Saturday, August 30, 2008

More adventures in air travel

We are settling in in Prickly Bay, Grenada. A nice crowd of cruisers here and a cruiser’s net every morning at 0730 on the VHF with weather and general information. Days have been hot but a nice breeze at night for sleeping.

Now then. . . .here’s a short version (I swear!) of our air travel troubles. Way back in maybe April we booked air fare round trip from Grenada to Tampa using Travelocity (Coporate motto: We hate you). This trip was originally for late July to coincide with daughter Leah’s PhD defense. Well, we had to go home way earlier than that so we cancelled that itenerary. You can’t get your money back but you do get to pay a penalty to re-book. Fine. Ok, here’s the itinerary as we originally booked it: Grenada to St. Vincent via Liat Airlines, St. Vincent to San Juan via Liat, San Juan to Miami via American Eagle, and Miami to Tampa via American Eagle. Why Tampa? Because we can book free airfare with our credit card points for domestic travel. Now try to re-book this. Here are the issues.

1. According to Travelocity we had to have paper tickets since Liat doesn’t issue e-tickets (turns out to be not true)
2. To re-book we have to mail the paper tickets to Texas at least 2 weeks before we intend to re-book. When we re-book they will mail us new tickets . . . To WHERE?
3. We can’t simply go to the airport and take care of it there as it is a Travelocity deal. We did walk to the airport today and tried. Nice walk but no help there.
4. When you call Travelocity you always get someone in India who a. Barely speaks understandable English and b. Has been programmed to only handle normal questions and cannot handle variations on a theme.
5. Liat and American Eagle have no ‘agreement’ between them so we probably have to stick with the two airlines when we do re-book.

I dread calling Travelocity. Maybe Sue will!

Then there is the issue of trying to fly into an island without a return ticket out. This was why they wouldn’t put us on a plane in San Juan until we bought full fare tickets from Martinique back to San Juan (we’ve since gotten our money back on those tickets as promised). I’ve talked to two different immigration people here in Grenada who tell me there should be no trouble - just show your boat papers. But I DID show those in San Juan and they just laughed at me!

We fully intend to get back to Chicago for the world series featuring our beloved Chicago Cubs versus the american league champs and I hope to Newton it is not the pukey White Sox and their toothless fans! We may just leave the weird Travelocity tickets “in the bank” as it were for another time - we have a year from when we first booked - and start over with American Airlines who have always been helpful to us (except for not putting us on the plane in San Juan!). What the hell? It’s only money, right?

Lesson? Never book with Travelocity, never accept paper tickets, and never start a land war in Asia!

Friday, August 22, 2008

We’re THERE . . . again!

How many times over the last 3.5 years have people asked me what our ‘long range’ plans are and how many times did I answer that I had none except to make it to Grenada for some hurricane season or another. Grenada. The name itself was just a far flung dream during the winters in Des Plaines, Illinois. Grenada? Hell I wasn’t sure where the Chesapeake was back then (It’s by Baltimore, right?)

Yesterday we arrived in St. George’s, Grenada. Not unlike our arrival in NYC, Key West, Georgetown in the Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic we feel like we have made some significant goal. Geographically we are at the end of the windward islands of the Caribbean. Further south lie Trinidad and Venezuela and perhaps that is where we venture next. For now though we plan to stay in Grenada for a time and enjoy the fact that we’ve come thousands of miles (North-South alone we’ve gone from 42 degrees north in Chicago to 12 degrees north now. That’s 30 degrees or 1800 nautical miles.) on two different boats, gone through one whole cat and started on another, repaired numerous boat systems and left others in disrepair due to lack of interest and/or money. And only one bad storm at sea. Not bad.

