The Panama Canal.

Correction: My previous post stated that Karen and Evan hiked in NZ over Christmas. Not correct – they hiked in Tasmania – sorry guys!

Panama Canal map and section.

Limon Bay is a large anchorage for ships, protected by a long breakwater on the Atlantic or Caribbean side of the Panama canal. The City of Colon is on the eastern side of this anchorage and the Shelter Bay Marina is tucked in behind the breakwater on the western side – we tied up at the marina on Monday the 8th February 2021. First we had to have a Covid PCR test at the arrivals dock and after a negative result only an hour later, we were in our berth.

Canal info.

Shelter Bay Marina is quite busy with yachts coming and going on their canal transits. It has everything you need, including a gym, swimming pool, bar and restaurant. They offer a free bus service to Colon twice a day for shopping, which we used the day after we arrived. The restaurant serves good pizzas and salads, but the wines are expensive.

Our marina dock.

Restaurant next to the pool.

Sunset from our berth.

Good company, good wine and good food.

Friday the 12th February was Chinese New Year, which was a good enough reason for the yachties in the marina to have a Chinese potluck dinner at the BBQ area. We had a good turnout with some tasty Chinese dishes, followed by a big screen live broadcast of the Prada Cup races in NZ, between Italy (Aussie skipper) and the UK. The foiling monohulls are spectacular to watch, reaching up to 45 knots on the water!

Chinese New Year = Ah soh!

On the Saturday, “Energy Observer” a fascinating catamaran covered in solar panels, tied up at the marina. A floating laboratory for hydrogen, solar and wind energy propulsion and zero emissions. Visit: https://www.energy-observer.org/

The “Energy Observer”

A week after our arrival, on Monday morning the 15th February, the Canal Admeasurer came to measure Esprit for her canal transit. An efficient young lady, who got the job done in 45 minutes and then issued us with a transit number and the necessary documentation. A world of difference to our Suez Canal experience, where two Egyptian officials took a day for the same work.

The next day Roger our agent (Rogelio, pronounced Rohelio), delivered the big fenders and long mule lines required in the canal locks. He also collected payment for the transit which amounted to USD 2,354.00 (compared to the Suez canal charge of USD 600.00, three years ago). In addition, we had to pay 3 line handlers USD 120.00 each for their services. Our transit was scheduled for Friday the 19th February.

Equipment for the canal.

While waiting, we managed to have our life raft serviced – we got that back the day before our transit.

On Friday the 19th February, the Panama Canal transit advisor (pilot) and the three line handlers boarded Esprit in the Shelter Bay anchorage at 17:00. The advisor directed us under the new Colon bridge, to the holding area before the Gatun locks. Here we rafted up with our friends SV Nauplios, an aluminium yacht from the UK of roughly the same length as Esprit.

Our line handlers Ricardo, John and Ray.

Passing under the new Colon bridge.

SV Ghost passing us.

Nauplios approaching us to raft up.

Raft up done.

Elaine and Crawford Snedden on Nauplios.

We entered the first of three lock chambers, to rise a total of 26.5 m above the Caribbean sea level. Ahead of us in the 110 x 1000 ft (33.5 x 304.8 m) lock chamber was a reefer coastal cargo vessel and SV Ghost, a luxury yacht. Two shore men on each side of the chamber, threw thin heaving lines attached to “Monkey fists” down to our line handlers, which they in turn attached to thick mule lines on our decks. These lines were pulled up and attached to bollards on shore to keep the vessels centred in position.

Approaching the first Gatun lock.

Shore men walking our mule lines forward.

It was now getting dark and as soon as the huge lock doors closed behind us, the lock master opened the valves and water from the Gatun Lake above, gravity filled the lock chamber. The lock chamber has a capacity of 26 million gallons of water (50 Olympic size swimming pools) and was filled in eight minutes, through 70 openings in the floor of the chamber. The water was literally boiling around us, confirming the necessity of the mule lines.

Chamber doors starting to close.

Doors closed.

Line handlers pulling in the mule lines as the water rises.

Water flowing in through 70 openings in the chamber floor.

Lock full – Esprit and Nauplios as seen from Ghost.

The process was repeated through the next two locks, after which we motored a mile to a big floating buoy on Lake Gatun and tied up on it with Nauplios at 9pm. We then fed the adviser and line handlers who were sculling Cokes from the 24 can case we supplied. The advisers left our boats and the young line handlers eventually went to sleep on mattresses in the cockpit.

Waking up on Saturday next to Nauplios.

The next morning at 7:30 we served breakfast to the line handlers and at 8:30 a new adviser boarded Esprit for the 44 nm passage across Lake Gatun to the locks on the Pacific side. Towards the end, we went through the Culebra Cut which is the deepest excavation for the canal though the mountain watershed  on the isthmus of Panama. Most impressive, considering the thousands of men who toiled (and died) here, without modern earth moving machinery in the late 1890’s. Just past the Culebra Cut is the new Centennial bridge.

Approaching the Culebra Cut with Nauplios ahead of us.

Ghost passing us in the cut.

Looking back – once this was a mountain ridge.

The canal was opened in 1914 and since then ships planning to transit the canal had to be designed to fit the dimensions of the locks (The Panamax ships). In 2016 new larger locks were completed in parallel to the existing locks to accommodate larger ships (The Neopanamax ships). A few of these behemoths passed us.

Passing a huge Neopanamax ship in the canal.

Panamax and Neopanamax sizes.

Huge tugs working in the canal.

This tug passing us while doing a fire drill.

We now reached the three lowering locks on the Pacific side, the first being the Pedro Miguel lock (9.5 m step down). Esprit and Nauplios had to raft up on either side of Ghost, entering the lock first. A huge motor vehicle carrier (5,500 vehicles) came in behind us. This vessel built to Panamax specs, fitted in width into the lock chamber, with a few centimetres to spare on either side. She was towed into position by four electric locomotives on each side, centring her with thick mule cables, without scraping the paint on her sides.

Rafted up next to Ghost looking forward.

Ghost looking aft.

Darby and Joan – look at us, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous!

Shore men throwing their lines.

Caught by our line handlers.

The big ships get pulled by these electric locomotives.

A short distance away were the two Miraflores locks, stepping down 16.5 m at mid tide, on the Pacific Ocean side.

Entering the full Miraflores lock.

Here comes the vehicle carrier, pulled by locomotives.

Water level lowered, the doors open.

Out comes the vehicle carrier – a tight fit.

After these locks, we detached from Ghost and said our goodbyes – they were sailing up to the Gulf of Cortez in Mexico. Next up, was the big and filthy harbour of Balboa before passing under the Bridge of the Americas, a poor cousin of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We dropped our line handlers and their ropes and fenders at the Balboa Yacht Club, where Nauplios tied up to a mooring.

Nauplios and the Bridge of the Americas.

Here comes our lock buddy!

We motored on for another 30 minutes to drop our anchor at La Brisas, behind the long causeway, south of Panama City at 18:15, just in time to enjoy the sunset, cold beer in hand. This was truly an exciting experience on our journey so far. We plan to spend another two weeks here while waiting for spare backup parts for our Pacific crossing and sight seeing in this huge city – we can’t wait to see Frank Gehry’s Bio-diversity museum.

