Friday, January 13, 2017

1979 (3) - First Cruise

Our first cruise took us from Grenada, north to the U.S. Virgin Islands
To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

Grenada, April 13, 1979

Tony and Joyce were due yesterday, but called a couple days ago to say they will arrive Monday, the 16th.  We were pleased, because we can use the extra couple days to finish a million odds and ends, and maybe to relax a little.  Ed’s working on equipment like the depth sounder, and getting the radio hooked up.  Hopefully, we will leave here on the 18th.  I was so tired last night.  After we had some crackers and cheese, with Pina Coladas, I passed out about 7:00 p.m. and slept for twelve hours.

Tuesday was Sam’s last day, as all the big jobs are done.  We gave him the propane stove we had removed from the boat.  It was both a going-away present and to thank him for his help.  We also gave him Ed’s wooden trunk, which had been traveling around with Ed for thirteen years.  Wonder where it might travel to now? 

We have our VHF radio hooked up, and it works fine.  We’ve used it to speak to a few people.  The life raft is stowed on the aft deck, the sails are in the peak, and I’m anxious to get going!!  I’ll try to mail postcards while we’re traveling.  The EC money is used through most of the Caribbean, but we’ll have to get stamps at each island, as they’re all different countries.  When we get to the Virgin Islands, we’ll be back to American dollars.

Postcard, Grenada, April 18, 1979

Tony and Joyce arrived on Monday.  We went for a sail yesterday, then anchored at the beach and went swimming.  Today we will do our last food shopping, and probably leave Grenada tomorrow.  Tropic Moon sailed well, and is looking really good!  Tony cooked a delicious eggplant casserole for dinner last night, and is talking about eggs and hash browns for breakfast this morning.

Newsletter, May 17, 1979

We made our first adjustment from the work-a-day world to a work-on-the-boat life, and after 5-1/2 months in Grenada, we were more than ready to make a further welcome adjustment to the cruising lifestyle.  The whole concept of "cruising" was new to us.  For example, we had little idea of how long it took to travel from island to island, or, more importantly, that when we reached a new anchorage, we wouldn't be overly eager to rush on to the next one.  Combine that with a preconceived notion that we wanted to spend the summer in the Virgin Islands and you have our rationale for racing through the Caribbean in three weeks.  We had contacted friends from Ann Arbor, Tony and Joyce, invited them to fly to Grenada, and told them that we'd drop them off in St. Thomas in time to fly home at the end of their three weeks of vacation.

We started the trip, which was to cover 650 miles, fairly leisurely.  We left Grenada on April 19th and spent our first night at the island of Carriacou, just north of Grenada.  From there we sailed to Union Island to clear Customs to enter the Grenadines, a 50-mile-long chain of small, lovely islands.  We spent a night at Palm Island, and then sailed into the Tobago Cays.  The Tobago Cays are really beautiful.  They're a group of uninhabited islands with lots of reefs and white sandy beaches.  There were a few other yachts there, but as there are several areas in which to anchor, it was far from crowded.  We enjoyed the swimming and snorkeling in the area.

By chance, we anchored next to a boat, Aquarian Mistress, that we had met in Grenada.  We invited Tony and Paula over for drinks and dinner.  Our Tony was chef for the evening, and he fixed fried rice using a couple of conchs which Tony and Paula had caught.  Conch proved to be a lot of work to prepare.  First, the fellows broke open the shells and wrestled out the conch, which was still alive.  Then they cut off its eyes and legs and any other protruding parts.  Next they beat it to death, using a hammer.  If the conch isn't pounded well, it chews like shoe leather.  And after you've tortured the poor mollusk, you have a piece of meat with very little flavor.  On its own, not worth the bother, but useful in dishes like chowder or fritters.

After a couple nights in the Tobago Cays, both boats were ready to sail on to Bequia, one of the larger islands of the Grenadines.  We decided to sail in company with Aquarian Mistress.  The boats were very well matched in terms of speed, arriving in Bequia at virtually the same time, after a 7-hour sail.  There are two major bays on Bequia, Friendship Bay and Admiralty Bay.  After failing to consult the cruising book carefully enough, we mistakenly chose to go to Friendship Bay.  The town, stores and restaurants were all on the other side of the island.  As it was too late to go around the island, we stayed in Friendship Bay for the night.  It was an uncomfortable, rolling anchorage, so we decided to move nearer to the shore, where we set two anchors (bow and stern).  No one measured the depth of the water, and we soon found ourselves hitting bottom.  Things got worse as we tried to correct the situation, but we finally got ourselves free again.  It was after dark, and rather scary.  Less than a week out, and already aground!

We met another boat, Osprey, in Friendship Bay.  The family was also from Ann Arbor.  Osprey had just completed a 2-1/2 year circumnavigation.  One other boat came into the bay that night, a charter boat with charterers from Ann Arbor.  Of the four boats anchored there that night, Ann Arbor was represented on three of them.

We had a couple hours of sailing the next day to get around Bequia to Admiralty Bay where we spent the next three days.  The town is small, but looked good to us, as it was a chance to restock fresh food.  Small boats with young boys came out to the yachts with things to sell.  Joyce bought a pretty piece of coral from one boat.  One "vegetable" boat sold me fresh eggplant and tomatoes.  They also offered laundry services, which we declined; such services usually end up costing a small fortune.

