Friday, February 24, 2012


I need to set the record straight. Why? Because upon hearing about our live-aboard lifestyle, some folks seem to immediately envision us as inveterate beach bums, soaking up the Caribbean sunshine without a care in the world. Of course, if you read our blog, you know that this isn’t true…we have many cares and concerns about Equinox, from the weather to maintenance to safety, from the trivial to the fun to the important. Indeed, there are many, many things we are vigilant about, but one thing probably has never entered your mind as something that we could possibly care about, something that is a constant evil with which we do battle. I refer to …. sand!

You see, sand is insidious. It is evil. It creeps aboard on tiny cat’s feet – er, our feet, actually -- and anyone else’s if they have been anywhere even remotely close to a beach! Truly, it's beautiful to behold: along a shoreline against turquoise waters, sand is lovely to admire indeed. But it needs to behave and should stay on the beach where it belongs!  While some sand is simple to brush off, we’ve discovered that Antiguan sand is, well, clingy. It refuses to be brushed off lightly, refuses to be ignored, and in some cases, it sticks like it’s glued on, becoming a sort of sand glitter decorating your legs. Not that I'm against beauty, but this kind of gilding and ornamentation I can do without.

While gorgeous adorning a seashore, sand is never pretty aboard a boat. Sand hides inside towels, in the tread of your boat shoes, between your toes, on the back of your calves, in the lining of your swimsuit, in your hair --- generally, sand hitches a ride from the beach wherever it can, in order to infiltrate, infest and attack elsewhere. Beware its destructive traits!! It clogs drains, and on floors, is gritty and abrasive  -- when underfoot, it tries to scar and ruin the beauty of our wood parquet sole aboard Equinox. Sand also has a penchant for getting in one's bedding, delighting in the ability to ruin a good night's sleep. It also has the amazing ability to multiply like rabbits, because no matter that you have just vacuumed and thought you were rid of sand, there is always more. Always!

Incredibly, there are websites devoted to sand. Why? People actually collect sand!! (Yes, on purpose -- who knew??) I found websites that catalogue all sorts of information about sand and sand collecting. One site had a list of sands from all over the world, although much to my amazement, the Caribbean was not mentioned, where there is sand aplenty! Want to know some "sand fun facts", like size? You can use the "Wentworth Article Size Classification for Sand" to determine whether your sand is very coarse or very fine, and there are distinctions as to color, composition, texture and morphology. If you're so interested, you can also find out whether your sand is mineral, biogenic or precipitated! Although, there is no classification on how annoying sand can be, which is a huge oversight, in my book. 

I learned that people who collect sand are known as psammophiles. Content to admire a gorgeous beach from aboard the boat, I'm certainly not one of them. And probably never will be, unless sand learns to behave and stay on the beach where it belongs. Psammophobes of the world, unite! 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Harbour Hopping, Take II

The ruins of an old sugar mill on the Antiguan coast
Sorry for the delay in posting; we have been on the move, with another set of friends aboard for more cruising this week. Unfortunately, when moving about internet is always an unknown as to how reliable or fast it might be at the location where we end up anchoring! (But...a far cry from just a few years ago when wireless internet was practically non-existent when anchored out.) Still, without a ton of patience no blogging would ever get accomplished, since island internet isn't that great to start with: bandwidths quickly get clogged and speeds decrease exponentially. Yes, patience is a virtue! 

