Dominica

After saying goodbye to our friends who’d headed off for southern destinations a day before us, we slipped the lines from our mooring ball, and cruised away from the Ile des Saintes to begin the short, six hour run to Dominica.

We’d hoped to visit the island last year, on our way south for hurricane season, but as time got short, Scott grew anxious to get settled in Grenada before the peak of the season. We passed by Dominica, planning to visit on our way north in 2018…..who knew Hurricane Maria would make a direct hit, and devastate the island.

Dominica is located midway along the Eastern Caribbean islands, just a few miles from Martinique to the south and Guadeloupe to the north. We were heading for Portsmouth, on the island’s northwest side.

The name Dominica is derived from the Latin word for “Sunday,” as Columbus is said to have passed the island on a Sunday in November of 1493. The island is sparsely populated compared to its size, with 70,000 people inhabiting the island’s 289 square miles, and a significant portion of that population lives in and around the capital city of Roseau.

Dominica is the youngest island in the Lesser Antillies, still being “formed” by extensive, geothermal-volcanic activity…even underwater. It is also home to the world’s second largest hot spring, Boiling Lake (we didn’t visit the lake, but I found some great photos online, from other bloggers, and on Wikipedia).

 

Known as “The Nature Island,”tropical rain forests cover two thirds of Dominica, and it is home to many rare species of plants, animals and birds, protected by an extensive natural park system (The Morne Trois Pitons National Park was the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Caribbean). Rivers (365 of them), lakes, streams and waterfalls cover the island, fed by a high annual rainfall.

It is said that if Christopher Columbus came back to the Caribbean today, Dominica is the only island he would recognize. Unlike most all other Eastern Caribbean islands, Dominica has remained both commercially and residentially undeveloped, with only a few small hotels and inns. When trying to describe the mountains of Dominica to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, Columbus resorted to crumpling up a sheet of paper, in order to illustrate the dramatic form of the land, with it’s valleys, gorges and peaks. Sadly, the island’s appearance is much different now, after Hurricane Maria.

On the evening of Sept. 18, 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Dominica at full, category-five force, with 160 mph winds. The brutal storm damaged or destroyed roofs of 90 percent of buildings, toppled power lines, and sent some of the thickest, strongest and oldest trees in the forests smashing to the ground. Maria’s rains triggered landslides that turned the island’s 365 rivers into raging coils that washed away bridges and crops, and slashed deep cuts along what had been well-laid roads. The storm is now the island’s worst natural disaster on record.

Hurricane Maria was one of the fastest intensifying hurricanes ever recorded, blowing up from a tropical storm into a major Category 5 hurricane in barely more than a day. Dominica was this fierce storm’s first victim, and it’s clear from these before and after photos from Google Earth, that she showed no mercy, changing it’s hills and valleys from lush green to brown. When Maria hit the island, poor Dominica was still recovering from Tropical Storm Erika, which killed 30 people, destroyed more than 370 homes and caused extensive flooding in August of 2015.

I found some online images of Portsmouth, just days after Maria, and of relief supplied arriving from neighboring islands.

As we approached, Dominica appeared much greener than expected.

 

We made our way into the anchorage at Portsmouth, and hailed PAYS on the vhf. In the past, Dominica was far less safe for cruisers, with many reports of theft from boats at anchor. Realizing that this was affecting their livelihood, local tour guides formed the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services, or PAYS, who run regular patrols in the anchorage at night, and since the association has been active, there have been no reports of trouble.

The men of PAYS have “interesting” names, such as Lawrence of Arabia Providence, Cobra, Spaghetti and Sea Bird, and usually have several boats working under their name (photos from other blogs) They come out to greet boaters entering the anchorage, and help  them secure to mooring balls. We could have dropped anchor, but chose to take a ball, as the fee goes towards supporting PAYS. The guys also help set up island tours, dispose of trash and host a weekly Sunday barbecue that has become well known in the Eastern Caribbean.

Daniel, who is affiliated with Eddison, replied to our call and came out to the boat as we entered the bay. He told us that Eddison would meet us in the anchorage, and then headed out to fish. Eddison was ready and waiting, and waved us over to an open ball, helping us tie on.

We settled in to enjoy the evening. Scott and Howard (aka, Bartles and James) made themselves comfortable in the cockpit, and we watched one of the sailing cruise ships raise sails to head south, which was quite a sight.

 

The next morning was a bit more clear, and we were able to get a better look at the hills surrounding the anchorage. Heartier, weedier foliage was definitely coming back green, much more than we would’ve expected, but the hills were “striped,” where swaths of trees had been stripped, and the many mud slides left their mark.

 

The harbor was still scenic, and we were pleased to see so many boats visiting, both at anchor and on mooring balls.

We made our way to the PAYS dock, that had recently been rebuilt, along with a new pavilion that’s used for Sunday barbecues.

From there, it was a short walk to town. The road was lined with homes and buildings covered in tarps, and others left with a foundation and some pieces of wall.

Piles of downed power lines often blocked the sidewalk, and on the far side of town, a sizable cruising sailboat that washed ashore by Maria had been left for dead.

 

Here is view of the main road in town, when we saw it, and just after Maria (approximately the same location).

However, signs of repair and rebuilding were everywhere we looked. Many homes had fresh paint, and others were being reconstructed. We passed loads of building supplies, and people at work repairing roofs.

 

For the most part, it was business as usual in town, stores were open, including the local bars, and several people were set up along the sidewalks, selling fruits and vegetables.

We passed several locals along our walk who were more than friendly, and many stopped to talk. At first, we were leery, waiting for them to ask for a hand-out, but none came. Most told us about their hurricane experience; hiding in bathtubs, and holding doors closed with all of their strength. Despite the fear of that night, and the devastation that they’re now working to rebuild from, Dominica’s people still had much pride in their home, and were happy to have us visit. We looked forward to spending time on this still very beautiful island. Here are more photos.

 

 

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

 

 

Iles des Saintes

Forgive the delay in posting, we’ve been off grid for the past few weeks……

With unfavorable weather predicted for heading north, we’d decided to make our way south instead. Our next destination was Ile des Saintes, a small group of islands off of mainland Guadeloupe, encircled by shallow reefs. We’d heard endless raves about “the Saints,” from every cruiser who’d visited, so it was a must-stop on our list.

Instead of making an overnight run, we opted to break up the journey and make a return stop at Deshaise, Guadeloupe for the night. Even in the “more favorable” direction from Antigua, our seven hour run was unnervingly lumpy (paravanes are the best invention ever), making us glad we’d decided not to travel north, and into the wind.

Despite the sea state, we enjoyed traveling along the scenic coast of Guadeloupe. I caught sight of a large, above-ground cemetery, crammed with graves of all shapes and sizes. There can’t be many more vacancies available.

As we approached Deshaise, Howard perused the coast. However, having no more patience for lumpy travel, and ready to just drop the anchor already, he soon tired of the view.

We dropped anchor in the harbor, went to shore for the easy-peasy clear in at a gift shop in town, stocked up on Scott’s French staples…baguettes and Orangina, and then made our way back to the boat.

The next morning we continued on, and caught sight of our friends Rob and Lindy (s/v Sea Shak) further down the coast, traveling off of our starboard side. We’d met them during our last days in Jolly Harbour, and were both headed in the same direction. We had a quick radio chat, before they tacked away from us and continued on. After a much less lumpy ride, we arrived at Ile des Saintes. The forecast for the coming week predicted strong northeast winds, so we planned to settle in.

The islands have been French since shortly after they were colonized, with a small community that used to rely almost entirely on fishing. Unlike most Caribbean islands, the Saints were never agricultural, and therefore no slaves were ever imported. As a result, residents of African descent arrived and live on the islands by choice.

There are many mooring balls available at affordable rates. However, demand far exceeds the supply, and you have to be quick and crafty to get one. A cruiser referred to the challenge as mooring ball “Hunger Games,” and he’s not far off.

On our approach, we perused the mooring field off of town with binoculars. Seeing nothing available, we slowly snaked our way through, hoping to catch sight of someone up on a bow, ready to slip their lines and leave. While scanning the mooring field, we also had to keep an eye out for other boats coming in, looking for available balls as well. It was a race of eyesight, as boats tried to beat each other to the punch. Boats already on moorings will call friends on the radio, to let them know a ball is coming open. They then speed over to the ball by dinghy, essentially claiming the spot until the boat arrives to tie on.

