Thursday, March 31, 2011

Leaving the DR

After all the excitement yesterday with the lockdown of the public pier, we were grateful to be back aboard in the evening, let me tell you! We relaxed over a fabulous dinner, feasting on the whole snapper we'd gotten at the market that morning. Ron was a tad leery, not being a fan of whole fish because of the many bones, but he'd purchased the fish knowing that I was excited to try out one of the Caribbean recipes I've found for whole fish. Fun!

The key is to liberally rinse the entire fish in lime juice, thoroughly,  inside and out, before prepping it with spices. I rubbed the entire limed fish with olive oil, lots of thyme, chopped fresh garlic, cracked pepper and liberal amounts of Old Bay (the essence of the Chesapeake!), then layered sliced onions and tomatoes inside. I also added a few slices on the outside before wrapping each in foil and roasting them in the oven. I let them roast for a good 30 minutes, then opened the foil to let the fish crisp up a bit before serving them. (I'd strategically covered the eye of Ron's fish with a slice of onion before I served it, which he appreciated!) They turned out utterly delicious! The fish was perfectly done, flaky and easily separated from any of the bones, a touch spicy and very delicious! A great evening dinner on the back deck, enhanced by the gorgeous scenery of the anchorage. 

We also received a bit of a surprise yesterday evening as well, for the 10 lb. bag of flour we purchased yesterday at the market turned out to be....baking soda! Augh!! After all our efforts --- all in vain! We had to laugh, and laugh we did! I admit, I didn't taste the sample of flour I was shown yesterday, but perhaps I should have!! Oh well...we now have a year's supply of baking soda to use for cleaning and deodorizing around the boat! (Not that I can smell, but hopefully it will smell clean!) Note to self: "harina" is the word for "flour" in Spanish... 

Some of the local fishing boats. They use cast nets here.
While we'd love to explore and see more of this beautiful country, we also have been keeping an eye on the weather, and knew that we didn't want to miss the opportunity to head out with a good weather window while we had it! So, this morning we were up early and went to retrieve our shotgun and receive our despacho papers to clear out of here. We met Martin at at 8:30 on an adjacent, smaller pier in town since the main pier was in an even bigger frenzy today than yesterday. Apparently, several hundred pounds of cocaine were discovered aboard the Sea Ray, which accounted for all the hub-bub of activity. We're not certain what was the situation with the Burger; after being quarantined all day, the soldiers and officers all disembarked this morning, and the captain and crew pulled anchor and left immediately as soon as everyone was off the vessel. Ron thought perhaps it was just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, since the Burger arrived in the night at the same time as the drug-running Sea Ray. We'll never know!

As for us, trying to get the Samana Comandante to sign our despacho paperwork was a bit difficult. In his defense, he was more than a bit busy with the drug bust that was going down in the port! After a bit of a wait though, we finally got the clearance to depart and were given an escort by one of the Coast Guard guys who held our gun until we reached our dinghy. We clambered aboard, and again, were instructed to go straight to our boat without stopping. They certainly didn't have to tell us twice!  

We immediately pulled Eclipse up into her chocks on the flybridge and made way.  I'd prepped Equinox the night before, battening her down for any potential rough seas, even though the conditions were forecast to be light. There's a huge cold front swooping in off the coast of Florida though, so we wanted to be underway while seas were still favorable here. We were wary of conditions changing, and debated where to make landfall, reviewing our options, keeping the weather in mind. 
The ruggedly beautiful coast of the Dominican Republic
However....light winds, blue skies, calm seas prevailed! Rather than stop in at another port in the DR, we opted to go straight through to the Turks and Caicos, and duck in there before the predicted fronts raged through. The lure to push ahead to new territories was tempting, and we wrestled with it, to be honest! But reaching the anchorages in the Bahamas at Great Inagua or Mayaguana meant longer runs, which meant it would be a race as to whether we could get there before the seas picked up. Even if we made landfall before the fronts arrived, the anchorages there don't provide much protection from westerlies during frontal passages, so we decided to be conservative and head for a more protected port for the time being. 
Glorious seas and blue skies 
And so we cruise....enjoying the journey. I love soaking in the vistas of wide open sea and sky; the intensity of the incredible palettes of blue: the indigo, cobalt, turquoise and teal of the water so vivid against the bright, clear pale robin's egg of the sky. How lucky we are to be witnessing it, experiencing it! Those are the moments I savor, lingering over the sensation of the wind against my skin, the sound of the hull cutting through the water. Just being in the moment -- what a gift!

