Thursday, November 27, 2014

Our Passage South 2014

June 20th 2014

Position 14° 26.357’ N
               60° 52.899’ W

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Every time we get ready to make passage it is a bitter sweet affair, we are leaving the safety of a port which we have become familiar with and are heading out into the unknown again so there is the excitement too which is always experienced and associated with going to sea! Les Saintes are a special part of the Caribbean, small islands, civilized and sophisticated. Part of Guadeloupe, the small collection of islands are situated just to the south. They are west of Marie Galante, the other bigger island belonging to Guadeloupe, and north of the next island to the south which is Dominica. Our stays here are always pleasant and provide a break from the more underdeveloped islands and the more blatant and desperate behaviours demonstrated in their people’s quest to both survive and develop. I refer, for example, to the boat boys of Union Island and St. Lucia’s Pitons Bay at Soufriere who are aggressive in their quest for your business, they almost fight among themselves in order to gain the right to assist one to pick up a mooring.  

This young cruiser woke up to his dinghy sinking so he
quickly swam ashore towing it to the beach! 
A change also from the commerce of the British Virgin Islands where a mooring ball will cost you US$35 per night, this is not to mention the compulsory necessity to buy another parks permit to allow the use of the daytime moorings at the must-see venues, expensive! The French islands are inexpensive to visit although many commodities are a little more expensive…but, oh the food! We look forward to visiting every island and enjoy all their unique experiences; don’t misunderstand me we are not deterred from visiting any of the islands because of the poverty we encounter or because of boat boy behaviour, once the tussle between them is over and we have our assigned ‘boy’ everything calms down and we are fine. On Union Island we were harassed ashore by an individual who insisted on disposing of our garbage and then had to introduce us to his Aunt who ran a local fruit and vegetable stall and then a friend who ran the local rum shop and on it went, we couldn’t deter him from following us everywhere and found it very unpleasant.

From our mooring - Les Saintes
Ann & Steve from s/v Receta
in Les Saintes
In the bay where the mooring field is situated the water is deep, 40’ or more but a beautiful deep blue. We swam daily from the stern of the boat. Of course one does have to witness the daily nude displays from the French sailors while they either just take their daily swim or perform their evening bath routine! The island of Terre-de-Haut, the main island of the group, is hilly but not to challenging to be walked. We did explore and visited some of the recommended spots. Les Saintes are a tranquil destination and we find it easy to relax here and enjoy the ‘flavours’ of France. The people seem to have time for you and are friendly towards cruisers and tourists. Martinique and Guadeloupe on the other hand are bustling large islands with much more of a feeling akin to mainland France. Don’t misunderstand me we love the bigger islands too, I am just explaining the differences. As cruisers we need all the islands, each one offers a different set of services ranging from good provisioning and sophisticated marine services on the larger islands to locally grown non GMO vegetables from a small roadside grocery store and eggs from the free range chickens which we find on the smaller less populated islands.  The locally grown food reminds us of a time when the quality of food was better. The bright yellow yoked eggs instead of the milky white tasteless ones that dominate the shelves in most large supermarkets nowadays are like the ones our mothers used to get when we were children. The smaller islands give us a ‘getaway’, a relaxing aura where we can walk deserted beaches, snorkel in coves and on reefs where we are the only people. At happy hour we can visit the local watering hole, where we invariably see familiar faces from what is really a small cruising community. The proprietors in most of the establishments make time to talk and remember our names from the last time we were there, six months before…   

Slipping the mooring lines we left Les Saintes and headed south toward the western lee side of Dominica. Again we are not stopping in Dominica. We are told that Dominica is the poorest but most spectacular island in the West Indies, it is nature’s wonderland. We are told too that the people are special and the most ‘generous’, not materially but in their attitude and demeanour, just wonderful people. We will visit, maybe next year… 

