Monday, July 25, 2011

Leatherback Turtles

This lady jumped in front of us when Jesse was trying to take our picture, so we're kind of hidden on the right.
Is that not the cutest little thing?
The first of the eggs are laid!
  Wow! That’s about all we can say about an experience we had the other night. Trinidad is the second-largest nesting site for leatherback turtles. The females nest March through August, and the eggs incubate for two months before hatching. So we got a twofer when we visited Matura Beach, on the east coast of Trinidad. Jesse James, who is a force of nature here in Chaguaramas, took a group of ten cruisers to see the turtles. We left about 5 p.m., fought traffic through Port of Spain, then headed across the country. We stopped close to Matura for a Chinese-food dinner (although the town is famous for its specialty of BBQ pig tail). It was well dark as we drove through the Matura forest, with fireflies blinking away in the trees. Near the beach, we met with members of Nature Seekers, a local group formed to prevent the turtles from being slaughtered for food. They patrol the beaches during nesting season, collect data on nesting turtles, and conduct tours. We followed Donnie, our tour guide carrying a red light – which doesn’t disturb the turtles – onto the beach, and within minutes he spotted some hatchling tracks. Four of the cutest little turtles had been left in the nest by their siblings, so he dug them out and had us rub their backs, which stimulates them to crawl. It worked! Soon their little legs were flapping, and we watched two crawl down the beach and into the surf. The other two went in a bucket to revive a bit more before being released. Continuing down the beach, Chris saw a shadow in the surf, and Donnie checked it out.
It was a female coming ashore! We stayed back so as not to disturb her until she was settled. Only then would they let us come forward to watch her dig her nest using her rear flippers. Once she starts laying her eggs, she goes into a kind of trance, and we were then allowed to take pictures and touch her. She was enormous, as long as Anne is tall, and Donnie estimated she weighed about 800 pounds. The turtles are called leatherbacks because they don’t have hard shells like other turtles, but a hard, leathery skin. This skin was so smooth and hard, it felt like plastic, while the skin on her flippers was silky soft over massive muscles. Her head was the size of a watermelon, and when she occasionally moved it, it seemed more animatronic than alive. Once she finished laying her eggs, we all had to back off and turn off our lights while she refilled the hole with sand and tamped it down. Then she slowly made her way back down the beach, stooping to flip sand all over the place to camouflage the true location of the nest. Finally she reached the water and swam away. Like I said before – Wow! During the height of the season, Donnie said they’d have more than 200 turtles nesting in a single night. That would be an impressive sight, but I’m glad we got to see the hatchlings emerging. On our way out through the forest, we had to stop to let a porcupine cross the road. I had made cookies to give Jesse some sugar to keep himself awake during the long drive back to Chaguaramas, and we arrived back at about 1 a.m., sleepy but very happy with the experience.
Look at the size of her head!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Trinidad, Here We Come!

The definitely commercial work area of Chaguaramas
The much prettier and more peaceful anchorage at Carenage Bay
  Well, we’ve arrived at our home for the next few months. We had an easy overnight crossing from Grenada (easy except for the nasty chop the first couple of hours out), and arrived in Trinidad July 5th. We anchored in Carenage Bay. It’s a great place: away from the commercial traffic in Chaguaramas Bay, surrounded by wooded hills, and next to the Trinidad and Tobago Sailing Association (TTSA), where we can use the bathrooms and showers, pool, internet, book exchange, and bar and restaurant. We’re within walking distance of all the boatyards at Chaguaramas Bay, so we can plan our haulout. Although it’s hot and humid, there’s often a nice breeze to keep it liveable and sleepable. And, although we’re right next to a coast guard station with boats large and small going in and out all the time, they’re really polite and don’t send wakes through the anchorage. This is such a delight after experiencing the “hospitality” of the Grenadian coast guard in Prickly Bay, who seemed to delight in plowing through the anchorage at full speed, requiring us to hang on for dear life and catch things before they fell off the counter. And this wasn’t when they were answering a life-or-death call, which you could understand, but when they were taking school kids out on a tour. But enough about that. I’ll be posting blogs on Trinidad over the next few months to let you know what it’s like. We were told by a cruiser up island that people either love Trinidad or hate it. So far, we’re loving it!
Coast guard trainees rowing through the anchorage. Could these guys move!


The anchorage at Prickly Bay, Grenada
We spent ten days in Grenada, and wouldn’t mind spending many more. We anchored in Prickly Bay, convenient to a dinghy docks and roads to town. But the hills surrounding the bay are definitely residential, and there are some beautiful houses. We walked up and down and all around looking at them. It’s a far cry from the tiny villages and settlements that we’ve anchored near recently. But there’s a medical school the next peninsula over, the capital city a few miles away, and a beach front loaded with hotels nearby, which explains the congestion. Here we met up with some old and new friends: Steve and Lynn on Celebration, Keith and Jaime on Kookaburra, and Carl and Carrie on Sanctuary. We walked and talked and ate and drank and had an all-around good time. There are lots of facilities for boat work and supplies, and we might have considered staying here except that our insurance requires that we be farther south in order to be covered for named tropical storms and hurricanes, and we are committed to haul the boat out in Trinidad. So, despite our enjoyment of the area, we were a little antsy to be headed out again.
Nice hillside homes

Volcano Sail-by!

