monkeys are thought to have first come to Grenada in the 18th Century, on ships coming from Ghana, and are now mostly seen in the island’s interior.  Like hamsters and chipmunks, the Mona store food in their cheeks. They are vegetarians, eating mainly fruit, but will sometimes opt for a tasty looking insect or a lush leaf.,…which there are no shortage of in Grenada.

Scott, Howard and I had plenty of up-close-and-personal time with the monkeys in Roatan, but “monkey business” never gets old.

Back on the road, Cutty again pulled over, rummaged in a nearby tree and emerged with nutmeg. Opening the outer shell revealed the nutmeg seed within. It’s red, lacy outer covering is dried to produce the spice mace.

Next, we stopped at the home of Denis Noel, and his home on the 300 acre Balthazar Estate.

We visited briefly, and discovered that he’d led quite an interesting life. Inside, the walls were lined with photos of Noel with foreign dignitaries from all over the world, during his time as Grenada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

After leaving politics, Noel diversified operations of the family estate. He packaged and marketed herbal tea from lemongrass, and was the first Grenadian to cultivate the noni plant and market noni juice. The noni fruit smells terrible, but has countless medicinal benefits.

You can read more about this incredibly healthy, but stinky fruit here.

In the year 2000, he released Nut-Med, a pain-relief spray, combining nutmeg with conventional analgesics. It became internationally famous, and was registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States.

As a young man, Noel was a member of the Grenadian Ministry of Agriculture, and flowers from the Balthazar Estate earned six gold medal awards over a ten year period, at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show in England. The estate is currently Grenada’s largest producer of cut flowers, and the table inside the house was full of beautiful wrapped bouquets.

As we walked back to Cutty’s van, there was a whiff of chocolate in the air. I followed my nose to a nearby building, and discovered the Grenada Cocoa Association.

Inside the open doors, bags filled with cocoa beans were piled high. It was a delicious smell, but as I snapped these photos, we were not so politely told to leave. No bother, I’d gotten a snoot-full of chocolate smell, and was happy to evacuate the building.

Keeping with the chocolate theme, our next stop was the Grenada Chocolate Factory.

The company was founded in 1999, by two men who had the idea of creating an Organic Cocoa Farmers’ and Chocolate-Makers’ Cooperative. The chocolate is produced in a tiny Caribbean house, and is made from organic beans grown by local island farmers who are all shareholders in the company, and who earn well over twice the going rate for their beans. The local, fresh beans are used, rather than those that have been shipped half way around the world, and might be months or even years old.

Because small batch chocolate-making is extremely rare, the company had to create many of their own processing methods, designing special small scale machines and refurbishing antique equipment to meet the requirements of their unique situation. Most of the machines were designed in the early 1900’s, in a time when quality had precedence over quantity in the world of chocolate-making. Many of the machines were also reconfigured to be powered by solar energy.

Having stocked up on chocolate bars, we continued on to Belmont Estate. The first Grenadians of East Indian descent to own an estate on the island purchased the property in 1944 (Only Europeans owned agricultural estates at that time), and it is still in the family as a fully operational, agricultural property.

The property houses a restaurant, several gift shops, a small museum and a farm with many different animals and plants. In addition, Belmont has their own chocolate production on site.

We wandered the grounds, passing vanilla beans, noni fruit, guava, passion fruit (which we learned is an invasive vine), and several mud-caked turtles, some who seemed to be quite nimble walkers.

On our way out we stopped into the museum, where Cutty talked about the island’s various fruits, nuts and spices on display.

Traveling along Grenada’s lush and scenic roads, Cutty pointed out large barrels outside some of the island’s homes. He told us that they are used to ship items to friends and family in Grenada, from other countries. From November 1st, until December 31st, the barrels ship duty-free from the U.S. and Canada, as long as they contain clothes, food and toys…ho, ho, ho!

Our lunch spot was a scenic restaurant at the River Antoine Estate, producers of Rivers Rum. We enjoyed a buffet of local foods, and views of the estate’s lush, tropical grounds, on the edge of the Caribbean Sea.

With full bellies and renewed energy, it was time for rum! “Rivers Rum,” as it’s referred to on the island, is still made almost exactly as it was back in the 1700’s, in the same place and on much of the same equipment.