The Bio-diversity museum at a distance, as we motor out of the canal.

Panama city across the causeway.

In conclusion, two bits of Panama Canal trivia: 1) French impressionist painter Paul Gauguin worked as a common labourer on the Canal in 1887.

2) The lowest toll paid was 36 cents by Richard Halliburton when he swam the entire length of the Canal in 1928. The new larger “Neopanamax” ships can now pay more than a million dollars in toll.

The high price we paid for the transit, pales when considering the cost and the danger of sailing the extra 7,872 nm around Cape Horn in South America.

So, having now arrived on the Pacific ocean side and measured by longitude, we have covered 65% of the equatorial distance around the world. Our course north and south of the equator during the past 4.5 years added to the distance, to bring it to 28,132 nm (52,100 km) passing under Esprit’s keel. The Pacific being the largest ocean, accounts for slightly more than a third of the total equatorial distance, which we should finish by the end of the year.

Our route so far – click to enlarge.

Our next post will be on Panama City and the Las Perlas Islands off the coast, where we will wait for a weather window to cross to the Marquesas Islands, 3,800 nm to our west. Until then, Adios!

The Colombian and Panamanian Islands.

Our last night in Cartagena.

Farewell dinner.

Motoring out of Cartagena.

On the 11th January we motored the 14 nm from Cartagena, south to the Baru peninsula which has a beautiful long white beach with clear water on the North west side, called Playa Blanca. We found a sheltered anchorage in the lee of Punta Gigantes and it was so peaceful, we spent three nights here. It gave me the opportunity to clean Esprit’s waterline and sides which got quite dirty in Cartagena. Annie polished all the stainless steel work on the boat.

Playa Blanca.

From Playa Blanca it was a 7.5 nm sail south west to the Islas del Rosario Archipelago formed by a group of 27 small islands surrounded by intermittent reefs. We anchored on the South side of Isla Grande and spent a pleasant three days exploring the eastern and western sides. The North eastern side is where all the resorts are and although there are no roads on the island, there are beautiful walking tracks under the trees, all over the island.

Isla Rosario to San Bernardo.

A small island off Isla Grande.

Annie on a walking track.

Island scenery.

The north shore of Isla Grande.

One of the eco resorts on Isla Grande.

We set sail on Saturday the 16 th January in a light north westerly for the 26 nm sail to the San Bernardo Archipelago. This mini archipelago lies at the northern edge of the Gulf of Morrosquillo. It’s ten islands are a group of low rocks, wooded cays, and shoal banks with Isla Tintipán, the northernmost cay of the group and the largest. Its southern shore has a few attractive grass thatched resorts, where we anchored in crystal clear water.

Isla Tintipan.

The following day we sailed through the Gulf of Morrosquillo, looking for phone reception to check the weather for our crossing to Panama. We had no success off Isla San Bernardo, the towns of Berrugas and Santiago de Tolu. After 42 nm, we anchored in the bay Bahia de Cispata, where we had a good signal and were able to attend to emails and download the weather forecasts.

Our track around the Gulf of Morrosquillo.

It was a 25 nm motor sail to Isla Fuerte, our last stop in Colombia, where we anchored on the leeward shore, in a beautiful sheltered bay. Isla Fuerte owes its name to the fort (fuerte) built by the Spaniards to protect the island from attacks by pirates and privateers. The island is enclosed by reefs and the surrounding waters are very shallow far from the shore. This island has no vehicles or motorbikes – a few locals have bicycles and dozens of donkeys transport produce, water and supplies. We managed to spend our last Colombian Pesos in one of the small grocery stores of Puerto Limon.

Isla Fuerte.

Beautiful thatched roof and donkeys.

Beasts of burden.

Outdoor cafe where we had empanadas.

We decided to head from Isla Fuerte due west, to the outer islands of the San Blas archipelago off the Panama Isthmus mainland. The 150 nm overnight sail turned out to be hard work. Although the N-E wind only got up to 25 knots on our beam, the sea had built up to 3-4m swells after the weeklong  N-E winds. This, coupled with a contrary current, made for a very confused sea.   After 24 hours, we were relieved to anchor in the lee of the island Banedup, in the eastern Cayos Holandes group – wet, salt encrusted and tired.

Our route to San Blas.

Facing big seas to get there.

The San Blas Islands offer an exceptional area, worthy of exploring, for its uniqueness and beauty. Stretching about 170 miles along the North coast of Panama from Cabo Tiburon on the Colombian border, the chain of small islands named by the Spaniards as San Blas, is called Guna Yala by the original dwellers. Guna Yala is one of the three Panamanian departments that make up the autonomous Guna territory, inhabited by some 40,000 Guna Indians – scattered in 49 communities, both on the mainland and on the islands off the coast.

Guna Yala territory.

Guna Yala, the most populated of the three departments, encompasses over 378 small sand islands, most of them uninhabited and ranging from a decent size piece of wooded land to a tiny pile of sand with a few coconut trees gathered in the middle. Although fairly well protected from the sea by the surrounding reefs, the islands are located in shallow waters with no access for big vessels – and quite problematic for our 2.2 m draft. They rise above the turquoise waters just enough not to be seen due to the waves in rough seas.

Our landfall at Banedup island in the east Holandes.

And look – next to us: Merewether from Newcastle, Australia.

Do not be fooled by the bucolic beauty of the landscape. The whole cruising area is full of reefs, shoals, and shifting sand banks. The area is not charted in detail and commonly used electronic local charts are far from accurate. Eyeball navigation was the order of the day for us, despite three sources of charts behind the wheel – Navionics on the chart plotter, open CPN and other charts from Eric Bauhaus on two laptops.

Walking on Banedup island.

Banedup – Esprit alone at anchor in the bay.

Interesting beach furniture.

Neighbouring BBQ island.

Annie walking on Banedup south beach.

Fish, seafood, coconuts and plantains are relatively easy to get from the Gunas who will approach your boat on their ulus (wooden boats carved out of a single trunk, propelled with paddles and a rudimentary sail) to offer their catch, produce or crafts. Women are in charge of the household finances and contribute to the economy with the sale of their handcrafted molas, colourful pieces of cloth, sewn in multiple layers, then cut to reveal intricate patterns. Annie splurged on a few of these beautiful molas.

Guna fishermen in their ulu.

Mola seller.

An adjoining island.

Watch out for shallow water!

After 5 days at Banedup (with no internet), and exploring the surrounding islands by dinghy, we sailed the 8 nm distance to Green Island (Kanlildup) to get a Digicel phone signal, receive our emails and reply to them. There were 18 boats at anchor at Green Island, as this is one of the few islands where a slow internet signal could be had. We met some new cruisers anchored here and did walks on the island which was uninhabited. We bought fish and squid from the fishermen and had a visit from the Guna Yala officials to collect a USD 50 fee for a month long cruising permit in the San Blas Island waters.

Green island.

Beach on Green island.

Minute Sand island.

Sand island looking out to sea.

Four days later, we motored to the Coco Bandero Cays to the North. These small islands behind a long barrier reef are truly beautiful, but exposed to the fresh winds blowing in from the Caribbean sea. After two days, the wind and the swell picked up, so we decided to leave after taking the dinghy to Tiadup Island to the North, to drop off some rice, cooking oil and other pulses for the two families living there. They had come by in their ulu asking for things – we couldn’t understand their Spanish, so we gave what we thought they needed. After consulting Google Translate that evening, we realised that cooking oil and rice were the two words in Spanish they kept repeating.

