Ship's Log

January 10th, 2012:  St. Thomas, VI:

The St. George's anchorage

Oh, Grenada!  It was so hard to say goodbye to you!  Especially since we found an absolutely fantastic anchoring spot for our last couple of weeks in Clarks Court Bay.  But there was no denying that it was almost time to go:  the weather reports were getting more and more peaceful, the insane heat of the summer was backing off, and our bank account was looking very pale and anemic.  Our guests were gone, it was late October, and a morose “back to school” feeling hung in the air on SARABANDE.

B Squad holds their fall meeting on how to increase and sustain cuteness levels.

We made our rounds to the little places that had made our day-to-day life in Grenada such a pleasure.  We went to the smoothie place at the Spiceland Mall, the butcher at Whisper Cove Marina, and the downtown fruit and vegetable market for one last hurrah.  We said our goodbyes to Grand Anse beach and Calvigny Island, and Louie had his last follow up appointment with his doctor, who was very pleased with how his leg was progressing.  Mentally, we started gearing ourselves up to be in motion again, and when a beautiful weather window for heading north opened up, we said our goodbyes, hauled up our grody anchor chain and slipped out to sea to retrace our steps north. 

Local fishing pirogue with bamboo outriggers in Tyrell Bay, Carriacou.

You never know what you'll find when you dive your anchor in Union Island!

After a thorough investigation, we waved "bye bye" and threw him back in.

As we sailed through the Grenadines, we toyed with the idea of turning the trip home into two or three long legs instead of a dozen daysails with stops at night.  For one thing, when we were island hopping on the way down, James was a different baby than he was now.  Over the past couple of months, he’d really grown much steadier on his feet, and much more mobile.  He didn’t want or need to be held as much as he had a couple of months before, so singing and being shown waves and birds wasn’t going to cut it anymore.  James wanted to move around and play, so we took turns keeping him busy in the deckhouse or out in the cockpit.  It was pretty labor intensive to keep him entertained and do all the things it takes to keep a boat sailing on a proper course.  Naptimes were our only respite, when the two of us could just enjoy the sail!  With that in mind, we decided that when we left Bequia, we’d skip St. Vincent entirely again, head up the lee side of St. Lucia and come to rest in Rodney Bay.  The little overnight trip would give us an idea how a longer passage might go, and from there we could decide how to transit the rest of the way.

Walking practice in Bequia.

We spent a night and a day in Bequia and dwaddled when it came time to go; what a charming place.  Bequia hasn’t seen the last of us, either!  The locals were celebrating their Independance Day, so a lot of the shops were closed, but everyone was out picnicing and watching a modest dinghy regatta.  About 15 kids in Optimist dinghies zoomed around the harbor course while their parents cheered, and we watched for a while as the Bequian children put our sailing skills to shame.  Their little brothers and sisters, not quite old enough for the dinghies, amused themselves near the shore by racing little boats made out of styrofoam picnic plates, using leaves from a seagrape tree as sails.  Sailing really is in the blood of Bequians, and it was great to see how happy these kids were harnessing the wind with a simple, ancient machine, instead of indoors doing, you know, Wii Sailing. 

Screw sailing dinghies:  this is the type of boat speed-lovers Louie and James are more interested in!

This is a sign from inside St. Mary's church.  It says "Welcome.  St. Mary's is open daily.  Please feel free to look about, sit and read,
chat with a friend, make a shopping list or even to say a prayer.  Then go in peace.  Please feel free to come again anytime."  
This pretty much sums up the friendly, hospitalble feel of the whole Bay.

We walked around the rest of the town, enjoying the simple, happy feel of the place and savoring our time together as a family.  The fact that soon we’d be back to our busy routine in St. Thomas lurked in the back of our minds throughout the whole trip back, so although we were having a marvelous trip, it was tinged with a tiny streak of sadness.  Oh, well.  Poor, poor us, huh?


Checking out some pretty Bequian flowers.