Central to the entire process of manufacturing at Rivers Rum is a water wheel, dating back to the 1800s. Fed by a nearby river, the wheel has been crushing cane for hundred’s of years, making River Antoine the oldest functioning water-driven distillery in the Caribbean. Being mechanically inclined, both Mark and Scott were fascinated by the huge, antique wheel and it’s workings.

No machines or pumps are used here. Piles of sugar cane are hand-fed up a wooden chute, and crushed by the water wheel-powered grinder.

The fresh-squeezed juice flows down a wooden sliding gate to the boiling house, where it is filtered (by hand) to remove bits of cane, stirred (by hand) and brought to a boil in cast-iron pots over a fire that is stoked by dried cane stalks and wood, which explains the massive piles of stalks around the crushing area.

The juice is then ladled from pot to pot (by hand), which thickens the sweet liquid. Tempering lime is added to help separate unwanted impurities and aid fermentation.

After boiling for a few hours, the thickened liquid is ladled (by hand) into another gate/chute that directs it to cement fermentation tanks. Without the addition of yeast, the boiled cane juice takes about eight days to ferment. Once all of the sugar has been converted to alcohol, it is drained from the concrete tanks into a pot still below. In the final step, it’s pumped (by hand) into bottles held near a pipe.

Daily production only yields about 35 gallons, which is far less than the demand. The resulting raw rum to be bottled as Rivers Royale is 75% alcohol by volume, and this overproof rum is the strongest we’ve found in our Caribbean travels (on the right, below). It’s alcohol content is too high for visitors to carry home by plane, as it’s considered a combustible liquid! As a result, Rivers began producing a “tourist-friendly” rum, coming in under the wire, at 69% (on the left).

 

The tour ended at an open pavilion, offering samples of the clear rum that was most likely distilled just the day before, if not that morning. We were welcome to “drink all you like,” and soon discovered why. The clear “fire-water” offered to us in tiny cups smelled like lighter fluid, and didn’t get past my lips.

Scott, on the other hand, finished his fire sample handily, explaining to the group how to properly taste the stuff: first take a breath, drink the rum and then exhale (apparently, drinking moonshine has its advantages). He then happily went back for seconds…I’m fairly certain he was the only one.

We were nearing the end of our tour, and our heads were spinning with all that we’d seen and heard. In addition to the many fruits, spices and trees mentioned, Cutty also pointed out clove, almonds, tamarind, avocados, lemongrass, cherries, cocoa pods, jasmine, ylang-ylang and several types of apples and mangoes (the island has 200 species of mango).

Here are more interesting tidbits that we learned from Cutty:

The Caribbean Argo Company imports wheat from Canada and the U.S. They produce flour and ship it throughout Caribbean.

During the U.S. invasion of Grenada, in 1983, the U.S. accidentally bombed a mental hospital…oops! President Regan approved funds to build a new one.

Michael Jackson’s infamous doctor, Conrad Murry, was born on Grenada.

Children on Grenada are required to go to school from 6-14 years of age.

Many countries have funded projects in Grenada:

Canada provided money for a medical center; China built many homes, and also paid for a new cricket stadium. At the stadium’s opening, the anthem of Taiwan was accidentally played, and the band leader was fired; Venezuela gave Grenada $16.5 million in grant funding for projects, such as prefab housing, and the redevelopment of the St. George’s Market; Japan has given the island money, in exchange for voting in favor of whaling at United Nations meetings.

The soursup fruit contains calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus, and is also a source of vitamins C and A.

Soursup grows naturally in Grenada,  and the U.S. is paying the island to grow it for use in cancer research.

We came away from our day-long tour with a true appreciation for Grenada’s beauty, and all that the island provides her people. Here are more photos of our island tour with Cutty.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

 

 

 

A Dinghy Concert

Not long after we settled into Prickly Bay, there was talk on the net of an upcoming dinghy concert. Apparently, Le Phare Bleu Hotel & The Lighthouse Bar sponsor a “dinghy concert” several times a year. A floating barge houses the stage, with two more flanked on either side, for seating and a bar. Cruisers and locals come by dinghy, tying to the barges, and each other, for an afternoon of music.

