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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Street scenes


St George

The bustling capital of Grenada is a place where it’s easy to lose an afternoon.  Wandering the narrow, crowded and vibrant streets is a lively experience as you take in the colourful locals going about their business.  That may involve sitting and smoking a joint, selling fruit and vegetables, drinking at the many open air rum bars or just standing and chatting.  Words aren’t needed – here’s some of David’s pics.



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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Touring the Spice Island

Grenada is the world’s second largest producer of nutmeg and as well produces rum, chocolate, a whole range of spices and some amazing tropical fruit.  We just had to explore this lush island so booked a tour with “Shade Man” who took us in his minibus that has definitely seen better days – but no worries, this is island style. 

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We took a day to drive around the entire island……stopping for morning tea and lunch along the way.  For the coffee addicts amongst us it was an exasperating day.  Shade Man told us we hadn’t a hope of getting coffee on the island after 8am - “after that we drink rum”.  Hmmm, now there’s a thought!  The truly desperate Mark off Balvenie opted for instant…..we opted for a dip in the waterfall instead.


We had a great day – visiting a nutmeg factory and chocolate factory all of which meant we were too late for the rum factory.  Never mind.  We’d done that in Martinique and Barbados and there’s only so much rum one can drink on a sunny Friday afternoon.  But I digress….the nutmeg factory was a fascinating stop.  The nutmeg fruit grows on a large tree (up to 75ft high) and when ripe is harvested and the outer fruit removed and used for jams, sauces and syrups leaving the colourful red lacework of mace surrounding the brown nutmeg.  The mace is stripped off and used for spice and cosmetics then the nutmeg is extracted from the remaining shell.

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Next up was the Grenada Chocolate Factory and yes, there were plenty of free samples but first an animated presentation by a knowledgeable local.  The cocoa fruit likes heat but not sun so is grown under the canopy of banana, papaya, breadfruit and mango trees.  When ripe the orange fruit is split open and the white beans extracted from the sweet flesh.  Beans are then fermented before being placed on racks in the sun to dry.  They’re aerated by local women and yes….we just had to have a go….fantastic free foot massage. We then drove through the middle of the island through the Grand Etang National Park. A stop at the lake prompted a team photo call.


Since arriving in Grenada we’ve anchored in Prickly Bay and it was a revelation to leave the gorgeous south coast with its multi million dollar fully staffed holiday homes mainly owned by wealthy Americans, and head into the hills. 


Houses there were far more modest – many of them shacks – and living conditions were basic.  Main industries on the island are agriculture and tourism and tourism really only touches on the south coast.

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Grenada’s interior is lush and green, thanks to its mountains and high rainfall and it is dotted with waterfalls.  We went to the Concord falls and just had to have a dip – far cooler than the 28deg temperature of the water in Prickly Bay.


Lunch was at a local village restaurant with spectacular views out to sea and we had the best roti we’ve ever had. Shade Man insisted on driving us along the runway of the abandoned airport, dotted with wrecks of old planes used by the Russians in the 1983 coup. This was when a US led invasion, backed by Cuba and Russia, ousted the four year revolutionary government.

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Evidence of the catastrophic 2005 Hurricane Ivan was everywhere.  A brand spanking new stadium stands proudly beside the ruined old one, in St George the cathedral remains roofless and everywhere there are damaged houses.  The hurricane also devastated fruit and nut plantations.

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Bandit’s stop before Grenada was the small island of Carriacou.  We enjoyed snorkelling the pristine waters of nearby Sandy Island and exploring the local town of Hillsborough.  It was at Hillsborough we had our hands firmly smacked by an officious young customs chap when checking in.  We’d anchored Bandit in nearby Tyrell Bay and bussed over which apparently was a no no.  We could have spread an infectious disease to all those people on the bus our officious chap growled.  We longed to point out that we were in far more danger of picking up something from the bus than leaving anything behind, but just smiled and apologised and left laughing so much we had tears rolling down our faces.  DSC_0558DSC_0551

Last week Sam flew in from his high pressure job as chef on the super yacht Anna Eva for a few days with us.  He’d had a week in London with friends first and came armed with presents including a Kindle and hard drive and loads of yummy food.  We felt very spoilt.  On Friday we took a local bus to Grenville, a town on the east coast.  We were definitely the only tourists in town and enjoyed a roti on the roadside before exploring the local markets.  Down at the seafront fishermen were busy hauling their catch of tuna, wahoo and mahimahi ashore and selling it at ridiculously cheap prices - NZ$5 kg!

