Sunday, August 7, 2016

Iles des Saintes, Dominica, Guadeloupe

Our new life is one month old. Things have fallen into something like predictability, mysteries have been solved, confidences gained, habits curtailed, and routines established. Already the boat has come slightly undone. We imagine returning with the boat in much the same shape as when we found her. This time the wear will be from use instead of neglect. Smudges stand out on the topcoat from careless dingy approaches, the staysail has been torn and patched, and much of the teak has found its way out of the varnish to silver in the sun. The wind and water don't stand down from watch. Around the clock they work to defeat our barriers, turning the weakness of metals into rust, sagging the fabrics around the cockpit. The deck box I once cherished was given away to the first willing fisherman in Iles des Saintes. Unsanded and unpainted epoxy mounds cover the holes were that box once was. Maybe we will sand and paint, maybe not, but the V-berth is as dry as an archaeological dig.

The elements have worked on us as well. We are all shades of bright white and brown, covered with cuts, bruises, and big flakes of sea salt stand out on our knees and forearms. The rules of this life are abundantly clear. A beautiful boat does not matter; a dry boat is non-negotiable. Refrigeration isn't necessary. It's actually quite freeing to give up the scleping of ice for a warm rum punch. It also
feels better to eat plain pasta than risk throwing a bag of chicken overboard. We have learned to provision sparingly. We don't eat half as much as we anticipated, and everything goes bad very quickly, though our vacuum-sealed Sam's Club Gruyere has only improved after three weeks in the bilge. Showering is also overrated; if you both smell it doesn't matter. These concessions to the sailing life make icy bottles of beer and fresh water showers truly exquisite.

People like to say that the two best days of boat ownership are the day you buy the boat and the day
 you sell the boat. I hate that saying. The best two days for us are the first day we arrive in port and the first day we are underway. Those days are filled with the unknown. I love when we approach a new port and what seemed like solid shoreline defines itself, revealing an entrance and a protected
harbor.  We locate the mooring field or anchorage, and making our plan for approach, I look at the turquoise water and the little harbor town for signs of life. Our boat finds its swing on the line and we take the dingy ride to shore, at first so adventurous and quickly so routine. We usually look for cold beer first and find a terrace in the sun where Max can order a Heineken and I a Carib. Coldest beers so far were from Loft Cafe in Rousseau, Dominica. Also the cheapest. Our first night in port combines three of my favorite things: cold drinks, clean sheets, and a thorough shower on the deck.

In Iles des Saintes, our second stop, we enjoyed Napoleon's legacy through pate and butter smeared on fresh baguettes and steep hikes to forts packed with goat and hermit crab squatters. We walked the small town day after day, snorkeled the reefs, ate at a fancy restaurant with our table in the
sand, and worked on the boat for the first half of each day. We attempted to fix the leaking toe rail, extracted and re-bedded key portholes, and gave the dingy a complete overhaul. After six days we were done with Iles des Saintes. We loaded up on baguettes, petite cans of foie gras, rich French butter, and set out for Dominica. The truth is that if we start to feel like we are on vacation too much, something essential is lost. So now we know to move on after about six days.


I have been to Dominica once before, with the exceptional crew of the Harvey Gamage, and have always wanted to return. Iles des Saintes to Dominica is a drastic cultural shift that exposes the sordid history of colonial powers in the Caribbean. It was owned by the French, the British, and the natives still live in the rugged interior where no European was willing to follow.

We rented a mooring from a fisherman named Markus in one hundred feet of water directly in front of his corrugated sheet metal house where he lived with his pregnant wife. I liked Markus and he demonstrated exactly the
welcoming spirit that makes one return to Dominica. He had recently dropped a brand new outboard off his boat in that depth of water and was pretty pissed about it. He told us the story within a few minutes, while handing me the mooring line, and I often saw him rowing around, looking down in order to see it.

Dominica is not for the faint of heart. Iles de Saintes is where the faint of heart should go. Dominica is steep, rainy jungle and dark sand beaches. Reefs bubble with volcanic activity, 7 or 9 active volcanoes (depending on the rasta with whom you are speaking) disappear into the clouds, and 365 rivers flood and ebb with frequent rain.