A green flash in a about minute!
Our next stop is Le Marin, Martinique where we will stock up with great French provisions at Leader Price our favourite grocery store in the Caribbean! Not only is the food good but the selection is wonderful too; the wine shelves offer a good and inexpensive choice. Leader Price has a dinghy dock which makes the whole experience easy, no buses or long walks with arms being pulled out of their sockets, just cart to dinghy and dinghy to boat, perfect! Our course south will take us along the west coast of Dominica which is a mountainous island and thus offers considerable lee. We will enjoy this for about 4 to 4½ hours when we usually use the time to cook and eat a meal, filter fuel and refill our day tank, not because we have to but it is just easier in the calm lee waters. At night, especially if a moon is shining brightly, one can see the silhouette of the tall mountains towering skyward, it seems we are much closer to the land than we are, all a little eerie but nonetheless spectacular. In the channel between Dominica and Martinique the equatorial current is fierce and is running in a northerly direction so we can take up to 5 hours to cover the 21 miles between the two islands. Once behind Martinique again we are in calmer waters until we round the ‘corner’ at the southern end of the island and head windward for the last 9nm to the channel leading into the protected enclosed harbour of Le Marin. Le Marin is at the SE corner of Martinique and is protected well by a large spit of land extending southward for about 3 miles. The area of protected water in the bay is huge and there are many places to anchor. We usually start off close to Leader Price and then once our shopping is done move to a more remote location within the harbour or we cruise a few miles to Sainte-Anne where the water is so clear and there is a beautiful sandy beach. Le Marin is still accessible from Sainte-Anne in JP our fast dinghy and takes about 20 minutes. Le Marin also has every tradesman one might need and all seem very qualified. Having had a repair done here on a previous visit highlighted to me that sometimes it is better to pay a higher price and have the job done right first time and in half the time rather than have the job attempted by a lesser qualified person who is unpunctual and may or may not do the job correctly; often the case on many islands. The difference in cost at the end of the day is minimal. One doesn’t have to chase the workman either, he is usually there when and at what time he says! Surprise! After two years here in the Caribbean we are leaning and have a good handle on which islands are good for what. We even long for individual locations on certain islands where we can buy great locally baked bread!  

Sainte-Anne is a small quiet town, more a village actually, it is touristy and has all the little shops that sell trinkets and souvenirs. It is a popular cruisers haunt and is blessed with a great dinghy dock, a beautiful beach and a selection of small restaurants. We always make water here as the water is so clean and clear. Once we have negotiated the reefs that are between the main Le Marin channel and Sainte-Anne one can anchor in 8’ – 18’ of ‘swimming’ water! We usually choose to anchor near the beach which offers a lot of wind protection. Most of the sailing boats especially those that have wind generators anchor further out where there is more wind but the water is a little choppier. One can clear in now in Sainte-Anne, one of the local bar restaurants is now authorized and has the familiar computer in place. The cost here is 2EU’s compared to the 5 charged by the marina in Le Marin. The French islands cater well to cruisers and welcome us everywhere.

During our visit to Le Marin we made a reservation in the very nice marina to meet with the Victron Energy distributor, who we know; Frédéric Moser came on-board to look over the new wiring we had done in BVI’s and also to re-programme our Victron inverter/charger so it could work to its full capability, remember we had thus far only been able to charge at a reduced rate of 80 amps rather than the full 120 amps which it is capable of. We also had Frédéric install a Victron monitoring gauge so we can see exactly what is happening with our electrical system. Finally six months after the installation of our new inverter we have everything working properly! I cannot describe the wonderful feeling that having reliability in the electrical department provides…we are relaxed not worried about our generator breaking down, not always being required to check the temperature of the wiring, worrying about fire! We have a freedom now that you would’ve had to experience our previous problems in order to appreciate.   

Cruising past the Pitons
St. Lucia, the next island south, is our next stop. Our plan is to spend a short time in Rodney Bay and wait for a good weather window to make passage to Bequia, one of the Grenadines, where friends, who we haven’t seen in a while, are anchored. In Rodney Bay we met up with Bruce on ‘Wild Matilda’ and Dave and Trudie on ‘Persephone’. We only spent a few days here but unfortunately during those few days we were robbed one night! Two nice folding teak chairs were taken from our aft deck. Another boat in the anchorage fared worse than us and were boarded and lost money, credit cards and passports.
Passing a beautiful yacht on a beautiful day.
St. Lucia, sadly, is now the leading island for this type of crime. The island authorities are stepping up security in the hope of curbing the crime. We, along with other cruisers, are hoping that there will be an improvement as currently we are reluctant to visit. From St. Lucia we passaged overnight to Bequia, another small island that we like. We first visited Bequia 20 years ago when we were married on Young Island, St. Vincent. The island has changed little and the same laundry boat and other waterborne vendors were present. The island is quaint, there is a stone and concrete walking path along the waterfront which connects shops, watering holes and restaurants. A choice of beaches abound. Les on ‘Golightly’ was there and Dave, Trudie and Bruce followed us down from St. Lucia. We also met two French cruisers Sylvie & Rene. We all had a get-together one evening at the Whaleboner for cocktails with pizza afterwards at Macs which was a fun time.


