Saturday, April 21, 2018

Pirates of the Caribbean

Scarlet Ibis

It was April 10, 2017 that we left Trinidad and I know this because it was the day after Haley’s (our niece) birthday.  For her birthday I had taken her to Caroni Swamp to witness the sunset roosting of the Trinidad Scarlet Ibis.  It was magnificent and she loved it!  Really!  No, really! Nothing like a swamp trip on your birthday!  Ahhh, the cruising life! Haley was its’ newest convert.

We departed Boca del Dragon in very rough seas with the wind on the nose under power and a main sail and immediately began taking on water.  Hmmm…how am I going to explain this to my sister….I took her one and only daughter out to sea in a boat taking on water…….so we turned around (in very rough seas) and the bilge pump stopped cycling.  Maybe the problem fixed itself!  We turned around again (in very rough seas) and headed out once again.  The bilge pumped kicked back on and once again we were taking on water.  We turned around again (in very rough seas) and headed back thru the Boca into Scotland Bay where we dropped the anchor, let the engine cool down, made dinner and while Haley and I had a pretty good sleep, Neal worked on the packing gland.  Next morning we tried it again (in moderate seas) and with no leaks, carried on northerly through the Windward Islands of the Caribbean. 

Local knowledge says that you either sail at night without lights from Trini to Grenada or sail way east (into the wind) around the Venezuelan/Trinidadian oil fields because there are “pirates” from Venezuela that hang out around the oil platforms and rob cruising boats transiting in this area.  Now, there are documented accounts of this, and any act of aggression from one boat to another is considered piracy, but truth be told these guys are desperate and very poor as Venezuela is in a state of dire crisis and they are just trying to feed families and make a little money.  No one gets hurt….as long as you don’t pull out a gun…..

Tyrell Bay, Carriacou Island
We decided to skip Grenada and head to Carriacou as we had heard that Tyrell Bay was beautiful and there was a good reef to snorkel.  Skirting Kick’em Jenny, an active underwater volcano area just north of Grenada we reached Carriacou and anchored in turquoise water and explored our first real Caribbean Island- you know- palm tree lined, white sand beaches, steel pan music and conche in spicy sauce for dinner!

Rather than belaboring each Windward and Leeward Island that we visited up the Caribbean chain, let it suffice to say that each was beautiful, we met wonderful people, shopped in fresh fruit and veggie markets, took tours from local tour guides (with American prices….piracy?.....) and snorkeled beautiful reefs in clean, clear water.  Haley decided to design hikes for us wherever possible and presented the difficulty level to us in very clever ways, such as ‘this will be an easy hike’ which then turned out to be straight up (bushwacking) and straight down (rockslides).  I do admit we had some spectacular views of the ocean.  One of her more rewarding hikes was to the Depaz Rum Distillery in Martinique, which was supposed to be two miles (uphill) but turned out to be about SIX miles…uphill.  We did finally arrive and toured the beautiful grounds of the oldest steam powered distillery in the Caribbean, slave quarters and all and after which sampled rum in the tasting room.  While talking with the staff, we learned that if we bought ENOUGH rum, they would provide a taxi for us back to the harbor…….hmmm…..pirates?........

Rum Distillery
Used on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean
We were greeted in Dominica by Lawrence of Arabia, in a small skiff, who introduced himself as being an ambassador of Portsmith Town and promised to take care of all of our local needs.  He arranged a rain forest river tour for us then passed us off to one of his assistants who loaded us in a wooden, flat bottomed skiff and poled us  way up a jungle river, past the house of The Witch in Pirates of the Caribbean (yes, it was filmed here) all the while pontificating about American Politics and espousing amazement at how such an incredible country such as the USA could elect such a person as….well…. Donald Trump (his words exactly) to be President.  We were in awe.  The rainforest, a tour guide with a sixth grade education who knew more about American politics than most Americans, and he got to hang out with Johnny Depp (the REAL Pirate of the Caribbean).

However, for Neal and me, most islands felt like tourist destinations and we could feel the local pressure for tourists, people like us, to shop and spend money and help support the local economy where there was very little else to support it.  It was a far cry from visiting a foreign country where people were interested in more than your American dollar.  That being said, Haley kept our perspective fresh as this was her first island experience and she loved the tours, the snorkeling, the rainforests, the towns and we were happy to view our destinations through her eyes.  What was particularly cool for me was to learn where all of these islands were- exotic names of places that I had heard for years but had no idea of their locations!  Union Island, Mayreau, Tobago Cays, Bequia, Martinique, Dominica, Isle de Saints, St. Kitts, St. Maartin, Virgin Islands.  And now that Hurricane Maria and Jose followed the same path that we did, it means even more, particularly since we met people on these islands, know where they lived and shopped and worked and we shared a bit of their lives.

Haley jumped ship in St. Maartens as Rutea had a major repair to undergo that was going to take some time. This was the second time we had taken someone to the airport via dinghy but an absolute first for Haley! She jumped out of the dinghy, walked across the highway and voila!  Bon Voyage!

 A chainplate had separated on the way up and there are major ship refitting outfits on the Dutch side of the island. St. Maartens lagoon is entered via a bascule bridge that opens several times a day.  Once you are inside, you are captive until the bridge opens again for your departure.  The lagoon is huge and divided into the Dutch side and the French side.  Local wisdom says to go to the French side for dining and the Dutch side for boat repairs.  The craftsmanship of the repair work was excellent and the price was fair but the prices in the chandleries were outrageous!  We always expect anything designated for marine use to be more than regular use, but these prices for oil, wax, cleaners, nuts, bolts, were off the charts!  Pirates!

At least we were now in the Leeward Islands and could sail the rest of the way through St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, through Turks and Caicos, Bahamas and make our way back towards the U.S.  After spending one night in Cat Island in the Bahamas, we were heading to Hope Town in Great Abaco, Bahamas, when Chris Parker, the Caribbean weather guru told us we had a weather window to get to the Chesapeake Bay and we needed to leave Right Now!  Who else do you know who sails through the Bahamas and only spends one night?  Well that’s what we did and five days later, after a night of incredible lightning, we pulled into Southport, North Carolina.  This was Rutea’s first time back in the USA in seven years!  Wonder what kind of pirates we will find here!

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