The streets of the capital, Rousseau, are not pristine, or even clean, but they burst with culture. Markets bear unidentifiable fruits and women sell fried flying fish for pennies. Young men ride through town in the beds of pickup trucks filled with coconuts, machetes on their shoulders. Everyone wants a Toyota. The interior has the topography of a tropical Princess Bride. There is a boiling lake, a valley of desolation, dense jungle filled with wild ginger and turmeric, deep gorges with marble smooth curves, bubbling sulfur mud and strange birds singing in the canopy.

Max and I hiked to the boiling lake with a local guide named Kenny. He was loquacious to say the least, knew everything about the history of Dominica, the trees, the birds, but really wanted to talk about Donald Trump. Specifically, he wanted us, as Americans, to answer for Trump. There was an amazing moment,13 miles into a 14 mile hike, in mudslide level rains when he stopped and demanded that we explain, until he understood, the primary process in the US.  We explained it, not easily, shouting through the rain, and when he understood, he became actually angry. He shouted that it couldn't be true, but we insisted. I saw a slight change in his eyes as he made a realization and then shouted, "Government is shit in America too, not just Dominica," and smiled. I really, really love this island. Go there. Hike the boiling lake. Ask for Kenny.

After Dominica we sailed north to Guadeloupe. Max flew to Germany to be with his family for the funeral of their beloved grandfather and I am on a mooring in a picturesque harbor with
turtles for friends and boat projects underway. Of course I miss Max, but it's good for me to have all the boat responsibility. I have finally begun to actually think about conserving power, run the engine when necessary, and check on every little thing over and over. After a sleepless and stormy night where our mooring line parted and the safety line almost went, I have become an expert on proper mooring line tying techniques, and check ours to analyze chafing every hour. I have taken on all Max's paranoia.

Right now, however, the water is flat, clear enough to see the turtles eating the grass at the bottom, and the sun is setting on the bright red steeple that dominates my view of town. Max returns Wednesday, and Thursday we set off for El Parque Tayrona, Colombia.
Atop Fort Josephine, Iles a cabrit

Iles des Saintes

Iles des Saintes

Iles des Saintes

Main Street, Terre de Haut

Iles des Saintes Harbor

Passage to Dominica

Champagne Reef, Dominica

Kenny on the way to the boiling lake

My disgusting foot looking extra weird

Stormy waters in Guadeloups

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Max and his lil friend in Iles des Saintes

Monday, July 25, 2016

Here are a few videos I stitched together during some of our light wind days at sea.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Passage 2: Bermuda to Iles de Saintes

July 12

We set out from Bermuda this morning at 9:22 a.m.. Able to sail off the dock, we slowly fell off, and passed out of the narrow harbor passage, Town Cut. Once past the cardinal buoys that mark the channel, we took up a broad reach, put up the staysail, unfurled the genoa entirely, and were soon doing 7 knots towards Dominica. Everything about the morning was ideal: the wind strength and direction, the sun on the shades of turquoise that surround the reef-encrusted island, and the proud feeling that we were finally setting off on a truly significant passage. It would be our first alone, and we would cover 1000 miles of ocean during early hurricane season. We didn`t know how we would deal with what would be a taxing watch schedule for two people,how our Bermuda boat repairs would work out, and most of all how we would contend against the squalls so prevalent in the Caribbean sea that demand a quick shortening of sail and a keen eye on the horizon. I had a lot of anxiety about this passage but I knew we were ready, that Max always seems to know what needs to happen, and that we have a very reliable guardian angel at home sending us weather reports.

Max bought a new trawling reel in Bermuda, and as soon as we were out in the open, he rigged it and let out a length of the high tech, rainbow-colored line that would surely hold the next fish. After losing two fish on the way to Bermuda, and still never having caught one while sailing, he was no longer playing around. Nothing makes Max mad like losing a fish. Within a half hour the line went off and we flew into panicked action. Instead of trying to heave-to, pull in the genoa, etc., we just pulled in the genoa and Max slowly reeled in the fish. We were disappointed to see that it was a Barracuda which cannot be eaten due to a nuerotoxin
present in its flesh, but we were still excited to bring it on board. The fish was large and very healthy looking with eyes as big as silver dollars and fantastic rows of teeth, irregular and bright white, like a bleached archipelago. Max dislodged the lure after considerable effort and we released the fish, a little beat up, and set the line again.