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It was fantastic to have Sam on board but, as usual, all too short.  We hope to leave Grenada in the next few days for Blanquilla and Los Rocques in Venezuela then onto the ABCs….Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Back to School


It’s nice to think that, as cruisers, we can contribute to a community.  Indeed, we’ve recently stocked up on supplies that are apparently welcomed in some of the more remote islands we’ll be visiting as we head to the western Caribbean.  Things like toys, crayons and colouring in books for children, needles, thread and lipstick for the women and rice,soap and razor blades for the men.  But being able to physically do something is instantly appealing.  So when the call went out over the morning VHF net for volunteers at a weekly literacy programme in Grenada, we leapt at the chance. 


The Mt Airy Young Readers’ Programme was started by locals Jeanne and Everest Pascal.  They were alarmed that some Grenadian children were slipping between the cracks and leaving school with low literacy skills.  Everest explains that when he discovered his cleaner couldn’t read he decided to do something about it.  “We realised she couldn’t read as she would dust books and put them back upside down,” he said.

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Every Saturday morning, up to 40 children turn up at a hall in a tiny mountain village, determined to improve their reading and writing skills.  They come of their own accord.  While other children around the world are heading to malls and McDonalds (there isn’t one here thank goodness!) these kids are giving up their precious Saturday morning to learn.  The programme is carried out by an enthusiastic bunch of cruisers – many of whom spend the entire season in Grenada so are able to commit to the weekly sessions – while Everest and Jeanne are there to supervise.


We went along and were impressed with the volunteer effort but perhaps more by the desire of these local children to better their skills in the hope of improving their future.  Some came armed with books they were reading – others relied on the resources available.  Some were already skilled readers and perhaps were there more for group interaction and the chance to learn about new places and cultures.


The young girl I had was very interested in New Zealand and devoured the photographic book I brought along.  She read all the captions and asked some pretty smart questions. Attention spans can be short so it’s important to switch from reading to games to small tests.


It’s a fantastic initiative and one we were thrilled to be able to participate in.  We were only sorry that we were unable to become regular volunteers.  But, we’re heading to lots more places with low literacy rates so perhaps there’s an opportunity for us to help out again.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The downsides of cruising….and yes there are some!


Looking back on our blog, we realise that it is full of fantastic photos of us in wonderful places we’ve visited. Beautiful beaches, that amazing turquoise water, palm trees etc.

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As we walked home from town yesterday in 30degree plus heat (we missed the bus)....carrying a heavy load of shopping and spare parts……we pondered on how many of our friends look past the pretty photos to the stark realities of the cruising lifestyle. While much of our time is spent visiting stunning spots, a lot more is spent fixing things and searching for provisions.


Normally we gloss over this aspect of our life but, given that we’ve spent the last few days working from dawn until dusk, at not particularly pleasant jobs, we figured it was time to fill you all in on the more humdrum aspects of cruising. For example, David spent yesterday morning up to his elbows in shit (changing a poo pump…more about that in another blog) and just as we thought we had a relaxing afternoon, the VHF chirped into life with a distress call from a boat on the rocks in our bay. It was a case of all men (well clarification, all Kiwi men…the others seemed to disappear pretty quickly) to the rescue – and an entire afternoon and evening was wiped out. Luckily, the boat was saved. While all that was happening I was wearing my pest destruction officer hat killing weevils (the not so good result of bulk buying in Morocco)


David in the engine room…where he spends a lot of time

Most of you are probably convinced we spend our days lazing on sun drenched beaches, swimming in crystal clear water and, come sunset, sip cocktails on deck, telling ourselves how lucky we are. Hate to disappoint you – but the cruising life is really not like that. For a start, everything takes so much longer to do on a boat (I expand on this below) and, as we have to be as self-sufficient as possible, much time is spent doing menial tasks such as making bread, pickles, jams, muesli etc.  And of course, I get to spend hours at the computer updating the blog, writing stories and emailing.


Those who have spent time with us have a skewed vision of our lifestyle as when we have visitors we down tools and go all out to have fun. They don’t realise we’ve probably spent several days before they arrive preparing for them – provisioning, making beds and getting systems fired up and several days after they leave cleaning, doing laundry and re provisioning. On that note let’s take a closer look at some of those chores;


This is an expedition involving lots of walking lugging heavy backpacks and bags (we swear our arms are longer these days). People at home don’t give a second thought to shopping - they just jump in the car, go to the supermarket, load up and return home.  For us it’s usually a daylong marathon that first involves finding a supermarket or  three… the first one is often useless, in one case selling pig’s ears, cow’s feet, salted cod, taro, callalou, hot spicy sauce and little else.


Guess what?  Despite the sign they still harass you and put fruit in your mouth!