We have our friends Paul and Muriel aboard this week, so we've gone harbor hopping yet again. We went from Jolly Harbour to Five Islands Harbour to Carlisle Bay to Falmouth Harbour, indulging in all sorts of activities. We spent one day ashore, visiting to the public markets in St. John's: the fish market, the meat market, the many stands with mouth-watering vegetables. 
No chewing of gum, no indecent feet on the walls? Didn't
think that really was an issue, but okay...
Buying fresh produce from Sharlene at the market
We provisioned with fresh vegetables for the week before we headed out cruising; later days we spent snorkeling, swimming, enjoying dinghy cruises, diving, and enjoying simply being in the sunshine. From dinners aboard over candlelight on the back cockpit to raucous fun ashore, we've had a great week! Plus, in Falmouth, we met up with our friends George and Kelly off s/v Earthling, where we enjoyed their company up on Shirley Heights for the Sunday evening sunset and steel band, before dinner at Cloggy’s. It’s been a social whirl the past few days! 
Sunset over the Caribbean from Five Islands Harbour
Muriel and Paul enjoying a dinghy cruise at sunset!
Today though, we finally made our way around the east side of Antigua, as winds were moderate in the morning and seas just 3'-5’ along the coast. Under a beautiful sunny sky, Equinox enjoyed an easy 2-hour cruise from Falmouth. Easing our way into the anchorage on the northwest side of Green Island, we found a large area of moorings available for use. We chose a nearly-new, all-chain mooring close to the island which we were happy to use for our stay. Talk about lovely: the anchorage is extremely protected, yet with a vista of Nonsuch Bay and the Atlantic that can’t be matched by many other places! How lucky we are to be here!
Eclipse to the left, Equinox in the middle, anchored in Nonsuch Bay
Looking east at the Atlantic. No land until Africa!
Green Island is situated at Antigua’s easternmost point, and serves as the southern gateway to stunning Nonsuch Bay. The first vessel to make its way into the bay was the Nonsuch in 1647, and consequently, gave the bay its name. Green Island is a very pretty place as well, being home to tropicbirds and finches to ospreys and pelicans. Its hillsides are covered with foliage from cacti, assorted palms, yuccas, acacia trees to century plants waving their tall blooms, the greenery blankets the island, swooping down to the sand at the water’s edge. A barrier reef protects the north side of the island, providing our very comfortable anchorage from which to gaze out over the turquoise waters of Nonsuch Bay and the cobalt waters of the Atlantic beyond the reef. We spent a good two hours walking about the island before snorkeling and swimming along the coastline reefs, which we followed up with a lovely dinner on the afterdeck and a starlight show of amazing proportions. The open bay and ocean vistas surrounded us!
Young century plants emerging amidst the foliage on Green Island
So I have to say...another great week aboard sharing a new island, experiencing a different culture with dear friends. This is why we cruise!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Perfect Rum Punch

Rum punch in the Caribbean is a given. Yet ... so many varieties!! The best that we have found so far, however, is what Antiguans call an ”old fashioned rum punch”. Trust me when I say we are not talking about the utterly bland and overly sweet pre-made mix concoction they throw at you aboard cruise ships or at schlocky tiki-themed places. I am talking about true, authentic rum punch!
Rum is a staple down here in the Caribbean; most islands have their own distillery, harking back to the days when sugar cane was king, and rum was made in simple pot stills on individual estates. Nowadays, in Antigua there is Cavalier Rum, and English Harbour Rum, both made by Antigua Distillery Limited. Antiguan rum is known for its lightness and rather elegant flavor, possibly due to the more arid climate here which is said to enhance the aging process. There is a lot of history and many more aspects to rum than you ever dreamed!! (For a full treatise on Caribbean rum and its many variations, check out the Ministry of Rum:! It's a great website!)
So, after sampling "old fashioned" rum punches at several different establishments, we had to ask...what is the Antiguan secret? Turns out it's no secret at all, and folks here were quick to give us the recipe. Supposedly it's said to be from the 1700s, and basically it's all about proportions:
  • One of Sour (lime juice)
  • Two of Sweet (simple syrup -- half water + half sugar, boiled & cooled)
  • Three of Strong (A fine aged Caribbean rum)
  • Four of Weak (Fresh spring water or a glassful of ice)
Then, while doing some research on different variations on a theme (looking for a sampling of rum punch recipes across the islands) I came across a poem that was printed in the NY Times in 1908, which verifies the above "recipe"! It describes the construction of a properly made “Planter’s Punch” from Jamaica, and is one of the more well-known original recipes of a good rum punch:
 (from the 1908 New York Times)

          This recipe I give to thee,
          Dear brother in the heat.

          Take two of sour (lime let it be)

          To one and a half of sweet,
          Of Old Jamaica pour three strong,
          And add four parts of weak.
          Then mix and drink.  I do no wrong —

          I know whereof I speak.

While this refers to Jamaican rum, the recipe is consistent as we heard it. Be sure to find a good aged rum, like the Antiguan-made English Harbor Rum, (rumored to be one of the finest blends of dark and light rum distilled in the Caribbean today) for a deeper rum flavor. Ron likes a light or white rum, and, definitely avoid any flavored version. Our version is as follows: 
  •  1 oz. simple syrup or crushed cane sugar (sweet)
  •  2 oz. FRESH squeezed lime juice (sour)
  •  3 oz. aged or white Rum (strong)
  •   4 oz. water or a glass full of ice (weak)
  •  Add Angostura Bitters & Grenadine for color and flavor.
Most important: top it off by dusting the drink with freshly grated nutmeg on top. Not only is this for taste, but some say it adds a bit of “punch” to the punch. But it's a lovely local touch!

