Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Exploring the South Side

Our route along the south shore of Martinique led us through some diverse scenery and wonderful seaside towns.
We were treated to a hike last weekend out on the Diamante peninsula, right at the south west end of Martinique. Our friend John had a car so off we went to explore an area we hadn't visited much before. The hike between Grand Anse and Anse d'Arlet gave us a good view of both pretty anchorages (we stopped here briefly last July).
Grand Anse is chock full of boats at this time of year, but still retains the quaint charm of a seaside town.
Anse d'Arlet is a smaller bay, nicer town and definitely a beach destination for locals on this sunny Sunday.
On the walk over the headland between the two bays, Morne Champagne, Henry thinks he has found a great little real estate offering.
On the south shore we stopped at this great viewpoint overlooking Diamond Rock.
It's hard to believe but at one time the British navy took control of this rock, called it HMS Diamond and kept tabs on the French.  This is the first time I've seen a layout of where they located their operations (enlarge the photo for a better view.)
The drive back along the south shore took also us past a memorial statue that we had heard of but never found in the past as it is not marked on the tourist map. This statue (these statues) was erected as a memorial to the 46 lost souls on a slave ship that went aground on these shores during a strange manoeuvre by the captain in 1830. It is still unknown the name or nationality of the ship. The memorial is white, the traditional colour of mourning in the Caribbean, is approximately the same size as the burial ground, is in a triangle formation representing the axis of the slave trade and points to the location in Africa where the slaves were taken. An incredibly moving site.

We finished up the day at the Baraqu'Obama restaurant in St. Luce. You can't get your seafood any fresher than here: sitting at the tables on the beach watching the lobster begin sorted into holding pots, pulled out and placed on the grill just in time for your order! If you go on a Sunday, just make sure you get there early or there won't be a table available for you, it was a busy little place!

The story goes that the owner opened his restaurant at the same time that Barack Obama announced his run for the presidency.  He was so proud that a black man would run for president that he named his restaurant in honour of the event, never imagining that he would actually become the American leader.  Notice the Creole spelling.
Sitting at our table watching the lobsters being sorted as they are brought in by the fishermen.
The waves are almost lapping at our toes.
Can't get any fresher!
Our many thanks to John (Seamantha) who introduced us to these new sights. Not sure how he managed to avoid the camera for the day, but we'll get you next time!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

$$$: Cost of Cruising the Eastern Caribbean - An Island Exploration

There are many cruisers who will not share their costs because cruising, just like life on land, is an individual lifestyle choice and everyone’s choices are different.  However, I know when we were in the planning stages and trying to figure out how we could make this life work for us, a big question was, “could we afford it and for how long?”

Of course everyone has a different style of cruising and a different boat with different issues and different requirements.  Did I stress that word enough yet?  “Different”.  That means of course that your mileage may vary from ours.

We spend very little time in marinas but we do occasionally visit one for leaving the boat.  Other folks spend more or less time in marinas, and of course your cruising grounds will greatly impact cost.  The Eastern Caribbean is not cheap - let me make that clear.  Yes, we expect to pay less than $3 for our beer but boat parts are expensive and difficult to obtain, food can be cheap if you eat local provisions and fish along the way but if you have a yearning for some special treat expect to shell out for it.  We eat out a couple of times a week, will happily partake in happy hour with drinks and will eat lunch out if we are running errands or hiking over the lunch-hour.  And then there's communication (i.e. internet) costs.  We often spend $70-80 a month but for those dollars only get about 5gb of data.  Also for us this past couple of years has been difficult with the Canadian dollar falling in value against the US dollar.  Remember that all those islands that use the East Caribbean Dollar are indexed to the USD so we are essentially spending USD most of the time.

We know that there are many people out here who spend more than we do - and as I said at the start, that is a lifestyle choice.  We also know that we could do this cheaper, but would we be happy and enjoying ourselves and would Mowzer be a comfortable safe boat? - perhaps not.  There are many reports that you can live on ridiculously low amounts but I would hazard a guess that these reports are not from the East Caribbean, and perhaps their crew is just a little bit more salty than us.

Please read through to the very end and then you can make your own decisions as to whether this information applies to you.

Mowzer:  2009 36’ Fountaine Pajot catamaran in good condition
Crew:  Henry & Catherine - 50-somethings also in good condition ;-)
Accounting:  We track every dollar spent (did I mention I was an analyst and Henry an engineer in our past lives?)  We divide our tracking into three categories:
  • Boat expenses
  • People expenses
  • Annual / One time expenses
Within these main categories are further subcategories but our basic premise is that if we spend it on ourselves it is “People”, if we spend it on the boat it is “Boat”, and if it is a once a year or an otherwise non-recurring event we use the final category.  Being Canadian, we actually run our numbers through conversion to the Canadian dollar - that’s how we have to pay our credit card bills and the currency of our bank accounts.  However, given that most of the information you will find regarding costs and expenses on the internet are in US dollars, I have converted our numbers using the exchange rate in effect at the end of each month.