With all this rigmarole going on, there was no chance of getting a mooring closer to shore, and town. We moved over to the outer edge, and managed to find an open ball..hurray! Not long after Scott grabbed it and secured us, we realized why the ball had been available. It was on the outer edge of the harbor, with an almost entirely open exposure to the ever increasing winds.

We rolled like crazy, even with the flopper-stoppers in place. Winds were predicted to blow like mad over the next week, and there was no way we could stand seven days of bobbing and rolling, so the next morning, we did another pass through the balls closer to shore, and after no luck, headed over to nearby Ile Cabrit. It had just a few mooring balls, but as we approached almost half were open; but,at least two sailboats were making their way over as well. Not having to slow and bring in sails gave us the jump, and we quickly chose a ball and tied on. Mission accomplished!

Later that afternoon, we happened to notice Lindy tied to a ball near us…sitting on  her stand up paddle board.

Apparently Rob had seen the open ball through binoculars, and quickly ferried her over in the dinghy to claim it. She floated there for almost an hour, while Rob made his way back to their boat, raised anchor and brought it over….amusing! We were happy to have them so close by.

The smaller, unpopulated Ile Cabrit was a popular weekend spot for boats of all sizes. Locals would anchor or take a ball, and then head to shore for picnics and fun. A small pavilion and several picnic tables with grills were scattered in the trees, and people lounged on the beach, enjoying the water. The water surrounding the Saintes was deep, but the clarity was terrific. Snorkeling in the area was very good, and Scott even heard whale songs while underwater!

We made the short hike up to the remains of Fort Josephine, which sits atop Ile Cabrit. The woods that line the shore are home to a huge flock of roosters and chickens. They share space with several cats, who are regularly chased by the bossy birds (I’d run if something with a pointy beak was chasing me too!), and an occasional goat. As we walked along the lower path, Scott was like the Pied Piper, with roosters, chickens and cats in tow.

A cement path made for an easy hike up to the hill, and we were met at the ruins of the fort by resident goats, who didn’t really seem to care that we had arrived.

 

From here, we had a great view of the anchorage below, and of some poor boats making their way out in the white capped water.

The view over to the main island of Terre d’en Haut was gorgeous, with the town of Bourg des Saintes nestled in the hills, and Fort Napolean on the island’s north side.

 

We wandered what was left of the fort, and then headed back, noticing nearby Guadeloupe on the horizon as we made our way down.

 

The winds were sustained in the upper 20 knots, and the water between Isle Cabrit and town was a washing machine, riddled with white caps. We were protected from the brunt of the wind, but insanely strong gusts would come down the hill at us often, lurching the boat sideways and sending anything not held down inside the boat sailing through the air.

After several days, Scott felt comfortable running the gauntlet over to town, and managed to convince me that we wouldn’t flip over and drown on the way. We donned our raincoats, which were useless. The waves slapped at us from all sides, sending water into my hood and down inside my coat. Scott was too stubborn to use his hood, and water drenched his head and face. Sunglasses kept water out of our eyes for about a minute…of the ten minute ride, so Scott steered blind most of the way.

Once at the town dock, it was work to drag our soggy selves up onto the rolling, pitching pier and brace against the strong wind gusts. We were so wet, and it looked more like we’d swam over, rather than taken a dinghy.

First things first…we needed to clear in. As I’ve mentioned before, the French islands make this so easy: enter your info. into a computer, usually found in a gift shop or cafe, have your form printed out, pay four or five Euros and go on your way! In the Saints, there was a marine office of sorts, with air conditioning, wifi, laundry service and cold beer…we were becoming big fans of the French! We both enjoyed a beer, while Scott filled out the online clearance forms and I caught up on emails. With jobs complete, it was off to walk through town and find some groceries.

Bourg des Saintes was picturesque and quaint. Buildings were bright, clean and colorful, and the streets spotlessly clean. Neighbors chatted with each other, and people sped by us on scooters, their baskets full of baguettes. We felt like we were in coastal France, instead of the Caribbean.

 

We couldn’t completely understand the menu boards posted out front of the many cafes and restaurants, but delicious smells invited us to come sit and eat. Souvenir and gift shops were awash in color, with items displayed outside, hoping to lure passing customers inside.

Several ferries arrived from Guadeloupe each day, making mornings in town very busy. By noon, they had departed back to the mainland, or nearby islands, and most businesses closed several hours for lunch. The grocery stores closed during the day as well, but each at different times. During most of our travels, we often need to visit two or three stores to find essential items on our list, so it was a bit challenging to get our shopping done. As we wandered past a specialty food shop, (closed for lunch), we noticed that humans weren’t the only ones in Bourg des Saintes who took a lunch break.

As we walked the streets, passing people and scooters loaded down with baguettes, Scott became nervous about the town’s supply. I assured him that of course there would be plenty of baguettes in the stores when we got there..it was a French island after all. We arrived at the first store to find the many baguette baskets empty….oops. Scott went into a panic.

I assured him that we were fine, there were two more grocery stores in town. The second store was closed when we arrived, and wouldn’t be reopening again for three hours…..double oops. I could now feel Scott’s panic (not to mention, he was venting loudly at me). We continued on to the discount store, and arrived to find their baskets full of baguettes….thank God. I could feel Scott’s blood pressure drop, as he grabbed an armful of long, crusty loaves.

I purchased some trash bags at one of the stores, to wrap our bags in and keep our food dry. Back at the pier, we stopped at a spot out of the wind, and covered our bags, backpacks and most importantly, the baguettes. We were going with the wind on our return ride, making it a bit less soggy. Nevertheless, I was glad for the trash bags, soggy baguettes would have put Scott over the edge!

We returned to the main island for a walk up to Fort Napoleon, which stands on a hill north of town. This time, I was ready for the soggy slog. In addition to cinching my hood so tight against my face that it left a mark, I cut holes in some large, black trash bags, and wore them as rain pants (think MC Hammer). I made Scott do the same, and we headed to town. The winds had died, and our ride wasn’t as brutal, but I was still glad for my homemade pants; Scott vowed never to wear his again.

We followed the main road out of town, and up to the fort, admiring the town below. At the last turn, we stopped to take in the postcard view.

 

 

The fort had been well restored, and the grounds were one, big botanical garden, dedicated to local succulent planes and iguanas.

In the trees along the north side of the fort, we spotted several iguanas. We’ve since learned that there are both indigenous and invasive iguanas in the Lesser Antilles Islands. The Lesser Antillean Iguana is pictured below, bright green, and more solid in color. They are considered endangered, and are rarely seen on  many islands.

The invasive Green iguana is larger, and out competes the Lesser Antillean for food. They have also interbred, causing a hybrid species. We saw both the Green Iguana, and a hybrid type as well, in the trees at the fort.

Here is an invasive, Green Iguana.

 

 

And here is they hybrid iguana, keeping the bright green of the Lesser Antillean.

Notice how long his tail is! Look closely, it goes all the way up the branch behind him!

 

We walked the perimeter of the wall, for more  views of town and the bays below us.

 

We strolled past the forts massive, thick walls, and headed back to town. On the way, we noticed many colorful fishing boats moored in the harbor below, and passed a small hotel with an inviting bar!

 

Having our friends Rob and Lindy just a few mooring balls away was great. Knowing Scott’s cravings for baguettes, they often returned from town with one in tow for him, and were also nice enough to deliver wine!

We introduced them to Mexican Train dominoes, and spent several nights playing on board Sea Life. One evening during a game, I felt Howard’s wet tail on my leg. I assumed, as usual, he’d dipped his tail in the water while watching fish from the swim platform. I turned to find a completely soaked cat, who’d obviously gotten too excited while watching Tarpon chase Needlefish. I went for a towel, and some wipes, to help dry him and get most of the salt from his fur. If you’re keeping track, this brings Howard’s “swim” count to seven, in five countries (thank goodness we’ve taken to securing a towel off of the swim platform, to help Howard “Phelps” get back on board)!!