A dinghy concert you say??…awesome!! However, the concert was several bays over, and involved going out in open waters to round the bend. Our 3.5 horsepower dinghy motor would make for a slow, slogging go, and despite being inflatable-friendly, we feared the Aluminum Princess would not be well received in a large group of rubber dinghies; they just don’t understand her.

Luckily, our friends Mark and Deb, who we’d recently met in Martinique, offered to ferry us over on their dinghy; it was larger, with a more powerful motor. We gladly accepted, and the four of us were off on our way.

It was a lumpy ride, but we made good time and soon arrived at the bay near Le Phare Bleu. Many cruisers had arrived ahead of us,  and we tied on to the growing amoeba of dinghies.

As dinghies of all sizes continued to arrived, the group grew in size. We spotted our friend, “Tall Mark,” (red baseball hat) coming in on a homemade pontoon boat!

Water taxis shuttled those without dinghies, as well as many locals, from Le Phare Bleu over to the barges.

The ever-growing group included families with children, as well as pets.

A sailboat arrived and anchored just off the barges, ready for the day, with several inflatables of their own.

We settled in, and waited for the live music to start.

The band soon took the stage and began to play for the floating crowd.

As the music played people lounged in their dinghies and on floats,  sought “relief” in the water and enjoyed the day.

Cruisers swayed in their dinghies, and locals danced on the barges.

The hat twins took it all in..

Here’s a short video of the dinghy concert crowd, and the music:

 

A man in the dinghy next to us flew his drone off and on during the afternoon. I later found this overhead photo he took. We are at the lower left of the group, in between the small, dark blue dinghy and the larger fiberglass dinghy.

As time passed, we ran out of drinks…quite a conundrum. Scott took it upon himself to make his way to the bar. He crawled over the mass of inflatables, asking to “play through” as he went.

As he made his way across the amoeba, Tall Mark signaled him to use the pontoon for his final leg. Once aboard, Scott pulled it over to the barge, and climbed up…success! Our Prickly Bay neighbor, David, was there to greet him.

At the bar, Scott procured said drinks, and then surveyed his route back.

With two beers, and a cup of over-proof rum in hand, Scott made his way through the pontoon, across the dinghies and back to us, not letting anyone hold his precious cargo along the way.

While these photos capture the basic gist of Scott’s quest, here’s a video of the real-time journey, which I found hysterical:

Before long, dusk was approaching. The band stopped playing, allowing those on dinghies to travel safely back to their boats before dark. We untied ourselves from the shrinking amoeba, and headed for home.

With the wind behind us, we had a quick and comfortable ride back to Prickly Bay. Mark and Deb dropped us at Sea Life, before heading back to Kefi.

Our day of music, floating and fun was a good time for all. Whoever thought up the dinghy concert idea was a genius! Here are more photos of our fun afternoon.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Hey Don, Thanks For Going Easy On Us!

With Tropical Storm Don predicted to make a direct hit on Grenada, we prepared for 60 knot winds (always prepare for the worst). Scott secured loose things on the flybridge, stripped the canvas off of our bimini (canvas that shades the flybridge driving station), took the window covers off, removed our flags and stowed our extra solar panels (more on those later).

He tied an additional line to the mooring ball; readied our anchors in case we needed to drop them; put our large fenders in the cockpit, making them available in case another boat broke from it’s mooring and drug toward us; brought in our flopper-stoppers (large plates that hang from the paravanes, and reduce rolling at anchor…greatly reduce); and raised the paravanes, to reduced risk of another boat hitting them, making us more maneuverable through the anchorage should we need to move in a hurry.

While we were preparing the boat, the island of Grenada was preparing as well. One of the local radio stations broadcasted storm preparation information, and we heard the local Red Cross and Coast Guard making contact with each other over the vhf radio.

Businesses were required to close at 3pm, and we were very surprised to hear that public water and sewer were to be turned off at 7pm! Here’s a posting from the National Water and Sewerage Authority, with some interesting information:

ADVISORY – NAWASA TO SWITCH OFF ALL WATER SYSTEMS ON TUESDAY JULY 18TH, 2017

The National Water and Sewerage Authority (NAWASA) wishes to advise the general public that following a meeting of its Disaster Preparedness Committee, the following decisions were made:

– ALL WATER SYSTEMS will be switched off later this evening. A timeline will be provided once an update on Tropical Storm DON is received from NaDMA.

