Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy Old Years End!

That is Island talk for New Years Eve. Yes, we are still in beautiful Tyrrel Bay, Carriacou. We have met some great people and will be welcoming in the New Year here. We even have a picture showing Vagus at anchor, that for some reason known only to Google, we cannot load at present - hopefully later. We will likely stay here until Thursday or Friday when the winds and seas are supposed to drop.

The anchorage is packed. Over 250 boats came across the Atlantic in the ARC (a rally across the Atlantic) to St. Lucia and have been spreading out to all parts of the Caribbean for the Christmas period. As well, the Christmas charters are in abundance. However, the daytime temperatures hover around 30C and, at nighttime, the temperature drops to a chilly 26C - so all is good.

On this last day of 2006, Karen and I would like to wish you a happy New Years Eve, and all the best for the New Year. Keep safe and keep warm!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas from Vagus V

We will be staying in Tyrrel Bay, Carriacou for Christmas. There are many boats anchored here and one of the longer term residents has organized a Christmas Pot Luck dinner. They toured the anchorage, handing out invitations and signing up boats. The cruising community is a very inclusive group. A local hall by the beach has been secured. Karen has been pouring over her recipe books - trying to match recipes with what we actually have aboard and has come up with our contribution. Our boat has been decorated and our mast turned into a Christmas tree. We even have Christmas tree lights this year. We found battery powered tree lights in Trinidad. The only problem was the batteries were more expensive than the lights! We have talked to fellow cruisers over the High Frequency radio, relaying Christmas wishes and hearing their plans. Wherever cruisers are gathered, there will be pot lucks going on tomorrow. We have even managed to make some garbled calls to the frozen North, thanks
to the wonders of wireless and Skype. In many ways, this is a difficult time of year for cruisers as thoughts naturally turn to family and friends at home, where ever home is. So the gatherings help in a small way, by bringing people from all walks of life and different nationalities together to celebrate and share a meal on this special day.

And so, as we get ready for tomorrow, we would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas and a safe, happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

But Does It Work?

One of the joys of returning to Vagus after leaving her to swelter in the tropical sun for 6 months is discovering what works. The sun and humidity do their best to provide little surprises to the returning cruisers. In November, with the first winter winds making their appearance up North, Chaguaramas quickly fills with returning boat owners. All are plagued by the question - what works and what doesn't?

Soon the morning Cruiser's Radio Net fills with questions during the "help wanted section" - Where can I get this? How do I replace that? How do I start whatever? Owners pass each other on well-worn paths to the local chandler's. Like ants, they take their dollars to the nest, and return with boat bits and pieces, and things that go beep in the night grasped firmly in their sweaty hands. They know they will return tomorrow. It is part of a daily ritual. Yachties contribute an estimated $200,000,000 dollars to the local island economies. Boat parts ain't cheap and don't last long.

This year, we appeared to get away lightly. The diesel engine roared into life when Vagus was first lowered back into the water. This was followed by a deep sigh and much rejoicing. The fridge (new last year)dutifully cooled, and the electronic bits crackled and hummed, making generally happy noises. It took several days to check out all the systems - sailboats are a lot more complicated now than in days of yore. I have a long checklist that I go through to ensure everything is working. I smile quite contently when I can check off another item.

Of course there is nothing like getting away from the dock and bouncing through waves for 24 hours to really check everything out. Well, the engine and sails worked. However,just as we were leaving Chaguaramas, I found out that our cockpit microphone for the VHF radio didn't. It wasn't on my check list. Obviously it felt hurt at not being included. Then, as we were leaving the Boca, the chart plotter/radar unit shut down. I rebooted it. It ran for 20 minutes and shut down again. This was really frustrating as we like to use our radar on a night passage. After much fiddling about while bouncing along, I found that the back light to the display was overheating the unit and, when it got hot, it quit. Off went the back light and on went the chart plotter - so far so good. After 12 hours, we were in the lee of Grenada. The winds dropped and we decided to motor sail. I switched on the autopilot - nothing! I had checked this unit before leaving dock, but it decided that enough was e
nough. Eight hours of hand steering later we were in Carriacou.

Now we sit in Tyrrel Bay, Carriacou. The cockpit microphone is now working - a bit of cleaning of it's contacts and being included on the list made it happy. The autopilot is really dead and will be offered up for parts at the next swap meet. And I just got the water maker going! It is now happily turning sea water into beautiful drinking water. Life is good! Well, come to think of it, I have not checked the Honda generator. I wonder if it works?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Ahhh - At Anchor!

Last Wednesday, we unplugged Vagus' umbilical cord to the shore power, rolled up her dock lines and made the transition from being dock dwellers to being on-water dwellers. We plan to keep Vagus away from docks until next May.

One week after our aborted departure, the weather finally looked good enough to sail North. Six other boats also agreed and the morning cruiser's radio net in Chaguaramas was full of good byes from departing vessels. We spent a hectic Wednesday morning clearing customs, picking up and loading our duty free items (e.g. rum), and doing all the last minute things required to prepare Vagus for sea.