The four of us decided to take advantage of the picnic areas on Ile Cabrit, and headed to shore with food and drink in tow. We grilled some food over the fire pit, and the chickens helped themselves to the scraps.

 

 

 

When they dispersed for the evening, Lindy and I fed the cats (impossible to do while the chickens were still around). If I thought Howard would share his boat….or more importantly, his food, I’d have quickly scooped up this little guy.

We had loads of fun, and hung out well after sunset, snapping fun, silly selfies.

One morning, Scott noticed our friends on s/v Chill coming in to take a nearby mooring. Dan and Jackie are fellow Marylanders we met while in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua. We dinghied over to say hello, and invite them for drinks and a catch-up. They came aboard, with friends in tow, and we enjoyed a great evening. Dan and Jackie purchased one of the Chesapeake Bay lighthouses, years back,when they were up for auction. They’ve did an incredible renovation, and enjoy it as a summer get-away. Check it out here.

The winds were dying, which meant we would all be continuing on, in different directions. Lindy and Rob left early one morning, bound for St. Lucia. We spent one more evening ashore for drinks, while Scott burned some of our trash, and the next morning, they passed alongside for a final goodbye, then headed for the horizon.

Dan slipped his mooring a few hours later. He was taking Chill to Martinique solo, where Jackie and some of their children would join him. Dan gave us a wave as he made is way out of the mooring field, and headed south.

Scott and I lingered one more day, giving the seas a chance to calm a bit more. We enjoyed an early dinner in town, and prepared for the next day’s journey, while Howard eyed some young pelicans swimming near the boat.

 

Our next stop….Dominica. Here are many more photos of our time in the Saints.

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

 

Barbuda

The low-lying island of Barbuda, with its highest point only 125 feet above sea level, is surrounded by miles of shallow, turquoise water, dotted with coral reefs. Miles of pink sand beaches frame the island, and it is home to the largest colony of frigatebirds in the Eastern Caribbean (surpassing any in the Galapagos).

The island was devastated by Hurricane Irma in September, and all of its residents were evacuated to Antigua. They began to return after the new year, and cruisers soon followed. In late January, there was a short lull in the wind, making travel north favorable for us to continue on to Anguilla or St. Barths. However, cruisers who had recently visited Barbuda reported that the water and coral were in great shape, and the birds were returning. The upcoming weather window would give us enough time to comfortably travel to the island, stay a few days and return to the protection of Jolly Harbour in time for the next blow. We felt that if we missed the chance to visit the island, we’d regret it, so we set our sights on Barbuda.

Although it is over half the size of Antigua, only 2,000 local residents live on Barbuda, in and around Codrington, the island’s only village. The Barbudan people were originally slaves for the Codrington family, who leased the island from England…wait for it…for one, fat sheep. The family used the island as a hunting ground, and also grew livestock and root vegetables for their estates on nearby Antigua.

The Barbudan slaves were not closely supervised, and worked together to hunt, fish and grow their food. Once emancipated, they stayed on the island, and continued to live cooperatively. Land on Barbuda is held communally, and this has been key to the residents keeping control over their own island. Since there is no individual ownership, land can not be sold to outsiders.

Barbuda reluctantly agreed to join Antigua, when the two islands became independent from England in 1981. Since then, there have been numerous attempts to develop the island, which has been met with strong resistance from the local residents. Case in point, the Antiguan government allowed a huge hotel project to begin on the island, and mobile offices were erected, in preparation for construction to begin. Wanting to keep the land in question as a park, the Barbudan people gathered at the site, and pushed the offices over a cliff; the land remains a park.

The island survives, in part, by selling sand, but continues to struggle against those who would love to get their hand’s on its beachfront real estate. After forcing its residents to evacuate after Hurricane Irma, Antigua again tried to allow hotel development on the island. At the final hour, the Barbudans won their latest fight, and the island remains under community land ownership. Power to the people!

We left Jolly Harbour for an eight hour run to an anchorage on the west side of Barbuda. Just off of St. John’s Harbour, a Disney cruise ship intersected our path, not seeming to care that we had the right of way.

Scott hailed the mouse-ship on the radio, asking if they intended to give way. The response, “We’re in a hurry to get into St. John’s.” Translation: “I’m bigger than you, and I’ll do what I want.” Much as Scott wanted to play chicken with the floating theme park, we slowed our speed, and waited until Donald Duck had cleared our path.

As Barbuda came into view, we could see Irma had left her calling card along the island’s shoreline.

 

We anchored off of the eleven mile beach, on the island’s west side. Hurricane Irma had blown a cut through it, shrinking it’s former, continuous length. Once anchored, we took the dingy ashore for happy hour. Our friends on s/v Mr. X, and s/v Christine had come to Barbuda as well, and were anchored near us.

The next morning, we went exploring. Since the island had very little development, mostly centered around Codrington, there wasn’t visual, shocking damage along our stretch of coastline. Trees and shrubs were still stripped bare in places, from their salt-water wind pounding, but in many places, green growth was coming back nicely.

 

As we stepped off of the dinghy, our feet sunk down several inches into soft, pillow-like sand. We assumed that the hurricane winds had blown much more of it up onto the beach, making the level higher than normal. Along the water’s edge were piles of small, bright pink shells. Obviously, over time, they break down and become the pink sand that normally colors Barbuda’s beaches.

 

The mass of shells still provided a beautiful hue along the coastline, and the vibrant pink was easily visible as we approached the beach, and up close as we walked the shore.

We were anchored off of a very narrow strip of land, framed by the Caribbean on one side, and a salt pond on the other.

At the far end of the pond, we caught site of the many, many frigatebirds that live on the island. Countless birds flew in the air, and the mangroves below were full of black dots from the frigates nesting in their branches.

Although we didn’t take a tour, to get closer these birds, here’s a bit of info. on them, as well as a few online photos:

Frigatebirds have a greater wing span to body weight ratio than any other bird. This makes them top heavy, and their small feet and short legs makes it nearly impossible for them to walk on land. They are also unable to take off if submerged in water, and immediately struggle (I read that a Barbudan local once saw a frigatebird fall into the water, and two others came immediately, one on each side, to lift it back into the air).

Image result for frigatebirds

Image result for frigatebirds on barbuda

Frigates scoop food from the surface, and are masters at waiting for other birds to catch a meal, and then harassing them until they drop their catch.

Image result for frigatebirds

They return to their nesting sites each year, and during mating season, males inflate their red throat sac like a balloon and clatter their bills, waving their heads back and forth, calling at females flying overhead (doesn’t sound like they play hard to get).

Image result for frigatebirds

Related image

Our friends, Blue and Perry, had vacationed on Barbuda the previous winter, and asked us to put eyes on the resort where they’d stayed if we were nearby. The Barbuda Belle location wasn’t too far, but water’s off shore were too shallow for us to anchor close to it, so we set off in the inflatable dinghy.

Despite the hurricane damage, the island was still very scenic. We stopped several times along the way, to wander the beach and admire the clear, turquoise water.

 

At the final point before Barbuda Belle, a lone palm tree had survived Irma’s devastating winds.

After 90 minutes, Barbuda Belle came into view. The resort had taken quite a beating, but we could see that reconstruction had already begun.

Before:

After:

After thorough documentation, we made the journey back to Sea Life. Our friends had relocated further south, and we now had the entire area to ourselves. The only sign of life we could see, was a dot on the horizon; a catamaran anchored miles away. Bliss.

We spent the rest of the day, and that evening, enjoying the solitude, and raised anchor the next morning to head for Antigua. As usual, Howard slept through much of the passage. I got some writing done, while hiding from the brisk wind coming in through the open pilothouse door.

We settled back into Jolly Harbour, and prepared to wait out the next batch of relentless, winter wind. Here are more photos.

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

Princess Bruce

During our days anchored near Great Bird Island, Scott again found himself with a drink in hand and time to kill. Settled up on the flybridge, he surveyed his surroundings, and as is usual in this situation, the wheels began to turn. Before long he was back inside the boat, rummaging in the storage compartments under our master berth.