– Once our systems are switched off, consumers island wide will have their service interrupted WITHOUT A DEFINED RESTORATION TIME.

– An analysis of ALL water systems will be conducted by our engineering team on Wednesday July 19th and restoration will commence thereafter.

The Authority implores on the general public the need to:

• Collect and store water in clean, non-corrosive and mostly tightly covered containers both in and out of your refrigerator. To increase shelf life of water, group bottles in dark plastic trash bags to keep light out.

• Store enough water for each member of your family and pet. week.Have at least a minimum of three days supply, of thirty-five gallons per person, per day for domestic use. OUR MAIN ADVISORY – Water collection and storage to last minimum of three days and a maximum of 1 week.

• Store water in bath tubs, drums, pails and buckets for flushing of toilet, washing and general cleaning.

• Shut off water tanks and individual property connections. Your water can be shut off at either the outlet valve or the water meter. Everyone in your home should know where these are located.

NAWASA apologises for the inconveniences likely to be caused by this decision, but advises that this precautionary measure is necessary to safe guard our infrastructure and is in the best interest of the consumers we serve.

 

When our preparations were complete, we spent the rest of the day checking various online sites for updates on Don, and just waited, along with everyone else in the bay. Scott had a pre-Don cocktail, and Howard kept watch for fish.

Watching for fish can be tiring. Sometimes  you have to lay down on the job.

We were getting reports that Don was speeding up, but the eye was collapsing, and that wind speed predictions had dropped a bit; all good news.

As the day wore on, the winds died completely, and by early evening the bay was lake-like.  We watched the barometer drop on our weather station, and considered this the calm before the storm. The bay was noticeably less crowded, as many chose to hunker down in marinas or other island locations.

By sunset, Don was predicted to only cause us an hour’s worth of havoc, and at a much lower intensity. We began to get a decent swell coming into the bay, and readied for our 60 minutes of storm drama.

Instead, Don fell apart as it passed twenty miles south of us. We watched the radar updates online, and by 10 or 11pm, the storm, now reduced to a tropical wave, had officially passed us by without incident.There had been no wind to speak of, and we only received a quarter inch of rain.

The incoming swell lingered on though, and we continued to roll around for hours. Rolling back and forth (actually, Sea Life tends to lumber back and forth, as opposed to rolling) wasn’t as irritating as the noise from one of our paravane cables rubbing along a mast wire; the metal scraping sound was maddening. Realizing that Don was now a non-event, Scott lowered our paravanes and put the floppers back in the water….ahhhh.

So, Don fizzled out, thank goodness, and we dodged a tropical bullet. I’d like to believe that this was our one and only scare for the season, but we’ve learned all too well on this journey that Mother Nature is fickle.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

Tropical Storm Don, Our Grenada Welcome Wagon

I have much to catch up on, but for now, a current update…..we arrived in Grenada a week ago, and Tropical Storm Don is our welcome wagon. Here’s a photo of Don’s predicted path. We are the bottom-most island/dot, in the yellowish-brown, with a 50-60% change of winds over 39 knots.

[Image of probabilities of 34-kt winds]

The storm is essentially passing right over us, with it’s specific path having very different results.

A tropical system spins counter-clockwise, with the top/north half having the most intensity.  Think of a pinwheel, sucking wind off in it as it spins. As the storm moves, that wind in the north half is given a extra boost, doubling it’s strength.

At the bottom of the pinwheel, the winds oppose the movement of the storm, and are much less, so south of a storm is where you want to be (scratch that…not anywhere near a storm is where you really want to be!).

If Don passes just north of Grenada, we expect sustained winds in the 25-30 knot range,  clocking around in every direction. However, if the storm tracks a bit south, we’ll get more direct winds, sustained closer to 45 knots….possibly as high as 60 knots.

None of this is life threatening, and we are preparing for maximum winds, just to be safe. Unfortunately, there are not completely protected anchorages or marinas here in Grenada, so we’re just gonna have to ride it out with fingers crossed.

We are currently in Prickly Bay, on Grenada’s south side. Many cruisers come to Grenada for hurricane season, so the bays are crowded with boats.