Our first day passed peacefully and conditions remained constant allowing us to make 45 miles in our first seven hours. There were squalls everywhere on the horizon and we can see that each dark cloud drags beneath it a gray slant of heavy rain. None of them seem to touch us and we continue on in the sunshine. The island bird of Bermuda, the Bermuda Longtail, has
followed us out to sea and is gracefully circling us, unable to decide whether to trust our mast as a hunting post. I watch it circle widely and approach the mast with its elaborate tail feathers fanned out and the black shoulders pumping furiously, feet stretched toward the mast, but over and over it is unable to commit. Max is making noodles on the stove, very excitedly taking about the new contraption he fashioned to keep the pressure cooker in place, and the boat is sailing her course as if on rails.

Thursday, July 14 2:00 a.m.

The ocean has been quiet since Tuesday. Our good wind only lasted that first day. Now there are no more than ripples on swells so long and big it is easy not to notice them at all. We have beenAnna Keranina and began The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. Max is reading The Wanderer by Sterling The Chronicles of Narnia. It really is one of my favorite parts of life at sea.
motoring. The engine is loud and makes the cabin hot and smelly. When I open the cabinets in the
Hayden. Having time like you do on passages allows you to read without distraction in a way that makes me feel like I am 10 years old again, reading
galley I can feel the engine's heat coming through. Hot mustard, hot vinegar. All day we didn't put on more than underwear, couldn't bring ourselves to light the stove, and moved around the deck trying to find enough shade to cover our bodies. We read all day. I finished

 At 3:00 we stopped to swim in the big, empty ocean. The water was flat and looked like opaque cobalt paint. I had the feeling that as soon as I jumped in I would no longer be visible. Max thinks it's creepy to swim in a 1000 fathoms of water. He says it's like being atop the Empire State Building, and jumping. I jumped off the rail and found that the water was perfectly clear, every aspect of the keel perfectly visible, bright turquoise against the darker blue, with our bottom paint already coming off and the sacrificial zincs deeply pitted. When you look down at that depth
there are ever widening shafts of blue light that come us from that abstract depth. After our swim I dug out the bottle of vokda some angel brought to our going away party and mixed it with whatever I could find. Thus began our now cemented 5:00 cocktail hour preceded by, whenever possible, a
swim. And so we passed 3 days like this. Trying to find wind, or shade to read in, and looking forward to cocktail hour on the deck. Every couple of hours we would become hopeful, raise a sail or two, only to ghost along for a small time before beginning the engine again. We did get lucky one morning and were able to fly the chute for a time. In the meantime, we made slow progress towards our next port.

Excerpts from Max's journal...

Its July 12th 2016 and Laura and I are sailing on our own, en route from Bermuda to the Caribbean, exactly the way I have imagined it since we first found Tortuga tied to a cold and lonely dock in the Bronx.  I can't help but feel surprised that our plan materialized so smoothly over the last two years.  You would think with so much required foresight and so much opportunity for disaster, something would have derailed us by now, but it hasn't and I am cautiously optimistic that nothing will.  On the other hand, I keep asking myself why I should feel so surprised.  If you make a plan and follow thru with it over the course of a long period of time, the reward should be to achieve exactly what you envisioned.  I find it ironic that had we decided on a week long vacation in Bermuda, and flown in and out via direct flights over the course of a few hours, it would hardly phase us or any one else.  Yet restoring, creating, fixing, and laboring for every mile it took to get here feels surreal.  Goes to show you how accustomed we have become to the luxury of instant satisfaction.

This project we are in the middle of right now has been the most challenging, dynamic, and enjoyable thing I have ever done.  Its not just sailing but the process as a whole.  From New York to Bermuda it was fascinating to watch every little component, modification, and invention perform or fail miserably at its intended purpose.  We arrived in Bermuda thrilled with the boat's overall performance
but with a long list of changes that needed to be made.  As a result, our stay in Bermuda felt a lot like home.  Just like in Kingston we were searching the next hardware or marine store for that part or material that would solve the day's most urgent problem.  We obviously found time in the afternoons to relax and enjoy ourselves, but the sense of purpose wasn't lost.