Coco Bandero islands.

Annie enjoying the scenery.

Esprit anchored very close inshore in the narrow passage between islands.

Our next stop was 10 miles to the West in the central Holandes Cays where we anchored north off Miriadup in sheltered water. Miriadup has a number of houses on it, but is very plain compared to what we had seen thus far. The island to the North is largely a swamp and Bauhaus’s guide warns about the insects and no-see-ums that come out when the wind stops blowing

Another 10 mile sail southwest to the Cayos Chichime, saw us anchored in the lee of Uchutupu Dummat, the main island which houses a neat and colourful community. The main anchorage behind the reef had about 10 boats at anchor, which were more exposed to the swell, due to the fetch to the reef.

Chichime island in the lee of Uchutupu Dummat.

Circumnavigating the island by dinghy.

Crystal clear water.

Coming ashore to explore the island.

One of two fresh water wells on the island.

We explored the coastline of this island which had white beaches and clear water. Walking around the island, we met the locals who were very friendly and took trouble to rake the ground around their houses and under the palm trees. Like all these islands, the flotsam and jetsam from the oceans, unfortunately, end up on their windward shores.

Sand neatly raked below the palms.

The holiday bungalows sadly empty because of Covid.

One of three wrecks on the reefs offshore.

An ulu in the making – hacked out of a tree trunk.

Two days later, Elaine and Crawford Sneddon anchored next to us in SV Nauplios. We went over for a fabulous dinner with lots of wine, walked around the island and had water noodle sundowners.

Annie and Elaine walking to the village.

Guna dad and kids happy with the nuts and lollies we donated.

Walking through the village.

After four days we upped anchor and motored to the Cayos Limones (Lemon Cays). We only stayed for 30 minutes before moving on to Provenir Island, as the wind and swell were too much. All there was to see was an abandoned holiday resort on the water.

Lemon Cays – abandoned resort.

Provenir is the Guna Yala administrative centre with customs and immigration as well as a small regional airport. The wind and swell were too much again, so we anchored in the lee of the densely populated Wichubuala Island for the night.

Provenir island.

An ulu sailing past our anchorage at Wichubuala.

The next morning we made an early start for Puerto Linton, 40 nm to the West. The swell and the wind was manageable and we had a terrific sail to Linton Island, where we anchored with approximately 80 other yachts of various vintages and sea worthiness. Annie suggested a lot of boats on anchor here, won’t transit the Panama canal for financial reasons, or because a Pacific crossing was too daunting.

Nevertheless, it’s an interesting anchorage with interesting characters hanging around the marina bar, staring at the horizon. There was good internet, so we stuck around for three days, catching up with emails etc, before setting off on our last leg to Shelter Bay marina, 30 nm to the West.

The bar at Linton Bay Marina.

Our next post by end February should be interesting, as we will be transiting the Panama canal, before setting off across the Pacific to the Marquesas Islands 3,900 nm away. Please don’t send us any emails from about the end of February for about a month, while we are using the expensive Iridium satellite network – SMS messages will be OK.

Finally, news from our girls is that over the festive season, Michelle visited Cape Town in SA and Karen and Evan hiked in South Island, New Zealand.

Our friends in Cape Town, Lynne, Dave, Reini, Patricia and Michelle.

Evan and Karen hiking in South Island NZ.

Cheers for now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas and New Year in Colombia

Originally, our plan was to spend two weeks in Santa Marta and then move on to Cartagena (pronounced Carta-hay-na) for Christmas and the New Year. Our anchor and chain, sent in for re-galvanizing, was supposed to take 7-10 days, but was eventually, only returned the day before Christmas.

Christmas decorations in Bolivar square, Santa Marta

The council has gone to a lot of trouble to brighten up Santa Marta, despite the Covid.

A balmy evening in one of the the Santa Marta squares.

Finding a quiet alley for a meal – these folks really need the business.

Drinks with Crawford and Elaine at the marina.

This extended our stay to three weeks, to include two great Christmas parties with the cruisers that had arrived in Santa Marta, enroute to Panama. The first was a paella dinner the day before Christmas, compliments of the Santa Marta marina management.

On our way to the paella meal.

On Christmas Day, we had entertaining team games between the cruisers, a pot luck late afternoon BBQ dinner and Secret Santa presents. Eating, drinking and great fun was had by all, until late in the evening.

Kyle nails the pantihose 6 x water bottle knock down race.

Missus Claus hands out the Secret Santa presents.

Crawford and Kieran received some Colombian hats – eat your hearts out, hat aficionados.

The group of sailors heading for Panama.

The BBQ tong masters.

Missy, Kyle, Denis and Natali chewing the late night fat.

We set off bleary eyed early on the 26 th to do a two-day sail to Cartagena with a stopover halfway at Puerto Velero to use our water maker and fill our water tanks (the water in Santa Marta was not potable). The sailing was great with 15knot north-easterly following winds, all the way to Cartagena.

Approaching Cartagena – old town on the left.

We arrived in the anchorage outside the Club Nautico Marina late afternoon, to check into the marina the next morning. Cartagena is a modern city, built around the historical town with defensive walls, dating back to the 1600s

Modern buildings around the anchorage.

Club Nautico facilities.

Our berth next to Piano Piano.

The historical port of Cartagena, entered through the narrow passage at Punta Castillo, is today a modern harbour, with an incongruous big statue of the Virgin and Child in the centre, marking a shallow area. The harbour is surrounded by high rise buildings, reminding of the Downtown Core and Raffles Place in Singapore.

Statue of the Virgin and child.

A walk to the top of the biggest fort in Cartagena “Fuerte de San Felipe de Barajas” gives a good introduction to the layout of the old and the new cities.

Fuerte de San Felipe de Barajas

In front of the fort is the statue of Don Blas de Lezo, about whom Colombians are heard to say: “Because of him, we don’t speak English”. This Basque naval hero, after a long career whose battles cost him an arm, a leg, and an eye, was appointed Commander of the Spanish Fleet at Cartagena in 1737.

Don Blas de Lezo

When British Admiral Edward Vernon came gunning for Cartagena with a fleet of ships and men, many times the size of that under de Lezo’s command, de Lezo sank many of the English ships and held off the attack until the start of the rainy season when tropical illnesses ran through the English crews and Vernon slunk away with one-tenth the number of men and far fewer ships than he started with.

Approaching the top of the fort through a network of tunnels.

The massive walls of the fort.

View from the top – the English were anchored in the bay below.

There are restaurants along the waterfront and a block away is a big, well stocked supermarket. The old town centre inside the defensive walls, is a 10 minute walk from the marina. Below follows a number of our un-annotated  photos, to give you the flavour of the old town. The first lot taken in the narrow streets and alleys of the residential area, followed by the grander buildings in the centre. The people living on these alleys don’t have gardens, so they gather in the streets at sunset, with lively Spanish music playing. The ladies in colourful dresses are called Palenqueras – they are the food, fruit and veg sellers in the old town.

Palenqueras balance their wares.

This one is for Michelle M!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Stef, Cath and the boys!