We woke up in Bequia one morning to find everything inside and outside the boat covered with ash from the St. Vincent volcano, which had erupted during the night.  I hated to think of what it was like on St. Vincent, as we were about twenty miles south of the volcano.  What a mess!  First, we swept up the ash, then reversed the bilge pump, connected a hose, and washed down the boat.  All the other yachts in the harbor were busy with the same type of activity.

By the end of our stay in Bequia, 1-1/2 weeks of our 3-week total had evaporated into the tropical air.  Knowing we would have to bypass many of the islands, and having Martinique on our "must see" list, we left Bequia and the Grenadines to sail to Martinique on what would be our first overnight sail.  Leaving Bequia at about four in the afternoon, we arrived in Martinique about noon the next day.  My first overnight sail terrified me.  I got a bit hysterical when we ran out of wind, and Ed refused to turn on the engine.  I found it frightening to be "out there" in the dark.  Still, the trip went well, and we even arrived at the time Ed had estimated.

We reached Martinique on a Friday and stayed till the following Tuesday.  We anchored at Fort de France, a very cosmopolitan city be Caribbean standards.  Only French is spoken on Martinique, and I had fun with my feeble efforts.  Tony and Joyce also know some French so we managed fine.  We ate dinner out twice, my favorite being a place where I had cheese fondue.  My dessert consisted of two large crepes filled with ice cream, smothered in a chocolate and almond sauce, and topped with fresh whipped cream. 

The last leg of our trip was direct from Martinique to St. Thomas.  We left Fort de France on a Tuesday evening and didn't reach St. Thomas till Saturday morning.  We were out of sight of land the whole time.  We worked on watches 24 hours/day, four hours on, four hours off.  Ed and I stood watches together, as did Tony and Joyce. 

Three and a half days out.  You picture a sailboat zipping along through the water.  Only for the first day, and then we ran out of wind - becalmed!  Now you picture a boat sitting still in the water.  Not really!  Becalmed is one of the worst misnomers I've ever run into, as the situation is anything but calm.  When there's no wind, there's usually still a sea, which tosses the boat from side to side, and sometimes pitches it in what seems like all directions at once.  It was impossible to move through the boat without hanging on.  And the noise!  Hoping for a breeze, through lack of experience, we left the sails up without sheeting in the booms.  The booms crashed back and forth, halyards slapped, blocks were jarred up and down, banging on the deck.  Things were knocking around inside the boat, and the noise and movement just didn't stop.  And on top of it all, we weren't going anywhere!

I think those early sails set a pattern for how I would feel about future passages.  I was tired, sick, and frightened.  I found the passage long, boring and totally exhausting.  I seemed to be the only one who felt that way - the other three were enjoying themselves.  I, on the other hand, was suffering from feelings of claustrophobia.  I found that being out on a sailboat far from land, especially when you're not making any progress, and YOU CAN'T GET OFF, made me panic and feel trapped.  Ed thought I was nuts.  Luckily, I was asleep through much of the trip - off and on watch - I actually fell asleep once standing at the wheel.  I usually managed to avoid thinking too much about where I was and what I was doing. 

Ah, you say, but the wind finally came back, and all was well.  No, the wind didn't come back.  After sitting in one spot for a day, Ed finally relented, turned on the engine, and we motored over 100 miles.  We found a little wind again up near the Virgins.

One of my memories of the trip concerns the apricot pie filling.  The can had been opened at dinner, but not used, and the filling was stored in a plastic bowl with tight-fitting lid, on a counter (with rail), in the galley - a place that had been a good stowage spot up till that point.  It was 1:00 a.m.; Ed and I had gone off watch at midnight.  We were asleep when the wind died.  I woke to hear something flying across the galley.  We got up to find apricot goo spread through the hall, and into the head, where the floor is made of wooden slats - through which the filling had oozed.  It was just about impossible to clean up, partly because it was so sticky, and partly because Tropic Moon was lurching from side to side.  We cleaned up what we could, but didn't take up the head floor till we were in port again, at which time Ed had to use a putty knife to chip off the remaining dried-up filling.  During the clean up, I was in the galley when the gingerbread, in its corning ware baking dish, took off across the room.  I managed to catch it as it passed over the sink.

Ed and I were on the "dawn watch" and a little after daylight one morning about twenty dolphins joined Tropic Moon and stayed with us, frolicking around, for about five minutes.  That was a joyful sight.  The next morning, dawn watch again, a large fin passed right by the boat.  It was a whale, traveling with some friends.  I guess it had come in close to take a look at us.  Ed estimated it at about twenty feet long.  And lastly, on one of our night watches, I had just given the wheel back to Ed, and was settling down in the cockpit, when something went "flap" and landed in my lap.  I accused Ed of throwing something at me.  He was laughing, and said it was a flying fish.  I was madly trying to get it out of my foul weather jacket, where it was jumping around.  It was about six inches long.  I saved it to show our friends when they came on watch.

Tony and Joyce enjoyed the trip, and hated to see it end.  Entering the large port of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas was a bittersweet experience for them.  We had arrived in St. Thomas on a Saturday morning, and their plane was scheduled to leave at 1:00 that afternoon!  Goodbyes were hurried as our three weeks together ended.

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