I do expect the boat the settle down over time.  As we discover and replace the weakest links in the chain, our role as boat restorers will gradually transition to that of boat maintainers, on the look out for links that have gone thru their natural life cycle of wear and tear.  Regardless of our role, I do realize that we must always be vigilant.  Ever since we motored down the Hudson, I have had a steady yet mild sense of paranoia.  I can't help but investigate every new noise, bit of dirt, corrosion, or leak to assess its source and potential impact.  I credit this ever present sense to my father, not because it's something I inherited, but because of all the years he lent me his boat and let Flying Fish.  I hope some day I can pay forward that experience to someone else, but not till we make it safely back home.
me obliviously bump along from one disaster to another year after year.  It's those disasters I fear yet feel confident we can over come thanks to my numerous rehearsals with the Trimaran,

3:00 am, Friday July 15

I'm on watch and Laura is sleeping below.  I'm sitting above the cat walk leaning up against the folded up dingy which makes for a really comfortable back rest at 15 degrees heel.  The boat is sailing itself on a close reach in 10 knots of breeze.  I'm shirtless and the air feels warm and wonderful although it's the middle of the night.  Laura would be mad at me being out here without my harness but it's too nice to cover up. I don't think I need my pants to be comfortable but I happened to have them on and I'm too lazy to take them off just to see, although the thought has crossed my mind.

There are more stars overhead than anyone could ever count, simply because the second you look away from one spot, more pop up where you were just looking.  When you look back, most of them disappear again.  The Milky Way is there too.  We are sailing right along it as if it's the path of another vessel we are following similar to the phosphorescent trail we leave in our wake.  Every once in a while there is a shooting star, but I always wish for the same thing.  I wish for everything to keep going as well as it has been, for us to complete what we have set out to do, and for us to get home safely.  I know you're not suppose to say what you wished for, but no one ever told me I can't write it down.  Regardless, I'm proud of my wish.  How many people can say all they want is for things to keep going as they are going?  I honestly can, at least at this very moment.  I know I can't always feel like this but I sure as hell can try.  Even when we get back, even when I go back to work, I sure as hell will try.

July 14- Max Catches A Tuna

We are still motoring...another hot day with bed sheets hung in the cockpit for shade. The thin taste of diesel fuel in the air, the black coffee. I relieved Max from his watch at 8:00 and woke him up at 8:30 with questions. By nine he was trying  to sleep again when the reel went off with a sharp hiss. I began hopping around the cockpit yelling Fish! Max ! Fish! Max!. I went to the to the reel and saw the line spinning out and then stuck my head down the companionway to see if Max was moving. Back at the reel I felt that I should take things into my own hands, even though it was Max's fish and I hadn't even looked at the reel to learn its levers and handles. The line was disappearing fast so I flipped a lever. An immediate silence followed and I knew I had lost the fish. Max came on deck and reeled in the empty line. He said that it was his fault,that he hadn't secured the wire leader properly, but I also knew that I shouldn't have flipped that lever. He turned to go back to sleep without rigging the line again. This was strange but I made no suggestions. He had been up since 4:00. Ten minutes later, after a failed attempt to sleep, he returned looking vengeful, with the tackle box in hand. He asked me to make coffee and I obliged, understanding that there would be no sleep until he caught a fish. He hates to lose a fish, but to lose the lure too, and possibly due to insufficient knot tying on his part, was just too much.

As he drank his coffee and sorted through the tackle box, he mumbled about how everyone else cathces fish all the time, that he has never caught one while sailing, and that each time one gets away, that's another $30 lure. I reassured him that all those other people were probably exaggerating, that he just had to keep trying, and that we would certainly be catching fish. I believed all this but Max was trying to chose a new lure, trying to think like a fish, and holding up the different lures pointing out how ridiculous they looked. It was true. In the box are all matter of brightly colored things. Wormy
things with sparkling ribbons, hard little painted fish with wings, purple gummy things like fireworks. Max held up a long red tubular lure with a hook halfway down and another at the end, and said, "Why the hell would a fish want to eat this, for instance? But they say it works." I picked one out, a very reasonable looking lure. A small silver fish with a dark blue back and two hooks. It had all the colors of the flying fish that flew into my calf during night watch, so it seemed that it was on the local menu. Max agreed and started fashioning a new wire leader, meticulously following the directions on the package, even reading them out loud as he worked. This attention to detail produced a beautiful rig. Max dropped it off the back of the boat, let the wake take it out, and went back to sleep. I returned to my book.