Adventures of all kinds!

What a night last night was, and oh, what a day it turned out to be! In the middle of the night, Ron and I were each awakened by noise and flashing blue strobe lights on the walls of our cabin. Peeking out the porthole, across the water not too far from where we were anchored, I could see lights blazing aboard a large 100' Burger that was being boarded and inspected by the Coast Guard/ Navy (Marina de Guerra) as well as Specialized Port Security Corps (CESEP) officers. I could see guys crawling all over the vessel, from its engine room to salon, and soldiers with machine guns posted on the aft deck. It was startling! It was a really nice yacht, not the type of boat typically stopped to be boarded and searched at random, but clearly there was some reason. For a moment I thought perhaps they weren’t supposed to be arriving after dark, (it’s frowned upon here to cruise at night) but I couldn't believe if that were the case, how it could provoke such a response. Who knows?

We were to meet Martin at the public dock at 0930, so we could go to Immigration and finish clearing in, but as we approached the public town dock, we could see there was a large DR naval vessel alongside the pier, with a crappy old SeaRay tied off to it. The SeaRay had been retrofitted with two huge extra fuel tanks, which were taking up most of the aft cockpit area, and the boat was clearly undergoing a search, as there were more officers and soldiers aboard. Things were getting exciting in the harbor, indeed!

The Naval vessel and the ill-fated Sea Ray
We tied off on the public pier and went with Martin to the Immigration office, and our own version of excitement began! Actually, it was an exercise in patience, as the impassive  official there was slow as molasses in a January snowstorm, inspecting our paperwork and passports as if she hadn’t ever seen such items before. She laboriously spell-checked our names (international phonetic alphabet once again!) before finding appropriately-sized pieces of carbon paper to place between all the layers of necessary paperwork (in triplicate). Finally, she went to a battered filing cabinet in the back of the office to retrieve her stamp, which she used to stamp all the originals of our documents, as well as our passports. Every step was lengthy and drawn-out beyond belief. Welcome to the Banana Republic…er …Dominican Republic!

Once that ordeal was over, we told Martin we wanted to see the public market at the west edge of town, since we needed some fresh vegetables and more bread flour. The cruising guide said the market here in Samana is one of the best markets in the Caribbean, "well-stocked, vibrant and full of energy". Martin arranged for Jorge, a driver of a little moto-chukka (a motorcycle drawn carriage taxi) to take us there. While there are cars and trucks here, it seems that most everyone rockets around on these 100cc motorcycles, usually with two-to-three people aboard each one. We passed one family clinging together: the father driving, the wife behind hanging onto him with her right arm, while dangling their young toddler son off her hip with her other arm. Facing out, the boy was busy drooling and gnawing/teething on a cookie, and not the least bit alarmed to be literally hanging just a few feet over fast moving pavement. Wild!!

The market was eye-opening, lively and vibrant indeed; I found it utterly fascinating. Upon arrival, we stepped out of the moto-chukka to be confronted with several wooden stands, each with a huge old-fashioned hanging scale dangling off a yardarm, their tabletops lined with raw, whole plucked chickens (some with feet) all sitting out in the blazing sunshine. There was no refrigeration to be seen anywhere, nothing was on ice and only some of the carcasses even shaded from the sun by pieces of flat cardboard. Thin, mangy looking dogs roamed underfoot, some sleeping under the various meat tables and others sniffing and scavenging in the dusty street for the occasional scrap thrown their way.  