We cycled around the old town a few times to visit the gold museum and the museum of modern Colombian art. It also gave us the opportunity to explore streets which we had missed before. There is just so much beauty and art in this town, that it leaves you breathless. We had an interim goodbye BBQ on Esprit, as some of the younger cruisers wanted to head off to go kiteboarding at Bocas, west of Colon and the Canal. There is a lot of encouragement from them for me to take up the sport, but I am ambivalent about this as it sounds too much like excessive exercise at 73.

After two delightful weeks in Cartagena, we will head south this weekend, to explore the Islas del Rosario, Archipelago de San Bernardo and Isla Fuerte on our way down to the San Blas Islands north of the Panama isthmus. We will report back on the above islands, when we reach the Panama Canal at Colon, as we don’t expect good phone or data reception during the next month. Until then, enjoy 2021.

Santa Marta Christmas 2020.

Santa Marta street art.

In the days following our arrival in Santa Marta, Colombia on Sunday the 6 th December, a number of other yachts arrived. These were Australian, New Zealand, US and Belgian registered yachts who we had all met before in various anchorages, so there was a flurry of reunion drinks and dinners in the evenings of the following week.

Statue of Simon Bolivar “The Liberator” of South America from Spanish rule. He died in Santa Marta.

Colonial government buildings.

During the day, we explored the town of Santa Marta, which was bustling with street traders on the sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to walk in the streets and running the gauntlet of vehicles whose drivers consider traffic lights as mere decorations and their hooters as the cure-all for pedestrians in their way.

Bustling streets and sidewalks.

Having a cup of coffee at a busy street cafe.

A hat and bag seller.

The marina could arrange hot dip galvanising with a local plant, so we had our badly corroded anchor and 80 m of anchor chain sent in for galvanising. Our BBQ which runs off an Aussie gas cylinder, was back in action as the local gas supplier had an adaptor for it and refilled the cylinder for us.

Santa Marta cathedral.

Our daughter Karen who travelled South America two years ago and spent some time in Colombia, suggested we visit Minca, a small town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We headed out there on the 13 th December to spend a relaxed time on land for a couple of days. The town reminded us of Nimbin, the hippie town in northern NSW, Australia. We stayed at the Chunu’u hostel resort in a “glamping tent” next to a river.

Arriving at Chunu’u – named after the small nectar eating bird.

The “glamping tents”

Inside our “Loveshack”

Taking a breather.

After action satisfaction – man, relax with a cup of coffee.

Fellow Aussie Colin, arranged for us to visit the La Victoria coffee plantation high up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. To get there, ten of us sailors got onto the pillions of the local moto taxis and had a hair raising ride on narrow unpaved roads with hairpin bends and sheer drops to the valleys below.

Annie and her driver.

Miguel my driver – hairstyle is important to these youngsters. The “Style du Jour” is “Mullet meets Mohawk”.

La Victoria is one of the biggest and oldest coffee farms of northern Colombia. It was founded in 1892 by Charles and Alice Bowden, a couple of English entrepreneurs who arrived in the country. The Bowden’s were among the pioneers that started producing coffee extensively in the region around Minca. They engineered a system of pipelines that uses water from the numerous streams of the farm to collect coffee from remote areas and to power the machinery of the coffee factory.

The water powered generator supplying power to the farm.

Thanks to these innovations, La Victoria Coffee Company became one of the top producers of coffee in the region by 1921, with a yearly production of 200,000 kg. More recently, the Weber-Wilde family, who has owned the property for two generations now, is opening the farm to alternative activities. We enjoyed a very informative tour of the coffee factory built in 1892 and still running today. The owner who’s husband passed away two years ago, is running the big farm and coffee factory on her own.

The owner explains how the coffee fruit is soaked to separate the flesh from the bean.

Coffee beans are dried in these turning vessels.

The trip back on the moto taxis were even worse, because going downhill the riders could show off their considerable racing skills, which would have had the motorcycle racers in the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, green with envy. When not hiking along the rivers and the mountain trails, we explored the town and enjoyed the local food.

Crossing the river on a dodgy bridge.

Locals enjoying the chilly mountain water.

Up in the mountains, these huge bamboo forests are prolific.

A nymph in the river.

Bye-bye to Chunu’u.

Back at the marina, we had new neighbours, Rokas and Simona on “Starlight” from Lithuania and Elaine and Crawford on “Nauplios” from the UK. The galvanising of our anchor and chain had been delayed due the volume of work at the plant, with the promise that we can expect delivery just before Christmas, which is celebrated in Colombia on the 24 th December. We will set sail to Cartagena, 120 nm to the South, after Christmas, to celebrate the New Year down there.

To all our family and friends, we wish you a merry Christmas and after hopefully receiving your Covid vaccinations early in 2021, a brighter and happier new year than the year that 2020 has been. Cheers!

Annie & Dirk

Curacao 2.5 and sailing to Colombia.

Whilst waiting for confirmation of the 1st December border opening of Colombia, we did our laundry and did two long hikes: The “Meditation” hike above Santa Barbara resort, which clearly hadn’t been walked by anyone for years. I should have taken a machete to fight through the prolific cacti and “Hook and spear” thorn trees. (Haak en steek dorings)

Annie forging ahead on the Meditation hike

Cacti flourish here.

As if the scratches on our legs were not enough, a solid rain downpour hit us just before we reached the lookout, drenching us completely. During my meditation afterwards, I tried to answer the questions “Why did we tackle this hike?” and “Where did you put the Betadine antiseptic and Voltaren meds?”

Looking down to Seru Boca marina.

Annie at the lookout.

View across Spanish Water.

Annie catching her breath back at Santa Barbara beach.

The next hike was the Jan Thiel lagoon walk (aka “The roller coaster hike”) on Sunday the 29th Nov. After the previous day’s rain, this was a slippery mud-bath and begged the same question as above. After a swim, some Voltaren anti-inflammatories and a stiff whisky, we went to bed early.

The only worthwhile photo on this walk – an animal cemetery in the bush.

There was the good news by email just before bedtime that Colombia will open it’s harbours on the 1st December – details about Covid-19 protocols to follow. Confirmation came through on the 1st: No prior testing or testing on arrival required after a doctor has checked us out. We took the bus into town and did the 6.4 km circuit checking out with Customs and Immigration on the 2nd December. In the evening we had farewell drinks on Wild Thing.

Last look at Punda in Willemstad – new hearts for more locks.

Christmas tree decorations complete.

The fresh fruit and veg market.

The following day, we had a relaxed broad reach up the West coast of Curacao and anchored off beautiful Santa Cruz bay, the most northerly anchorage on the island. The reason for setting of from here, is to pass Aruba to the North and avoid the 15 km wide passage to Venezuela to the South – the danger of piracy from Venezuela is a reality.

Passing Willemstad on our way up the west coast.

More cruise liners in mothballs – the Kiwi’s say “Beached as”

On the 4th December, we set off at 6:30 am for the 358 nm crossing to Santa Marta in Colombia. After 2 hours of motor sailing to get out of the lee of the island, we set the jib out on the pole, with one reef in the main to goose wing downwind. We fine tuned Harry the Hydrovane in 28 knots of north-easterly wind and Harry steered us all the way to Santa Marta over the next 46 hours.