Finally, about 1:30pm, all hot, sweaty and somewhat tired, we actually left dock and started motoring into Chaguaramas Bay. With sails up, we bounced through a rip tide at the Boca entrance - a small channel leading out of Trinidad, notorious for being rough when wind and tides do not agree. The wind and seas soon steadied and, finally, we were sailing. We had a great sail on our heading towards Grenada. We even got to watch the Gemini meteor shower that night as we sailed northwards. The weather was so good we decided to bypass Grenada and motor sailed in the lee of Grenada towards Carriacou. Carriacou is a small island just North of Grenada that is still a part of Grenada, just more rural. Carriacou is Carib word for "island surrounded by reefs". Today Carriacou is known as "an island with over a hundred rum shops and only one gas station". I am not sure on the rum shop count, but can attest that they do have only one gas station. We had a wonderful visit last May so we decided to make this a stopping off place for "awhile". Twenty four hours after leaving Trinidad we were sitting at anchor in Tyrrel Bay, Carriacou. The Trinidad humidity is gone, the water is clear, swimming off Vagus is great, the breeze is fresh and the people are friendly. There is even a WiFi service that covers the whole anchorage. Life is good!

Friday, December 8, 2006

Still Here

Well, we are still in Trinidad. It came right down to the wire. We had everything on board, had checked out of the marina, and were ready to go to Customs & Immigration first thing on Wednesday morning to check out of Trinidad. That was until we listened to the 6:30am weather report on Wednesday. The Trinidad & Tobago weather service had just issued a rough seas advisory - the seas had not dropped overnight as they were supposed to do. The water obviously had not been following the forecaster's advice. Now I have this thing about rough seas. If I have a choice, I prefer to stand in the cockpit and look over the waves - not look up at them. So we bailed - went to the marina office to re-check in and then back to Vagus to pour another cup of coffee. We will be here for another week until hopefully the next weather window opens - back to life in Trinidad. One bonus to staying was we got to go to an excellent bridge lesson later in the day over at Crews Inn, put on by another Canadian cruiser. Such is cruising life!

Monday, December 4, 2006

All Dressed Up?

Well, you probably know the feeling. You got all the right camping gear together. You made sure the car was serviced and filled with gas. You carefully loaded all the gear in the car leaving just enough room to squeeze in the kids. You have two weeks of food stashed about, including some special steaks on ice. The ice will last exactly two days. You have neighbours lined up to look after the house and the dog has been put in the kennel. You recorded an absence message on your work phone and e-mail - no one expects you to show up on Monday. And it is raining. Not just raining, but coming down in streams - the proverbial cats and dogs. And on the Weather Channel, smiling faces are telling you just how heavy the rains are and how they are going to continue for the next week. They are quite cheerful about it. The cloud coverage is wide and a new trough is forming, promising more miserable weather the following week. They are excited about the trough. They have not seen one this early in the year before. Maybe there will even be some flooding they explain, somewhat gleefully, anticipating some "on the spot coverage". You begin to develop an intense dislike for the Weather Channel!

Well, in yachty terms, mate, you have just missed your weather window. We are still sitting in Trinidad. The hurricane season has just ended. The dry season is supposed to begin in a few weeks. We are on the cusp and the times - they are a-changing! Our boat is ready to leave. We have provisioned, fueled and watered. Vagus is as low in the water as she ever gets. We are ready to leave. Our air conditioner left today so we are REALLY ready to leave. But ... and this is a big BUT ... the weather does not appreciate all our hard efforts over the past week and insists on changing her mind on a daily basis. Wednesday looks good to leave ... nope, now it doesn't ... well maybe, yes it does ... nope there it goes again. Our first sail of the year involves an 80 mile overnight trip on the roughest water that we hope to encounter this season. We want to get it right. We do like our comfort. This sail, however, does not usually move into the comfort category - at best i
t is "tolerably endurable". First, we had set our sights on a run up to Carriacou - a two island passage. It does not look like this will be possible so we may head for a one island passage instead - to Prickly Bay in Grenada. The weather window that is coming up does not look like it will last long enough for us to do the two island hop. Not a big problem - Prickly Bay is a great spot to hang out. We just need to get away from a dock and be able to swing free at anchor, and to get this 80 mile passage behind us. Why do we not wait longer? - well it may not get better than this. Around the end of December, the Christmas Winds fill in - 20 to 25 knot trade winds that have a North component and make going North beyond our "tolerable endurance" level. So we want to move as soon as we can. Next Wednesday, based on the weather gurus, looks like THE day. We will see what they say tomorrow.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

First Swim

If you read the last entry, you might be wondering about the falling off the dock bit. Here is the story.

It was launch day. Launch days are always filled with anxiety - will Vagus float?, will any of the below-water fittings leak?, will the engine start?, will I remember how to get into a dock? - you get the picture. Our launch time was 3:00 in the afternoon and by noon we were ready. All we could do was sit and wait and worry. Promptly at 2:30 the crew came to get the boat ready to lift and at 3:00 we were floating. I quickly scurried around the boat, checking all through hulls for leakage. None found, I gave the signal to the launch crew that all was okay. They keep the slings on the boat until this signal so the boat can be rapidly lifted if the water misbehaves and does not stay on the outside. Next I went to start the engine. I pushed the starter switch and, with a big puff of black smoke, the motor kicked into life making all those comforting, rumbling sounds. Life is good! The line handlers threw the lines to Karen and we motored out into Chaguaramas harbour.