But let’s go back. We left Bequia on Monday and had a very nice sail (~18 miles) to Canouan (pronounced berk’-lee). The entire northern end of this island has been purchased by some Italians and it is all a private resort. Moorings Charters also has a big fleet and base here. In fact if I lived up north and was looking for a great place to charter, starting here and exploring the Grenadines would be a great sailing vacation.Those two businesses more or less dominate the anchorage. We went ashore to see that but also to see the town. Well, there isn’t much town. Pretty depressed and looks like not much trickle down from the fancy resort area. As they say, the trickle down effect is ok as long as you arent’t the one being trickled down on! We ate at the Pirate Cove - part of the Tamarind resort. Cheeseburger? Sure. Only $18! It was good though! And we saw a fantastic green flash - best one ever!

Tuesday it was on to the Tabago Cays. Supposed to be good snorking. Like everything in this area of the Grenadines it’s about 5 miles or less to the next anchorage or place to explore. There are three little uninhabited islands and then a huge horse shoe reef to the east. We anchored to the west of the islands and we’re going to take the dinghy around to explore and snork. Then weather happened. Started to look pretty ugly to the east so we hauled anchor and sailed back to Mayreau, a tiny island with a great little bay - Salt Whistle Bay. This bay also is home to a resort but you can hardly tell it is there. Stone guest houses set back in the trees with a bar and restaurant down by the water. Not much going on though and we did NOT sample the cheeseburgers. Well, there is not much going on ANYWHERE in these parts this time of year. We may be the last boat through before hurricanes! In fact that Tamarind resort is closing for all of September. Still a beautiful anchorage and a fine night. It rained and blew a little but nothing spectacular.

Wednesday, we wanted to go (5 miles) to Union Island which is the last island in the Grenadines. We talked with weather god, Chris Parker, at 0700 though and he suggested going to Grenada today rather than wait as some squally weather would be coming. OK! Notice how every day the plan changes! Only about 35-40 miles to Grenada from here we can be off by 0800 and pretty much guarantee getting there in daylight.

GREAT SAIL! - for about half the trip. We were broad reaching at 6-7 knots in a light chop. Nice. Then the wind pretty much gave out at the northern end of Grenada and we motor-sailed the rest of the way. Interesting, that you have to navigate around an underwater volcano enroute to Grenada! There is a 1.5 km exclusion zone at all times and 5 km if it is erupting. It didn’t seem to be erupting (and what does that look like anyway?) so we skimmed the 1.5 km zone.

Mismo has become quite the good little sailor. She mostly stays with us in the cockpit when we are underway but will sometimes opt for some shade down by the rail. As long as she doesn’t get all jiggy and start running around the boat we’re ok. Her new favorite spot when at anchor is to lay with her big ass right between the secondary anchor and the chain to the first anchor. Comfy!

We had planned to motor into the lagoon area in St. George’s - the capital of Grenada. It was a very hot sail though after the wind gave out and we really wanted to swim and wanted some breeze at night. So we anchored outside by a beach with a number of other boats in about 4 meters of water (~2 fathoms). Oh it did feel great to jump in the water and bob around. Sue made chopped salad and tuna salad sandwiches and we turned in just after sun down. What a day. Arrival days are always special and this one the most special so far.

Thursday we’ll clear customs and explore St. George’s some. After that we will probably move the boat around to Prickly Bay on the south side. Our friends Larry and Debbie on Debonair are there and already have hailed us on the VHF. Wendy and Jim on Merenge should be there as well. Party time!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

In Bequia

Yah, still here (Bequia) but not for long. We really like it here. Calm anchorage. Boats coming and going. Enough store stuff on shore but not too much. Probably even better during the busy season as some places are totally closed.

Sue went to the local hospital yesterday for an annoying rash that has been bothering her. They told her to keep up with the cream she has been putting on, gave her a shot of antihistamine, and told her to limit sun exposure. Nice people. Total cost including the shot? Zero. As is not unusual. They do take donations and we were glad to offer up a small one of our own.

We’ve been plagued with propane bottle problems for months. We replaced one steel one with a plastic/carbon fiber one in St. Maarten. I replaced the other steel one here with another steel one. I think the bottle itself and the valve have become terminally rusted so it was time. Have to keep an eye on this steel one and sand and paint it on occasion as the sea air does it’s thing.