Whole chickens, some with feet...
The market inside almost defied coherent description, as I’d never seen anything like it. The large, airy, cool interior was filled with rows of tables, where numerous vendors were displaying and selling produce from each. The tables were piled high with huge purple striped eggplants, bright green cabbages and cucumbers, orange carrots (some nearly as big as baseball bats), beets, tomatoes, potatoes, papaya, plantains, celery, onions, coconuts, peppers, chayote squash, you name it, they had it. There were huge bunches of fresh herbs, large burlap bags of open spices, immense flats of eggs, crammed next to melons, pineapples, limes, oranges, and bunches of bananas. Bottled honey was in abundance, being sold in leftover rum bottles. Every table was crammed full, and around the walls were stalls with other items for sale. 
The view across the sea of produce inside the market
Charcoal braziers all along the top shelf, assorted and sundry
other items in between with bags of spices beneath. 
Cabbages the size of basketballs
More spices to choose from!
Honey, in recycled old rum bottles on the left
One stall, a carniceria, was selling meats to order. The butcher had whole sides of beef hanging down behind him as he was chopping through the meat and bones with a long machete, butchering the slabs of meat while you watched. Others were selling non-perishable tinned goods, from bottles of bleach and cleaning supplies, soaps and shampoos, to coffee and teas, pallets of sodas, bunches of hanging salamis, various corn oil and cooking oils, napkins, cups and such, to boxes of pasta and huge 50 lb. burlap bags of rice.

Name your cut of steak...
Ron getting a flat of eggs
It was an amazing scene! I lost Ron three times in the melee as I stopped to gawk and take photos; he was on the hunt for the eggs and vegetables, but when I finally caught up to him, he was by these huge kettles of whole fish, selecting a couple of red snapper from Jorge’s mom. The fish, at least, were on ice, clearly that morning’s catch, fresh from the sea. Ron picked out two good-sized snappers, which we got for 300 pesos, or about $7.00. It was a riotous experience…there were tubs of dorado, wahoo, bream, chub and rainbow runners, plus other fish I didn’t stop to identify. To say the market is vibrant is an understatement!

Freshly caught and cleaned red snapper
More bins of fresh fish
Jorge's mom, from whom we got our snapper
Fringing the main market area were more stores selling fruit and veggies, plus numerous others like ferreterias (selling hardware, not ferrets), clothing stores, liquor stores, and sundry stores with assorted odds and ends…there was even one guy selling a pile of shoes out of a wheelbarrow on the corner. 
Great advertising!
Shoes by the dozen
Commerce in motion! We eventually came away with carrots, peppers, onions, tomatoes, eggs, the two whole snapper...but forgot the flour! We returned to the boat briefly to put away the perishables and get the fish on ice. But, it being lunch time, we returned ashore to walk the town and find ourselves a place to have lunch. We walked past the tourist shopping area along the front street – all pastel Victorian buildings, which are at odds with the stucco or cement storefronts and homes elsewhere. But pretty, to be sure. We did a bit of shopping at one jewelry place where the owner Gabriel, was quite the salesman. He gave us a tour of the back rooms where the jewelry is fashioned, and we saw the entire shop, from the workers to one woman making lunch for everyone in an adjacent shed. The shop also makes hand rolled cigars there, and we saw the equipment for that. SO interesting!
The jewelry workshop
I love this woman's smile! She was cooking lunch for the jewelry workers,
and was very happy to have her photo taken. Note the big pressure cooker!
Cigar trays and press for making cigars
Some of the loose leaf tobacco before being used in cigars
We also went back to the market for the bread flour and a few more veggies. (We couldn’t resist, it was just so fascinating there!) Getting the flour was a bit of an adventure, since no one spoke English and we had no idea what the word for "flour" was. After much pantomiming and repeating the word for bread ("pan"), one of the shop boys brought out yeast. We went through the motions again, and he pulled out a small cup of white flour from under the cabinet! Bingo! I even felt it to make sure it was flour and not sugar in the dim light, but it wasn’t granular, so I was satified. Whew!! Quite a transaction!