Map of Prickly Bay, Grenada

 

Image result for aerial view of prickly Bay

Our plan was to anchor, but we arrived to find that the marina here had filled most of the bay with mooring balls. Prickly Bay is safer than most, as far as local crime, so we chose to stay and take a ball. For those who may not know, a mooring ball is anchored to the bottom with a metal shackle. From there, a line travels up to the surface with a float/ball that you attach a line to.

On the positive side, balls are usually well spaced, and there’s no worry about boats with little anchoring experience breaking loose and dragging. The downside is that you’re never sure what condition the balls are in; whether the lines are still strong and the shackles are good. Several boats here have broken from their mooring here, drifting through the anchorage, one as recently as four days ago.

Our quandary is whether to stay here on the ball, and risk it breaking, or having other moorings break, and those boats drifting our way. Or, head for another bay that is just as full, and risk anchors dragging (instead of moorings breaking) and boats drifting. We considered going to a marina, but they aren’t much more protected from heavy wind, and Scott’s concerned about being tied down and not able to swing with the winds, or cut and run if needed.

Here is Don’s timeline…..Murphy’s Cruising Law: Bad shit almost always happens at night! (we are between the blue line, and the S to the right…roughly 10pm-midnight)

cone graphic

So, we’re hunkering down here in Prickly Bay, and hopeful that Don gives us a gentle welcome to Grenada.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Our Final Push To Grenada

After an easy overnight, we approached Carriacou (pronounced Carri-a-coo) just after dawn. The island belongs to Grenada, and we planned to clear into the country here.

As usual, there were interesting sights along the way: interesting rock islands, and a waterfront house that caught Scott’s eye.

In the early morning hours, we made the turn into Tyrell Bay anchorage. The large bay was full of boats, boats and more boats…I counted 82! We definitely weren’t in Kansas (aka, the Western Caribbean) anymore.

Once we were anchored, Scott made his way over to nearby Tyrell Bay Marina, where the customs and immigration offices were located. He arrived just as they were scheduled to open, but there was no sign of the customs officer. Thirty minutes later, the young officer showed up, and let Scott and several other cruisers inside.

Apparently, he’d been at a party the night before, not getting home until the wee hours, and consequently had a late morning start. Scott, having learned much patience with customs and immigration in the Western Caribbean, just smiled, nodded and waited to be called on. There is an online service in place for several of the Eastern Caribbean islands, called Sea Clear. Clearance forms can be complete online before arriving, saving time when in the office. Customs officials like it, as they spend much less time deciphering handwriting.

Not all cruisers use this service, and end up having to fill out the lengthy forms by hand before getting their turn. As a result, Scott has ruffled feathers more than once, by being waived to the front of the line. Sea Clear, and Scott’s patient attitude, has made for quick and friendly clearance on several Eastern Caribbean islands.

Back to Carriacou…the immigration officer must have been at the same party, and must have stayed even later, as he never showed up at all! Once the customs officer finished his paperwork, he did the immigration clearance for Scott as well, and we were official in Grenada.

To celebrate, we headed to shore for lunch at the Lazy Turtle. In addition to other items, pizza was on the menu, and was billed the “best in the Caribbean.”

The pizza was far from the best in the Caribbean, but it fit the bill for lunch, and views back out at the crowded anchorage were good. Soon, the afternoon sun had us changing locations, over to some funky, wooden tables in the shade. After lunch, we spent time wandering the island a bit, then returned to Sea Life for an early night.

The next morning, we raised anchor and continued toward Grenada. We made one last stop at Rhonde Island, also owned by Grenada, for a few quiet nights at anchor.

There anchorage has room for only four or five boats, a nice change from 82! We enjoyed the quiet, space and Scott got some exploring in.

 

 

 

From Rhonde Island, it was just a day trip to Grenada. We passed more interesting rock islands, and Scott put some lines in the water hoping for a nibble; unfortunately, he got skunked again.

Moving down the west cost of the island, we passed the capital city of St. Georges, and the remains of Fort George.

 

 

 

 

We passed several types of interesting boats in St. Georges anchorage, and the large Sandals LaSource Grenada, before turning east, to head along the south coast.

An hour or so later we made our final turn, into Prickly Bay.  Again, this large bay was full of boats. There wasn’t enough room to lay out a proper amount of anchor chain, so we chose to grab one of the marina’s mooring balls.

 

We’d made it to our hurricane season home. Howard checked out his new surroundings, and we settled in.