Okay, this was pretty cool. En route between Carriacou and Grenada on the leeward (western) side of the islands, you pass by Kick’em Jenny, a submerged volcano. There’s a one-mile exclusion zone; you have to sail outside this zone at all times. When the volcano is restless and seismic activity increases, there’s a five-mile exclusion zone. The volcano gods were apparently sleeping when we went by (our position is inside the concentric circles on the electronic chart in the picture, and the thick blue line is our route), and we had no problems, though the abrupt shallowing (1,500 meters depth to 150 meters) caused a steep little chop in the vicinity of the volcano. Although it would be fascinating to see the effects of an eruption of a submerged volcano, I think it would be healthier to stay well outside the exclusion zone.

Out to Dinner on Carriacou

Neville, Glenys, Jeff, Chris, and Anne in front of the adorable Round House. Don't you love the windows!
Inside the little restaurant
 Working our way down to the southern end of the Grenadine archipelago, we visited Carriacou, which actually belongs to Grenada. We checked in at the little town of Hillsborough, then moved over to Tyrell Bay. While there, we went out to dinner, which we rarely do, lunches being ever-so-much less expensive. But a restaurant in the cruising guide intrigued me: Bogle’s Round House. We went with some recently met cruisers – Neville and Glenys on Alba, and Jeff and Pam on Foggy Mountain. With six people, the restaurant provides transportation, so a van picked us up, and we got to sightsee on the way to the village of Bogle. The restaurant lived up to my expectations. The building itself is, of course, round (hence the name), and the lights coming through the open windows looked warm and cozy. We had drinks at a picnic table overlooking a pretty lawn and down to the water. Inside the restaurant, the main support is a cement-filled tree trunk. The place only seats about a dozen people, and there were two additional couples besides our six. Dinner was delicious. Chris and I shared a little bleu cheese soufflé, then I had the herb-and-cheese-stuffed chicken breast, while Chris had the barracuda. For dessert we shared the chocolate fondant, which Chris said was too chocolaty.  Ha! There’s no such thing as too chocolaty! Okay, there actually is, but this wasn’t, it was heavenly, especially since it was offset with vanilla ice cream with nice flecks of vanilla bean in it. The chef is Roxanne, a cute little thing who twice has been named Grenada’s top chef. Chris just had to hug her in thanks for the delicious meal. And the price wasn’t too bad, considering the quality of the food and the great atmosphere. All in all, a terrific evening.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tobago Cays and Union Island

The quintessential tropical paradise. Tobago Cays is a small group of uninhabited islands in the Grenadines. The water is clear and beautiful. Turtles are everywhere, especially over the seagrass beds off of Turtle Beach. We loved it when we were here on the crewed charter, and just had to come here in our own boat. We snorkeled the inner reef and dinghyed around and explored one of the little islands.  It was windy and choppy, so we weren’t able to snorkel on the outer reef, but that was okay. You can’t have everything, and we already have so much!
Tobago Cays anchorage

Chris exploring one of the little cays

Union Island was our next taste of civilization. We anchored in Chatham Bay, which had a beautiful white-sand beach lined with small huts that serve as bars and restaurants. There’s no good road (emphasis on good here, as there is an incredibly rutted dirt road that you’d definitely need a four-wheel drive or high truck to navigate) to the beach, so most of the vendors come around from the towns by boat. We went ashore for rum punches at the beach bar owned by Vanessa and Seckie, and ending up having a nice chat with the crews from Celebration (our friends Steve and Lynn from St. Pete), Alba (Neville and Glenys from England), and Sheer Tenacity (Rod and Mary from South Africa). We also took a long walk one day up some very steep hills to some beautiful views.
Chris and his new friend, Pepper

Happy hour!


Fishing boats on the beach
Admiralty Bay
 Chris and I first visited the Grenadines in 2002, aboard a crewed charter.  Talk about decadence!  Captain and cook for ten guests on a 45’ catamaran, all-inclusive food and drink, and enjoyable crew and passengers from the U.S., England, France, and South Africa.  So now we’ve got to cook and clean and fix things on our own boat, but it’s still a thrill to finally be back, and we've met other nice cruisers.  Our first stop was Bequia, which has a wonderful waterfront with markets and shops, and incredibly steep hills to climb.  We especially liked provisioning at Doris’ Fresh Foods, a small market in a private home, redolent of curry and other herbs and spices.  Take a deep breath when you enter the door, and you’re immediately hungry.  And take a look at the décor of the Whaleboner Bar – very apropos to its name.
Whale rib bar and vertebrae seats