From there, we headed back to the dinghy to return to the boat...or tried to. The gates to the public dock were closed and locked, restricting access to all of the boats tied up there, and the gates guarded by numerous men with automatic weapons. All sorts of uniformed personnel roamed the docks, from the khaki-clad MdG officers to the pale grey-and-black camouflage-uniformed soldiers, to the DNCD special-ops boys in all black, their Counter-Drug Directorate. (Those guys even had full face masks on, extremely intimidating!) Everyone was extremely serious looking -- clearly a drug interdiction of some sort. Thus, we ended up waiting a good two hours (happily, out of the sun in a bar across the street!) before we were escorted brusquely to the dinghy and told to head directly to our boat. Which we did, immediately! 
Eclipse tied off at the end of the closed public pier
Gates locked, guns out -- entry to the pier was restricted for hours! was a rather exciting and very full day, with both unexpected treats and unforeseen tribulations! Adventures of all kinds, but then again, that's why we cruise!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Passage to....Santa Bárbara de Samaná, Dominican Republic!

We were up early and off the dock at St. Croix Marina by 0600…en route north, to either Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, we weren't exactly which. After looking at the weather and different stopping options, we decided to follow the southern coast of Puerto Rico and cruise north through the Mona Passage since the weather was so wonderful. The sun was out, and we had following seas with just 3'-4' of swells. East winds were between 13-18 knots the whole time. LOVELY! We cruised through the day, Ron happily fishing as we went. Unfortunately, all we got for our efforts were five big barracuda, catching one right after the other until we finally got sick of taking them off the hooks, and stopped fishing. We cruised on through the night, under a glorious star-splashed sky echoed by the bioluminescence sparks in the water beneath our hull. Breathtaking and nearly too beautiful for words; I can't do it justice! By dawn we were rounding the northeast corner of the Dominican Republic still in glorious conditions…even the Mona was quiet! Cruising westward is definitely easier than slogging one's way east, as we well know! 
Fish on!
Another bright morning arrived, and we continued our journey, enjoying the warm sunshine, calm waters and fishing as we went. At 0730 one line took a huge hit and we lost it almost immediately -- definitely the unknown BIG one! :) Then, at 1000, Ron spent 45 minutes wrangling in another fish, also a big one. I took the helm, trying to hear and follow Ron’s yelled instructions from the aft cockpit as he wrestled with the fish: "Back her down!" "Spin her to port!", "Full reverse!", "Starboard engine in reverse!" "Keep her into the seas!” The situation changed moment by moment, depending on what the fish was doing! Brutal!! Mind you, Equinox is not an agile sport fishing boat, so there were moments when we were rolling up to 30 degrees in the swells! (Unfortunately, the stabilizers weren't available when we were stopping, spinning and reversing like crazy.) As we tossed about, I could hear things crashing about in the bins in the galley cabinets, which were thankfully pinned and secure. There were a few loose DVDs that slipped off the shelves, plus a few books and magazines that went flying, but beyond that, nothing major thankfully! ("Always secure the cabin,  Boss!")