We’ll probably shop for some food items today (Saturday) and then go around the corner and anchor on the southern shore tomorrow in Friendship Bay. We think that location will give a good view of the islands to the south.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sailing Again. . .

Tuesday 8/12

Miracle and the outboard starts. Now we’re really ready to go. We make a quick trip into shore for weather check and to fire off some e-mails. Back to Enee and we make final preparations for the 100 miles south to Bequia.

Around 1030 we are off. As we set our course (~195o) we find the perfect Enee wind. About 10-15 knots just abaft the beam. We are making 6+ knots in about a 2 foot chop under full sail. We decide to take short, 1 hour stints at the helm as the sun is blazing. We have an open cockpit which is unusual for boats down here. Most people have a full bimini to cover the entire cockpit. While we considered that way back in Ft. Lauderdale we decided to not go that way for two reasons. 1. I couldn’t stand under it at the helm. This boat has a step right behind the wheel that puts my head about 1 inch under the boom. 2. We like to see all around - see our sails and see overhead at night. So the trade off is to drink lots of water, wear long sleeve shirt (only need one unlike bottles of sun block), get out of the sun often. This works fine for us. Oh, and if it rains. . . Well you get a little wet don’t you!

You can’t actually lay the entrance to Bequia from Martinique as it is hidden behind St. Vincent. You do have a choice to make as to whether to pass St. Vincent on the east or west side. In the light winds we are experiencing we don’t see a big difference either way and pick the west coast. Once we reach the south west corner of St. Vincent we can alter course to about 175o to lay Bequia and this wind should easily allow that.

Southwest coast of St. Lucia with Grande and Pitite Pitons.

Night comes and we are still sailing. So great to feel and hear the rush of water under our keel. The sun sets and the waxing gibbous moon is already up making it very bright on the water. We are really noticing the difference between sunset here and in Chicago. The sun sets on a line almost perpendicular to the horizon here so when it goes down, it is GONE and dark. Up north the sun sets at more of an angle to the horizon making evening time last longer.

Mismo threw up her lunch about a hour into the sail but seems to be coming around. She sits with us in the cockpit. Around 2100 hours Mismo is acting weird. Like she sees something on deck and is going to pounce. We don’t want her pouncing around deck at night. Beatings don’t help. I think she is looking at the shadow of our flag halyard as that moves across the deck but that isn’t all that interesting to the cat usually. Then Sue sees it - Dolphins are swimming right along with us off the port side! I go to look and there are a half dozen or so swimming off our side and playing just in front of the bow! They are gorgeous in the moonlight! They swim up from the depths making them seem to just appear as if by magic. They do that porpoiseing thing and we can hear their strangely human sounding breathing. We take turns at the helm so each of us can run forward and watch the show off the bow. Get this. . . They stay with us for over an hour! We must have been going the way they wanted to go anyway so they swim along with us. I think they get a little push by swimming in our bow wave and so take advantage. Around 2230 or so the wind started to crap out and so did our speed. We are languishing down under 4 knots now. The dolphins went on without us. Then, one came back and swam around Enee one more time as if to say, “What the hell? Let’s keep up!”.

As we continued south we could see the outline of St. Vincent in the moonlight. Suddenly we could also smell the dirt. What a strong, earthy scent that lingered the entire sail down the coast. It smelled healthy and fragrant. Last year when we approached the shore of the Dominican Republic we could smell the land as we were told we would. But this blast of soil infused air really took us by surprise. What are they growing on this island?

We did our usual 3 hours shifts through the night. Our earlier good speed has us arriving a little early in Bequia as arrival in new ports at night isn’t all that fun. Around 0400 Sue throttles down and we chug slowly the last 7 miles into Bequia just as it is getting light.