Friend John's boat 'Stingo'
By now it is July and hurricane season is upon us, it is time to head further south once more…our next stop is Mayreau a small island that is the gathering place for exploring the Tobago Keys, one of the most beautiful areas in the eastern Caribbean. We only stayed in Mayreau for one night but did go ashore with Les from ‘Golightly’ and met some great people, South Africans from Cape Town. They, along with their two grown-up children, had taken a sabbatical from their lives in SA in order to cruise the eastern Caribbean for a year. We became friends and have stayed in touch ever since. We have just learned that they are planning on returning in three years to resume their eastern Caribbean cruising!

One of the beaches we visited every
day to swim in Bequia.
From Mayreau we continued on to Carriacou an island just north of Grenada and part of the Grenadian archipelago. Carriacou, as I have probably mentioned before, is definitely one of our favourite islands. Tyrell Bay, where we choose to stay, is a superb anchorage, it is calm with nice clear water for water making and swimming. Around the bay are bars, restaurants three small grocery stores. One can buy free range eggs, chickens and locally grown vegetables. We feel healthy here and have grown to love this place. We know some locals, some ‘Belongers’ as they are referred to, and feel safe here. There is no crime that we have heard of and we can leave ‘Partners’ unlocked most of the time. Many of our closer friends spend time here and the local bars are always patronized by familiar faces…Ms Lucky’s on a Saturday night is the place to be, a small restaurant where Ms. Lucky barbeques chicken, pork and potato wedges for a mere EC$12 or US$4.50 and the beer is cheap and ice cold.

'Partners' our trusty steed.

Our trip from St. Lucia to Mayreau and on to Carriacou was uneventful. The weather at this time of the year provides longer periods of calm seas which make it easier for us to go to sea.

Always hard to leave, Carriacou yet again has provided our fix for relaxed quiet island living. Grenada was 6 hours south, we headed out accompanied by our friend Les, to where we would spend three months until our final trek south to Trinidad where we would be hauled out for bottom paint and some other minor jobs. We have had an expensive year this year what with a new generator, radar and new battery and inverter/charger wiring, so to anchor in Grenada as opposed to berthing in a marina will give us an inexpensive summer to replenish the cruising coffers.  

Carriacou 'Fun Runner'.

Our Bengy Bay anchor buddy,
friend Terry on Libertad

A female Frigate bird.

A typical Carriacou scene.
Arriving in Grenada we entered Prickly Bay where we cleared in and were granted a three month stay. After a day of rolling badly we moved east round to Clarkes Court Bay and Bengy Bay where we like to anchor. Our good friend Terry on board s/v Libertad anchored next to us and we spent the next three months swimming, fishing and having fun in the bay. Of course we explored parts of Grenada that we hadn’t seen before. We had a good time, dinghy concerts, BBQ’s on the beach at Rogers on Hog Island and weekly music jams at Whisper Cove Marina. Grenada is a fun island with plenty going on! 

Crews Inn Marina, Chaguaramas,
Trinidad and Tobago

Your truly!
At the beginning of October we sailed south to Trinidad. We had made a reservation in Crews Inn for just three weeks before our haul-out at Peake Yachting Services on the 5th November so we were looking forward to some shopping in town and some soaking in the marina pool. We quickly discovered who was here and reunited with many other cruising friends. We spent time with Chuck and Barb on ‘Tusen Takk II’, another Kadey Krogen, enjoying several get-togethers and meals together. Chuck and Barb have been cruising the Eastern Caribbean for 8 years and are a wealth of knowledge. They introduced us to their friends Michael and Roberta on s/v Celilo’ and we enjoyed several outings including two ‘dinner and a movie’ excursions. Trinidad has it all, malls, restaurants galore, everything, it is like a mini America. Our haul-out went well and we left Peake’s on the 25th November after three weeks on the hard...


Thursday, November 20, 2014

New Generator Install

June 7th 2014

Position 18° 23.531’ N
              64° 38.088’ W

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I know there has been a long break since my last post, two culprits, unprecedented bad internet connections and the Chikungunya virus! It was my intention to post this account in June! We left Tortola BVI with our route and destinations in mind but not considering that we chose, on this occasion, more remote locations which were void of internet connections. Apologies! 

Faraday about to come out!