The aft-facing cockpit camera actually was a big help, as I could see what Ron was doing and, more importantly, where he was on the cockpit as he fought the fish. At the end, when Ron finally got the fish near the boat and could see it clearly… it was a 6’ blue marlin! Just as we were trying to figure out how to release it, it took one last twist and went under the boat, cutting the line on the props or rudder. Not precisely catch and release, but...whew!! While it was a fun battle, we’re glad it won. I really didn’t want to try to release that huge thing from the aft transom or cockpit in those rolling seas!  A battle indeed...Ron could barely raise his arms the rest of the day! 
Downtown Santa Bárbara de Samaná, from our anchor vantagepoint
We decided to head into Santa Bárbara de Samaná, Dominican Republic, since humpback whales inhabit Samaná Bay to breed and calve from Mid-january through March. We'd seen a whale earlier in the year off the coast of Puerto Rico, but the Bay here is a protected wildlife refuge, named by the world Wildlife Federation as one of the best in the world for whale watching, so hoped to see a few more whales. Plus, Samaná history is interesting too, since in 1824, a sailing vessel named the Turtle Dove carrying several hundred escaped American slaves was shipwrecked in the bay. The survivors settled and prospered in villages they called Bethesda and Philadelphia; today their descendants number several thousand, many of whom speak a patois of old 19th century English mixed with Spanish. 

We pulled into Samaná Bay about 3 :30 pm, just as the folks off the KK 48’ Bodacious were returning to their boat: they’d just gotten their despacho, and were leaving! We chatted briefly on the VHF, each lamenting our timing, for it would have been so fun to catch up! Oh well!

Almost immediately after beginning to drop anchor, we had a Samaná boat pull up next to us, with a clearance official aboard and a self-appointed cruising boat agent, Martin, aboard. I’m not sure who the official was -- from M-2 (Intelligence) I think, but once their initial paperwork was done, we then were taken by dinghy to the town pier and met with the Port Authority, where we got charged for the notorious Docking Fee.

There are conflicting reports about the DR clearance procedures over this fee; since we were on anchor, it technically didn’t apply and we shouldn't have had to pay it,  as it supposedly only applies to vessels at the town dock. But we’d heard it was a potential hassle here...and it was! Noonsite (a solid website with a veritable gold mine of cruising information) has a recent note that says, "The Dominican Republic should be a cruisers' paradise, but burdensome bureaucracy and local official corruption currently stand very much in the way." 

We can attest to that statement! The situation in every port is different, with some officials insisting on anchored vessels having to pay the dockage fee, while some don't. Not knowing Spanish, we weren’t sure who was whom nor how to go about disputing the dock charge we just tried to stay courteous and respectful and go with the flow!

There was a flurry of mystifying paperwork with laborious phonetic spellings of our full names (Romeo Oscar Tango Hotel, etc…!!) with one person reading it off, while another person wrote it down to confirm that our names matched what was on the boat documentation. From there it was a walk to the Coast Guard/Navy (Marina de Guerra) to check in our shotgun and get a receipt for that. Nothing was efficient, speedy or prompt in the slightest, but we persevered! Since it was late afternoon, Immigration was already closed ("Immigracion cerrado!") so we will have to return there in the morning to finish clearance. Clearly, nothing is simple here! 

We were dead tired by then, between being a bit physically fatigued after the long 36-hour passage to get here, followed by the lengthy clearance process. I was more than happy when we were finally brought back and dropped off aboard Equinox! We pulled down the Q flag, put up the DR courtesy flag and had a sundowner along with a light dinner on the aft deck. It wasn't long before we made way for our cabin; lights out early, since we have a busy day ahead tomorrow!
View of the "Bridge to Nowhere" in Samaná, on the southern edge of the harbor

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Diving and the Blues!

We made a few more dives today, wanting to explore some different sites and look for more lobster. We found the former, never saw the latter! Unfortunately, the weather was kicking up a bit, so the rough water prevented us from going too far out of the more protected areas, and the gray overcast skies didn't exactly give us great light at depth. Again, with the seas stirred up, the visibility also suffered, but that didn't stop us! 