We left Admiralty Bay around 8pm, and immediately got hammered by a dumb little squall as soon as we stuck SARABANDE’s nose out of the harbor.  This particular squall was all rain - torrential, and big, cold drops - but not much wind, which made it more bothersome than nerve-wracking.  We were heading downwind, carried on the same gentle, languid breeze as the storm, and we were all traveling the same speed.  So the cloud simply sat on us for a while and had a good cry as we slowly bobbed our way over towards St. Vincent.  James slept through the hammering downpour like an angel - the day in town had really worn him out!  Eventually, the squall rained itself out and broke apart into little clouds that evaporated, leaving a crystal chandelier of stars and the warm land breeze blowing off St. Vincent’s lee.  The western mountains alternately blocked or funnelled the wind, so we made our way up the coast in fits and starts, sometimes ghosting along at 1.5 knots, other times serenely scooting at 4 knots.  The light-but-still-useable night wind made the sail more interesting for the on-watch, and the tranquility made sleeping easy for James, Louie and the off-watch.  It felt good for the motor to be off and to just be moving at whatever speed the wind saw fit.   At dawn, we were on the open sea between St. Vincent and St. Lucia, and by mid-morning we watched the Pitons slide by on our port side.  The wind was still light, the mountains blocked much of it, and we wanted to make our self-imposed 3pm “curfew”, so we motored the last few miles to Rodney Bay.

Greeted by this fine vessel upon our arrival!

Rodney Bay and the Lagoon on the other side of the strip of land, with SARABANDE resting at anchor.

Beautiful view looking south from the fort on Pigeon Island.

Looking north to Martinique.

After a good rest, a quick visit with George, and a sunset walk up to the fort on Pigeon Island, we were off again in another day to Anse a l'Ane in Martinique, where we were serenaded by an incredible calypso band (literally some of the best live music we've ever heard.  Pretty impressive, considering one of the band's instruments was a paint bucket!).  We pushed on through St. Pierre again and spent another night sleeping at the foot of Mont Pele.  Then on we glided to Roseau, to rest on a mooring for the night, which we paid for with the last of our EC dollars, and chugged into Prince Rupert Bay the next afternoon.

James had his first Halloween in St. Pierre.  Fitting, since the ruins are bound to be haunted!

Prince Rupert Bay was almost empty, which suited us just fine.  We remembered this bay as a calm, if soggy, place to get a good night’s sleep, and we were looking forward to a peaceful night.  Instead, a vicious groundswell crepty in and we rolled quite violently, tossing, turning, and swearing all night long!  When the morning came, we couldn’t pack up and get out of there fast enough!

It was so rolly that our precious French bread rolled off the counter
and had to be wrested from the greedy clutches of the bread monster!

We sailed up to the Saints, powered by wind, chocolate and coffee.  We’d only planned to spend one evening, but the Rupert Bay debacle lowered our defenses and we were unable to resist a day in Le Bourg.  This little town on a tiny French island is so cute you could almost gag.  Seriously! 

SARABANDE, not rolling and on a mandatory mooring.  What's not to love?

Fantastic hand-made pineapple and lime soap bars at the soap shop!  

James and AMC read a bit after drinking their delicious local juices.  Why did we have to leave?

The neighbors weren't a bit nosy.

Tiny, spotless, flower-filled, quaint and lined with miniature restaurants and boutiques, Le Bourg is the Audrey Hepburn of the Caribbean.  On our second day, we tore ourselves away to continue north, consoling ourselves with the fact that our next stop was, after all, Deshaies, the town in which we’d probably gained 10 pounds each eating cheese on our last visit there.   

Deshaies was lovely as ever, and over our next brie-infested breakfast, we listened to the weather report and got a saucy idea.  The wind was forecast to be perfect for a long run north west for the next several days, and wouldn’t Deshaies be a nice note to end our trip on?  Nevis, St. Kitts, Saba and the like are lovely, but their anchorages leave much to be desired, and more and more we have come to value a good night’s rest.  On our test run from Bequia to St. Lucia, James had done so well;  why not take advantage of the good conditions to finish the trip with a pleasant, long sail before we were chained to our mooring once again?  We mapped out a strategy, taking everything important into consideration:  wind, currents, the fuel inventory (just in case!) and how to take as much cheese with us as possible.  By dinnertime that night, we were ready to go and excited about our passage home.