Route Caribbean. (Click on map to enlarge)

At 2pm we passed Northwest Point in Aruba, 8 nm offshore. At 4:30 pm we gybed the sails at 13.15 deg north on the 1,000 metre depth contour, to start our course south. During the night, the notorious easterly and confused swells started to rise, but we were bowling along nicely to cover 176 nm at 6:30am to average 7.3 knots over 24 hours. At 10:00 am we passed Cabo de Vela in Colombia, 20 nm offshore.

Annie catches another Mahi-Mahi.

Sunday the 5th December was a real relaxed Sunday sail as the waves got smaller, once we were in the lee of Cabo de Vela. As we were approaching Santa Marta, we furled the jib and tucked a second reef in the main in an effort to slow down in the strong 35 knot easterly. We had planned to reach Santa Marta by midday, but now it was still dark and we were not ready to make our landfall.

We managed to drop the sail outside Marina Santa Marta at 6:30 am, as the sun was rising. Esprit had sailed 182 nm over 24 hours to average 7.6 knots. The 358 nm passage she covered in 48 hours at 7.46 knots. Esprit was performing as well as we could wish for.

Hoisting the Colombian and quarantine flags.

The marina staff did not come on duty until 8:00 am, so we drifted in the harbour, brewing coffee and having breakfast. The staff were very welcoming and efficient, tying us up at our berth. Being Sunday, the government agencies weren’t working, so we went for showers and slept most of the afternoon. By 5:00 pm we were woken by the many pleasure craft returning to the marina, their sound systems blasting fantastic Spanish music. This was a welcome change from the Afro beat prevalent in the Caribbean.

Washing off the salt.

Jeanneau’s at Santa Marta marina

It is now Monday morning and Jorg Domann from Berlin has just berthed next to us in a Jeanneau 409 sister yacht. Sailing single handed and restricted from poling out, he covered the distance in 3 days, which is good for single handing. He has gone to sleep now, whilst we are waiting on a doctor to come and check us up around midday for Covid clearance. It has also given me the opportunity to write this post while waiting. We will report in due course on Santa Marta and Cartagena in Colombia. Until then, cheers and stay safe.

Curacao 2.

We arrived in Curacao during the rainy season, with the result that the rain came bucketing down for days on end, which was good for filling our water tanks, but not so good for exercise. Whenever there was a break in the rain, we bolted out on walks into the country, or to the supermarket.

Going bush – Spanish Water, on our way to the ocean beaches.

Caracas Bay on the ocean side – a cruise liner and an oil rig laid up due to Covid.

Papagayo Beach with mostly Dutch tourists.

In between, we did work on the boat or had other cruisers over for drinks. Ed and Natalie from Montreal in Canada took us along in their car to do shopping, so we reciprocated with a dinner at Taboosh, a restaurant on the Spanish Water with local cuisine.

Dirk, Ed, Natalie & Annie at Taboosh.

The bus service into town gave us the opportunity to explore the towns of Punda and Otrabanda on opposite sides of the canal into Willemstad. On the Otrabanda side is the fantastic Kura Hulanda Museum, which is part of the urban renewal project which the Dutch entrepreneur and philanthropist, Jacob Dekker funded to the tune of many millions of dollars. Curacao was the centre of the slave trade in years past and the museum is a stark reminder of the terrible fate that befell these people from Africa. The museum has a valuable collection of African art which Dekker assembled over many years. Born in 1948, he sadly passed away a year ago from cancer at the age of 71.

Entrance to the museum.

A bust of Jacob Dekker.

“Mama Africa” sculpture in the museum courtyard, highlighting the origins of the slaves.

Started by the Portuguese in 1526, the current estimates are that about 12 million to 12.8 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean over a span of 400 years. The number purchased by the traders was considerably higher, as the passage had a high death rate with approximately 1.2–2.4 million dying during the voyage and millions more died in seasoning camps in the Caribbean after arrival to the New World.

Millions of slaves also died as a result of slave raids and during transport to the African coast for sale to European slave traders. Near the beginning of the 19th century, various governments acted to ban the trade, although illegal smuggling still occurred. In the early 21st century, several governments issued apologies for the transatlantic slave trade. (Source: Wikipedia)

Model of a slave trading ship. In the holds of these ships, the slaves in chains, were crammed like sardines .

Sad!

Venice also has something to answer for it’s North African slave trading history.

Slave girls – I have only included photos of the less shocking exhibits in the museum.

Mural depicting slaves at work in the Caribbean.

Exit of the slave museum – Annie looking back, gobsmacked.

End of a sad chapter – celebrating the emancipation of the slaves in Curacao by King Willem III of the Netherlands.

The photos following, are of the redeveloped urban area in Kura Hulanda – with lots of public art around.

 

 

Cooling off with iced cappuccinos.

Dekker’s extensive African art collection.

Walking back to Punda.

Punda, which we explored on the other side of the canal, is a living and very colourful street art gallery, with artistic surprises around every corner. We enjoyed this so much, we went back two days later to explore the area further. Below, follows some photos of the street art, which don’t need further explanation.

We thought this building was a church – it is the Public Prosecutor’s office!

The Christmas decorations are coming out.

A Chichi Santa with reindeer.

Last night, we had cruisers from Australia and New Zealand around for drinks, all of us waiting for the Colombian border to open on the 1st December (hopefully). Like us, these boats, Merewether and Wild Thing are also planning to transit the Panama canal early in the new year, to start their Pacific crossing. We are all waiting with bated breath. We will report back early in December on our next move, so until then, keep safe and wear your masks.

Curacao

Caribbean Route.

Note: If the map on the email version you have received is not clear, click on the map to enlarge it.

The route from Grenada to Curacao has two potential dangers: 1. Piracy off the North coast of Venezuela, which evidently, is worse than the piracy which we had expected off the Somali coast in the Gulf of Aden – so, we sail well offshore from the Venezuelan Islands of Blanquila and Los Rogues! 2. Strong easterly winds, which build up towards the Gulf of Mexico, after their long journey across the Atlantic.

The Predictwind Offshore service which we are subscribed to, indicated a favourable four day weather window starting on the 7 th November 2020. The expected wind strength for the 440 nm (815 km) distance was around a 15 knot Easterly with swells of 1 – 2 metres. Ideal for Esprit with a poled out jib and full main, going dead downwind. We set sail from St George’s in Grenada on the 7th at 15:00.

To remind us of the high rainfall in Grenada and as a farewell present, we were hit by a severe squall with torrential rain, two miles offshore. After this, Harry the Hydrovane took control and we were sailing downwind at 9 – 11 knots SOG (Speed Over Ground). With no further rain and  a consistent wind, we had a wonderful trip downwind for the next two days.

Harry the Hydrovane.

The prediction for day 3.

Weather, according to MetBob in New Zealand (Bob McDavitt), is a mix of pattern and chaos. It therefore comes as no surprise, when the wind suddenly dies down on day three, despite the predictions. We had to start the Yanmar engine and motor for the last 30 hours, before anchoring in Curacao – averaging 6.1 knots over the total distance. As passages go, this one was both good and frustrating.

Although Bonaire is the first island in the Netherlands Antilles to be reached, sailing from Grenada, we passed it by as Bonaire required 14 days quarantine on arrival. It is a small island, but has good diving.