Suitable supermarket found, it’s then a case of how many trips we need to make back to the dinghy which could be some miles away….then an often wet ride back to the mothership anchored somewhere offshore. Oh…..and they don’t usually take credit cards. So you first have to find a money machine, work out the exchange rate and withdraw enough money (but not too much as Cape Verdean or Barbados currency is not much use anywhere else) for the task. If they do take credit cards – they can’t process them at the counter so you have a few heart stopping minutes as the card is taken elsewhere before being returned to you. One of our cruising friends had his credit card skimmed to the tune of $20,000… we tend to not let ours out of our sight now….if we can help it.


Supermarkets over here generally don’t sell fresh fruit and vegetables. So another day is spent at the fruit and vegetable market haggling over prices. We find this exhausting. It would be so much easier if they simply displayed the price but no….you have to ask, unless you are a wealthy German cruiser and you just point and pay. Being budget conscious Kiwis we ask the price of everything and when you’re buying pineapple, papaya, bananas, oranges, mangos, avocado, plantain, beetroot, bok choy, tomatoes, cucumber and yams it all gets a bit tiring. Produce is weighed on scales – often the kind that you used to play with in your Wendy house when you were four. So you are never really getting what you pay for – but then a smiling friendly bloke will throw in an extra star fruit or mango and you’ll feel better.


All this produce has to go somewhere and even though Bandit is voluminous for her size – there is never quite enough room and that brings me to stowing.


Stowing is an art and, despite living on a boat for six years, it’s one I haven’t quite mastered. I’m forever seeking more space! At home of course you just chuck it all in the walk in pantry or fridge and freezer – lovely big freestanding ones with oceans of room. On a boat fitting everything in becomes a skill. And it’s why I get a tad upset if visitors decide to help themselves to a can of beer – it is so carefully positioned that its removal results in an avalanche of everything stacked on top. It also explains why these days we drink our rum with water….it’s just so much easier than trying to buy, carry and stow ginger beer (how we yearn for a good dark and stormy though!)


It never ceases to amaze us that people seem to think boats don’t require cleaning. I spend as long keeping Bandit clean and tidy as I would a house – a fairly large house at that. Salt and sand has a habit of getting throughout the boat so a daily floor clean is essential. And surfaces get covered in finger and hand marks (from all that holding on when it’s rough) so there is always polishing to do. As for dust – yeap, even mid Atlantic we had dust….red, hard to budge African dust. Bandit is our home so we’ve personalised her and have Turkish rugs on the floor, which need shaking or vacuuming every day. And we have more toilets and showers on Bandit than we had at home and they also need a daily clean. Hmm…that’s most of the morning taken care of.

People at home tell us we both look fairly lean these days. Well that’s mostly due to the energy required to do something simple like making a bed. When we have visitors coming I don’t bother doing my daily pilates workout…I just make the beds. It requires plenty of crawling, stretching, leaning and always involves hitting my head, elbow or shin at least twice. When visitors arrive Bandit’s beds are beautifully made with top quality crisply ironed sheets (I know it’s anal but I’m a sucker for luxury sheets and can’t bear sleeping in wrinkled ones) but we do notice that from then on, the duvet cover is simply pulled over the top. Noone keen for a pilates workout then?



The bane of every cruiser. “Is there a laundry” is often the first thing a new cruiser into an anchorage will ask. In Greece we were completely spoilt by a wonderful man who collected my towels and sheets away and returned them beautifully washed, dried, ironed and folded for the ridiculously cheap price of $20 for a boatload. He threw in 10kg of apricots as well. In Sardinia I got stung when the laundry charged $200 for the same amount!!

But I am hiding a wee secret from you – yes we have a washing machine on board. In our first season of cruising I decided enough was enough – I was sick and tired of handwashing in buckets or sitting in Laundromats so I bought a machine which David spent some days installing. It’s fantastic and the thing I love most on the boat (after David of course)…..but when we have friends it’s just too much for my small machine and of course, it uses valuable water. And let’s be honest – sheets and towels hanging all over a boat aren’t such a great look. So I only use it for small loads. And I tend not to tell people as I foolishly told one guest who within minutes produce a massive pile of dirty washing from her trip around Europe. I mostly use my own machine (when the generator is has running!) but if there is a laundry nearby and it’s reasonably priced – then I will use that.

Right – enough of the downsides – we’re off for a snorkel on the rocks and, because it’s Friday, we’re going to the bar for a sundowner. See – despite all the above, we do live in paradise!