Hours passed and we had forgotten about the entire situation when the reel went off again. I think Max's feet only touched the boat a few times before he was at the reel. It looked as though he flew right out of the heart of the boat. He let the fish take the line out and then slowly began tensioning it. He slowly reeled it in and told me to go get the gaff. Shit I thought, I am going to have to lean over the rail, gaff it through the gills and haul it in. What if it was huge? I realized that I was an integral part of the success or failure of the situation, and failure wasn't an option. I mumbled, I hope it isn't too big as I went to get the gaff. At the same time Max shouted with a huge smile that it was definitely big. I looked to where he was at the reel and could see his back muscles straining against it. Shit. I returned with the gaff and stood by the rail.

The fish appeared about twenty feet off the stern blindingly silver in the sun, fighting frantically. I could see it was a large Tuna, but also a perfectly reasonable size for us. A fish to be proud of but not too much that any would be wasted. Max reeled it to the rail and I dipped at it with the gaff, missing
several times before I had it hooked where it flared out its gills that were a dark and vibrant red. I pulled it into the cockpit and got Max the knife. The fish was obviously tired and even lay still for a while before resuming its fight. It bled unbelievably, and as it beat against the cockpit floor, blood splattered up our legs and all over the cockpit. Dark red blood was everywhere and I was amazed that such a fish could bleed in such a human way. I wanted it to die quickly, and it did. I looked closely at the fish. It was 30 inches long and dramatically fat in the middle. It's coloring was silver and blue with every other color if you looked closely. I saw the pressure sensing patch of skin that ran from behind its gill to its tail in a pattern that looked like a river running down from a mountain lake. It was a remarkable fish. Max was tremendously happy. Even after the fish was filleted, the cockpit washed of blood, the meat bagged up and on ice, Max sat in his boxers, covered in spots of blood, smiling widely and recounting the whole experience.

We ate so much Tuna. For three days at every meal. Sushi with ginger and rice on day one, ceviche on day two, and then meal after meal of Tuna steaks. It was the best fish I have ever tasted.

The remainder of the passage...

The rest of the passage from Bermuda to Iles de Saintes became increasingly difficult. The winds stayed on our nose and we sailed to weather everyday after the first. The wind picked up but was
generally inconsistent, requiring what began to feel like constant sail changes. We remained close hauled, or close reaching, with the starboard rail often underwater. This was stressful on the boat and the Genoa track began to leak due to the force from the flogging sail which we were constantly reefing or unfurling. Our foredeck box also leaked, enough to soak every article of clothing Max has, and all the cushions of the v-berth. The galley remained precariously uphill and so did the head. Life
at a sharp angle. Cooking, bathroom activities, and staying dry became difficult and at times impossible. We pressed on tired and wet from the continuous squalls that start to hit us one after another for days. It really was a challenge, and when one of us wasn't on watch, that person was trying hard to sleep in the wet, humid salon, naked under a fan. There were days when it felt like we didn't speak until cocktail hour when we would express all our thoughts to each other while getting sprayed by waves. We kept each other in high spirits and reminded each other that if we wanted to get places quickly and comfortably, we would not have become sailors.

When it finally came time to make port, we decided to go to Iles de Saintes, and continue on to
Dominica afterwards. The night before we arrived I took the 8-12 watch and Max the 12-4. We arrived at 6:00 and fought it hard to get into the harbor, making the miles slowly against a persistent sea. Day was just breaking as we caught a mooring next to the picturesque crescent shape of Terre de Haut's seaside village. We tried to sleep but couldn't. We went above deck to set up the dingy and begin our adventures on land.

And now, a treat for those of you who made it to the end, and let it be a lesson...sometimes you have to hold on with whatever you can.