Arrival 13 00 N 61 16 W

Bequia and Admiralty Bay where we are anchoring is beautiful even in this half light. Moon is down and the sky is barely lit and yet as I release the anchor I can watch it descend all 5 meters (500 centimeters) to the sandy bottom. Reminds us of the Bahamas with the crazy clear water. Nothing to do now but have our ‘nothing broke and nobody died’ toast with a couple of cold Lorraines we brought from Martinique. By the way, as you know we have gone without refrigeration now for about a year and will probably never go back. But, for long overnighters it is good to have ice in the ice chest for cold water and juice and the celebratory beer at the end.

After naps we plan to go ashore. Man is it freaking HOT! I know, DUH! But it is extra hot as there is not a breath of wind and that is rare down here. Mismo is a black and white puddle. Sue and I both swim and try to cool off but it doesn’t really last. Reluctantly we rig the dinghy and go ashore to check in to customs. That was simple and we find a wi-fi place (The Gingerbread House) to check e-mail and weather (and Cubs’ scores!). Well it’s August isn’t it. Man is everything laid back. I imagine a hundred boats in this harbor during the busy season but right now there are about 20. Some charters though so probably get the good discount this time of year. I wonder where they are chartering out of?

Bequia has a history of whaling as it turns out. In fact the settlers were whalers from north america, Scotland, France and, of course, Africa. They still have a little whaling going on here. They are allowed to catch 4 per year between Feb and April. This is done in open sailing boats with hand thrown harpoons although there are only a few left with the skills (and the spheres!) to do this. If they get one they do take it to a small rendering plant on the south shore and get it down to whale oil and other whale goodies I guess. I’d like to see the chase sometime but not the rendering.

We’ll stay here a couple of days and then work our way through the Grenadines on our way to Grenada. Having just spent two months in Chicago (our favorite city) it is taking a little while to slip back into our cruising persona. Feels right though - making 2-3 day plans but no more. Sitting and watching the pretty water. Reading and napping. Our training is slowly coming back!

Now for those who have lost track of where we are, here is a progression of charts to get you back on track. As usual, clicking on the images will make them bigger and perhaps HUGE. Don't ask me!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hurry and Wait

What a day! On monday we did get Enee launched, took on fuel and water, and gasoline. We motored out to the anchorage and dropped the hook. Nice. So great to be floating again on good old Enee Marie. We wanted to not leave until we could get a detailed weather prediction from Chris Parker on Tuesday morning. So, how about going ashore to call my daughter (new PhD and new Job!) and get some dinner. Good plan except. . .dum dum dum. . . The out board won't start! DAMN! Of course in all the confusion of getting Sue Mismo and I north back in June we neglected to run the fuel out of the engine. Now it's jammed up apparently.

We think of even worse scenarios now. What if storms develope and we CAN'T get ashore. Hmmmm. Well, solutions will present themselves tomorrow so Sue makes a wonderful soup and we crash.

Tuesday morning a miracle happened. The outboard started! Yes. Didn't run well but better and better as it cleaned out its own jets I guess. Weather report from Chris is all clear with no wind wednesday thursday and maybe some on Friday. But today, Tuesday, is probably the best day to sail the 100 miles south to Bequia.

Here are the current projected tracks of some Atlantic disturbances from weatherunderground.

Did I mention that my daughter got her PhD in Physics?

Mismo seems to be much happier (doesn't bite us as much) now that she is back on board. She is back crawling inside the sail cover and climbing the foresail.

Like our friends say, all plans are chipped in Jell-O! Next report from Bequia. . . .maybe.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Adventures in International Travel

Yes, we are back in Martinique after a harrowing and bizarre day of air travel. We flew from Chicago to San Juan on Friday. That flight went well but Mismo screamed for the first 2 hours of a 4 hour flight. There was no consoling here so we just shoved her in her little bag under the seat in front of us. MEOW. Finally she gave up and slept the rest of the way. We went back to the ‘pet friendly’ Sheraton hotel in Old San Juan. Neat location and a pretty view.