  • Annual budget is $60,000 USD and to be honest we spend a little more than this but are not too far off our budget.

Here’s the breakdown of our 2016 spending into the three main categories - our 2015 data was very similar:

Here’s the next level of detail with the breakdown of each category:

*Careful with our tracking = no miscellaneous expense.

* Zero spent this year on charts & guides - purchased in previous years

Okay - that's all good information that you can use if you are planning on sailing in the Eastern Caribbean soon.  However, the Eastern Caribbean is made up of many island nations and each one will present a different spending experience.

I was interested in comparing our costs between islands and also wanted to get some average numbers around daily spending.

I took all our data since April 2015 when we arrived in Sint Maarten/St. Martin (SXM) and started our trek south through the islands.  Since then we made our way south to Grenada where we spent hurricane season 2015, then back north all the way to SXM only to return once again to Grenada for hurricane season 2016.  For each time period in a country, I pulled the data for how much we spent in each category and also calculated the number of days of our stay.  Here's a sampling of the data:

Careful, these data are in Canadian dollars.
Are your eyes glazing over yet??  No worries, this is where it all comes together.

In the timeframe we're reviewing we spent 193 days in Grenada (by far the most of any country) and our average people cost is $91 CAD ($67 USD) per day.  Do we really walk around Grenada shedding that much from our wallets on a daily basis??  Well not really of course but it is quite customary to spend $350 on one shopping trip to the grocery store, the hardware store and the bulk supplies store.

So here's what I was really interested in - a breakdown by country.  These numbers are CAD so divide by 1.35 to get equivalent in USD.  Remember - keep reading below the chart to get just a little more insight.

And here's my final set of notes on this data:
  • This chart does not include the major boat expenses category (insurance, haulout, major projects, bottom maintenance, vacation travel, etc.)
  • SXM and Martinique are both major boat spending centres - this is where you get your annual and expensive repairs done.
  • Antigua, St. Lucia & Grenada also have good chandleries so boat bucks are spent there as well.
  • Montserrat, Dominica and SVG all look relatively inexpensive but major provisioning is done on the surrounding islands before/after going there.
So that's it.  What does this really do for me?  Probably not a lot but it does help me be aware of the 'danger' zones and where our money can slip away.  While we recognize that SXM is where we get most of our expensive boat shopping done, it is also a huge cruiser's gathering place and also home to the Heineken Regatta with lots of social time spent in bars and restaurants - perhaps this year we'll try to eat more on the boat!  Just look at Antigua - lots of social and regatta time but we know that island is expensive so we've done a better job of controlling our costs there.

Hope this might be helpful and please send any comments or questions our way.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Making tracks to Martinique

Just four days of almost perfect sailing saw us make a quick transit from Grenada to Martinique.

We said our goodbyes to friends in Grenada, but time was marching on and we had to leave.

Marie, Codey & Cathy - just missing Allen in this picture.  Wonderful young friends who are on the verge of making their marks on this world!  Can't wait to see what they get up to.

Day 1:  Mt. Hartman to Carriacou (43 nm).  Wind almost the whole way right on the nose, we took the western (leeward) coast and didn't even bother taking the sail out of the sailbag.  We hoped once we cleared the northern tip of the big island we might see some wind, but it just stayed right on the nose.  There was a big weather cell sitting just to the east of St. Vincent and thankfully it didn't move into the area but the effect was the northerly wind.  At least it was only blowing 10-15 knots and the seas were nice and calm too.  We arrived just in time to clear out of customs for an early morning departure the next day and to fill up all our diesel and gas jerry cans with duty-free fuel - the cheapest in the eastern Caribbean!

Day 2:  Carriacou to Bequia (41 nm).  Sailing through the Grenadines, the wind came round to the beam and we saw 8.2 knots SOG at one point!  The only excitement we encountered was when the reef in the sail decided to come undone.  Even though the winds were such that we could have deployed the full sail, we often find the boat more balanced and she sails better with the first reef, even in winds at 15 knots.  This day however, we didn't bother to try to reattach the reef and instead put the full sail up, and promptly lost a half knot of speed.  We had removed the sail for our time in the boatyard (required by the yard) and apparently when putting everything back, someone (ahem, me) obviously forgot how to tie the right knot - back to basics I guess.  All was fixed when we arrived in Bequia and is now performing quite nicely.

Sailing the Grenadines - pretty sweet.

Bequia treated us to a dramatic showing with the sunset.

Day 3:  Bequia to Rodney Bay (74 nm).  Up at 3am for an early morning departure under an almost full moon.  We had to motor to the top of St. Vincent and then again hit great conditions with almost flat seas across the channel to St. Lucia.

An almost full moon played hide & seek behind our sail.

