21 July 2019

The Sandwich Cruise: Caribbean 2018-2019


Our Caribbean cruise in 2018-2019 was very sandwich shaped. Delicious in the middle but with some not so fresh bread on the outsides. This cruise definitely reminded us that this lifestyle is not all fun and games and this time in particular had some very difficult bits.

Capt. Bob

Long time, no Blog

The blogging machine has been grinding very slowly since we took off. There are a few reasons for that. Mainly, the primary blogger (Linda) made the foolish decision to work about ten hours per week for one of her consulting clients. Coincidentally, ten hours a week is about what she used to spend on the blog. Secondly, I worked more hours per week this time than last time. So we were both pretty starved for time to spend blogging.  We did manage to produce a few videos during this time however. Lastly, the tough situation at the end of the cruise - the other moldy piece of bread in this sandwich (see below), pretty much wiped me out from doing anything (besides my day job) and so Linda ended up with a huge logistics workload - just as we were preparing to get the boat settled into Grenada.  So this one will be a bit long, but with lots of pictures!

Anyway, the tough piece of bread at the front end of the cruise involved us having a rig failure on the way to Bermuda.The root cause was a failed weld, causing our outer head stay to detach from the mast during the passage. That cascaded into finding that our inner stay also had a broken wire on it. With boats, the closer you look, the more broken stuff you will find.

After Consulting rigging Professionals in Bermuda and Antigua as well as the awesome guys from Tartan, we ended up re-engineering the attachment points for the stays (with drawings provided by Tartan). This led to quite a bit of delay and expense in Bermuda and Antigua.

Worse Places To Be Trapped

Fortunately, we were able to make partial repairs in Bermuda and get Argon in shape to make the thousand nautical mile passage south to Antigua. Most of the repair time was therefore spent in Antigua - which is not a bad thing.

No doubt, we love Antigua. Overall, it is probably our favorite place in the Caribbean. For some reason, we didn't mind being stranded there for seven weeks, and we kept ourselves occupied exploring, hiking and... working our day jobs.

Everyone takes this shot from Shirley Heights. Argon is anchored down there in Freeman Bay
We mostly sat anchored in the same spot in Freeman Bay at English Harbor. For weeks, the hook never moved from the spot we dropped it after arriving from Bermuda. We did manage to make a trip around to Jolly Harbor (meh) and Five Islands Bay (thumbs up!) while we were waiting for Antigua Rigging to get to us.
Silhouette of Linda enjoying an adult beverage at Five Islands

And that sunset over Montserrat never got old

Team Argon synchronized diving team

Canvas Work

As long as we were sitting in Antigua waiting for our rig to be repaired, we got a few projects done. Our sail cover was getting a little long in the tooth. So we visited our old friends at A&F Sails and asked them to make a nice new cover. (They did some nice work for us in 2016 also.)
Franklin, from A&F Sails posing proudly with his work

Family Visits

Sailors can say when or where, but not both. Still, we managed to get Linda's son and his girlfriend Britney to come and visit while we were in Antigua. They had joined us last time in Antigua, and enjoyed it enough to come again.

Christian and Britney getting a lift from Manix out to the anchorage

And more visitors

Linda's bestest friend in the whole wide world, Lori flew down to spend a few days with us.  Lori and her husband Todd are budding sailors themselves and were looking after our house back home in Newport. It was the least we could do.
Taxi service to Argon

Eventually, the substantial repairs to our rig were started and completed and we were free to go (after paying for it all of course)
From Top

To Bottom

The Yummy Middle Part

On 17 Jan 2019, we finally left Antigua after seven weeks. We were more confident than ever in Argon and had some of the best sailing we've ever experienced all through the Eastern Caribbean ahead of us. We covered the Leeward Islands, but unlike last time, we continued down-island through the Windwards too. We covered a lot of ground that we did in 2016-17, but we also went to some new places and found some new favorites (and some new not-so favorites). We'll go through the various destinations next in words and photos.

