Sunday, 10 May 2015

Hunkered Down In Haiti ..... May 2015

30 April – 10 May:  Ile a Vache, Haiti ~ 18 06N   73 41W

Forever WestwardsP5040079

We had originally planned to cruise the southern coast of the Dominican Republic, day sailing where possible to nibble away at the miles along the bottom of Hispaniola.  However the authorities tin the DR don’t make the process too easy for us cruisers, after the initial lengthy and costly check in process, permits are also required for departures from each stop, and the next destination must be named and not deviated from, departure times set and adhered to.  We decided we really couldn’t be bothered with the red tape.  We had enjoyed our time in the Northern DR last year on our way south so decided to savour those fond memories and skip the southern coast.

P5040074A skinny weather window presented itself for the 400 mile sail westwards.  After much calculation a 5pm departure from Boqueron, Puerto Rico was decided on to ensure a daylight arrival and before 25 – 30 knot winds were due to hit the region.  The full moon was a brilliant balloon each night, the Mona Passage was traversed without incident, sail plans were changed in accordance with unwelcome annoying wind shifts, the fishing line was broken twice by sea monsters over 80 pounds and we arrived late morning after 3 nights at sea without too much of a kicking!

Welcome to Ile a Vache

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Our first impressions were positive, after the building big seas experienced on our final approach we were very happy to see calm waters in the anchorage but the main positive for us was that there were several other yachts at anchor, we were very happy to join this gaggle of a dozen boats.  Let’s face it, Haiti isn’t really on too many peoples Bucket List as a “must visit” destination!

We were overwhelmed all afternoon by a constant stream of “boat boys” paddling out in dugout canoes (most of the canoes sinking faster than they can bail the water out) but we had expected this and knew we would have to deal with the hunger of the lads wanting to earn some money.  Most had broken English much better than our broken French and it was clear no one was asking for a hand out, they all wanted to work ~ and work is what we gave them.

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Next morning the first 6 appeared and the transformation of Balvenie from a salty seagoing vessel to a sparkly clean anchored bateau commenced.  During the last few days I think we have had 12 lads cleaning and polishing, most just doing 2 or 3 hours but happy with that and with the small wage they have earned.

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 Life Ashore on a Small Haitian Island

We have spent very little time ashore so far as skipper tweaked his back and literally has been flat out recovering.   We did get to have a stroll around the village here at the anchorage.  P5050122 Life is basic, there is no running water ~ the women and children carry water from the well about half a mile away.  There is no electricity in the dwellings although there are new solar powered lights running along the foreshore and there is a government building kitted out with a generator and several new computers for the villagers use and there is a cell tower. 

There are no roads or cars and we understand the few motorbikes around are a new addition.  The only store I saw was a Digicel (mobile phone network) and most of the older lads that worked for us had mobile phones.  We have rented a wifi dongle with sim and a weeks 4G connection from an enterprising young man, last year the boats that came couldn’t get wifi, technology is reaching out.  Priorities have changed, your can check your Facebook and email but can’t turn a tap (if you had one) and have water run out. 

P5050132 There is minimal need for money here, all the lads agree that if they moved across to the mainland it would be entirely different, money would be an absolute necessity as it it almost everywhere else in the world.

But this little village on Ile a Vache can almost annex itself and remain self sufficient.  Some food is grown here, the fishermen are out every day, life is lived at a relaxed pace, they can just about get by.  They rely quite heavily on the generosity of passing yachts to supply things they can’t get without money.  We, like many other cruisers have given away our old sails, ropes, kitchen utensils, containers, clothes, shoes and many other bits and bobs.  For us, it is pleasing to see these items go to people who can use them, we see so much wastage in our travels it is gratifying to be able to help in some small way.

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First stop on our walk around the village was the new building housing the computers, adjacent were public toilets and I don’t remember seeing toilets elsewhere, the homes certainly would not have had them.  Nearby was a hands-on electrical learning project where teenage students were wiring up power and light sockets, an interesting skill to obtain on an island that has no electricity we thought, and we just loved the bright yellow plastic hard hats.  Health and Safety has even made it here!!  P5050104

We passed the sailmaker, painstakingly stitching a re-cut cruisers sail together to fit one of the local fishing boats, to do this by hand would take hours and hours and the quality of his work was exceptional.

Smiling faces greeted us everywhere, children played happily with minimal toys, back to the “good ole days” when you make your own fun and improvised – but we have seen this in many 3rd world countries, not a game boy insight!