Saw another green flash, and even caught this one on film!

But our loo decided it didn't want to leave Deshaies.  It had other plans.  First thing the next morning it clogged.  “Clog”:  probably the worst four-letter word in a sailor’s vocabulary, usually preceded and followed by all the other ones.  Our head rarely clogs, since we’re pretty religious about paper usage and thorough flushing.  A little bit of time and a plunger has always done the trick, but no dice this time.  Still hoping to leave early, Brian rebuilt the pump mechanism and while doing so, discovered that the joker valve was shot.  Simple!  We dug out our replacement valve, feeling very pleased with ourselves for having a spare on hand.  Ounce of prevention!  Pound of cure!  We’re so darn self-sufficient. 

New valve in place, we were getting ready to leave the harbor when the head clogged AGAIN.  We looked at each other and Brian’s forehead began to prespire:  he was going to have to move deeper into “the system”.  And “the system” was full of poop; this we knew for a fact.  His hands were going to very dirty, and we were probably not leaving Deshaies after all. 

Remember that scene in "The Shawshank Redemption"?

The rest of the day became an endless-seeming nightmare full of gagging (and not because of cuteness), cursing, and shouted questions that only God could possibly answer.  We had to completely disassemble the entire system, from the toilet bowl to the seacock!  We took turns tackling the horror, each of us working until we could take no more, while the other placated James and yelled out slogans of encouragement.  We saw things nobody should ever have to see, things permanently etched into both our brains.  The clog was not primarily from any paper or “organic matter”.  Oh, no!  Further exploration revealed the head was suffering what would be called coronary artery disease if the toilet were a heart.  Calcium buildup from years of seawater flushing coated the interior of every hose, evenly laying up until the “plaque” simply got too thick for anything to pass through.  Cut off from a fresh supply of ocean to flush with, the pump had seized up and had a heart attack. 

The remedy was simple and terrible.  We removed all the hoses, emptied them of what we could, then took turns beating them with a heavy mallet (sometimes while crying) to knock loose all the white, concrete-like stuff.  The Y-valve was filled with it, too.  After hours of work, we had a bunch of clean pipes, a brand-new looking y-valve, a five gallon bucket filled with unspeakable filth, and horrible, horrible memories.  “Oh, look at those pretty boats floating so peacefully at anchor,” said the tourists eating dinner in Deshaies’ harborside restaraunts, probably.  “The sailing life must be so carefree and easy!”

Sorry, aquatic life forms.  We hate poo.

Inside SARABANDE, we reassembled everything, spent about two hours cleaning the floor and walls of the head, threw away our clothes and shuddered, over and over again, under scalding hot showers.  We don’t like to use bleach due to its rough environmental impact, but this seemed like one time when nothing else would do.  The harsh smell of chlorine was an absolute comfort.  By the time everything and everyone was clean and functional again, it was dark outside and we were pooped (rimshot:  sorry).  We gave ourselves the next day off, because a person shouldn’t have to face shit geysers one day and then head off on a major passage the next.  We’re not getting paid for this, after all.  Besides, it was Friday, and you should never, never start a voyage on a Friday.  So, the next morning, we drowned our sorrows in a great French breakfast ashore one last time.  Incredible pastries and filthy, DIY-plumbing tragedies:  the road less traveled has scenic overlooks and potholes, in pretty equal proportions.

Our tiny, happy sailor somewhere off Guadeloupe.