Nearly out!
June 2nd. Tim arrived right on time along with the ‘Team’ Hugh and Dave…Tim proceeded to assess the job sight and confirmed that all appeared well. He saw no problems in completing the installation in the time allotted. Dave and Hugh would return on Tuesday morning to begin by removing ‘Faraday’ our old Westerbeke generator. Within five hours all electrical cables, water and fuel lines had been disconnected and the unit was ready to be removed from the boat. What we then had to do was take ‘Partners’ from her slip to the haul out area at the far northeast end on the marina where a forklift with a Hercules bar attached to the forks would extend out from the dock under the aft deck roof into the salon; with the assistance of a chain hoist the unit was lifted clear and withdrawn from the boat. So far so good! Diverting for a moment, I should mention that whenever we take ‘Partners’ into a marina we invariably enter the slip bow first as we like our back deck/porch to be facing out which allows us maximum privacy and usually the best view. With a single engine boat reversing out of the slip, in my opinion, is easier than reversing in! The whole operation of removing the old and installing the new generator required me to reverse ‘Partners’ into slips five times! I was just a little nervous to say the least as one always wants to ‘look good’ doing this operation not to mention the fact that one doesn’t want to hit anything! I surprised myself and managed five flawless docking manoeuvres. Sooo, for all of you reading this that may need to reverse into a slip sometime down the road the advice is practice a few times first then do everything slowly. This was the very first time I had done it since buying ‘Partners’ nearly three years ago! The generator was mounted on a piece of ¾” plywood which in turn was covered in resin and lag bolted to the stringers. The original board was on its last legs and was sagging and delaminating. In situ none of this was immediately visible; just a warning to others…take a look at your installation! When the generator was clear we were able to see the stern gland well and it was evident that the hose clamps were of the perforated thread type as opposed to the solid variety. We decided, while access was easy, to replace them. Back to our slip B17 we went. With ‘Faraday’ the old generator removed Hue would do all the preparatory work such as installing new wiring, water and exhaust hoses while there was plenty of room to work. The other main job was to install the new subfloor upon which the new Northern Lights 9kw would be supported. The ¾” plywood would be coated in West Systems epoxy and then bonded and screwed to the stringers. Hugh had prepared all this previously so it didn’t take very long to get everything in and ready. By the end of Tuesday the old genny was out and most of the prep work for the installation of the new unit was done. On Wednesday morning Hue finished off the last few items and then it was just a matter of waiting for the forklift and haul out slip availability so the new power plant could be lowered into the awaiting prepared ‘hole’. At 14:00 we received the call and once again we took ‘Partners’ on the short journey where we would, once again, ‘practice’ reversing her into a slip! All went as planned and within 45 minutes the new generator was in! By the end of the day 