Our last morning in Antigua after being there for seven weeks
And we're off - sailing (at last) on a reach south to Guadeloupe

The Leewards (again)

In the 2016-17 cruise, we made it only as far south as Dominica before returning north. This time, we really wanted to make it further and sail all the way south to Grenada.  We also didn't want to have to rush though it, but here we faced a decision.  Because of all the time lost with the repairs, we were very pressed for time if we were going to continue south. Over dinner one night, we made the call to continue south and just leave the boat in Grenada for the summer and resume the trip home in 2019-20.


Passing Montserrat's windward side as we head south to Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe... 

The first french island south of Antigua. Here, you can clear into customs for Guadeloupe, Marie-Galante and Les Saintes.  We managed to do a bit of video about this leg of the trip.

Deshaies, Guadeloupe

Continued kid visit in Guadeloupe


At Anchor in Réserve Cousteau, Guadeloupe

One of my frustrating experiences buying a SIM card in the French Islands.

Marie-Galante...

A (very) French enclave of Guadeloupe. This flat island is a bit off the beaten path and is very traditional Caribbean (by which I mean, connectivity is very difficult here). This is also where we had the most difficulty with the language barrier. Neither of us took any french, so we're hopeless with pronunciation. We quickly learned that we would annoy them more by trying to speak French than just giving up. We made heavy use of the google Translate app here.

Our big mistake was buying a Digicel SIM in Guadeloupe instead of an Orange Sim. In hindsight, Orange has WAY more coverage in the french islands than digi (also much cheaper). I was very busy with the day job during this time, so the data situation sort of overshadowed everything else for me.


Street celebration/parade down the main street

Finding a trickle of data behind a restaurant before they opened. The owners lived upstairs and knew we were doing it but didn't seem to mind.

We would often point the google translate app at signs to figure out what to do.

The gorgeous windward coast of Marie-Galante
Life is good!  Finally an ORANGE Mobile store in Marie-Galante. From here on out, we were sitting pretty with data in the french islands. We bought two of these and put one in each of our travel phones.
Never thought I would see "LTE" again.
This lovely woman ran a really cool art gallery - and spoke pretty good English.

In the car rental office on Marie-Galante. Between google translate and these two helpful french tourists, we managed to get some wheels.
Drag-racing a Beneteau down the west coast of Marie-Galante.  We made sure they could read "Boston" on our stern

Les Saintes (again)

I love Les Saintes. Of anywhere in Guadeloupe, this little group of islands is by far my favorite. The people are friendly and more tolerant of us non-french speakers. The moorings are great (and inexpensive). Spectacular hiking and biking (on some very cool electric bikes) round it all out.  Oh, and the food...

Downtown Terre-de-Haut

Terre-de-Haut from a couple thousand feet up on a hike (Argon is on one of those moorings)

Hiking on Terre-de-Haut. Some friendly folks took our picture.  Marie-Galante can barely be seen in the distance

Topo map of our hike up Terre-de-Haut

These electric bikes are really cool. And they're called E-BOBs. How could I say no?

Dominica (again)

Dominica is amazing. It's not full of foo-foo resorts and spas. It is full of adventure. Some of the most spectacular rain forests and waterfalls are here. The country was still recovering (Slowly) from Maria and there was still a lot of devastation all around. Dominica also received a one-two punch economically. They were already not a wealthy country and not only did Maria clobber them, but then the Medical School (huge source of foreign investment and revenue) pulled up stakes and relocated to Barbados. The people in Dominica are incredibly proud of their country and natural beauty, but you could see a lot of sadness and desperation in the faces about the conditions there.

In Portsmouth, Dominica, there is an organization called Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services (PAYS). These guys are great. You give them some money and they will help you with anything you need - including security. Because of PAYS, Portsmouth is now one of the safest harbors in the Caribbean (says me).