Me: “What are you doing?!?” (in response to the rummaging)

Scott: “I have an idea.” (more rummaging)

Me: “Good Lord…what is it?” (imagining the many possible outcomes from this current idea)

Scott: “Just wait.”

He passed by me in the saloon, carrying several spray paint cans, and headed back up to the flybridge. I still had no idea what he was up to, and hoped it was not cause for concern….or, a marital “conversation.”

As we traveled the Western Caribbean, there was much round and round about Scott’s idea to spray-paint rust stains down either side of Sea Life, in hopes of making her less appealing to possible theft or attack. I’d stood firm against this “creative” idea. Although I appreciated Scott’s thought for our safety, I felt that marinas, and most future cruising friends would find us equally less appealing.

I went back to whatever I was doing, and before long Scott reappeared, asking me to come see what he’d done. His huge smile had me a bit apprehensive, as I followed him up to the flybride. At the top of the ladder, I followed his proud gaze…over to the Aluminum Princess, who undergone yet another transformation. This latest look was quite different from her past structural changes:

I actually felt a bit of pity for the poor boat. It was as if a younger sibling, not old enough to protest, or too enamored, had allowed their older sibling to cut their hair…or maybe dye it in this case.

Scott was pleased as punch with himself, and his boat’s new appearance; the result of spontaneous, artistic genius. I was informed that we would be lowering her into the water to debut the new look. Once she was floating, I was to ready the camera for in-water video footage, and a photo shoot.

As the boat sped back and forth around the mother ship, I snapped photos.

Here’s a short video, capturing the Aluminum Princess in action, and the big grin on Scott’s face:

We’re conflicted about to what to call her now, as those teeth aren’t very “princess-like.” She is often referred to as Sharky, and our friend Rob named her Bruce, after the shark in the movie, Finding Nemo.

Whatever the name, Sea Life now gets even more attention as we travel (I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing). When people in dinghys and on boats slow to point, and snap photos as they pass by, Scott will exclaim, “Why does everyone stare at my boat?!?” “I can’t imagine,” I reply, “Maybe because we have the only boat in the anchorage without a sail, that has long poles coming out from either side…and an aluminum pilothouse boat up on the flybridge…with shark teeth clearly visible on it!”

I think Scott secretly loves the attention, and is proud of his “Princess,” who now has a face only a father could love.

 

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

A Visit To Antigua’s Capital City, And Nearby Great Bird Island

The holidays were over, and it was back to “normal” cruising life in Antigua. We had packages being sent to Antigua from home, and copies of our clearance papers were required, in order to waive the duty. Ezone, the shipping company we used, was located just outside of St. John’s, Antigua’s capital city, so my friend Di and I decided to make a day of it.

Buses in Antigua are similar to Grenada, in the fact that the price is right, and you can get on and off at any time. The amusing conductors are missing, as is the heart-pounding party music, but it’s still a crowded, hot go. Buses don’t travel through the narrow streets of St. John’s. Instead, there is a station on either side of town, and the routes fan out to the east and west from each station (online photo).

Di and I were lucky enough to board an air conditioned bus in Falmouth, for our 45 minute ride to town…yahoo! Once at the west bus station, we made a ten minute walk across town to the east bus station, where we boarded a bus going toward the shipping company. After a ten minute ride, we got off at the nearest intersection, and walked about five minutes down the road to the shipping company.

Got that? A 45 minute ride, in a/c, thank goodness; a ten minute, hot walk; a ten minute, hot ride and a five minute, hot walk, then reveres…now go hug your air conditioned car.

In less than five minutes, we we finished at the shipping company, and asked how long our wait might be to get a bus back into St. John’s. Di and I lucked out again, as the owner of the company was heading into town, and offered us a ride back.

We spent the next few hours wandering the streets of St. John, perusing the many local shops and stores, as well as the duty-free, but still plenty-expensive stores leading to the cruise ship terminal. There were at least two large ships docked in St. John’s at any given time, sometimes as many as four. The streets were still decorated for the holidays (I borrowed another photo).

We poked our heads into St. John’s Cathedral, which is on a high point in town, offering views back down the city streets, and out to the cruise ship docks.

The building was undergoing a major renovation, and Di and I assumed it was due to recent damage from hurricane Irma or Maria. Once inside, we learned that the church had instead been completely devastated by termites. As a result, the entire interior was being redone. The monumental task was almost complete, and a grand reopening was scheduled for March.

After conquering the city, we cooled off with some gelato, and then made our way over to the west station, to board the number 17 bus back to Falmouth Harbour. Buses wait at the station until they are full. Full means that every seat is taken, including the fold-down jump seats, and the third seat up front, between the driver and passenger. Ten minutes after we boarded the bus, it was cattle-car full, and we were off.

Just before we arrived at the station, Di and I both realized that neither one of us had remembered to bring a vhf radio. Di’s husband, Jeff, had dropped us off at the dingy dock, and we now had no way to call either husband for a return ride to our boats. Back at Falmouth Harbour, we walked over to the yacht club, where the office staff was nice enough to let us use their radio. I was able to reach Scott, and a few minutes later, he arrive to fetch us, ending our long, hot, but enjoyable day in town.

With time to kill before our care package arrived, we decided to visit nearby Great Bird Island, located off of Antigua’s north side. Surprisingly, after only two weeks, we raised the anchor to find some thick sea grass had taken root in our anchor chain.

Scott patiently scrubbed the stuff loose, and we left crowded Falmouth Harbor, with Howard already comfortably settled in for the ride.

Traveling up the coast, we passed off of Long Island, where upscale Jumby Bay Resort is located, as well as several massive private homes.

Just past Long Island, we spotted Dboat, an old freighter that now acts as a floating adult-entertainment barge. Dboat offers a bar, with both covered and full-sun seating, a large slide off of the top deck and several trampolines and floats, to pass the time.

We dropped anchor at Great Bird Island, surrounded by several other cruiser and charter boats. Scott noticed an inviting spot off of our starboard side, with only one boat at anchor. After checking the chart, he realized that there were several coral heads surrounding the area, which may have deterred other boats from entering.

Coral heads can definitely be intimidating, but after our time in the Western Caribbean, we are far more comfortable navigating them than most, so when the lone boat left the next morning, we raised anchor and claimed the spot for ourselves. A sizable reef stretched out ahead of us, and off of our bow was an island full of birds. It was peaceful, a nice change from busy Falmouth Harbour and the water was rippled in shades of blue….awesome.

Scott explored his surroundings, and took our friends Ian and Manuela to their own private visit at nearby Stingray City. It saved paying the fee to come by tour boat, and there were no crowds. However, Manuela was a bit freaked out by the idea of being alone, with the many rays brushing against her. She retreated back to the Aluminum Princess after only a few minutes, leaving Ian to enjoy the rays by himself. Scott was just happy for any excuse to take a boat ride.

After a few days at anchor, enjoying brunch on board with friends, fish-watching at night and quiet time in general, we traveled back down the coast. Our packages had arrived, and the forecast called for increased wind, so we headed for Jolly Harbour. It offered protection from the weather, and easy access to shore, and a rental car office just steps from the dinghy dock(and Howard thought it smelled good).

I must have drawn the short stick, and was unlucky enough to drive the rental…on the “wrong” side of the car, on the “wrong” side of the street and on unfamiliar roads (this was Scott’s payback, for doing all the driving when we visited England). For the most part, I did pretty well remembering to keep the yellow line on my right, as opposed to my left, and only turned on the wipers instead of the turn signal (wrong side of the car), a handful of times.

However, the whole day was like a real-time video game. I had to swerve the many potholes that threatened to swallow the car, and Scott  was like a broken record, telling me that I was too far to the left. What was most challenging, is that drivers in Antigua seemed seemed to enjoy playing a constant game of chicken, traveling right down the center of the road, and only moving off to their respective side at the last second.

We picked up our boxes at Ezone, and then made a stop at the much larger Epicurean grocery store outside of town, filling three shopping carts full of things we needed, and others we hadn’t seen in months and wanted. After perusing a large home store, and several local hardware stores, the car was stuffed full and we made our way back to Jolly Harbour.