Whitey in place!
Hue had the unit bolted down with all the fuel lines fitted leaving only the exhaust, sea water hose and new electrical wires to connect on Thursday morning. Thursday morning saw the installation completed. The last thing Hue completed was the fitting of the sound shield. The Northern Lights unit was a bright white and was a stark contrast to the dark red colour of the Westerbeke, so white in fact that we have decided to nickname our new generator ‘Whitey’. Hugh gave the word to “start her up”, the moment of truth. Whitey fired into action without any fuss or hesitation…we have a brand new generator, hurrah!
Tim stopped by to go over one or two points, some do’s and don’ts and also re-iterated the need to change the special break-in oil after fifty hours and again at one hundred. After that every two hundred hours. Nice, as ‘Faraday’ was every one hundred which seemed to come round oh so often. Tim reminded me that the valves would need adjusting at fifty hours so I called Palm Tree Marine in Grenada, where we would be for hurricane season, and lined up Mike to perform the valve adjustment while we were at anchor which would avoid a marina stay. So many technicians will only work on board if the boat is in a marina.  
Tim also completely re-did the wiring to our new battery and inverter installation as per the instructions we received from the Victron distributor in Le Marin, Martinique. By the end of Friday and several cups of tea later, Tim is British, all the work was finished. All together the job was very well done, Tim’s team did a great job, quickly, efficiently and 'right' the first time. 
As a footnote in order to explain some of the circumstances leading up to the replacement of our generator I am going to write a little about how ours and many other boats exists away from being plugged in to shore power at a dock. If you are contemplating a cruising adventure either as a sabbatical from your career or, as we are doing, a retirement dream, you will be pawing through all the boating magazines and scrolling many pages on looking for your dream boat. No matter whether it is new or previously owned the same things are needed for self-sufficiency at anchor. First, if like most trawler style boats, you have lights, refrigerators, ice maker, freezers, various appliances, a water maker, computers to run etc., etc., you need battery power, inverter power and the means to replenish all those amperes’ you will be burning! The problem arises when you realize, after the purchase of your ‘dream boat’, that in order to stay out and away from marinas you need more amperes! We found that because of an insufficient battery bank we were running our generator up to 10 hours a day and became tied to the boat, we were turning down invitations from our cruising friends, especially those with sailing boat which tend to be considerably more economical in term of electrical demand than motor boats. As soon as we awoke in the morning the overnight use of amps required replacing in order for us to get through the day and be able to leave the boat. We had 300 usable amps being 50% of the total house bank amperes. We also had an inverter/charger capable of 2 kW AC output and could charge at the rate of 80 amps per hour on bulk charge less towards the end of the charging cycle during the absorption stage. All in all putting everything together, in the real world it could take between 4 and 6 hours of generator time every morning. At night the process started again in order to zero out the amps ready to get us through the night. Remember refrigerators and freezers don’t discriminate between night and day they are running 24/7. Sooo, in the PM we found ourselves boat bound again while the generator powered the charger to replenish those pesky amps again! The purpose of this explanation to help get you from where we started to now without the heartaches we went through. We first increased our house bank battery amps from 600 to 1,020 (up to 510 usable) and replaced the old golf cart batteries with AGM Lifeline brand new batteries. We also, at the same time, replaced the Xantrex Freedom 20 inverter/charger with a new Victron 3 kW inverter/charger that could charge at 120 amp per hour. We relegated the Xantrex to a redundant backup unit. When, however, we came to set up the new Victron Inverter we found that the old 8kW Westerbeke generator we had did not have a stable enough sine wave to enable the charge rate of the Victron to be set at its full 120 amp capability, it had to be restricted to 90 amps per hour in order to protect the charger circuitry from self-destructing due to the unstable electrical supply from the! All very frustrating! What did we do? Actually two things, we had previously installed 430 watts of solar panels on top of our pilot house roof with the intention and expectation of, on sunny days, the panels running the boat during the day thus postponing the necessity of running the generator in the mornings further more reducing the generator to one session a day in the evening. Our Westerbeke had 6,000 hours and it was constantly needing maintenance. Over the 2 years we have owned ‘Partner’ we had replaced many parts and spent a total of $8,000 on ‘Faraday’. Second the new 9kW Northern Lights ‘Whitey’ was installed and cost us $13,000 brand new, that did not include installation though. It was time to stop the ‘bleeding’ and get our electrical system running the way we wanted. With ‘Whitey’ installed we now charge at a 120 amp rate and with new wiring for the inverter and some of the appliances our current lose/drain has been mitigated. The bottom line is now we run the new Northern Lights 9kW 2-3 hours per day usually between 7 – 10 PM which allows us to run the air-conditioning as well to cool the boat down for us to sleep comfortably. The solar panels do a great job during the day maintaining the electrical demand and on very sunny days replenishing up to 40 amps of the overnight deficit. We also have replaced most of the lights on board with LED bulbs. If we need to make water or there is no sun we do run the generator additional hours on those rare days. The motto here is ask many questions at the time of purchase and try and determine if the boats electrical system will be simpatico to your life style expectations. Being tied to the boat monitoring the generator, as explained above, was the single most frustrating part of our cruising.
Nanny Cay
Nanny Cay Resort beach
On Saturday morning the 7th June 'Partners’ left the dock at Nanny Cay and we sailed directly across the Anegada Passage passing St. Kitts and Nevis with our first stop at Les Saintes, Guadeloupe. Ah! The French islands, baguettes, great cheese and wine, wonderful! We secured ourselves to a mooring ball, 60 euros for the week, and dinghied ashore to check in at the local internet café and bar! Yes, the Customs and Immigration clearance is done in the internet café which happens to have a bar! Only in France…it is wonderfully simple and easy. One Euro later we were in. Our 238 nm trip took 47½ hours, not too bad considering we had the equatorial current against us all the way. Les Saintes are small islands but not to mountainous so we like to walk here, there is no poverty, everyone appears comfortable; the local people are friendly and helpful. In the mooring field off Terre de Haut, the water is deep 40' or more and is deep blue and clean. We swam every day in the beautiful blue water straight from our swim platform on 'Partners'. We also enjoyed the cool breezes and gourmet dinners on the aft deck, our 'back porch'. We just love this place. While we were checking in at Customs and Immigration two other cruisers were there, we started to talk, in the end we all sat down and enjoyed a beer together. David and Trudie on-board their sailing boat ‘Persephone’. It turned out that they knew many of the other cruisers we did, it really is a small community. We became good friends and enjoyed several get-togethers with them during our stay as well as several more encounters all the way down islands to Grenada. One finds that a lot of French cruisers gravitate to the French Islands, obviously their comfort zone, therefore one does have the usual nakedness on display, both for sunbathing as well as the daily scrub down on the stern of their boats! Daily ferry boats from Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe arrive with a little wake but other than that the waters are well protected from swell.  
Alas time to move on...we have enjoyed a lazy week here now it is time to make passage to our next destination, Le Marin, Martinique...