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We will be staying here a while yet, the trade winds are accelerating across the Caribbean (unusual for so late in the season – of course!) and we still have the local market to visit and we also have bags of donations to take to Sister Floras Orphanage, both in the main town of Madame Bernard over an hours walk away.

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The anchorage is comfortable, an interesting array of food comes delivered in dugout canoes.  We watch the fishing sailboats fly by at regular intervals off to ply the off lying waters , meanwhile local line fishermen and a lone freediver are emptying this bay of the smallest of fish and lobster ~ they need to feed their families now and have no concept of what will happen in 5 or 10 years time when everything is gone ~ if they don’t eat now then they will be gone.  It is a no win situation.

P5060138  Meanwhile, another year has ticked by since our departure from Auckland, New Zealand.  Who’d of thought when we left we would be spending our 11th Cruising Anniversary in Haiti!!!!!

11 Years ~ 62 Countries ~ 39,995 Miles

  

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Plan B – Plan A Just 3 Months Late ..... Mar/Apr 2015

26 March – 29 April:  St Maarten to Boqueron, Puerto Rico – 18 01N 67 10W

Farewell Auckland and Back to Balvenie

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Goodbyes to family are always awful, this time was positively ghastly.  We had a long flight to LA, a connection onto chilly New York, where we slipped in a very short sleep, followed by a quicker than anticipated downhill flight back to St MaartenP3300282 Then it was back to Balvenie, and back to work! 

We had a week back in St Maarten before departing for the Virgin Islands and during that time we hauled out to do the annual (ish) antifouling/ bottom painting, had the engine through hull fitting replaced by a professional TWICE as we leaked the first time and ended up sitting a night in the slings and getting splashed again on Good Friday!   We nearly burnt holes in our credit cards at Budget Marine – buying a new outboard for the dinghy, replacing several halyards (ropes), P3300280purchasing a spare anchor and then we topped up on spares for the Pacific, finishing off with anything else that we thought we “just might need”. 

Meanwhile with Mark busy doing blue jobs I got to go shopping – for groceries, groceries and more groceries.  Runs to the Dutch supermarket had us topped up on everyday things and then a big run to Super U the French supermarket had me overflowing the trolley with all sorts of goodies that we will not see again until French Polynesia.  I seriously doubt the supply of canned duck, pate, ratatouille, chocolate brownies, cheap wine and other essentials will last until then but I have done my best! P4090284

Revisiting the Virgins

On April 6 we had a good weather window to sail the 85 miles across to the British Virgins Islands.  With both poles out we “goosewinged” our way downwind after a 4am departure, we had a wonderful sail and conditions could not have been more pleasant for our first run of the season.  We even landed ourselves a good sized mackerel enroute, if this any any indication to what the season will bring - long may it continue!  

Although we spent several weeks in the Virgin Islands last year there were still things we hadn’t seen so it was time to knock those off.  First up was a visit to “The Baths” on Virgin Gorda.  It is in a Marine Park and although there are about 30 mooring buoys for use you are not permitted to stay overnight, so after checking in at Spanish Town we anchored just north of the park for the night, ready to pounce on a buoy early next morning.

 P4090286 P4090292 As many of our friends know, our version of early is somewhat later than most peoples but at 7.30am there were only about 10 boats already there! We swam ashore and experienced the natural wonders of these huge boulders, plopped in the middle of nowhere at the waters edge, unlike any of the surrounding topography.

P4090294After swimming ashore (no dinghies permitted), we waded our way through rock pools - the early morning shafts of light flooded onto the still water  We clambered over boulders, climbed up rope ladders and did some limbo dancing under low overhangs.  Eventually we arrived at a beautiful sandy cove, somewhat spoilt by the 100 or so tourists (with very colourful noodles floats)  that had now arrived by land.  Our mistake, guess we should have got there at 6am to see it “totally unspoilt”.

Party Time At Peter Island

We moved on to one of our favourite spots and tucked ourselves into Great Harbour at Peter Island for a few days.  It was time for major catch up with friends and first up were Iain and Fiona on Ruffian, last seen a few months ago on Barbuda.  It was a quick but fun catch up but that was ok as we planned to rendezvous again soon before we headed west to the Pacific and they went north into the Atlantic and home to England.