Karen now had to get all the lines and fenders in place for "The Docking". We putted around the harbour while she made numerous trips around the boat adding and adjusting fenders. By 4:00 we were heading for the dock. Karen radioed some friends who had offered to help us with our lines - one never refuses help docking! In we went, splitting the tie-up posts on our way to the dock. Everything worked and soon we were secure. Time to breath again. We got Vagus settled in and, as darkness approached, we decided to go for a shower. Our dock only had a short finger sticking out near the bow to climb on and, depending on the wind or the current, Vagus was sometimes close to the finger and sometimes quite far away. Most of the time she was far away as Vagus has an aversion to hard things. I quickly put a line from the cleat on the dock to a cleat on Vagus so we could pull Vagus close to the finger, allowing us to get off or on.

After our shower, we were exhausted. It had been a long day. We had very little food aboard so went up to the local restaurant in the marina for dinner. The restaurant was full but another Canadian couple recognized us and invited us to sit at their table. We had a wonderful dinner with them and headed back to Vagus about 9:00pm in the pitch dark. We were really looking forward to our bed by this time. Vagus was well away from the dock so, grabbing the "quickly tied" line to bring Vagus closer, I leaned back and pulled hard. At that particular moment, the line decided that it had enough of all this pulling and tugging, and undid itself from the cleat on Vagus. I found myself now holding a very limp line while angled well backwards, looking down at very black water. I was definitely going for a swim. There was no alternative. I did a very neat half flip between the boat beside us and the dock finger into the water. Now Chaguaramas is a commercial port and the water quality leaves something to be desired. In fact, I would never even dream of swimming in the harbour. This was definitely going to be a first. Fortunately the water was at least warm. And black, so I couldn't see what was in the water with me. Now, floating in the dark water after cleverly losing my flip flops and flashlight, the next problem was "how am I going to get out?". There are no dock ladders - this is the Caribbean, man! With no line attached to Vagus, Karen could not get Vagus close enough to the dock to climb on and lower the swim ladder. Slowly I swam around to the stern of Vagus and saw that, fortunately, the boat beside us had their ladder down. Karen knocked on their hull to warn them that a strange, very wet person was soon to appear. They were a very nice German couple who, although they understood very little English, understood at once what had happened as I emerged from the water up their boarding ladder. "Ah Neptune!" the lady exclaimed. We had a good laugh as I dripped along their boat towards the dock. Karen by now had managed to get aboard Vagus and went to get a towel and clothes for me. I needed another shower.

Laundered Money

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

We Be Here!

This post is a bit of a test. We are using our HAM e-mail system to update our web site. If it works, we will be able to update the site while we are on the move and do not have to search out internet cafes. We actually compose the e-mail on our computer, then transmit it on a high frequency to a shore station many miles away. The shore station captures our signal and routes the information to the internet. Shore stations are located all over the world so we pick one that provides us with a good connection. The shore stations are set up and run by volunteers and all the software to accomplish these tasks has been written by volunteers. And with a HAM licence, it is free. The whole system is really quite amazing and we really appreciate the work and dedication of all the volunteers.

We have been in Trinidad for two hectic weeks. We left Toronto on the 16th of November in pouring rain and 7C weather and arrived in Trinidad in pouring rain and 30C weather. The humidity sort of took our breath away. In the last few weeks we prepped Vagus for launch, launched Vagus 4 days after arrival (a record for us), I fell off the dock, we cleaned Vagus inside and out, put up the sails, inflated the dinghy, provisioned with enough food for about three months, and now we are nearly ready to travel.

Now the interesting point is, really, when did we feel we truly arrived? For me it was last Monday - another baking hot day. I was returning from one of my numerous trips to the local chandler to purchase more boat parts. I realized I was walking at my Caribbean shuffle pace - sort of a lazy saunter that does not bring out a sweat in the hot sun. Gone was the arm swinging, power walking acquired during life up North. No, the saunter felt good. I be here!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Trinidad Bound!

Well, the leaves are falling, the temperature is dropping and we are packing. Take heart for next week we will be sweltering in 30C temperatures and buckets of humidity, trying to do a few boat jobs that must be done before we launch. It is not all sandy beaches and rum punches, you know (it is funny that I never get much sympathy when I make this claim out loud). We then hope to catch our breath at Coral Cove Marina, in Chaguaramas, Trinidad, stock up Vagus and head up island. Where? We are not sure so you will have to stay tuned or, I should say, connected.

As you can see, we have now joined the wonderful world of blogs. Hopefully, we will be able to post text messages directly from the boat (still to be confirmed) and pictures when we reach terra firma. We will not be able to respond to comments until we are shore side so please be patient with our responses.

So for all our winter bound family and friends, have a safe and happy winter, and enjoy the white stuff.