Monday, June 25, 2012

Drive Around Tobago (If You Dare)

Beautiful view of Englishman's Bay

Triple hazard: sharp curve with steep drop-off, washed-out pavement, cows...
Hiking the Gilpin Trace
 We splurged and rented a car one day to see the rest of the island. What an adventure. Charlotteville is waaay up in the northeastern corner of the country, and the roads to get out of town are incredibly narrow and steep and twisty, with sharp curves that you couldn’t see around. I was unnerved by the rate at which drivers rounded the corners, often in the middle of the road, as if they believed that there was no one else in the world who could possibly be coming in the opposite direction. Chris got sick of my saying “Slow down, there’s a curve!” and “Beep before you go around!” But talk about views – incredible! The road hugs the coast down to Scarborough, the capital, which is just a busy city. The Crown Point/Store Bay area is the “tourist area” where most of the hotels are – also busy and crowded, so we didn’t stay long. We took a wrong turn heading up along the north coast and serendipitously found a great place for lunch; two incredibly large and delicious meals and a beer cost $100 TT, which is less than $17 US ($6 TT = $1 US). I barely got through half of my lunch (and if you know me, you know how much I love food) because there was so much, and we didn’t need dinner that evening. Our motto: look at the places crowded with locals for good, inexpensive food. More windy, twisty, sometimes dirt or gravel roads along this coast, through little villages and by houses perched on the steep hillsides. We got a look at some of the bays we wanted to visit. At Bloody Bay, we headed south across the mountains, through the rainforest that has been a nature preserve since the 1700s.  We stopped and hiked along one of the trails through the forest until it turned into a bog of mud; it was too late in the day to take time to pick our way around it. Back toward Charlotteville, we drove up Signal Hill to a little park area where we were dive-bombed by a southern lapwing, a pretty bird that nests in depressions in the ground, so we must have come too close to its nest. Before it got dark, we drove along the road we had hiked a few days earlier. No longer did the river flow over the pavement, but farther on, the road had collapsed and been replaced with a steep, gravel trail, at which point we decided to turn back. If you go to Charlotteville, ask about a rental car in the tourist office; Natasha there can arrange it for you.
Interesting flower spotted on our hike

Southern lapwing coming around for another dive at us

Man of War Bay from Signal Hill

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Powerboat Ride to Little Tobago

London Bridge rock off of northeast Tobago
Chris and Jack on the bridge of Bodacious
Seabirds feeding in the rich waters off northeast Tobago
Pretty resort at Batteaux Bay
 When we arrived at Charlotteville, we were met by the crews of Bodacious and Allegro, friends we had met up-island. Bodacious kindly invited us on a day trip around the eastern end of Tobago to Little Tobago and Batteaux Bay. We had considered doing this trip ourselves, but were glad we didn’t. The Guyana Current fetches up in this area, running between one and four knots, depending on where you are. To go around the eastern end of the island, you have to run against it, which was much easier for Bodacious (a powerboat) that it would have been for Mr Mac. The downside of the current is the large, confused seas, with eerie patches of completely calm water. The upside is the incredible productivity of the area due to the nutrients brought in by the current, which upwells (comes to the surface) in this area. Hundreds of sea birds—terns, frigates, boobies, tropic birds, and more—fished the waters. Batteaux Bay, sheltered from the seas by Little Tobago offshore, was calm and delightful, with a pretty resort, Blue Waters Inn, onshore. We lunched onboard, then motored over to Little Tobago, but unfortunately were unable to get into the lagoon to snorkel (there are some places you just don’t want to go without checking them out first in the dinghy). The ride back to Man of War Bay was less boisterous, going with the current and waves. It was a fun trip.
Chris doing his part for the Pawtucket Red Sox

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Charlotteville, Tobago

Mr Mac anchored in Man of War Bay

Remoras making off with a piece of fish

Seining along Pirate's Beach

We recently spent ten days anchored in Man of War Bay, Tobago, off of the village of Charlotteville. It was our first visit to Tobago, which is the mellow sister to the more frenetic Trinidad. Charlotteville is tucked between high, green hills that echo with the sounds of parrots and chacalacas (the national bird of Tobago) at dawn and dusk. There’s a considerable fishing fleet here, consisting of pirogues with bamboo outriggers for trolling, and those that seine along the beaches. We were anchored off of Pirate’s Beach, and a fisherman came by one day to ask Chris if he could help pulling the seine. Chris had a great time, and was gifted with two incredibly fresh (and delicious) fish for his help. We had a school of remoras living beneath the boat that loved us for the fish scraps Chris threw them after cleaning the fish. The Charlotteville people were very friendly, and we got some great bread hot from the oven from Darlene, a vendor along the waterfront. One day we walked up the steep and twisty roads beyond town along the coast until we were forced to stop where the road was washed out from the rain (it’s not called a rainforest for nothing). We saw and heard all sorts of birds, as well as fantastic foliage and tropical flowers. We also did some terrific snorkeling around the bay; I’ll post some pictures in future blogs. This was truly a special place, and guess what: most of the time we were the only boat there. Tobago is a little out of the way, but certainly worth the time and trouble to visit.