P4110295 P4130042We did a quick day sail up and back to Roadtown to hit the supermarket.  There were a select few items I knew I could get there and unlikely to find elsewhere so the 5 mile sail was undertaken to keep provisioning!   Back to Peter Island and it was time for a big reunion.  Our good Canadian friends Gord and Ginny were between charters on the catamaran they run and American friends Sarah and GB, who now live in St Croix sailed up for a few nights and we had the most wonderful time together.  P4130034

We have known Gord & Ginny (Ascension) since Darwin in 2006, and Sarah & GB (previously Djarrka and now new littler Djarrka) since Thailand 2007.  We all sailed across the Indian Ocean and up the Red Sea the same year and were last together in Marmaris, Turkey 2008 –  lots and lots to catch up on!!! 

One day while the boys talked boats, us girls went out in search of turtles, and turtles we did find with Ginnys expert local knowledge.  The water wasn’t quite as crystal clear as we might have liked for photos but we had an excellent time and saw a manta ray and several turtles, big and small, swimming, sleeping and feeding...

P4130024 After very sad farewells it was time to part company, who knows when we will regroup again but we have special memories to last forever.  With headsails poled out again we set off downwind for another Great Harbour, this one on Jost van Dyke.P4130031  We took a mooring for the night as the anchorage was exposed in the current winds and we wanted to leave Balvenie safely to visit Foxys Bar.  Foxys is famous for its wild beach parties, potent Painkillers (rum punches) and fun atmosphere, but I guess a Tuesday evening mid April was not the best time to visit.  We can  confirm the Painkillers are rather potent and the decor is very nautical and well done but it was quiet, very very quiet.  Still ... been there, done that but didn’t buy the t-shirt but took photos – ahh but where are the photos? ....... stuck inside my phone not wanting to come out, oh well.

Bye Bye British – Another Visit to America   

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So that was the end of the British Virgin Islands, didn’t cross everything off the list, but we never do!  We sailed the short distance to Charlotte Amalie on St Thomas, US Virgin Islands.  Its just so different to the BVI’s, large hotels, busy roads, 4 Cruise Ships in port, K-Mart, rows of duty free shops – but it was good to be back. 

We tracked down Ruffian for more happy hours and also caught up with Kit & Belinda off British yacht Quilcene, last seen in Greece around 2008!  Our cruising community is a small one and emails, blogs and such give us a chance to reconnect after years apart, its great. 20150418_125412

We got back into work and provisioning mode for a few days, we arranged for a check to be done on our rig, collected parts to fix the thermostat in our (new) freezer , fuelled and watered up and hit the supermarket –  many times.  The advantage of provisioning here is that you can wheel the supermarket trolley all the way to the dinghy dock, prices are very reasonable and all the labels are in English!!  Now you may all think I’m going a bit over the top with this provisioning but potentially we may not get to Tahiti for 6 months – that's a long time to have enough of the things you like and can’t necessarily get in teeny weeny Pacific Islands with palm tree shacky shops like cereal, espresso coffee, spices, sauces etc plus it’s convenient and cheap, so provision we did!!, and yes we will be topping it all up to overflowing in Panama as well.

Final farewells were shared with Fiona & Iain on Ruffian for the last time, they will be looking for a weather window to take them to Bermuda, onto the Azores and home to England over the coming weeks.  They plan to sell Ruffian, buy a bigger boat and set off again, one day we will sail up Waitemata Harbour to meet them and welcome them to Auckland.20150421_093953

With Balvenie lying much lower in the water it was time to head further west and we had a late start and leisurely sail downwind to lovely Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands.  During our 2 night stay we reconnected with Quilcene and another British yacht Mithral who we met in Grenada during the hurricane season, sadly that just might be the end of our socialising for a while as we all go separate ways. 

We had a slow sail in very light winds to the western end of Vieques for a night at Green Beach, then moved onto the Puerto Rican mainland and retraced our steps along the south coast stopping at Salinas,  Gilligans Island and now we are at Boqueron on the southwestern coast.   Life has been much quieter these last few days and we are missing our friends, but we have new places to visit, new people to meet and

Many Miles to Cover

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Sunday, 12 April 2015

An Unplanned Excursion to Auckland ….. Jan–Mar 2015

28 December 2014 – 28  March 2015: The Lagoon, St Maarten – 18.01N 63.05W

P1100207This Was Plan A

When we left St Barts at the end of December the plan was to spend  couple of weeks in St Maarten where we hoped to be able to have repairs done to our hydraulics, repairs also to our brand new freezer, buy some new necessary boat parts, replace broken 240v appliances and fill the lockers with all the essential French goodies and wine available.  Then with a much depleted bank balance but with a ship shape Balvenie,  we planned to set sail west, revisiting a few favourite spots and discovering more hidden gems: destination the Panama Canal sometime in March, then into the Pacific.  