Roaring south toward Dominica

Picked a mooring in Portsmouth. The guy helping is one of the P.A.Y.S. associates

Portsmouth Street scene

My first gig in the Caribbean. 

One of the great hikes we went on. Here we are actually above the rain forest in elevation hiking around a fresh water lake way up in the mountains. The lake provides water for two hydro plants lower down and the water flows through large pipes made of wood.

Daily, nearly permanent rainbow in Roseau, Dominica (a double on this day)

Taxi ride from the mooring in Roseau for a day of hiking and touring

Leaving Dominica with our next country, Martinique, in the distance

Martinique... Back to France and entry to The Windwards

We didn't stop at the capital Fort-de-France, and instead just headed to an anchorage on the southern end of the island called Anse D'arlet.  We went ashore a couple times but really didn't do much. Anse D'arlet is the first anchorage I've been in that had wifi buoys scattered around the anchorage which you could connect to - for a price.  We've learned that multiple redundancy is the key to being able to work reliably remotely so we bought in.
Linda got her fresh seafood fix here.

Coming ashore in Anse D'arlet Martinique

St Lucia - and another kid visit

To get to St Lucia, we were actually able to "put a little west in" for the first time in a long time while sailing south from Martinique. We were truly in the "windward" experience now. We settled into Rodney Bay marina for most of the time, and decided to take advantage of the marine service prices and get our brightwork stripped to bare wood and re-varnished. This worked out because my son Jon and his girlfriend Nichole visited us there and we did mostly land excursions (even rented an Airbnb for a few days) while the boat was worked on in the Marina. Driving on St. Lucia like many of the vulcanic mountainous Caribbean Islands is an adventure.  The one non-land excursion was a lovely day-sail from Rodney Bay to the famous Pitons and back.

The dark side of St Lucia (apart from criminalizing LGBT people) is the amount of crime. Until now, we had gotten in the habit of locking our dinghy with a stainless cable. That was a joke in St Lucia (and south), so we bought 12 feet of heavy Stainless chain (at $24/foot) and had a stainless ring welded to one end.  From here on out, we were always locking with the chain and locking the dinghy to Argon overnight.

Again, we managed to do a video of this leg.


Jon actually enjoying a rigorous sail to the Pitons

Approaching the Pitons. Note the masking tape still on the genoa track from the varnishing work

Posing in front of a Piton

Group selfie while sailing back from the Pitons

Another view of the Pitons - from land this time

Typical "S" and Hairpin Turns driving on the mountain roads

Me and the boy

Met this guy along the side of the road (shot from in the car)

Print-worthy?

Jon and Linda enjoying some fresh fruit
Winston working on his art in his tiny studio.  We visited him twice and bought some beautiful pieces both times

Jon and Nichole overlooking Rodney Bay from the fort on Pigeon Island

Jeramiah and Friend (both real names) working on the varnish. These guys are GOOD!

St. Vincent & The Grenadines (SVG)...

We ended up skipping over St. Vincent and sailed overnight from Rodney Bay all the way to Bequia in the Grenadines.  We loved the Grenadines and Bequia was a favorite. On approach to Bequia, a "boat boy" started approaching us at high speed, but instead of the usual hustle, he stopped about 200 yards from us and pulled out a camera with an enormous telephoto lens and started snapping photos of us. We were in robust conditions and tired from our overnight sail but we tried to look our best. After settling in at anchor in Admiralty Bay, the photographer Kenmore, came over with a proof and his price sheet.  Normally, I wouldn't have bought into this, but the shots were so good and the conditions so perfect, I had to have them.  I asked if I could purchase the RAW images instead of JPEGs and he agreed.

Here are a few of the many shots he took...




Bequia was a nice mixture of authentic Caribbean, and touristy comfort. It sort of reminded me of the BVIs but with a much more authentic vibe. We rented a car here and toured the island on our own as well as taking some nice hikes.