Oh……but there’s lots more…..I can hear the generator spluttering yet again so I feel a blog about Bandit’s more quirky features coming on. And I haven’t even touched on all the things that keep David’s day occupied… this space.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Life in the Grenadines

Brightly coloured fruit and vegetable stalls, friendly people, that ubiquitous turquoise water, palm trees, pristine white sand, stunning coral reefs…….tiny Union Island in the Grenadines was an unexpected delight.  We only planned to stop in here to clear out – it is a point of entry and exit for St Vincent and the Grenadines.  Other cruisers hadn’t rated the town or anchorage of Clifton highly but we loved it.  So much so we visited twice!
It was a great spot to reprovision and internet - perhaps two of the most important things for cruisers.  For a week we’d been in remote spots without internet or reasonable provisions so time to catch up!  The wifi was fast and free and we could sit at the waterfront bar to do it…..and so we did.  What a view!   It’s easy to spend hours doing so. 
Some say life is too short to spend long on the internet – but for us it’s our lifeline with the outside world and a chance to skype parents, children and friends, catch up on emails and news and of course, update the blog as well as research sailing destinations.  And we ease our guilt by telling ourselves we only do it about once a week.
Rewind a few days…….to Chatham Bay on the west coast of Union Island where we swam with one of the biggest turtles we’ve ever seen.  He (or she) wasn’t going to let us get too close – she’s that size for a reason!  The beach was just beautiful – soft white coral sand edged with palm trees and that turquoise water lapping in.  Bliss.
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We thought about staying overnight, but the sight of a catamaran on the rocks was a bit too sobering.  A friendly local we met on the beach told us it had been tied to a mooring and dragged in strong northerly winds.  A very good reason to never pick up a strange mooring.  Boat boys in the Caribbean often urge you to take a mooring, but we trust our anchor and so, to their chagrin, politely refuse their offers and drop our delta.  It hasn’t let us down yet.  We’d rather rely on that than a mooring that may be tied to a concrete block with a piece of string.
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So onto Clifton.  It’s a tricky anchorage – there’s a big coral reef in the middle and you can anchor either side.  The entire east of the anchorage is also surrounded by a coral reef.  We found a good spot to drop the anchor on sand and snorkelled up to check we were dug in – we wouldn’t want to drag here.  We also set all our anchor alarms.  Since we’ve been in the Caribbean we’ve never had less than 15 knots of wind…..usually it’s consistently 20 or more, so anchoring in a sheltered spot has become a bit of a mission. 
Ashore we were greeted by bright street scenes – gaily painted shacks selling all manner of tropical fruit, hand crocheted Rasta hats, gorgeous Caribbean dolls and some pretty cool Caribbean shirts.  We bought a pineapple, papaya and local bananas as well as a cabbage….it’s impossible to find lettuce here so it’s coleslaw which isn’t too bad with fresh pineapple in it.
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Union Island was a cotton growing island until slavery was abolished in the 1800s.  Now they grow nothing – everything is brought in from St Vincent. The predominant culture is, unsurprisingly, African with a vibrant Maroon heritage. What astounds us most about these smaller Grenadine Islands is the lack of any kind of market gardening.  Produce is simply shipped in and sold with a huge mark up.  When we ask the locals why they don’t grow anything the answer is always the same - “the ground is no good”.  Hmmm.
We had planned to head south but a VHF call from Balvenie had us sailing two miles north to Saline Beach on Mayreau where Cutty Hunk was also anchored.  We had a wonderful Kiwi potluck dinner ashore on another of those spectacular beaches – acres of white sand and the clearest water.  Cruise ships anchor off here and cart their passengers in for barbecues put on by the locals.  Luckily, the night we used their pristine shorefront location there was noone else around but the next morning we woke to see the Marco Polo anchored off, spewing out passengers into liferafts to be ferried ashore  Hmm..time to move.  But not before a snorkel on a wreck.  The wreck wasn’t that great but the nearby reef was fantastic – some beautiful soft coral and intriguing fish including those wonderful spotted rays with their long tails.
From Saline we went to Palm Island for lunch.  This is one of several privately owned exclusive resort islands in this area with hideaway villas costing around US$2000 a night.  We swam ashore and had a wander on the deserted beach – obviously times are tough for high fliers.  After checking out of Union Island (and the Grenadines) we headed to Petit St Vincent – another exclusive expensive resort with no phones and no internet. If you want room service you hoist a flag! 
We tendered ashore where a friendly chap invited us to the bar for a drink.  Didn’t think our credit card could deal with this so we politely declined but he told us we were welcome to wander along the beach.  We did.  It was stunning.  We later discovered (on the website….check it out) we could have booked the entire island for the night for a mere US$300,000.  Nice to dream.