The coral formations here are quite gorgeous. Layers upon layers of encrusting corals of all types descend down in huge flowing steps along the spurs and grooves of the reef, with a variety of sponges, from huge barrel sponges down to delicate, lacy fringing sponges hanging off the undersides of the ledges. Plenty of fish life here too...I startled a huge Scorpionfish that was camouflaged on the reef (startled me too!), large sea cucumbers, and juveniles of all kinds. There were small French Angelfish with their bold yellow stripes, small smooth trunkfish, and I found the tiniest Flamingo Tongue ever -- maybe 3/4", and nearly transparent - on a pale lavender sea rod. It didn't even have the orange spots, just shades of lavender and purple! Very cool! Ron came across of couple of sleeping nurse sharks, one of which was quite large at 6' or so. It didn't like being disturbed, so it meandered off rather grumpily. There were grunts, wrasses, damselfish, hamlets and parrotfish, and huge schools of pale blue doctorfish too. BUT....nary a lobster! Still, stunning underwater topography and enjoyable diving!

In the late afternoon, we battened things down in preparation for tomorrow's early morning departure. Filled tanks, pulled up the dinghy, strapped down the salon chairs and table, secured latches and hatches, stowed all and any sundry items that could move in any way possible -- the usual! For dinner, it was a variety of items including chicken wings and sundowners at the Golden Rail once again,  while we enjoyed watching and listening to the Blues Society of St. Croix jam on the stage across from the Golden Rail! Quite fun! The Blues Society is a local group that jams together every Sunday night, and invites all aspiring and interested musicians to play along. From early Johnny Cash to Eric Clapton to other blues greats, the songs were diverse, fun to hear and better to watch! A great night had by all!

A few of the local performers in action!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Christiansted, St. Croix!

Tall ship at the wharf with old Christiansted buildings in the background
After a good night's sleep, we pulled into St. Croix Marina this morning bright and early, took on some fuel and took a slip for a night or two. (Decadence after being on the hook the last month!) We cleared in with the USVI Customs folks (CBP) by phone first thing this morning, being good Local Boater Option folk…how nice that the LBO system works in the USVI as well as at home in the USA! After clearance, we took our folding Dahon bicycles and rode to town, and went along the promenade/boardwalk to explore and see a bit of the town. It's very Danish in architecture here, which is quite lovely!

Many of the shops here are tucked inside carefully restored or rebuilt stone buildings that date back to the 1800s. There are lots of National Park Service historic sites, including Fort Christiansvaern, within walking distance of the waterfront. The Fort was never used in battle, but its promenade and battlements have a great view of the harbor! The old West India and Guinea Company Warehouse, the old Danish Customs House, and the old Government House are all renovated and in service as businesses today. Love the history!

One of the old Danish structures now in use as a waterfront establishment
View of downtown from the water
We found a place to eat lunch on the waterfront boardwalk and then checked out the local dive shop….only to discover that Justin, off the ill-fated yellow trimaran from Turks & Caicos, was working in the shop! Small world!! Happily, he is doing well, as are his friends from aboard, Roz and the rest of the crew, although it sounded like quite an adventure for them to get from T&C via DR & PR to St. Croix. So, we caught up a bit in the store and he also clued us into a great laminated map of the local dive sites here. We had no idea how much good diving is around here...and there is a plethora of sites to choose from. SO….the agenda for St. Croix is diving, diving and more diving! 

After lunch we spent several hours cleaning the boat and washing off the accumulated salt from the long passage. We then treated ourselves, and hopped out in the dinghy to a very nearby dive site. Truly, I didn’t realize that the diving here was so good!! We were happy to discover that local lobster regulations allow taking lobster while on scuba, with snare or by hand. (No Haiwaian slings though, or spears of any kind.) So, away we went! At the first dive site, we found a cache of three lobster under one ledge, and after enjoying a leisurely dive amongst the gorgeous encrusting corals and barrel sponges, we returned to the same ledge and flushed out the largest. I distracted it while Ron came from behind and grabbed it, no snare necessary! Ron held it all the way back to the boat, and it struggled all the way back, too! But…we got it! 