On Saturday it was back to the airport for the 2 hour flight to Martinique. We get our turn in the check in line and the lady asks when we are returning. I say that we are not and that our confusing trips all began in Martinique and now we are returning. She says but you have to have a return ticket. “To where?” I respond. “We live on our boat and we are returning to it and then sailing away”. She says, NO. She cannot let me proceed without a return ticket to somewhere and that if she did she her self would be subject to huge fines and we would find ourselves in a big mess when we reached Martinique.

I said, “Let me get this straight. We can’t fly into Martinique without a ticket that shows that we are going to fly out again even if we have no intension of flying out again?”
“Right!”, she says. “Otherwise people would just be flying where ever they wanted and you’d have - “FREEDOM”? I interject.

So, I said there’s no way I’m buying a ticket that I’m not going to use and I’ll need to speak to your superior. She tried to keep talking to me but I just turned away and ignored her. She tried to call immigration in Martinique but it being August and all they weren’t answering the phone. She talked with her superior on the phone and then told me that they had come up with a solution.

We simply buy two full fare tickets from Martinique to San Juan and then, since they are full fare, just ask for our money back after you get there. Are you nuts? Why don’t we all just SAY I did that and skip all this and move along. No. Well time was not on our side (yeah we were the annoying people taking up a whole counter person for 20 minutes) so we agreed. We purchased two full fare ticktes as described (>$1000) and got on the plane.

We no sooner got on the plane (actually a large human oven) when the pilot got on and told us that we would be staying put for about an hour! Mismo is crying it is so hot. I am whimpering. Finally we take off and have a pleasant if cramped flight to Martinique.

Martinique Immigration: Sure enough the nice man there asked us when and how we were returning out of Martinique. We showed him our return tickets (we’ll never use them) and he was happy. While waiting for our bags it began to really bug me. I wanted to know what happens if I sail out of Martinique and never use the tickets that he asked to see. I went back and tried to ask him that but his english was so weak that I could not make myself understood. He managed to tell me to ask at customs. Since that was our next stop I was ok with that.

Now comes another sphincter squeezing moment. We had researched and researched all the conflicting rules about pets and countries and air travel. As a result Sue had Mismo get a series of shots, an electronic chip in her neck, AND her own passport before leaving Martinique. Now to see if that all works. We approach the customs desk and follow the people in front of us through a door into. . . . The airport! No Customs . . IT’S August! So we spent many hundreds of dollars on Mismo making her travel ready and no one ever asked for any of it. EVER! In fact we paid $100 to American Airlines each way for the right to take Mismo on board with us. But if you didn’t pay and just took her on as carry-on as we did there is no one to ask if you paid. Mismo doesn’t get a boarding pass. So much for the honor system! More like the chump system. Some chumps will cough up $100 for their pet so that’s all to the good for the airlines.

I searched for the American Eagle desk at the airport to cash in my tickets but they don’t have an office in Martinique. They just fly in and out about 100 times a day but no office. Someday I will find an American Eagle desk though and get our 1k back! How stupid.

Original plan was to launch Enee upon our arrival. Since a Saturday launch costs and extra 70 EU (~$105) we called the guy and told him to wait until Monday if that was ok and it was. Predictions are for no exciting weather for quite awhile so we’ll get away still Monday as planned or possibly Tuesday. Looks like we’ll knock off 100 miles on the first sail and head south (and little WEST!) to Bequia at the northern end of the Grenadines and thereby skip St Lucia (too close to us) and St. Vincent (too many outlaws - nobody goes there any more). So, we’ll leave around 1000 looking to arrive the following morning sometime. Should be a nice beam reach all the way. Yea! That will leave about 60 miles to Grenada. From there, another 80 or so to Trinidad if we go there. Still undecided about that.

Good to be back on the boat even if she ain’t floating yet. My batteries are all nearly dead and I am hoping the wind generator will put enough charge in before Monday so that I can start the engine. In the mean time no lamps, no fans, no Nuttin!. . . And LIKE it!

HAPPY AUGUST BIRTHDAYS TO: RJ and Will on the 2nd as well as the weddingpaloosa of Chris and Suzy and Brian T birthday on the 10th.