A view of Charlotteville from the hills

It IS a rainforest, after all
Weaver bird nests hanging from the trees

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Few Can’t-Do-Without Products in Mr Mac’s Cupboards

Cooking while cruising can be both fun and frustrating. It’s fun when you encounter new foods and cuisines. For example, the fresh market in Port of Spain, Trinidad, has the best abundance, variety, and prices of any market I’ve ever seen anywhere, and the vendors are happy to tell you how to cook something new. However, it’s frustrating before you get the hang of provisioning, because when you run out of something in the Bahamian Jumentos Islands or some little out-of-the-way cay in the Grenadines, there’s NO WAY to just pick up that missing ingredient at a local store, because there IS no local store (not even any people, in many cases). Some products that I’d never heard of when we lived ashore (or even on a dock) with ready access to supermarkets were these little gems. The canned chicken is terrific – big chunks of breast meat perfect for making chicken salad, chicken a la king, or any number of chicken dishes. Great for when you have no chicken in the freezer or don’t want to wait to thaw and cook it. We’ve gotten it at Sam’s Club and Price Smart. The other two products are UHT milk and cream. These products have been pasteurized at Ultra High Temperature, so they are stable for months at room temperature. Out of fresh milk for your coffee in the morning? Just open a UHT milk or cream to tide you over (they do need to be refrigerated after opening). These are readily available in the islands. I haven’t really looked for the UHT products in the states, but I certainly will when we get back, because they are just sooo convenient to have on hand when it’s not convenient to run to the store.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sponges: Not Just For Scrubbing

The variety of sea life lurking beneath the boat is amazing, and on our snorkels at the SMMA, the sponges in particular caught my eye. There are so many colors and configurations – they’re really beautiful (except for the one I’ve only seen pictures of, the chicken liver sponge, which looks like—you guessed it!—chicken livers). So here are a few that we saw on just these two snorkels.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Pitons Go Up, We Go Down

Chris heading down at the bat cave site

Bristle worm crawling on (eating?) a dead spiny urchin

Corals on the steep slope by the bat cave
As I mentioned in my previous blog, the snorkeling right off of our moorings in the Soufriere Marine Management Area by the Pitons was just fantastic. We moored in two locations: on the north side of the Soufriere Bay (the bat cave), and between the Pitons. The two sites were quite different. At the bat cave, the bottom sloped steeply down from the shore to hundreds of feet.  The substrate was principally rocky, with huge, coral encrusted boulders and coarse sandy/rocky bottom. Over between the Pitons, we were moored over a relatively flat, fine sandy bottom, with big boulders near shore. Different, yet both interesting. Here are some photos.
Typical at Piton site: sea feathers, sea fans, and sponges

Brown chromis feeding

Feather duster worm

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Soufriere and the Pitons, St. Lucia

Mr Mac on a mooring with Soufriere onshore in the distance
View of a beautiful plantation-style house from our mooring
We spent a few days in the Soufriere area of St. Lucia, which is where the distinctive Pitons are. This is the Soufriere MarineManagement Area, and you can’t just anchor here, you must take one of their moorings. The good news is that they changed their prices in the last couple of years – decreasing them. How often does that happen? Our first mooring was near the bat cave (though we didn’t see any bats), close to a lovely green hill, and directly over a fantastic snorkeling site. We just hopped off the boat and swam all over the place (underwater pics coming later). The next night we moved over between the Pitons themselves. Just onshore of our mooring was a beautiful plantation-style house, and down the way was a pretty little beach resort. Again, we just jumped off the boat to snorkel. We usually avoid areas where you are required to pay for a mooring, but I’ve got to tell you, next time we come this way, we’re going to stay a week. The price is extremely reasonable for well-maintained moorings; the marine management is obviously working, as evidenced by the number of fish and the size of the fish (we saw some of the largest yellow-tail snapper we’ve ever seen, right below the boat on our first mooring); the non-fish marine life is varied and abundant; and there’s lots to see ashore in this area. Of course, you’ve got absolutely fantastic views of the Pitons and surrounding hills. And the crowning jewels were the people in town. Everyone was just as nice as could be. From the customs and immigration officers, to the SMMA guys who told us about their work and the good snorkeling sites, the woman who invited us to step inside her restaurant (not open yet) to get out of the rain, and the guy who stopped us on the street to ask if we were sailors and to wish us a good time in Soufriere. This is definitely someplace worth a return trip.
Petit Piton looms beyond Mr Mac on her mooring
A nice post-snorkel rain is good for rinsing off

Monday, June 4, 2012

No Grass Mowing Allowed

But lest you think that we’re getting away from home maintenance, scraping the hull the nautical equivalent. Here Chris is scraping the fuzz that has grown on our propeller. The fish love to hang around and eat whatever gets scraped off.


Friday, June 1, 2012

No Need To Haul at a Boatyard…

Side view of the empty dry dock
Easy way to get a bottom job
 …when you have this handy-dandy dry dock in the middle of the bay. We saw this at Le Marin, the center of marine goings-on on the Martinique south coast. The platform is submerged for the boat to come up on, then emerges, allowing them to do their work, in this case, painting the bottom of a charter boat. There’s a large charter fleet here, and this seems to be a highly convenient way to do maintenance on the boats. I don’t know if they use it for non-charter boats.