Approaching Bonaire.

The southern tip of Bonaire.

Day 3: Annie catches a good sized Dorado (Mahi Mahi) with her new pink lure.

Approaching Curacao – huge Cumulus clouds.

South of Willemstad the capital of Curaçao, is a substantial body of sheltered inland water called Spaanse Water (Spanish Water), accessed by a narrow channel. Yachts anchor here in five designated bays during the hurricane season. Although we have now reached the end of this season, there are still many permanent boats anchored here, mostly from the USA, Canada and SA, who uses the bays as a base to cruise the region.

Spanish Water.

You can’t blame these cruisers, as the island (a self governing province of the Netherlands), is well developed with modern infrastructure and services, but more European than the islands of the Windward and Leeward Islands. The Island was settled by the Dutch around the same time in the 1600’s as Cape Town in SA, so architecturally the Dutch Colonial style buildings with the Amsterdam gables are similar, but more colourful in Curacao. Because it is a world heritage site, modern buildings have to conform in a stylised fashion.

Dutch gables.

The 1888 Queen Emma floating bridge busy closing.

Almost closed.

The pedestrians walk over.

The official language is Dutch, but culturally, the island has many influences such as Spanish, Portuguese, French, Afro-Caribbean, Latin American, Asian and Jewish. English is widely spoken, but the native tongue is Creole of Portuguese descent.

The high Queen Juliana bridge.

Colourful buildings on the dockside.

Lots of public art.

On a street corner.

The morning after our arrival, we took a bus into Willemstad and walked for miles to check in with Customs, Immigration and the Port Authority, staffed by friendly and efficient people, all apologising for the fact that the offices are situated so far apart. In the evening we had Ed and Natalie on “SV Safari” from Canada over for drinks – they had helped us in the morning with information on how to get around. They have a beautifully restored Morgan monohull and two dogs.

Ed and Natalie have a car and they invited us along on their weekly shopping trip to the supermarkets two days later. The supermarkets are well stocked with fantastic cheeses and cheap Amstel beer. The selection of fresh fruit and veg is of good quality and reasonably priced. We look forward to exploring Curacao further, until the end of November, but in the meantime, we conclude with a few photos around the Spanish Water.

Fisherman’s harbour housing, next to which we tie our dinghy up at the dock.

A holiday resort opposite Fisherman’s harbour.

A colourful house next to our anchorage – the voluptuous lady is a statue!

A lot of houses have these grass covered gazebos.

Curacao Yacht Club.

 

Grenada 2.

As we approach the end of October, we are still in Grenada, trying to get permission to sail to the ABC Islands (the former Dutch colonies of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) north of Venezuela. To our south, Trinidad is still closed. The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly messed up our plans, which at this point, should have seen us returning to Trinidad to launch Esprit back in the water, after touring Cuba, the Aztec sites of south Mexico and Guatemala.

Still in Grenada.

We will visit those countries from Australia, when the Covid thing settles down – hopefully in about 2-3 years time. The music of the “Buena Vista Social Club” from Cuba has to suffice for the moment, despite Ben from Vermont SA, dismissing them as “old chestnuts” (“old chestnut” actually means, a stale joke, story or saying).

In the meantime our social life here in Grenada carries on unabated, with music evenings, walks, lunches and drinks with friends.

At the music jam: Richard serenading his wife on her birthday.

The coup de grace: a flame thrower birthday cake.

Last night, the 26th October, we were on our way to the Cruiser’s Reef Bar in Clarks Court to listen and dance to the “Leaky Seacocks”, but on the way there, we had to turn the dinghy around, when a heavy rain squall hit us. We got drenched on the way back and were just in time to take down all the canvas shade covers, before a massive storm with gusty winds hit Esprit a half an hour later.

Fortunately, the“Leaky Seacocks” (Granada’s “premier” rock and roll band) will be on at Roger’s Barefoot Beach Bar on Sunday arvo, with “Bilge water” as the support act. We will try to get there after brunch at the West Indies Brewery.

The West Indies Brewery is becoming a habit – Jan, Noel, Ceu, Annie and Jane.

News update: Great arvo with the Seacocks but Bilge water was a bit of a disappointment – an ocker Aussie bloke reciting a Banjo Paterson’s poem “Clancy of the Overflow” (1889) to a puzzled crowd, before launching into the worst rendition ever of “Beds are Burning” by Midnight Oil. The Oils Peter Garrett will be in tears.

The Leaky Seacocks.

The dancers.

Bill (80 year old Aussie solo sailor) is a faster beer drinker than me.

Aargh! His bed is burning.

We rented a car for three days to explore the island. Our route took us up the east coast to visit Grenville, the Belmont Estate and the river Antoine Rum Distillery. We stopped in Sauteurs at the north of the island for lunch, before driving down the west coast to Gouyave, and turning inland to see some waterfalls and Grand Etang Lake. We managed to climb up to Fort George in St George’s, visit two museums and do shopping.

Church in Grenville.

Belmont Estate.

Annie and Kelly pointing out the cocoa fruits.

The east coast of Grenada – battered by the easterly winds.

Buying fruit and veg next to the road.

Downtown St George’s.

Walking up to Fort George.

Old gun emplacements at the top.

View down to Port Louis Marina.

On the 31st October we sailed from Secret Harbour to St George’s to meet up with some friends at the Victory Bar in Port Louis marina. Saturday night is their music night and we enjoyed good music and good food.

A great duo – this young guy on steel drum and the lady called “The Voice”

During our Sunday morning walk along Grande Anse beach, it started raining and continued bucketing down through the afternoon and night. The next morning we set sail for Carriacou Island, (Part of Grenada, about 30 nm to the North) and anchored halfway there at Corn Store Bay on Ronde Island. The next day we had a wet sail in a howling wind and anchored in Tyrell Bay in the south of Carriacou.

Grande Anse beach before the rain deluge.

Tyrrel Bay offered us the opportunity to explore the town and get rid of our trash, before we sailed to Anse La Roche for lunch the next day. We anchored overnight in Hillsborough, the main town and had our hair cut the next day. On the way back to Tyrrel Bay, we stopped for lunch at Paradise Beach, opposite Sandy Island.

Beautiful Anse La Roche bay with Tim’s beach bar.

Hillsborough jetty.

Hillsborough town.

Paradise Beach.

Sandy Island.

Armin Stauch, a fellow sailor who kindly included a part for us in his order from the US, sent us a text to say our new Suzuki outboard propellor had arrived in St George’s. So, on Friday the 6th November we sailed back to Grenada to collect the prop and checked out with Customs on Saturday morning. We will set sail for Curacao at 4pm this arvo for the two day and 14 hour crossing – looking forward to do some distance again. We will update you on the ABC islands in our next post. Stay safe and be happy!

Tyrrel Bay: Machineel tree warning – seen all over the Caribbean.

Tyrrel Bay: A design from Popular Mechanics.

Finally, some news from our girls: Karen, with her punishing hours as an orthopaedic surgery registrar, still finds time to do a masters degree in surgical education. With her colleague Sav, they have become published authors. Michelle, seems to have found a work/play balance, and have climbed Rabual volcano in PNG with some friends.

Work: A food security advisor and a gender advisor walk miles in the rain and mud through remote Western Province PNG wondering where this job will take them next.