We’d taken a mooring ball for two nights, putting us right off the boat yard. The guard at the gate gave us permission to bring our car in to unload, and we parked at the far end of the yard. After five trips back and forth, with the dinghy at full capacity, the car was empty and the saloon was full. I took the rest of the day to put everything in its place, with help and supervision from Howard, and our big provision was done.

With the “winter winds” firmly in place (I don’t know why they’re referred to as the “Christmas” winds, since they don’t seem to know when the holidays begin, or end), weather wasn’t favorable for travel, and most of the anchorages at nearby islands didn’t provide the protection of our location at Jolly Harbour.

For an escape from the crowded anchorage, we literally went around the corner, to Five Islands Bay. Our only neighbor? A 48 foot Kadey Krogen! Ken and Slyvianne escape Canada each year, and spend their winters aboard Silken Sea. We spent an evening on board their beautiful boat, getting to know them better, and swapping cruising and Krogen stories.

Scott explored one of the nearby islands, stomping around a salt pond and old sugar mill. It was a challenging go, as the paths were lined with tenacious bushes full of long thorns, whose branches were resistant to his efforts with a machete.

After a few days of quiet, and a change of scene, we made our way back to Jolly Harbour. Ken and Slyvianne were trying to make Trinidad for carnival, so after taking on fuel, they chose to take their licks and head further south.

We settled back into life at anchor in Jolly, and waited for better travel weather, as we seem to do so often. Here are more photos.

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

Celebrating The Holidays On Antigua

We had come to spend the holidays on Antigua for one reason, Nelson’s Dockyard’s annual Christmas Day champagne party . Our friends Jeff and Di first told us about the event, while we were all still in Grenada. Champagne, sunshine and cruising friends?!? I was immediately sold.

Shortly after we settled into Falmouth Harbour, Howard went into the water…possibly an attempt at a holiday bath? At our latest count, he’d been in the water six times, in four countries.

Scott trimmed Sea Life in her holiday finest, we snapped a Christmas photo and were ready for the holidays to begin.

On Christmas Day, we walked over to the Nelson’s Dockyard to meet our friends. A crowd of people were already gathering in the midday sun when we arrived.

Under a huge tent, a large, old wooden dinghy was filled with champagne bottles on ice. The process was simple: buy a bottle, and grab some cups for sharing. Prices ranged from $15.00 usd, up to $95.00 a bottle, with proceeds going toward the fight against breast cancer.

I’d brought along two insulated drink thermoses, with a splash of mango juice in each one. I divided my champagne between the two, and voila!…chilled mimosas ready to go! Scott, not being a champagne drinker, had come armed with his own thermoses, filled with vodka and Orangina; let the merriment begin!

As we walked the grounds, I snapped some photos of some people in their holiday garb.

An odd-looking boat was on display, outside one of the buildings. We went for a closer look, and learned that James “Tiny” Little had used it to row 3,000 miles from the Canary Islands to Antigua, in 2005.

Little left the Canaries in January, and arrived on Antigua four months later…looking much lighter. Notice his interesting, daily schedule.

We spent the day in the company of good friends, enjoying the champagne, sunshine….and silliness.

Di and I posed for a photos with one of the many Santas in attendance. This particular Santa was sitting by a case of Heineken beer; it must have been a stressful Christmas Eve.

Our friend Ian was a dancing machine, performing a one-man show as the band played nearby.

Eventually, he took his moves closer to the band, dancing with several partners.

And he still had energy left to take his wife, Manuela, for a twirl as well.

It was a great Christmas Day.

Next up, New Year’s Eve., and our friend Karen (our official cruising visitor), flew in to celebrate with us. As we prepared her room, Howard firmly claimed the pull-down bunk. We thought she wouldn’t mind sharing with him, and officially made them roommates.

Steady rain poured the entire morning of Karen’s arrival, so I sent Scott to the dinghy dock armed with a raincoat for her, and trash bags for her luggage. Thankfully, by the time Scott picked her up at the dock, the rain had stopped.

We spent the first part of our evening up at Shirley Heights. A reggae band played, the crowd was festive, and the view was beautiful.

Karen broke her flip flop on the historical site’s uneven surface, but not to fear…”MacGyver” got right to work with his knife and some cocktail straws. In no time…presto!, she was back in business.

As the night grew later, we left Shirley Heights, and made our way back down the hill to Nelson’s Dockyard, where a large crowd was gathering for the countdown to midnight, and continued our celebration.

As a DJ played music for the crowd, Ian shared some dance move tips with Scott, who caught on pretty well.

Before we knew it, midnight arrived, and 2018 was ushered in with cheers and a colorful fireworks display.

Our journey back to Sea Life was full of acrobatics. Scott fell on the uneven sidewalk, and rolled his way into some nearby grass, and shockingly came up unscathed. I fell soon after, but did not roll, and instead came up with one of my toes bent sideways. A friendly local gave me a  hand off the ground, asking….”Do you people need help?”

We arrived at the dock, where Karen promptly fell into the dinghy. After managing to all acrobats seated, and the motor started, we sped off and ran over a bouy. As he cut away the tangled mass of line from the prop, Scott barked at Karen and me to row. Eventually, we made it back to Sea Life without further issue, and safely climbed aboard. Maybe a bit too much celebrating.

On New Year’s Day, Karen and I spent the afternoon at Boom, a nearby restaurant with a pool on site. We walked the drive leading up to the property, past colorful tropical plants and flowers, and settled into a poolside daybed.

We enjoyed lunch, drinks and some pool time, before making our way back to Scott, who’d spent the day napping.

On Karen’s final day, she and I walked the street leading to Nelson’s Dockyard, chatting with locals and perusing shops as we went.

When we were all shopped out, the two of us made our way out of the dockyard, but not before getting a final glimpse of Boom across the water, while trying not to disturb one of the resident iguanas.

We took a short cab ride to nearby Papa’s for some lunch, before she left for the airport. Scott arrived at the waterfront restaurant by dinghy, with Karen’s bags in tow.

We enjoyed a relaxing lunch, said goodbye to our friend and put her into a cab, bound for the airport.

It had been a wonderful Antigua holiday, as we spent time with cruising friends, and our good friend from home. We wonder what 2018 has in store for the crew of Sea Life?? Here are more photos.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

On to Antigua

From Deshaies, it was just a short day’s ride to Antigua, where we would celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Scott caught a mahi along the way, but it broke free just as he was preparing to scoop it into the cockpit…skunked again.

He reset the lines, and went back to..ahem…”fishing.”

We planned to anchor in Falmouth Harbour for the holidays, but first headed for Jolly Harbour, further north. Falmouth is part of a national park, and boats are charged daily anchoring fees, in addition to clearance fees, when checking in. Clearing in at Jolly Harbour would save us the anchoring fees, and there was also a large grocery store across the street from the dinghy dock. Our plan was to clear in, hit the grocery store and then immediately continue on to Falmouth Harbour. The winds were predicted to increase in the next day or so, and we wanted to be in place when they did.

Scott had used Sea Clear, an online service offered in many of the Eastern Caribbean islands, that allowed him to fill out our clearance paperwork ahead of time. In most islands we’ve visited, officials are quite happy with this system, as it saves time, and avoids having to decipher handwritten forms. As has happened several times before, Scott was waived to the front of the line, past cruisers who hadn’t pre-cleared. Howard wasn’t an issue for the officials, and Scott soon returned to the boat.

Next up…groceries. On our way across the street to the store, we said hello to the many cats who have made a home in the large, abandoned casino building along the waterfront. They came in all colors, and had usually slanted eyes.

Most were pretty timid, except this guy, who took a liking to Scott.

The Epicurean grocery store at Jolly Harbour was large, stocked with good produce and had many familiar items. Behind it was a home store, run by the same company.. one stop shopping.

The bag boys were happy to help wheel our many bags, bottles and cases across the street and onto the dinghy dock, a service that was well worth the tip.

With a full dinghy, we headed back through the marina, and were reminded that Christmas was just around the corner.

Back at the boat, we unloaded our provisions, raised anchor and left Jolly Harbour to head for Falmouth.

Along the way, we passed some large houses on the cliffs above the shoreline. You could definitely smell the money on this island.

Just two hours later, we made the turn into Falmouth Harbour, and were smacked in the face by a mass of fiberglass and stainless.