Sleepy and chilly skipper after sailing overnight

On the hook in Admiralty Bay. This was our second spot as we dragged a bit on our first attempt

View from one of our hikes or drives

Visit from the water barge. The skipper is fishing over the side while we fill our tanks

We anchored right behind the floating bar

The rest of the chain - Canouan, Mayreau, Union, Tobago Cays ...

Each of these islands is unique and incredible in its own way.  There were some we liked more than others but overall, I could spend a lot more time here.


Street scene on Canouan

Looking south to islands still to come

Normal configuration for sailing here - double-reefed main close haul or close reach

Linda looking particularly patriotic
Breakfast in Mayreau with hot sauce from my home town

Anchored in Mayreau. Note the kite boarder in the distance

Tobago Cays Marine Sanctuary

Argon on a mooring in Tobago Cays

Such a monotonous temperature range

Laundry services are scant here.  Doing some emergency laundry in the sink

More chores...  Water run

With Richard and Glenda who we met in Canoua and again in Union island and later in Grenada. They were in the Caribbean after sailing Elemiah across the Atlantic.

The anchorage on the windward side of Union Island behind the reefs

Is there another kind?

Kiteboarding is huge here because of the reefs on the windward side of the islands. You get flat water and high winds

Rented this golf cart from our friend Twig who we first met in Bermuda. He has a house here in Union Island and charters his boat here during the winter and then in Maine in the summer.

Customs office on Union Island

That water

Grenada... the final destination (and the start of the bad stuff)

Upon landing in Carriacou, we officially cleared into customs in Grenada. We enjoyed Carriacou very much - in fact it turned out that we enjoyed it more than Grenada itself.  In particular, we found Anse LaRoche, a tiny bay on the north-west part of the island with room for just a couple of boats. We sat there for a total of five days (on two different visits) and were normally the only ones there.

We have arrived.  Clearing in to Customs in Carriacou Is., Grenada
Putting up the Grenada Flag
One of my local island buddies
Having dinner/drinks onboard our Friends' John and Victoria's boat Jovini
Anse LaRoche from a hiking trail
Anse LaRoche

The Mainland

Grenada itself, is a bit difficult.  The one bay on the Leeward side of the island worth staying in is the Capital of St George.  The holding in this bay is not great and it's normally quite windy there so we were never very comfortable leaving the boat for long.  We did go into Port Louis Marina in St Georges for a few days. Like many places in the Caribbean, the marinas are med-moor style. In this one, you normally tie to mooring balls instead of using your anchor. It was tricky getting in there (especally since they changed their minds at the last second about where they wanted us). While there, someone cut one of the lines holding us forward to the mooring - probably by hitting it with a prop. Not a great marina experience.

Approaching Grenada Mainland on a stormy day. An omen?

Artsy sunset shot from St, Georges Bay

Tied up in busy Port Louis Marina. A/C is on

And another Family Visit

Linda's cousin Jason, wife Trish and daughter Sarafina decided to do a vacation in Carriacou and Grenada in April while we were there so we had a chance to connect with them several times. Our day sail outing consisted of visiting the Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park for some interesting snorkeling.

Sarafina taking her first turn at the helm

Post-sail group selfie with the Fam

There are several inlets for anchoring on the south cost of the Island but you need to sail straight upwind into big seas and strong winds to get to them. And since these big seas roll past the inlet openings, they tend to be a bit rolly inside.  Grenada had more of interest on land than on water for us.  We did manage to get one tour in together, but my ability to get ashore to do anything was getting very limited...