Here are more photos of our final push to Grenada.

 

 

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

The Beautiful Island Of St. Lucia

Our next stop on the way to Grenada, was the beautiful island of St. Lucia. The island was named by the French, after Saint Lucy of Syracuse, and it is the only country in the world to be named after a woman. The French were the island’s first European settlers, after signing a treaty with the native Carib Indians in 1660. England took control of the island from 1663 to 1667, and in the years following, it was at war with France 14 times. Rule of the island changed frequently (it was ruled seven times each by the French and British), which seems to be a pattern on many of the Caribbean islands.

In February of 1979, Saint Lucia became an independent state, and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Formerly the British Commonwealth, the Commonwealth of Nations is associated with the United Kingdom, and made up of 52 member states, which are mostly former territories of the British Empire.

Scott and I vacationed on the island 14 years ago, and were looking forward to a return trip. Unfortunately, the island hasn’t been the most safe location for cruisers in recent years.

We learned early on in our cruising life, that visiting an island by plane, for vacation, is much different than coming by private boat. Cruisers interact much more with locals; shopping for food, eating at local restaurants and exploring an island’s hills, mountains and beaches.

In contrast, most vacationers don’t leave their resort, and for the most part don’t need to (food, beaches, water sports and entertainment are usually all onsite). When they do, it’s most likely with an organized tour of some kind. With cruisers being anchored relatively close to shore, they are more at risk of being boarded by desperate islanders, and unfortunately, boardings on St. Lucia have becoming more violent.

On many islands we visited, cruisers only experience the rare case of a dinghy being stolen, or a snorkel and mask gone missing’ in most cases, these things were left outside, or left unlocked. St. Lucia, however, has seen more and more cases of violent assault on cruisers, both at anchor and ashore. These incidents did not sway us from visiting the island. Instead, we adjusted our anchoring plan for safer locations, and  were extra cautious of our surroundings.

This volcanic Caribbean island is more mountainous than most, with its highest point being Mount Gimie at 3,120 feet above sea level. Here’s a topographical map of St. Lucia that I found online:

St. Lucia’s Soufriere Volcano, locally known as the Sulphur Springs, is considered the only “drive-in” volcano in the world. It’s a major tourist attraction on the island, with the road running right up to, and through, the crater of the volcano. Steam and sulfur waft out from the crater, providing a lovely, thick smell of rotten eggs. Boiling mud and water bubble just a few feet from the overlook. (We did not visit the volcano during this visit to St. Lucia, so I borrowed some photos online.)

The sulphur springs emit a mixture of iron, calcium oxide, sulphur, copper oxide, carbon and magnesium, creating the pungent smell and staining the surrounding rocks a green color.

The volcano is considered to be dormant, with its last eruption occurring in the late 18th century, unlike the highly active Soufriere Hills Volcano, located on the island of Monsterrat, who’s pyroclastic eruption in 1997 destroyed much of the island.

There are well-established hot springs and mud baths here as well. These bathing pools, hotter than the average bath, contain volcanic minerals which are believed to have therapeutic qualities for the skin, and are a big tourist attraction.

While stinky, mineral-loaded mud baths and hot springs are all well and good, the show stopper on St. Lucia is definitely it’s Piton Mountains. Here are some aerial views of the island’s beautiful signature attraction.

Said to be the most photographed site in the Caribbean, and most famous mountain pair on earth, the Pitons were created less than a million years ago by volcanic activity. Located near the town of Soufriere, in southwestern St. Lucia, the Arawak Indians considered the mountains to have mystical powers, and early European explorers noted their unique beauty. In 2004 the Pitons, along with the Soufriere Volcano, were awarded World Heritage Site status.

These volcanic plugs, land formations made out of volcanic material, are the most iconic sight on the island. They are the symbol St. Lucia, and also appear on the island’s flag.

Gros Piton, and its smaller sibling Petit Piton, are easy to spot from many points along the island’s southwest coast.

Although both peaks are available for climbing, locals caution against hiking Petit Piton unless you are an experienced climber, as the mountain is incredibly steep. Gros Piton is the higher of the two mountains. It’s easier to climb than the Petit Piton, but still a strenuous go.