The marina was at the back of the harbour, but the huge wall of yachts was visible clear across the large bay.

Scott was trying to focus on navigating, while eyeballing the unusual boats at anchor, as we made our way further into the harbour.

I snapped photos as we traveled closer to the mass of behemoths. My head was on a swivel, as I shouted to Scott, “Good Lord, look at that!”

And, s@#t!, do you see that one?!?” It was so much to take in, that I completely missed our friends, Jeff and Di, waving to us as we went by them.

Howard was intrigued as well.

In the 1700s, it was hard to find secure ports that were easily defensible, with immediate access to the trade winds. Falmouth and nearby English Harbour, side by side and almost touching at the closest point, met all these requirements.

In the early eighteenth century, the British Royal Navy recognized the strategic importance of English Harbour for protecting ships from hurricanes, and its position at the south of the island for monitoring French naval activity. Throughout the century, the dockyard grew in importance, as it was the only harbour in the Eastern Caribbean large enough for safe, naval ship repairs.

From 1784 through 1787, Horatio Nelson, was sent to Antigua to enforce British laws in the colonies (Considered a British hero, he was noted for his inspirational leadership, superb grasp of strategy and unconventional tactics, which together resulted in a number of decisive British naval victories). During his time on the island, work was begun on the English Harbour Dockyard, and was completed, looking much as it does today, by 1789.

The Dockyard was abandoned by the Royal Navy in 1889, and by 1947, it was in ruins. A massive restoration began in 1949, and the area was turned into a beautiful, but functional monument. When complete, the area was renamed Nelson’s Dockyard in honor of the years Nelson spent in Antigua, and in 2016, it was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. I found this small photo online, that offers a good overview of the property.

Today, the restored buildings in Nelson’s Dockyard house hotels, restaurants and businesses, and both harbours are part of Antigua’s National Parks Authority.

 

 

Not only is it Antigua’s yachting capital, but English Harbour is also a major Caribbean yachting center and destination.

 

The harbours attract hundreds of cruising yachts each year. English Harbour is more scenic, but small, with less room for boats at anchor, and has become the Caribbean’s main base for beautiful, sailing superyachts. Falmouth Harbour is considerably larger, surrounded by hills and offers more facilities than English Harbour. Because of this, it’s favored by most charter yachts, superyachts and larger cruising yachts. With more room to anchor, an easy ride to shore and many conveniences within easy walking distance, we chose to anchor in Falmouth as well (located at the top of this online photo).

There were three grocery stores not far from the dinghy dock, as well as several restaurants on the marina grounds. The short stretch of road between Falmouth and English harbour was lined with many more restaurants and shops.

 

High up on a hill above Nelson’s Dockyard, Shirley Heights is a restored military lookout and gun battery. The military complex, within a short distance of the Dockyard, is not named after the fairer sex, but after Sir Thomas Shirley, Governor of the Leeward Islands, who strengthened Antigua’s defenses in 1781. At approximately 490 feet, it offers amazing views of English and Falmouth Harbours below. The buildings on site have been adapted to function as a restaurant and bar, and it hosts a famous, Sunday evening sunset party each week.

We hopped in a taxi with our friend, David Smylie, and headed up the hill for drinks and sunset views, arriving to music in the air, and a crowd full of people.

We wandered over to the nearby picnic grounds, which allowed more open views of the harbours below.

As the  sun set, English Harbour and Falmouth Harbours lit up below us. We looked forward to spending the upcoming holidays in this historic and beautiful place.

Here are more photos.

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

 

Our Time In The Grenadine Islands

The Grenadines islands lie between the islands of Saint Vincent to the north and Grenada to the south. The islands north of the Martinique Channel belong to Saint Vincent, and the those south of the channel belong to Grenada.

St. Vincent, and its neighboring islands make up their own Caribbean nation, but Neither Saint Vincent nor Grenada are Grenadine islands. There are 32 islands and cays that make up Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Nine of which are inhabited, including the mainland Saint Vincent.

(You’ll notice in the photo below, that when we visited Petite St. Vincent before clearing out of Grenada, we were actually in the waters of St. Vincent and the Grenadines…oops.)

Unfortunately, crime (including violent crime) against cruisers anchoring off St. Vincent has become quite an issue, so we chose to anchor off Union Island, and clear in there instead. The island was much safer, and it was a shorter journey from Carriacou, where we’d cleared out of Grenada.

While Scott headed to shore, I eyeballed the cool-looking bar behind us, and the gorgeous water. Sadly, we didn’t get to visit the bar.

Scott made a quick, easy visit to customs and immigration, then we headed around to the back side of Union Island, anchoring in Chatham Bay. The area was scenic and peaceful, with only a very small resort and three local bar/restaurants lining the beach.

As soon as we were settled, Scott loaded up the dinghy with fishing and snorkeling gear, and headed out to explore the bay, while Howard enjoyed some quiet time on the bow.

In the afternoon, we visited two of the three small beach bars on shore for happy hour. Seki and Vanessa run Sunset Cove, the “largest” bar/restaurant, and we enjoyed time chatting with them while the sun set.

We lingered one more day in Chatham, before raising anchor and heading around the corner to the Tobago Cays. The area is a popular spot for both cruising and charter boats, so the anchorages were quite crowded. We poked around a bit, and finally found a some space behind a reef, with a bit of room to breath.

Scott climbed to the top of one of the nearby cays, which offered good views of the many boats at anchor below (including Sea Life, of course), and the surrounding reef. Along the way, he took notice of how arid the small island was; quite a change from the lush landscape of Grenada.

After several days, we continued on to the island of Bequia (pronounced Bek-way). Along the way, we noticed an old, sunken freighter, and some houses that seemed to be built right into a rocky coast.

We entered the harbor at Bequia just in time, as it seemed Howard was tired of traveling. The forecast called for a fairly decent north swell, so Scott chose to drop anchor at the north end of the harbor. It was definitely the right call, as those anchored to the south, off of the beach, spent their days rolling like hobby-horses when the swell arrived.

We made our way to shore, past colorful houses in the hills surrounding the harbor, and tied to the town dock, sharing it with a “passenger pod” from one of the two small cruise ships at anchor behind us.

Restaurants, shops, produce stands and grocery stores make up the few blocks that are “downtown” Bequia.

At the edge of town, the shoreline is full of restaurants, bars and small hotels, accessed by a narrow, winding cement path at the water’s edge. Passing oncoming pedestrians can be challenging, and at high tide, wet feet can’t be avoided.

The symbol of a blue whale was visible throughout Bequia. At the Whaleboner, we sat along a bar trimmed in the rib bone of a whale, and in stools made from vertebrae.

During our stay, we enjoyed the island’s unique and quirky sights.

The small, quiet harbor was relaxing, even with small cruise ships often in town. We spent time with other cruising friends, and waited for better weather to continue north.

Howard and Scott had begun a nightly ritual of watching fish. Scott lowers our led fish light into the water, and he and Howard wait to see what comes calling. Large tarpon, needlefish, minnows, crabs and small squid and eels are regularly attracted to the light, and Howard watches them all intently. Wanting to give Howard some “paws on” interaction, Scott filled a Tupperware container with water, and scooped up a few minnows.

Howard immediately went to work, oblivious to the water as he pawed at the tiny fish. It wasn’t long before he managed to flip one out onto the cockpit floor, so Scott filled the container with more water, in hopes of making the fish more challenging to catch.

Undeterred, Howard just got wetter, as he flipped the minnows out  just as quickly. Before Scott realized it, Howard had brought one inside, swallowed his freshly caught snack, and went back for more. Much to the chagrin of both boys, I put a quick stop to minnow-smorgasbord. We’d just gotten Howard’s innards calmed down, and I wasn’t about to risk another possible go-round.

On one of our last evenings on the island, we visited Fernando’s Hideaway, a small restaurant located on top of a hill outside of town. We hopped into the bed of a pick up truck (aka, a Caribbean taxi) for the short ride to Fernando’s, traveling along wide cement roads, that were in terrific condition. As we climbed higher, the wider roads gave way to more narrow, local routes, and we eventually turned into a driveway…we had arrived.