The Bad Stuff

This is where things were starting to get bad - the other moldy slice of our sandwich.  It started with a little twinge in my leg a few weeks earlier, but now was full blown, agonizing sciatica. I've had it a few times in my life and usually a few weeks of ibuprofen and stretching and rest and I'm better.  Not this time. The pain was such that I had to adjust my concept of "10" pain upward a bit.  And unlike previous times that I have gotten this, standing and walking didn't relieve it - it only made it worse.  The only thing I could do was lay flat. The few times I managed to get off the boat, I had a pocket full of ibuprofen (and stronger stuff left over from my broken collar bone in 2017).  I was still working the day job but nearly 100% while laying down with my laptop on a pillow on my belly. I was flat on my back for 20+ hours a day. This was particularly not fun because it was 95F inside the boat with a really hot laptop sitting on me.
Linda had to take over everything. And there was getting to be a lot more to do as we were arranging to get Argon hauled out and settled in for the summer. This was the lowest point of the whole journey by far. A great sadness decended over the boat for those last two months with very little relief and my pain was showing no signs of letting up.

I finally reached out to fellow sailor, John Murphy of Core Physical Therapy via skype. He was on vacation himself at the time but did some distance diagnosis over video skype and gave me some homework to do.  At this time, Argon was on the hard and we were living in a rented room at Spice Island Marine Services. My goal was to just get well enough to handle the 6 hour flight home the following week. I did get a little better, but that flight was a pretty miserable experience.

The photos became more sparce becuse I was not really able to get out to shoot much and Linda was in no mood to.  Yes, we were technically in "paradise", but we would have both given anything to be home and comfortable then.

I managed to do one land tour in Grenada (with a pocket full of Ibuprofen).
  
From the hill above St. Georges.  That's David Geffen's Yacht "Rising Sun" out there

During the invasion, the white government building had an anti-aircraft gun. US forces intended to bomb it, but instead destroyed the building in the distance - a mental hospital. This accounted for most of the fatalities in the invasion.

Our tour guide giving Linda a Real Cocao Pod

Wild but very tame monkeys

Can we keep him?

Near the Chocolate Factory - this is how the slave owners used to live

And this is how the slaves used to live

Linda did one Leatherback Turtle tour without me. They managed to see this "small" one.

Open air market in St Georges
Defunct Cuban aircraft at the old airstrip. It was the building of the new modern airstrip in the south that helped convinnce Reagan that Grenada was going to become a Russian air presence in the Eastern Caribbean.

Pizza night at Secret Cove Marina

Tucked away for the... Summer?

That seems like a strange thing to say for a New England Sailor.  Normally, we're enjoying the wonderful sailing around Boston during our too-short season. Argon is on the hard at Spice Island Marine Services in Grenada - sitting in a Hurricane Cradle. We also charter Argon in Boston and Newport and this year, it's been frustrating to say "no" to so many chartering inquiries.

Haul-out day

Work in Progress

A number of big (and expensive) projects are happening on Argon during the summer:
  • New Bimini and Dinghy Chaps (Tropical Canvas)
  • New Main Sail (Turbulence)
  • Replacing Main Sail track with a Harken Track (Turbulence)
  • Custom Carbon Gooseneck Attachment (Driftwood Yacht Services / Turbulence)
  • Modifying the forward chocks to have a slot opening on the top (Spice Island)
In addition to the above there are several maintenance projects on the docket: bottom painting, varnishing, and outboard servicing.

Getting work done so far away is turning out to be a bit stressful. The folks in Grenada are not the most communicative. As of July, we know that the Main Sail is done, but we've had a terrible time getting status on anything else.  If I'm feeling well enough, I will probably fly back down in August or September to do a little in-person Project Management.

The Stick is down

Closeup of the cosmetic Carbon Damage when the headstay detached

Close up of the Re-Engineered Primary Headstay Attachment Tang

We left one 50w Solar Panel wired in to keep the batteries topped up.

Foil over the port lights

Enough Desiccant to get started.

New canvas Hatch Covers made by Tropical

All Tied down to a Hurricane Cradle

With any luck, my leg and Argon will be ready to resume the trip home starting in November. We really want that trip to be more delicious center and less crusty/moldy bread!

To be continued...

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