Gros Piton rises to a height of 2619 feet above sea level, and is the second highest peak on St. Lucia, after Mount Gimie (3120 feet). Petit Piton rises to a height of 2461 feet, is steeper than Gros Piton and is therefore much more challenging to climb. Here are views I found online, of views from the top of Gros Piton:

We made our way from Martinique to Rodney Bay, on St. Lucia’s northwest side. The large bay provided an easy ride to customs and immigration, as well as several grocery stores. Customs wanted Howard to have a vet exam for clearance, but Scott managed to convince them that our cat would not be swimming ashore, and soon we were all three officially checked in.

Bright and early the next morning, we spotted Gregory , a local man who’s small boat was loaded down with fruits, veggies and plants for sale. Several cruisers were put off by him, but after having much experience with veggie boats in the San Blas, we were definitely game for some easy, door-to-door local shopping. We chatted with Gregory, bought some sugar-sweet, local mangoes and then he was on his way.

During our shopping run, we spotted an Indian restaurant on the marina grounds, so we decided to treat ourselves to dinner ashore, but not before enjoying a vivid rainbow on the horizon behind us.

We enjoyed a tasty dinner at the colorful restaurant, with views of the marina, and then headed back to Sea Life, taking care to be back on board by dark.

Not having long to linger on the island, we raised anchor the next morning, and headed farther down the coast to Marigot Bay. This scenic bay is a historical landmark, and was the site of many battles between the French and British navies. The bay was also used as the setting for scenes from the 1967 film Dr. Dolittle; the original musical film, not the Eddie Murphy remake.

Coming in, a line of palms hide an open area at the back of the bay, but these aerial photos give a better overall view.

Scott and I visited the bay on a day trip when we were on the island 14 years ago, and were eager to see it again. Entering the bay, we were glad to see that the Marigot Bay Beach Resort was still in business.

Not surprisingly, there had been much development in the past 14 years, with the addition of an upscale resort and marina at the back of the bay. We made our way in, and picked up a mooring ball just off of the resort.

The development has not detered the locals, who netted bait fish near us in the mooring field.

For $20.00 a night, we had use of the resort grounds, pools and restaurants…not a bad deal! The next day we went ashore to wander around, and then settled in for an afternoon poolside.

We’d made new friends in Fort de France, who had traveled to Marigot as well. Mark and Deb were also heading for Grenada, on their catamaran, Kefi. We enjoyed our day by the pool with them, in our posh surroundings.

Mark and Scott have similar taste in hats.

That evening, Scott and I took the dinghy out for happy hour at nearby bars in the bay. We enjoyed rum punches, cold Pitons (the local beer) and a beautiful sunset.

The next morning, it was time to push on. We passed local children having fun on a rope swing and enjoyed a few more scenic views as we said goodbye to Marigot Bay.

We made our way south along the coast, which was dotted with local cottages at the shoreline and multi-million dollar houses in the hills.

Eventually, we caught sight of the pitons in the distance. Coming south, they look much closer together than they actually are.

There are several resorts with terrific views of the pitons; some have open walls, offering unobstructed views.

As we approached the pitons, a pirate ship tour boat made for a great, “Pirates of the Caribbean” photo.

There are mooring balls at the base of these awesome mountains, but unfortunately the area around them isn’t safe for boaters anymore, so we didn’t stop. We did, however, take our time passing the twin mountains, to take many, many photos and just admire them.

Approaching from the north, Petit Piton seems larger, and it was obvious why this mountain is harder to climb.

Further along, Petit Piton shrinks in size, and Gross Piton rises above it.

As we pulled away from St. Lucia, I snapped some final photos of the pitons, just as St. Vincent came into view off of our bow.

We were on an overnight run to the island of Carriacou, part of Grenada, where we would clear into the country . Howard was hunkered down for the night, and a bright moon rose over St. Vincent to light our way.

Here are many more photos of our brief visit to St. Lucia, and the amazing Pitons.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Fort de France, Martinique

Leaving the quiet, scenic town of St. Pierre, we made our way just a few hours along the coast of Martinique, to the capital city of Fort de France. It was a good next stop, and offered larger stores for groceries. Along the way, we again enjoyed scenic views of this beautiful island.