We always use freshly-squeezed lime juice; happily, local lemons and limes are readily available in any of the many tiny superettes to the large public market in St. John’s. (We also make a light and frothy lemonade by mixing the freshly squeezed juice, and a bit of sugar with plain seltzer -- utterly delicious!) As far as the rum  punch goes, some folks here also mix in a dash of cranberry juice with the lemon juice to tweak the tartness a bit, and you can also add water as well, to weaken the punch, so to speak! Try your own version and pretend you’re in the Caribbean. Before long, you'll know how it goes: “A pirate walks into a bar…"

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Entertainment Committee Award!

Also known as adventures in anchoring! We’ve had our Florida friends, Vic and Jim, aboard this week so we’ve been on the move. From Mamora Bay we went coastal cruising back to Jolly Harbour, north to Five Islands Harbour, and then back south to Falmouth. We’ve shown them the sights from Nelson’s Dockyard to Shirley Heights to the public market in St. John’s, and sent them on the helicopter tour of Montserrat. We’ve indulged in our share of fabulous dining, from veggie omelets for breakfast to rack of lamb for dinner aboard Equinox, to the unbelievable ambience and great food at Sheer Rocks, to the incredible Italian fusion food at Sun Ra down in Falmouth. We’ve covered a lot of ground and had a great time!
One thing we’ve covered is a lot of anchoring, as well. After a noisy, surgy night on anchor in Falmouth, we decided to move in a bit closer towards the eastern shore to escape the swell that was creeping into the harbor. As we pulled anchor, a large 147’ sailing yacht, the Salperton, was leaving, so we thought we’d tuck into its place after it left. As it pulled anchor, it hauled up a massive rock, wedged tightly between its flukes and the shank. Despite much prying and pushing, it was not to be removed! The vessel moved out of the channel at the entrance to the harbour and spent a good half hour with crew clambering over the anchor pulpit and even down onto the anchor itself before the boulder was finally set free. Anchoring, even on a large yacht with crew, has its moments!!
The beautiful Salperton at anchor
We in turn, won the Entertainment Committee Award ourselves for attempts to anchor where Salperton had been. The boulder they pulled up should have been a clue (don’t you think??) because try as we might – and we did try mightily—we couldn’t get our anchor to set at all! We dropped it down several times – at least 5 different tries – but the anchor and chain merely rumbled and bounced through a rocky minefield without nary a bite, much less a set. How the Salperton managed to anchor there was a mystery, although perhaps they were really only fouled on that boulder, rather than truly set? In any event, we provided plenty of entertainment as we traipsed back and forth in vain attempts to anchor.
I was waiting for Captain Ron to run aground in frustration, but instead, we opted for a mooring. Falmouth has several large moorings for vessels up to 70’ and happily, one was open, so we snagged it. Per the info on the mooring, we called John Bentley, off MV Sea Pony (VHF 68) to see about mooring for the night. John said he’d come by the following morning to collect the fee, and in confirming our location, he asked, “Are you the little motorboat?” (Ouch!!) But, well…yes. Compared to the many mega-yachts in abundance here and the plethora of sailboats, we are indeed, the “little motorboat”! An award winning one, no less…!
Enjoy your travels! 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Class Crustacea Cirripedia, Or What the Hell is Growing On Our Hull?!?