As is popular in the Caribbean, Fernando’s Hideaway is run out of Fernando’s house. Off of the restaurant’s kitchen, there is a deck with just a few tables, surrounded by a canopy of trees, flowers and vines. Candles set into empty flour bags gave the tables a warm glow, and tree frogs provided fitting dinner music.

Our dinner was fantastic, and we weren’t the only ones who though so. The walls of the restroom were lined with accolades from young diners.

Once everyone had been served, Fernando came out to the deck for a break, settling into a chair just behind our table. We struck up a conversation, and learned that he’d spent most of his life as a cook on container ships, traveling all over the world before coming back to Bequia. Each day, Fernando makes everything himself, from the delicious goat water (soup), to the savory local snapper and greens, down to the scrumptious lemon bars we had for dessert. We left with happy, full bellies, and great memories of our hideaway evening.

The weather had finally settled enough for us to move on, so it was time to say goodbye to Bequia, and the Grenadines, and continue north. Our next stop, the island of Guadeloupe. Here are more photos of our time in the Grenadine Islands.

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

Our Last Days In Grenada

<< Previous | Next >>

By the end of September, Howard was well on the mend, so we felt ok about going home. We first said another goodbye, this time to our friends Nick and Lori-Anne, who were flying back to the U.S. Parting ways with friends is definitely one of the worst parts about cruising.

As I mentioned, it was Scott’s first visit back to the U.S. in two years. Once the boat was settled in a slip at Port Louis Marina, we flew home and ran him around like mad, spending time with family, visiting friends, old neighbors and the gang at Hendersons Marina.

Scott arrived back to a very needy cat. Howard had a hard time in our absence, and consequently, so did our incredibly great friends who fed him while we were both away. In addition to the weeks in and out of the clinic, we haven’t left Howard for more than two nights since we first brought him home. He was glad to see his Dad.

I stayed on for several more weeks at home, spending more time with friends, and stuffing myself with fresh produce! All of these fall veggies are available to us in the Caribbean, but they’re just not the same quality.

I spent time with my sister and brother-in-law, in their neighborhood of Eastport, just across Spa Creek from Annapolis, where many of the houses were decked out for Halloween.

I was also lucky enough to be home for the 20th annual “Slaughter Across the Water,” a tug-of-war match stretching between downtown Annapolis and the Eastport peninsula; that’s a tug, across the water.

The “friendly” competition began in 1998, when the residents of Eastport got fed up with a Public Works Department project that closed the bridge leading into Eastport from Annapolis. Over “a couple of pints and a some scribblings on cocktail napkins,” the Maritime Republic of Eastport was born. The newly-born MRE then proposed a tug-of-war to the townspeople of Annapolis, and a yearly tradition began.

Every year since, on the first Saturday in November, an 1,800-foot rope, half solid yellow and half yellow and black, is spooled out across Spa Creek, and carefully piled onto the deck of a boat that marks the center line. (Not being able to be on both sides of the tug, or on the water, I borrowed some online photos)

Competitors pulled in seven different match-ups, with money raised going to local charities and philanthropic causes; this year’s Slaughter Across The Water resulted in a Eastport taking the event, winning four out of the seven tugs. The event has become a day-long festival with music, crafts and a chili cook-off.

In mid November, I flew back to Grenada. Scott had moved Sea Life from the marina, and was now out in the anchorage off of St. Georges harbour. Once I had unpacked, we planned a short visit to Petite St. Vincent, one of Grenada’s nearby out islands, before clearing out of the country to head north.

We mad a last minute grocery run to Foodland, located on the carenage. Conveniently, they have a dinghy dock right across the street.

As I mentioned earlier, produce can be challenging in the Caribbean. Check out these tiny heads of cauliflower and cabbage, that Scott can comfortably hold in one hand. The cabbage is marked in Eastern Caribbean dollars, which equals roughly $1.20 usd.

We headed back to the boat, to unload our groceries. As we drove away, something strange caught our eye just beside the dock. We had walked right by this man, asleep across the rocks.

The next day we made the short trip over to Petite St. Vincent. I’d come back with a “travel bed” for Howard. The soft sides allow him to snuggle in, and keep him from moving less while we’re underway. It was a warm day, so a cold sports towel was in order.

Before long, we arrived at Petite St. Vincent, a private island with an exclusive resort.

The water colors were gorgeous, and we were able to anchor off to ourselves, not having had this much room around us in months. We soon had a visit from a yellow footed booby, who spent some down time on one of the paravanes.

The next day, we set off in the dinghy to explore the coastline, and get a peak at the resort, which spread’s out across the island.

Back at our anchorage, we now had a neighbor…a rather large neighbor.

Eager for some more clear water time, Scott took the dinghy out for some snorkeling and underwater exploration. Spear fishing was illegal in the area, but he couldn’t resist the urge for dinner when he came across some lobster. He bashed the poor things to death with the dinghy oar (hence, not using a spear or “official” fishing device), bringing back a speckled and a slipper lobster. Slipper lobsters are creepy, and look like giant pill bugs.

The entire island of Petite St. Vincent is private, but lowly cruisers are allowed to visit the resort’s beach bar, so we cleaned ourselves up and headed to shore for cocktails. We relaxed and enjoyed our drinks, looking back at Sea Life, with her big buddy, out at anchor.

At $15.00 usd a cocktail, one round was all our budget could afford, so we headed back as the sun began to set.

The next morning, we would head for Carriacou, Grenada’s nearest out island, to clear out. It was time to head north. First stop, the Grendine Islands. Here are more photos of our last days on Grenada.

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

 

 

 

Howard Battles Urinary Issues

Sometime after Carnival, I noticed that Howard was going in and out of his litter box much more than usual, with no result. Not passing urine is a major concern for anyone, animal or human, so after almost 24 hours I called the nearby veterinary clinic, associated with St. George’s University, to tell them that we were on the way. We packed Howard into his “travel house,” and dinghied over to Prickly Bay Marina, where a man named Bernard was always waiting in his taxi for a fare.

We arrived at the clinic, checked in and prepared to wait, since we hadn’t made an appointment. Almost immediately, a vet came out to talk with us, and when she confirmed that Howard hadn’t passed urine, took us back to a room for an exam. Now unfortunately, Howard is not the best patient; in fact, he’s a terrible patient…lots of hissing and growling. So much so that there’s a “Caution” sticker on his file at our home vet back in Baltimore. There wasn’t much need for an exam it seems, as the vet quickly decided to keep Howard, and catheterize him. Ugh. Howard would be catheterized for at least two days, so we were sent home, and told that we were welcome to visit the following day.

The next afternoon, we took the dinghy over to Budget Marine’s dock, and made the quick, but hot walk to see Howard. The road leading to the clinic doesn’t get a breath of breeze, and in the middle of the day, it’s definitely “hot-sun walking.” (As a local said to Scott, with respect, while passing him on the road in Grenada, during peak heat hours; Scott received a fist bump, for his hot-sun walking).

We arrived, wiped off the sweat and cooled down in the air conditioning for a bit, before someone came to escort us back to see our cat. As soon as he heard my voice, Howard chirped, and perked up. He had a catheter tube coming out of his penis, that was taped to his tail. An iv tube was taped to his front leg, and there was a cone around his neck so he couldn’t chew at any of the tubes.

The preferred treatment for a urinary blockage is to place a catheter for three days, while giving a drug that relaxes ureter. Unfortunately, the clinic didn’t have the drug in stock, and there was none on the island; so instead, Howard was given Valium in his iv, along with a painkiller. Despite being a bit loopy, he was happy to see us.

By day two, Howard had enough of wires and tubes. He managed to get the cone off, and remove both the iv and catheter. He had to be put back under sedation to reinsert everything, and an additional sedative was added to his iv meds. With the addition of the third drug  in the mix, we noticed that Howard was much more mellow, and not as responsive at our next visit..

Everything looked great after three days, so the vet removed everything and waited for Howard to pee on his own. He couldn’t, so another catheter had to be inserted. When they sedated Howard, they found some mucus blocking his ureter. It was physically flushed out, a second catheter and iv were inserted, and an additional calming/sedative drug was added to his iv meds.