 Fort de France became economically important after the eruption of Mount Pele, and the destruction of the town of St. Pierre in 1902. In addition to being the capital of Martinique, it’s also one of the major cities in the Caribbean, exporting sugar, rum canned fruit and cacao. I found some good aerial views of the city online:

The capital city has recently reinvented itself as a cruise-ship destination, with the construction of two new terminals. As we approached the harbor, it was clear we’d have an imposing neighbor nearby.

We anchored just off of the downtown area, and in view of Fort St. Louis, which is still in use by the French navy.

 

(Notice the McDonald’s in front of the cathedral, Scott was  thrilled.)

We enjoyed our first evening watching the cruise ship crew test lifeboats, and bracing ourselves against the wakes of the constant ferry traffic going to and from the town dock.

The many wakes were worth the colorful sunset views over the city.

In the morning, we made our way to the dinghy dock and into town, zigzagging the narrow, colorful streets.

We turned a corner, and came upon the colorfully ornate Bibliotheque Schoelcher (Schoelcher Library), at the edge of the city’s park. (the lighting was horrible in my photos, so I borrowed some online)

Abolitionist, writer and politician Victor Schœlcher left his vast library of 10,000 books to the General Council of Martinique in the late 19th century, on the condition that they should be kept in a private library open to all, with the intention of educating former slaves. Today, the library houses over 300,000 books.

We learned that the building was created in Paris, and then shipped to Martinique in pieces to be assembled…impressive!

Just blocks away is the St. Louis Cathedral, the seventh to have been built at this site. (I borrowed this photo online, due to construction fences around the entire base of the cathedral when we visited)

What we found most impressive about the cathedral is that the present one was completed as far back as 1895. It was designed by Henri Picq, who also envisioned the Bibliothèque Schœlcher.  This current cathedral is constructed with an iron frame and reinforced concrete, which has contributed greatly to its longevity.

Inside, we learned that the wooden pulpit, 19 stained glass windows, organ and wrought-iron railing are all original to the 1895 structure.

Scott stopped for a McDonald’s fix, and then it was on to Leader Price, a local grocery store. We perused the aisles, and bought a few things at good prices. With groceries in hand, we called it a day.

The next morning, it was back into town to clear out of Martinique. As I mentioned previously, clearing in and out of the French islands is far less complicated than other islands in the Eastern Caribbean, and much easier than on the western side. Computers are located in various shops throughout the islands, and except for a few euros paid to said shops for the service, the process is free. Find a computer, fill out the online form, pay at the register, and receive your printed clearance papers…done!

However, there are a few challenges: obviously, the language can cause some confusion when filling out forms, and European keyboards are a bit different than what we’re used to…just enough to cause frustration. We stopped in at Sea Services to clear out, and Scott managed the process just fine, despite a small boy looking over his shoulder.

Once cleared out of Martinique, we had 24 hours before having to leave. We set off to find the local mall, where another grocery store was located. Along the way, we poked our head into the local open market, before finding the mall just a few blocks away.

It was strange to see a large grocery store inside of a mall, but Carrefour did not disappoint. We came out with more groceries, and cheap, French foods. Wine, cheeses and other yummy items are incredibly affordable on the French islands.

We made our way back to the dinghy, using strange, revolving gates to cross the main street.

Scott was in love with the dinghy dock here. It was huge, with plenty of space for dinghies. The edge was covered in stainless steel, providing a smooth, kind surface for inflatables, and offered many stainless rings for tying off.

Later that evening, we returned to town for dinner at one of the many food stalls lining La Savane park, near the waterfront. I was so hungry, I forgot my camera, so here’s an online, aerial view.

We opted for kabobs, and they were nothing like I expected…much more delicious! Chicken was carved off of a spit, similar to a gyro, then placed on bread that was thinner than a pita, but thicker than a tortilla. Next, yummy garlic sauce was added, followed by tomatoes, peppers onions and…wait for it….french fries! Then, for the “piece de resistance,” the whole thing was wrapped like a burrito and placed in a hot press.

Whoever came up with this thing was a food genius. The wrap of awesomeness was yummy in my mouth, long after I was finished eating it. We hope to visit Martinique again, to explore more of the island, and will definitely make a pit stop at Fort de France, for another fix.

Our short stay in Fort de France was over, as winds were good to make another jump toward Grenada. We were leaving one beautiful island and heading for another; next stop, St. Lucia. Here are a few more photos.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”