He was a good 2-3 pounds. Yum!
We walked off the pier and had an easy dinner at the Golden Rail Bar and Grill right there at the marina. There was live music by a very talented guitarist which we enjoyed until he stopped singing and started talking....after asking the audience for requests, he then totally rejected just about every request, trashing every musician folks asked for, from the Grateful Dead (“I hate the Dead! I don’t play their crap!”) to Jimmy Buffet  – so  really, why ask all of us for requests? The boy would do better to simply play... but you have to laugh! Ah, the oddballs and independent souls one meets while cruising!! It was early to bed after a long day of diving!

Heading North, once again....

I'm sad to report that we’ve gone as far south as we will this spring, unfortunately….we have happy family obligations (a wedding in early June) that bring us back, and so we will use the upcoming summer to complete boat work that we’re contemplating (reconfiguring the flybridge!), boat work that is needed (more investigation into the port engine alternator/centerfielder situation), and various and sundry boat items we want upgraded. SO, reluctantly, sadly, we have turned the rudder hard to port and it’s back north we are headed. It’s bittersweet, since we’re absolutely loving cruising here; the Leeward Islands are so varied and diverse, charming and full of history that we feel like we’re cutting it short. There are still so many islands yet to explore! Unfortunately though, they will have to wait until this autumn. There is a lot to do before then, so we'll keep busy, never fear!

Thus, we started out heading north, thinking we’d moor off of Saba for the night. Since we also know Saba to be a rather rolly, somewhat uncomfortable anchorage when there are swells, we weren’t looking forward to a restless night getting tossed about. So...we took the weather with us! The weather conditions and sea state were so favorable (and were forecast to remain so) that we opted to bypass Saba this time and decided to press on to St. Croix! 
Chart plotter showing us heading across the Saba Bank
The Sirius weather overlay with the latest NOAA forecast for our
passage zone from Nevis to St. Croix: 3' - 4' seas, with typical trade winds
Lovely following seas with an easy 3’-4’ swell, light winds, wall to wall sunshine…it was exactly how we like our crossings: uneventful! We put out the fishing lines and relished the beautiful weather, although our fishing was only marginally successful as our only strikes were a couple of bar jacks that we caught and released. Periodically, we had frigates and shearwaters swooping around us, and even a long-tailed tropic bird of some kind, which we thought was a good omen...but, oh well! Perhaps better luck with the fishing next time! However, with the longer distance involved, we also knew we would be making landfall after dark, despite our early departure.

Frigate swooping low over the water near Equinox
The sunset was fabulous (although no green flash tonight like we'd seen in Statia!), and after dark, the phosphorescence was unbelieveable! On the way around the east end of St. Croix, it looked like the hull of Equinox was skidding along the water spewing sparks! Technically, it's caused by a tiny form of marine life called "luminescent dinoflagellates" which light up with a chemical reaction when disturbed in the water, but to the average person, they look like bright shooting stars on the water that glimmer intensely then fade out in the dark seas. It was incredible; some of the bioluminescence was very, very large, and bright!

The easy cruise turned a bit intense at the end as expected, since coming into st. Croix's Christiansted harbor at night can be a bit tricky. There are a lot of lights on the shore to confuse things, and lots of boats in the harbor without anchor lights! We used the chart-plotter and radar diligently, as well as the spotlight and the FLIR at needed moments, but mostly we had both sets of eyes scanning the water on high alert. It was a veritable minefield of buoys coming in through the channel marks inside the Scotch Bank, and some buoys weren’t even lit! But, slowly, and very carefully, we made our way in. The harbor was calm and the charts were quite accurate, and I was able to see well enough in the star-lit darkness to aid Ron, noting the positions of the various buoys without lights. It was slow and careful going, as I said earlier, but as always, it paid off!

We dropped anchor at the edge of the mooring field in the anchorage near Welcome Bay, east of St. Croix marina. The hook bit the first time, and while the anchorage felt a bit tight (it was 65 yds to the nearest boat, according to my laser range finder) we were secure with 8 feet of water under the hull and had plenty of rode out that kept us in good stead. Just the way we like it! Happily, we had an uneventful night on anchor....Oh, how I love the landfall after a long day of cruising!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bless Up!