Saturday afternoon, with a gloriously functional head, we at last left Deshaies with our bow pointed at good old St. Thomas.  For 44 hours, it was a pretty nice little sail!  Not a drop of rain, a gorgeous big moon for both nights, and 12-14 knots on our port quarter.  Alicia was not a bit seasick, James was content, and because we weren’t motoring much, Brian’s mind was much more at ease.  We did our usual informal watch system, helped along by coffee, Red Bull and chocolate (dietary willpower is especially weak in all that salty air).  SARABANDE performed beautifully, and our autopilot Neddy drove us most of the way home without complaint.  The first night, we were still far enough east to watch the lights of St. Kitts go by, and a small pod of dolphins provided Alicia with some entertainment for a little while, easily keeping pace with our 6 knots and leaping out of the waves high enough to look her in the eye.

The next day, we lost our wind on the Saba Banks for about 6 hours, but it soon came back, and then some, for our final push homeward. 

Catching up on some reading on our second day out.

The last night it was just us, the moon, and a couple of cruise ships, filled with passengers sleeping off the pirate ship trips they took in St. Thomas.

We made better time than we had planned for, so it was still dark when we finally emerged from the turbulence just off St. Croix (doubled reefed, no less!).  It was Brian’s watch, and he called Alicia up on deck a few moments before dawn to stare at the high hills of St. John, dark against a gradually lightening sky.  We changed course a little, and St. Thomas emerged, the first rays of sun illuminating its familiar hills and countours.  For the first time since we left New York three years ago, it felt like we were coming home.

Home in sight!  

With a lump in our throats, all our favorite things about this crazy island came rushing back to us.  Yes, there’s traffic and it’s “Americanized”.  Yes, the local government is corrupt to the core, comically so.  Yes, there’s crime, and it’s full of rude cruise ship passengers.  But you know what?  Approaching from offshore, St. Thomas is flat-out gorgeous.  And if you look past the McDonalds drive-thrus and bounce down the dirt roads to the beaches tourists never see, St. Thomas has got its own undeniable charm.  You couldn’t call her Audrey Hepburn, but she’s still got star quality.  In our minds, St. Thomas is the Britney Spears of the Caribbean.  Flashy?  Sure.  Tacky?  Sometimes.  And clearly, there have been issues in the past, major issues.  But after all that, she’s still got her good looks, and something about her makes you think she’s a sweetheart, if a little confused.  She’s still got it.  We never learned how much we like St. Thomas until we left and came back!

St. Thomas in the '70s was a very rough place.

But she's doing much better nowadays.

Landfall after a long sail always gives tired sailors an adrenaline rush to carry them home, painting everything with the sheen of surreality.  Was this really our mooring ball, hanging out just where we left it?  Were we really only gone for 4 1/2 months?  Had we really traveled way down island and back and seen all that we’d seen?  We felt like we were in a dream, and that we’d been gone for years, for decades!  And, hey, look at that:  our plan to keep our family safe and sound from the summer hurricanes worked!

Thick as thieves after a whole season of being together.  What could be more worthwhile?

We spent a couple of days resting and talking about all the places, sights and feelings that were ours to keep now.  We were utterly broke, but knew we were rich.  Money in the bank is no substitute for a life vivid with colors.  Time is the only currency any of us truly have to spend, and all of us are destined to run out.  Why pretend that anything is more important than squeezing every bit of juice from your time on earth, with people you love, in the brief flash that you’re all alive together?

For everything else, there's VISA.

Personal philosophies aside, baby did need a new pair of shoes, literally and figuratively.  We live in St. Thomas so we can raise a little capital now and then!  In no time flat, we settled back into our old routines, and all the things that make life easy and good here: our friends, Brian’s job, our car, the US postal system and our mailbox, playgroups for James, our peaceful mooring spot, AT&T, National Public Radio. 

James and his sweet friend Kaila reconnecting at the "Meet Santa" event at the Belgian Chocolate Factory.

Louie’s leg is almost completely healed, and he’s running on the beach again with only the slightest pimp limp popping up now and then.  At work, Brian was made captain of BONES, one of Topsails’ most bad-ass pirate boats, and he’s loving the new challenge.  Our bank account is in recovery, building up steam for the next big thing. 

We can’t wait to see what it’ll be.

A happy, peaceful, healthy New Year from us to you!

Alicia & Brian


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