By the time we visited on day seven, Howard was almost completely unresponsive. He had so many drugs in him, and had been sedated so many times, I cannot believe he wasn’t drooling on himself. His condition had me in tears, and the vet on the case decided to cut him off of all the drugs, and send him home with us.

Back on board the boat, Howard was a mess for the next 30 hours. He had several bouts of what we thought must be his body detoxing the drugs. His temperature shot up, and he moaned as he was breathing. We laid him on an ice pack that was wrapped in a towel, and covered him with towels soaked in ice water, while a fan blew on him.

When he began to growl while in the litter box, I realized that we may have to take him back to the clinic. The thought of Howard having to start that whole process over again turned my stomach, but he needed help. We broke down and decided to go back to the clinic, which thankfully is staffed 24-7.

With no idea how to get a cab after midnight, Scott headed over to Prickly Bay Marina in the dinghy. As luck would have it, there was a Meriweather vs. “Someone-I-don’t-know” fight going on, so the tiki bar was open later than usual. Scott informed the bartender that we had a vet emergency, and asked if there was a cab in the area. She immediately came from behind the bar, and went into the crowd to talk to a man who immediately went to get his van to take us. Scott explained that I was still on the boat with our cat, and he agreed to wait (Again, Grenadians, the friendliest people ever).

During all of this, the heavens had opened, and Scott came back to the boat soaked and dripping wet. We loaded Howard into his carrier, and went to the dock..in the still-pouring rain. The van took me to the clinic, while Scott went back to get dry clothes and raincoats. He then motored the dinghy to the far side of the bay, and walked to meet me.

Once the vet arrived (he too was out watching the fight), he had me hold Howard, so that he could feel his bladder. It was full, and as he felt it, urine leaked out. Realizing the Howard wasn’t completely blocked, the vet manually emptied the bladder (much pressing and squeezing). Howard was very angry, and growling, but quiet off and on, as I think he realized the doctor was relieving his pressure.

As I continued to hold Howard, the vet was able to do an ultrasound of the bladder. Satisfied that there were no crystals or stones, he opted to put Howard on anti-inflammatory pills for five days, and sent him home, not wanting to re-start the drowsy-drug carousel. Scott and I were both thrilled, and headed back to the boat with our cat.

Unfortunately, Howard still wasn’t able to pass urine, and was also still growling when in the litter box. We had to again return to the clinic, where they inserted another catheter and iv. We felt so bad for our boy, that he didn’t understand what was going on. It broke my heart that he went to sleep, and woke up with a catheter and iv back in. We visited every day, and Howard would just want me to rub and scratch his head and face, especially the area where the cone lay against his neck.

I cannot say enough about the veterinarians and staff who helped us. The clinic was large, clean and bright, with all the facilities you’d expect in the U.S. Howard was in a cage located in the main treatment area, where people were near him all day. They all just wanted to pet and love Howard, but he was not having it. It made me so sad, as I’m sure he’d have felt a lot better getting love and attention all day, and not just during our visits.

After several more days, the doctors again felt sure that there were no crystals or stones in Howard’s bladder, but sent his urine out for further testing, just to be sure. We again brought Howard back to the boat; however, if he blocked again, we’d be facing the fact that there was a good chance that surgery was in his immediate future. The procedure involves cutting off the penis, and changing the route of the urethra, so he would urinate like a female cat (they have a shorter, and more wide urethra), allowing any stones or crystals to pass through. The recovery is challenging, and the risk of recurring urinary infections is high…oh joy.

Because Howard was so wobbly and loopy (20 mgs of Valium per dose!), we were now on round the clock shifts, so one of us could constantly be with him. We’d follow him back and forth, from the couch to the litter box, checking for progress, and all surfaces in the saloon were now covered with trash bags and towels, to keep up with the dribbling of urine.

The clinic contacted us to say that Howard’s urine test showed an angry infection, most likely due to the several catheters that had been inserted and removed. We were given an antibiotic, and hoped for improvement.

The clinic was still unable to get the preferred drug for relaxing Howard’s ureter, so I contacted my vet back in Baltimore, who ordered it for us. I then contacted our friend, Christine, to see if she would mind picking up the drug and shipping it to us. She immediately left her desk at work, went to the vet and then straight to Fed Ex…a life saver! The package was scheduled for a three- day delivery, but the coming weekend meant a delay for picking it up in Grenada.

Worried that Howard may block again before the drug arrived on the island, Scott and I reluctantly decided to take our poor cat back to the clinic, so he’d be on site, just in case. It meant another catheter and iv for Howard, and this time he wasn’t in the main area, but down the hall in a room by himself. While it may have been more quiet for Howard, there was no way the staff could keep a good eye on him there.

The first day we arrived to visit, Howard’s bedding was wet, as he’d obviously leaked urine on it. Most of the staff were too scared to go into the cage, so Scott and I changed the wet blankets out for dry ones.

The next day, in addition to being wet, the bedding also had poop on it. Sigh….we again cleaned his cage. During our visit, we noticed that whenever Howard was in the litter box, he would arch his neck, mouth wide open and move his head side to side. After passing only a few drops, he’d come out and lay on his side. His whole body would curl up, and he’d release a small puddle of urine onto the bedding. We were obviously upset by this, and alerted the staff, who told us that it was a reaction to the pain of the urinary infection….hmmm.

We arrived on day three to a pitiful sight. In addition to urine, and poop, there was blood on Howard’s bedding….blood?!? We managed to flag someone into the room, who told us that Howard had again managed to get his iv out (the fourth time, for Houdini Howard), and it had bled for awhile, before they’d noticed and replaced it. I brought to their attention that his current iv paw was very swollen, and we helped to re-tape it. Our poor cat now had parts of all four paws shaved, from so many ivs. Howard’s mood was so depressed that he just lay in my lap with his eyes closed. It was time to take him home, I’d risk a blockage.

Back on board, Howard was still doing the strange head wobble, open-mouth thing while in the box, and curling his body to release urine while laying on his side after. Scott recorded video if this, and took it to the clinic for the vets to see. They were immediately concerned, and Scott was told that Howard was having seizures. I was more than miffed upon hearing this news, as we’d tried to call their attention to it previously. Scott came home with an anti-seizure med.

We were now dealing with constipation, due to all the drugs and sedation. We took Howard in for an x-ray, that showed he was full of poop..which I’d already tried to explain. The vet administered an enema, which Howard didn’t release, and suggested we take him home where he’d be more comfortable. We also came away with some laxative, to keep things moving.

We made the ten minute walk back to the dinghy, with Howard in his carrier, and then headed for the boat. Just as we were tying to the swim platform, Howard became very agitated, so I got him on board, out of the carrier and to the litter box as fast as I could, with a trail of liquid poop behind me. I left him to finish in peace, and cleaned up the poop trail….poor animal.

The muscle relaxer drug arrived, taking the number of meds that Howard was getting to SEVEN: anti-imflammatory, Valium, painkiller, antibiotic, anti-seizure, laxative and the muscle relaxer (most all causing drowsiness). Because poor Howard was so drowsy, we were able to administer the barrage of meds with little trouble.

We were still on round the clock watch, keeping an eye on the litter box, and making sure that Howard wouldn’t hurt himself. The poor animal just wanted to feel normal, and would wobble to the door of the saloon, wanting to go outside. I would carry him out into the cockpit, and we’d look at the water, his head laying over my arm.

Soon, the vet was ready to begin weaning Howard off most of the meds, which we were thrilled about. Over the next several weeks, we whittled down, until Howard was only getting the muscle relaxer twice a day. His mood, and balance improved, and although not completely normal, he was passing much more urine each day.

We had a trip home scheduled, that had to be postponed three times. It was to be Scott’s first trip home in two years, but there was no way we could leave Howard in someone else’s care while he was so sick.

After seven weeks of hell for all three of us, Howard was thankfully doing much better, and began to wander out to the cockpit on his own, to look for fish, nap and oversee boat projects.

Notice the “poodle paws”

He even began to feel good enough to climb onto his dinghy “jungle gym.”

We could finally breath easier, but I still felt terrible for all our poor cat had been through. Scott tells me that Howard is young and tough, and won’t remember this, once he’s back to his old self. I hope it’s true.

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