Keith, Watusi and Ron before our tour
This morning Keith, Ron and I were all moving a bit slowly (a la “why is the rum gone?”) but thankfully, we’d arranged a tour of Nevis with Watusi, a, extremely tall Nevisian Rastafarian singer/taxi driver. He had offered us the tour yesterday, but we opted for the morning tour today. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves; Watusi was very knowledgeable about the island, from showing us Alexander Hamilton’s birthplace and pointing out the Horatio Nelson museum in Charlestown. (For those who don't know who Alexander Hamilton is, well, check out the man on the 5-dollar bill!) Horatio Nelson was Britain's greatest naval hero, and it was here on Nevis, when he was a young captain, where he met and married Fanny Nisbet, a local plantation owner's daughter. 

The parish church from the 17th century
Our first stop was the St. Thomas Lowland Parish Anglican church, one of the oldest on the island. We were captivated by the serene stone structure, and the amazing cemetery beside and behind it. Most of the stones were very old, dating back from the 1700s, with ornate inscriptions on the entire slab of stone covering the graves, and decorated with carvings. One was heart-breaking:

“Here lyes y boddyes of two children
 of  Mr Joseph Martyn and Dorothy his wife
Both named Edward. Y eldest died May the 6th
ann 1678, & Y other died July 6th 1679”
Sacred to the memory of
Jessy, wife of the Honble  Peter Thos. Huggins
Born 14 Novr 1789; died 2nd Octr 1851
In humble reliance on her Savior’s merit,
She was a Woman of the most amiable and
Benevolent character a model of
maternal affection and unpretending
good sense and prudence.

Blessed, ever blessed are the dead which
Die in the Lord from henceforth: “Yea,”
saith the Spirit, “that they may rest from
their labours, and their works do follow them.”
Check out the photos and the details of one memorial marker:
The inscription on this slab was extremely worn and mostly unreadable, but I'm pretty
sure the person to whom it was dedicated wasn't a pirate!
From there, the tour went through various areas of the island, from other parish churches to places along the road where Watusi would randomly stop to chat with friends. (“Bless up!” was a popular greeting, before he would launch into a Nevisian local dialect that none of us could follow.) We checked out the rural countryside and stopped to walk among the ruins of the old sugar mills that still dot the island. Most of the mills were windmills, like on St. Kitt’s, and all that is left is the lower stone structures. In some cases, when the mills were converted to steam power (from wind power) there is the old 18th century machinery. The sugar vats remained the same though! It was fun to try to imagine it as a working enterprise.
Sugar cane press with rollers
The old sugar vats
Ruins of the old manor house
We also stopped at a couple of the old plantation estates, which are now restored and in use as luxury inns. We had a delicious poolside lunched at the Montpelier Plantation Inn, on the land where Admiral Horatio Nelson married Fannie Nesbit. While the plantation inns were beautiful, I was more intrigued with the tiny homes of the local folks. Most were quite simple: small, square clapboard cottages; generally well-kept, tidy and neat, some looked as if they were so old as to be near ruin. Interesting to see!

There was a tiny garden next to this small house
House on the left, shed for the goats on the right

Porches were common too
After a full day of island sightseeing, we'd had our fill of the plantation life! We returned to town listening to a CD of Watusi's music (Rather good, actually -- we bought one for ourselves) and then made our way back to Equinox for a few boat chores. After Ron ran back to town to clear us out with Customs, we pulled the dinghy up on the flybridge to ready her for tomorrow's early departure. We spent a quiet evening with Keith aboard for dinner (doing a great book exchange between the books aboard each boat) and said our goodbyes. Keith was considering sailing Sophia over to Monserrat or Barbuda before reuniting with Gwen and returning to St. John; we're thinking of going to Saba or elsewhere! We'll see what the weather and the morning will bring!