We cleaned our hull yesterday. We’ve done this before, and it’s usually a very easy job to swish and swipe along the waterline to remove any grime or hint of a mustache. Sometimes we’ll even snorkel or dive on the deeper parts of the hull to swab off the funny discoloration/ marine peach fuzz that can start to appear after a long while. We’re pretty good about doing it, and as we just had the bottom freshly painted this past September, the hull has stayed quite clean. It’s actually an easy job, and in clear Caribbean waters, one of the more fun chores.
However, while we were stateside in January for a couple of weeks, Equinox was safely berthed in a slip at Jolly Harbor. Unfortunately, the water clarity there is slim to non-existent due to its marshy, mangrove origins, and Equinox was sedentary enough that we noticed a weird grassy beard on the waterline, along with a scattering of tiny barnacles and white wormy things beginning to grow on our bottom, aft transom and underwater lights. We chose not to clean the hull there, so we waited until we were in slightly cleaner and clearer water, farther south in Falmouth and Mamora Bay. When we dove on the hull, we couldn’t believe how the barnacles had proliferated!!
On closer inspection…what the hell else was growing on our hull??? There were the typical whitish barnacles, some tiny little pips, others about the size of a dime, all over the place (for some reason, the port side was much worse that the starboard), and there were some other ones that were darker and larger, some with these large, feathery protrusions. Ugh!! The wormy encrustations were the hardest to remove, although a bit of vinegar along the water line and a lot of elbow grease did the trick there. Below the waterline, they had to be scraped off or brushed off with a very stiff bristle.
We used our scuba gear to dive on the bottom to thoroughly scrape off the barnacles. The little tiny ones were no issue, popping off easily like bits of chaff, but the larger ones that had feathery blooms coming off them were another story. When they were scraped off, they left some sort of “barnacle cement” that would eventually come off cleanly with a second tap or two with the scraper or more scrubbing…it made the job much more time consuming, but I didn’t want to leave anything behind in case it would give creatures easy purchase to re-attach themselves.
But….the worst part?? All sorts of bizarre and other-worldly creatures came out of them. Tiny little shrimp-like things, about the size of a grain of rice, would rain down as I scraped. ICK!! They grossed me out, I have to admit! Even though I was wearing a hood, I didn’t want these ugly little critters in my hair, my ears, my wet suit or elsewhere. Ick ick ick!! Even worse: when I came up after a good hour of scrubbing and scraping, I had these little barnacle shrimpy maggots all over my wet suit, and in the creases and flaps of my BC. GROSS!!!! Need I say that major rinsing and de-contaminating followed on the aft transom?!?
I can now see why divers are paid so much to clean hulls!! This time was disgusting! We never had this much sea-life on our hull before, but then, we were in colder, clearer waters farther north, where the creatures apparently exert less effort to hitch a ride, or at least take longer to do so. But you can bet we will be much more vigilant in the future to keep these warm water critters off Equinox! Whatever they are and wherever they came from, we are NOT having them on our hull if we can help it!
Gosh…the beauty of a clean hull. Who knew cruising would have such unexpected pleasures? Oh, the adventures we have! 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

St. Jame's Club, Mamora Bay, Antigua

Indian Creek on Antigua's south coast
We continued our harbor-hopping this week, and explored a tiny bit further along the coast of Antigua. Despite the more-than-brisk winds and the 5’-7’ swells on the nose, we made our way east from Falmouth, staying fairly close to the coast to take advantage of the protection it provided. We explored Indian Creek on our way, enjoying the sight of Eric Clapton’s mansion on the hilltop of Standfast Point! A long complex of gorgeous buildings, adjoining terraces and outdoor dining/living areas, it’s  built of native rock and wood, all overlooking the ocean with views to the southeast of Montserrat and Guadeloupe. Ron joked about stopping to ask “if Eric could come out and play”… but figured he probably wasn’t home!

Eric Clapton's mansion on 45 acres overlooking the ocean
We decided we’d best find an anchorage before the winds picked up, so made our way up the short length of the creek to the small, pond-like area at its head. While rugged and stunning, Indian Creek is a rather tight anchorage for a boat of our size and we found the holding wasn’t the best either -- an extremely muddy and soft bottom that our anchor slithered through, rather than settled into. (Rather odd!) Without a lot of swinging room or room for error, we opted to haul anchor and continue east a bit further.
So…we moved on, making our bouncing way around Standfast Point and through the reef cut into the anchorage at Mamora Bay, anchoring on the west side of the bay, across from the St. Jame’s Club.  The bay has been dredged, and generally provides 10-12' of water in good holding and the hillside shelters the bay from the prevailing trades. Nicely protected, we settled in and started exploring our newest anchorage!
One of Antigua’s oldest established resorts, the St. Jame’s Club is located on a slim peninsula off Isaac Point, with its many buildings situated along the hillside overlooking the harbor and the ocean. Paths wind through the different terraces, with various villas, suites, pools and verandahs tucked in amongst palm trees and lush landscaping. Bougainvillea, azaleas, hibiscus and other tropical flowering bushes are in bloom everywhere….the grounds are quite lovely. The resort has four different resturants, and a number of different beach and pool bars. They actually have two beaches: one harbor-side and another on the ocean facing the fringing reef.
Equinox on anchor in Mamora Bay. The St. Jame's Club
main building is off to the far right.
We explored the grounds and were welcome at the restaurants; a day-pass was available to those anchored in the harbor, which included two meals, all your drinks, access to the pools and beaches, as well as the non-motorized water-sports. Ralph and Mary on Restless Heart joined us for the day, where we shared a lovely breakfast/brunch before enjoying the amenities and ambience on the beach. A good time was had by all!