In the early morning with the sun rising behind St. Vincent and the moon setting over the Caribbean Sea we had this intriguing lighting effect looking west.
Here's an interesting little study in perspective.  We were tracking up the leeward shore of St. Vincent with this monohull who left Bequia with us.  From our viewpoint, they were sticking awfully close to shore and we were hanging out a bit trying to pick up some wind.  However, when we checked their AIS signal on the chart plotter they had plenty of room.  Just goes to show how big those hills really are!

A bit blurry but Marinade appears to be almost on the shore.

Their signal on AIS (the little triangle) shows they are actually closer to us than to land.

Rounding the top of St. Vincent with barely a breath of wind, and then BAM!  20 knots on a perfect beam reach.

Early morning drama with the sunrise behind St. Vincent.
Approaching St. Lucia from the south provides beautiful views of the many moods of the Pitons.

I still maintain they look like cat ears in the early morning haze.

After a dry crossing, rain showers ahead.

There's an anchorage between the Pitons - bet they're getting wet today!  I love the twin 'smoking' volcano tops.

Almost obliterated in the intensity of the rain.

And then the sun came out and the whole fury was done.
Day 4:  Rodney Bay to Ste. Anne (25 nm)  With our early start on the previous day, we lazed around a little, let the sun rise, used up the last of the data on our Grenada SIM card (it doesn't work in Martinique) and then picked up the anchor to head north on a short little hop to the south end of Martinique.  Once again, another beautiful sail and amazingly few fish pots as we approached the anchorage at Ste. Anne.  When last here in July we had our pick of spots to anchor, now the anchorage is filling up and there are hundreds of boats here.  We found a nice sandy spot right between other fellow cruisers and here we will rest for a while.

Phew - what a trip and probably the best three days of sailing we have had in a very long time.  183 nm in 29 hours which is an average of 6.3 knots - very happy with this!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Our Last Hash on Grenada

We've posted many times before about our regular Saturday activity while on Grenada, but this week's Hash was just about the wettest and muddiest that we have done in a long time.

We'll be leaving Grenada in the coming week so this Hash also marked our last for a while, unless of course we track down another Hash House Harrier club up-island.

We'd had a lot of rain over the last few days so we fully expected this hash to be a wet, muddy affair.  We headed up into the hills of St. David parish, near Red Gate and as Devon's bus climbed higher and higher, the air temperature pleasantly chilled and the vegetation became so lush and tangled it looked like it was just dripping over itself.  We arrived at Velma's shop where the hash as hosted this week and within a few steps off the concrete road, we just knew we would be cleaning up lots of sticky mud at the end of the run.

Instructions were given and we set off under cloudy skies.  It wasn't until we were high up on a ridge that an intense downpour hit us.  The rain was pleasantly cooling on our hot skin and by the time we returned for the end of hash celebrations and party, we were even relatively clean - all the mud washed away, except around our ankles and the soles of our shoes.

Mark, Fiona & Kierin - looking all clean before the hash.

Lush, heavy and red - volcanic soil on this farm grows anything that is stuck in the ground.  Yams and plantain here with papaya and cabbage in the background.

Dark, waxy Sorrel flowers are used to make a sweet red Christmas drink.

Being a young kitten on Grenada is a terribly hard life.  Usually scrawny, short-lived little things that don't stand much of a chance - this one had also suffered having all his whiskers clipped off.

Almost ready for the hash to start - Reg and Shanique are all smiles.

Johan, Paul, Reg & Henry - not often Henry gets to be taller than Johan!

Contemplating (or becoming part of) the greenery.

And we're off - the trail left off the road and headed through the local backyards and then into the bush.

Our hare, "Respect the Banana" urged us over the first stream crossing.

Jack, sporting his first muddy handprint on that pristine white t-shirt, leads Henry up the hill  under a mango tree.

Our next river crossing - easier just to wade in and get the feet wet, it is inevitable anyway.

The rain started down, the clouds settled on the hilltops and our view was reduced to the immediate surroundings.

This part of the trail let up a surprisingly well-manicured grassy road.

Venessa & Gary - are you wet enough yet?

As we reached the ridge and imagined the views on either side, the rain lashed down with abandon.

This sheep was unsuccessfully trying to stay dry under a banana tree.

Path or stream?  Both!

And we're back - and the party is already in full gear. 
We picked up our arrival beers and then turned back to watch the fun as more hashers arrived and struggled to make the final climb.

Slip sliding away.

Riding on Devon's bus, we have turned our after-hash tradition into a local pub visit.  It just so happens that the last few weeks we have been on hashes in the southern parish of St. David's, which means that the most logical stop on the way home is Nimrod's Bar in Lower Woburn.

As you can see, we've been here before with friends.

Barflies Shanique, Reg, Catherine & Devon.  At Nimrod's you can get a wicked rum punch, a cold beer and some excellent pickles and marmalade.