Play: Michelle at Kokopo island, with Rabual volcano in the background.

Grenada

Grenada south coast.

We tied up to the quarantine jetty at St George’s harbour in Grenada at midday on the 9th September 2020, where a nurse and an official were waiting for us. We were informed that because we have arrived from St Vincent and the Grenadines and had been there for more than two months after negative PCR testing for Covid-19, we didn’t require further testing. An hour later, the necessary health clearance, customs and immigration formalities had been done and we were free to go.

The quarantine station at St George’s harbour

The Carenage on “The Lagoon” (St George’s Harbour)

We motored past the more than five dozen boats from other countries tied up in quarantine in the anchorage and dropped our anchor at lovely Morne Rouge beach, a mile to the South west. We were anchored next to Craig and Zena from Melbourne, on their Hunter 49 “Adriana”. They gave us all the pointers for Grenada over sundowners, as they have been here a while.

Morne Rouge anchorage.

Morne Rouge beach.

Grenada is known as the spice island, due to the many spices that grow in this lush green island, foremost nutmeg which was first planted here in 1843. Today, Grenada produces one-third of the world’s nutmeg supply and is the largest single supplier. The nutmeg fruits, resembling apricots, encases the nutmeg seed and is in fact, the only object represented on the Grenada flag, besides seven stars, one for each of the country’s parishes.

Grenada flag.

The Spiceland Shopping Centre with a huge IGA supermarket was about 2 kms across the hill. We walked there and found some reasonably priced Californian Chardonnay and other essentials to take back to the boat. The following day, we took a minibus taxi into St George’s to shop for boating equipment at the Island Water World chandlery in St George’s. We bussed back and joined four other Aussies for sundowners at the Plywood Bar.

Grenada coat of arms – a bit more artistic.

On Monday the 14th we motored south and then east along the south coast of Grenada to Prickly Bay to visit the Budget Marine chandlery and the Ace hardware store for some more parts we couldn’t find in town. On Tuesday it was a 4nm bouncy ride into the wind and swell to Woburn Bay where we anchored. We were joined for coffee by our young Aussie friends Matt and Kristina on “Yotty”, who we last saw in Martinique.

Dirk, Matt, Kristina and Annie.

We agreed that a serious catch up over beers was required the same evening, so we headed to Whisper Cove Marina where the happy hour beers were cheap and the pizzas tasty.  Recovery took a day and the next day we took a minibus taxi into St George’s. The minibus taxis run on predetermined routes and will hoot at all pedestrians to offer them a lift – they will stop anywhere and charge EC$2.50/person (AUD 1.30), regardless of distance. Despite the narrow winding roads, the drivers all aspire to a Formula 1 racing career – with white knuckled passengers (except for the driver’s offsider, who opens and closes the door and collects the fares).

View from the taxi stop above Woburn Bay – Hog island in the centre.

The social life in Woburn Bay was quite busy, so the week that we waited to haul out our boat at Grenada Marine, slipped by quickly. There were things to do while we waited, so we had all our gas bottles filled with propane, took a minibus into St George’s twice to get boat parts and buy wine. We were delighted to find Hardy’s Chardonnay and Cab Sav from Australia, in 3l casks at AUD 30/cask – not cheap, but hey! Infinitely better than some of the rotgut on sale here.

Karen our daughter celebrated her 32nd birthday on the 21st September in Newcastle, NSW.

Happy 32nd Karen!

Grenada Marine boatyard and travel lift.

On the 22nd September, Esprit was hauled out and pressure cleaned at Grenada Marine. The hull was scraped and then sanded before application of three coats of anti fouling. Gelcoat repairs were done to the many scratches above the waterline, picked up over the last two years in the crowded Mediterranean  harbours.

Grenada Marine – Laura’s Bar on the left.

The topsides were then polished and while this was done the workshop extended our davits by 300 mm and fabricated a new s/s protective strip for the bow. The work progressed slowly because of intermittent heavy rain and “liming”. The southern windward islands lifestyle of “liming” means chilling, relaxing and chewing the fat. This cuts productivity by 30%, so that the expected 7 days on the hard, dragged to 10 days.

Painting the first coat of anti fouling,  – the two “supervisor’s” are busy liming.

We have not seen an attractive boatyard in our more than four and a half years of travelling and Granada Marine wasn’t an exception. The up and down the ladder to go to the toilets and showers, the mud, the mozzies and the sandflies, (no-see-ums) and general chaos can be challenging and we were therefore relieved to launch Esprit back into the water on the 1st October 2020.

Annie’s home on the hard.

View from our cockpit over the muddy yard.

Annie making friends on her morning walks.

Evening respite at Laura’s bar and restaurant.

After re-launching, it was late afternoon, so we tied up to the dock for the night to leave the next morning in a freshening wind from the south. We motored 2 nm to Westerhall Bay, which is very sheltered from the southerlies, which by the evening, had increased to 25 knots and torrential rain. We decided to stay put until the two systems to the northwest of us, moved on to Mexico.

Gleaming hull with new s/s bow protector, before launching.

Heading back to her natural environment.

Matt and Bonnie, our yard neighbours for a week, taking their dogs back to their boat.

The stay in Westerhall also gave me the opportunity to unpack the main food cupboard to dismantle the shelving and linings, to remove the lentils from a torn packet, below the floor, before they started sprouting. I also fixed two shopping trolleys with broken wheels and serviced the anchor winch.

Westerhall Bay.

There was no rush to get back to Woburn Bay to the west, so we visited a few more bays on our way back. After Westerhall Bay for two days, we anchored in Calivigny Harbour, at the top of Chemin Bay, where we did a walk to the nearby SOG supermarket for provisions. The next anchorage was at Port Egmont (a very good bolt hole in case of a hurricane), before motoring to and anchoring back in Woburn Bay on the 6th October.

Calivigny Harbour.

Port Egmont.

It happened to be Tuesday when we re-anchored at Woburn Bay, so we visited Whisper Cove Marina for happy hour and pizzas and to catch up with the regulars we have met there before.

The wreck off Whisper Cove Marina.

The three master we were anchored next to.

A must do visit in Woburn Bay is Nimrod’s rum shack and adjoining kitchen/restaurant run by his mother. We ordered her tasty roti’s and a few beers.

Nimrod’s rum shack and bus stop.

Inside Nimrod’s.

Mum in the kitchen making the roti’s.

Annie with a tasty and generous roti.

Another colourful bar across the street.

On the ay back to our dinghy – I couldn’t open the door of this car.

We motored around Hog Island to Secret Harbour, where our Canadian friends, Jan and Jane were anchored. We had last seen these fellow Jeanneau sailors in St Martin in January.

The Secret Harbour anchorage.

We caught up over drinks with Jan and Jane, with dinner at the Secret Harbour Marina restaurant, followed by a Sunday brunch at the West Indies Beer Brewery.

Jan, Annie and Jane at the Brewery.

The Saturday weather was fine, so we installed a third reef in our mainsail – something that we wished we had during our Atlantic crossing, but probably won’t need on our Pacific crossing, (according to Murphy). In the afternoon we motored to Hog Island for a walk around the island and to have beers at Roger’s Barefoot Beach Bar afterwards.

A brisk walk around Hog Island.

Arriving at Roger’s.