So we slipped into the never ending list of boat jobs, chaos inside the boat became the norm as projects were undertaken.

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But it wasn't all work and no play, one weekend with about 30 other mad cruisers we joined in the very aptly named “Hike from Hell” which involved 2 minibuses full of unsuspecting boat bound sailors looking to stretch their legs on one of St Maartens hiking trails.  The main problem was that there actually wasn’t a trail to start with, and that was before Hurricane Gonzalo hit.  Now the invisible trail was littered with fallen trees the size of small cars for us to climb over along with dense wild tropical vegetation and exceptionally prickly cactus plants.  It was a nightmare but I’ll be a really good sport and say it was a fun day out and great to have some exercise!!!    

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All It Takes is a Phone Call

Then one morning when things were starting to come together and we could almost see the end of “The List” I got a call from my sister Denise to say Mum had been taken into hospital and had undergone major surgery.  We considered many options and decided that I would fly home for a month, we would move Balvenie from Simpson Bay into the lagoon anchorage and Mark would stay onboard and continue on with that never ending “To Do List”.  P1160219Flights were booked, bags packed and I was on my way, a 5 hour hop on JetBlue to New York where temperatures were below freezing, a night to recharge batteries then 2 United Airlines flights across the USA, a terminal change in Los Angeles and straight onto Air New Zealand 12 hours down to Auckland.  Denise was there to collect me and it was off to hospital to see Mum: elapsed time 54 hours – I was home!

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My time during the next month was occupied at the hospital, Mum had three major operations to get her back together again, and then there were still complications.  My planned month flew by with Mum still in hospital so Mark arranged a mooring for Balvenie in St Maarten and embarked on the same journey home I had undertaken weeks before, he got the bonus of snow in New York though!!! P2280243

Summer in Auckland – Perfect

With us both home and Mum  starting to make some progress forward there was time for a few more social activities.

The Volvo Round the World Race boats arrived,  we were there to cheer them in - the first 3 boats were within a few minutes of each other after 3 weeks at sea from China, amazing.  We watched the inshore racing, enjoyed the festivities at Viaduct Harbour during their stay and then farewelled them when they left for the Southern Ocean and and on to Cape Horn.

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The World Cup Cricket was on too, and although we didn’t get to any of the live games the country was abuzz with support for the Black Caps who did us proud and made it to the finals in Australia, against Australia. IMG_0426 Mum was very unhappy that the hospital did not have satellite TV for her to watch the games but we did our best and she got snippets for an hour or two on Denise’s iPad to watch the Black Caps make their way through.P2280254  

Escape from Auckland Hospital

Finally, nearly 9 weeks after being admitted Mum was discharged and returned to her apartment. IMG_0516 She wasn’t quite all back together, and the visits to doctors and specialists kept happening regularly but she was pleased to be home at last and very happy to be alive! 

We took her down to the Viaduct Harbour one evening so she could enjoy feeling normal again, even the police warden let me drive through the traffic cones so we could deliver her right to the restaurant door.  It was a bonus when we bumped into fellow cruisers Stu and Steph off Matador (boat in Guatemala) and we all shared a fun evening out. IMG_0442

We had more evenings with Steph and Stu at their lovely home in Titirangi, where they are spending their summer renovating – a big job!  We caught up there with more cruiser friends off Tuatara and Musketelle, both of whom have completed their travels (for now)  and sailed their boats home to Auckland.

We had bar-b-ques, dinners and lunches with friends and squeezed as much into our time as we could, (this included heaps of sailing/racing for Mark!!!).  Meanwhile Mums health improved daily and we started planning our departure.

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Mum was called back to the hospital for final surgery to hopefully fix the “medical misadventure” that had happened in her first operation.  So on the morning of our departure we were back in the familiar surroundings of Auckland Hospital, the surgery was a success and I said my farewells while Mum was back in a hospital bed.  Not what I had hoped for, but by the time we were back in St Maarten on Balvenie, Mum was home again – almost as good as new.

So That Was Revised Plan A ….. Now For Plan B

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