Roger’s regulars chewing the fat.

Monday the 12th October saw two significant events. Simon Clay, the local B&G agent came out to Esprit, to update the software on our electronics system, which I wasn’t able to do through the hotspot on my mobile phone. The VHF radio wouldn’t talk to the portable handset and the autopilot was playing up. Simon downloaded the latest software updates and took the handset to check it out.

The technology today is so different, compared to 1982 when we did our first South Transatlantic Race to South America – back then we had a sextant, compass, charts, shortwave radio and sometimes weather forecasts. Now you need to be an electronics wiz. Not easy for a 73 year old fart.

The other event was the arrival of a young man on an Air Canada flight with Covid-19, bringing the total number of cases, which was stable for 6 months, at 24 persons infected and no deaths, to 25. I must say, Grenada is an excellent example to the world of how to manage the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mask wearing and social distancing is mandatory everywhere, as is contact tracing. On entering a business, you have to wear a mask, sanitise your hands and going into restaurants/bars your temperature is checked and your name and contact number recorded in a logbook. Surely, this is fake news Mr Tweety Trump?

The 14th October was another good day. John of Fast Manicou was back and delivered our beer, wine and bulk supplies in the morning. At midday we picked up the new Tohatsu 9.8hp outboard in Prickly Bay, which we had ordered from Budget Marine. Our trusty Suzuki 6hp outboard has always been a bit light for our 2.9 m Highfield dinghy. We celebrated at the music jam hosted on Wednesday nights at Secret Harbour Marina with a large group of cruisers.

Prickly Bay Harbour.

Some of the muso’s at Secret Harbour.

On Friday evening there was another enjoyable music jam at Hog Island with the cruisers anchored in the bay. The wine was flowing copiously at the boerewors braai aboard Esprit afterwards, with the result that we are having a quiet Saturday today, with me taking the opportunity to post this update.

Hog Island jam.

Our route from east to west in yellow.

The end of October signals the “end” of the hurricane season in this region (who knows?), so we plan to then sail west to the ABC islands to the north of Venezuela – we will update you then with our progress.

Finally, two updates from our daughter Michelle in Papua New Guinea: A socially distanced photo of the UN Women’s team meeting in Port Moresby and her working visit to the Kumin people in the Southern Highlands of PNG.

UN Women’s Team PNG.

Kumin Women PNG.

 

 

Bequia: Take 2; Sailing to Grenada.

We anchored back in Bequia off Jack’s Bar on Saturday the 15th August. On Monday the 17th, Annie and number of the cruising ladies, took the ferry to the main island of St Vincent, to do some shopping and have a long lunch.

Gary and Dirk having drinks at Jack’s Bar.

The menfolk enjoyed the opportunity to get on with some work and chatting over coffee, before hitting the Rendezvous bar next to the ferry dock to await their beloved’s arrival at 5:30pm. The ladies were suitably lubricated in the ferry bar on their ferry return journey. The Covid pandemic has much to answer for.

During the following week we had our bimini infill panel fitted with new zips after the wind shredded the existing ones in the Tobago Cays. For most of us, a valid credit card is a necessity today – to my relief, a replacement Visa card for the next four years arrived in Bequia from Australia, during the week.

Annie and I did an eight km walk to Spring Bay to visit the Firefly Plantation Hotel.

Most Caribbean Islands grow sugar cane and they produce rum with an alcohol content of 40 – 50%. Supermarkets stock more rum brands than beer or wine, with 5 litre casks of cheap rum on their shelves. A lot of  locals supplement their income by running pubs or rum shacks from home – like speakeasy’s or shebeen’s elsewhere. Boredom having set in, on Saturday the 22nd August, 12 of the cruisers went on a rum shack tour through town.

The start of the tour.

The view from Fort Hamilton.

Having started at 2pm and visiting 7 local rum shacks, where the music was pumping and dancing the rule, we finished with dinner at the Rendezvous at 9pm, thoroughly sozzled. I have a confession to make: my first meeting with the demon drink at 18, had me motherless on rum and coke. In the 55 years since, I haven’t touched rum. In the spirit of supporting the local industry, I re-acquainted myself with the local rum punch, but it will be while before touching it again!

Our first pub with the friendly pub owner.

From here, it started going downhill.

This pub owner showing us the moves, while Bob enjoys his ganja slow boat.

White men can’t dance – so the ladies stepped in.

Esprit has not been out of the water for 18 months, since her last haul out in Greece and maintenance work was becoming urgent.Trinidad informed us during the week that due to a spike in Covid infections, we won’t be able to enter, to haul out our boat for the foreseeable future. I emailed requests for quotes, to boatyards in Carriacou and Grenada, Venezuela, the ABC Islands and Panama. Grenada Marine came back with a detailed and reasonable quote for the work required, so we decided to make Grenada our next stop.

We decided to give the dinghy a good clean up at Lower Beach.

The problem is that Grenada is in the process of changing their current 14 day Covid quarantine protocol at the end of August, hopefully to follow the SV&G protocol for PCR testing on arrival and free movement afterwards for persons testing negative. Currently St Vincent and the Grenadines have had 60 Covid-19 cases, all recovered, with no deaths, whereas Grenada has had only 24 cases, all recovered, with no deaths. That may just require us to be quarantined on arrival. So we are waiting for the 1st September for answers.

Annie and her dinghy cleaning offsider.

In the meantime, our younger daughter Michelle settled into her UN role as a protection specialist in Papua New Guinea, flying to the southern highland province, to conduct training of her team of community mobilisers in the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse of women and children, and to convene with the provincial council of women.

Michelle and her PNG community mobilisers.

Grand opening of the hall.

It also allowed her to attend the opening of a new village hall, partially funded by the UN, with the local people in tribal dress and body art, to celebrate the event. Her weekends are busy with pottery classes and a kiteboarding club.

Traditional dress.

Kiteboarding in PNG.

Michelle mainsheet trimming with her UN colleagues.

A tropical disturbance developed over the windward islands with heavy rain setting in at our anchorage over the weekend of the 30th August.

Torrential rain won’t stop our Friday arvo drinks in the water.

Wednesday evenings the Figtree has roti’s on the menu and Samuel playing the violin, so we decided to step out for a romantic evening. The roti’s were excellent and Samuel had us almost in tears.

Sunset from the Figtree deck.

Samuel on violin.

A generous and tasty meal.

The 1st of September came and Grenada started the SeaClear system for entry, which means you have to register on this database and then have a Covid-19 PCR test on arrival, which if negative, allows you to enter without quarantine. We tried, but couldn’t register on this site, despite numerous emails to their software support people. By the 4th September, we decided to leave Bequia and go anyway.

Esprit’s route to Grenada.

We stocked up with provisions, had dinner with friends on the 4th at the Figtree and set off on Saturday the 5th to sail south. We had an excellent 30 nm sail to the Tobago Cays, where we anchored inside Horseshoe reef.

Stocking up.

This was followed by a stop at Union Island to check out of St Vincent and the Grenadines. We then enjoyed a relaxed sail past Carriacou, overnighting at Ronde Island (right next to “Kick ‘em Jenny” an underwater volcano), before sailing down the West coast of Grenada to tie up in St George’s for check-in.

Location of Kick’em Jenny just north of Grenada.

Underwater profile.