Thursday, March 30, 2017

Banana Museum - Martinique

YES, you heard that correctly.  There is a banana museum in Martinique.  And yes, it is kewl!
Impressive stats, eh?

We visited while our friends were here on holiday.
Look at the shape of those bananas

A tour bus arrived at the same time as we did.  The tour bus guide said we could join their tour - in English.

It started with samples of different local bananas.  YUM!  The banana business is huge here in Martinique.  The whole east side of the island is field after field of bananas.
More odd shaped bananas

There are something like 1000 different types of bananas in the world - eating, cooking and ornamental.
These looked like spaceships or a Venus Flytrap

There are 400 banana growers on Martinique.  They sell at a commercial banana market.  Most get exported to mainland France.  There are four dedicated container ships that ship these bananas to France.  I suspect the ships return to Martinique filled with French wine and cheese - at least they do in my dreams.  Ha!  

Here in Martinique, they use crop rotation to help the soil.  When it is time to rotate, they plant pineapples.  These are so sweet, they taste like candy.  Bananas and then pineapples- what is not to love!
Couple of "bananas" to be sure

It was an interesting stop.

Visitors - Martinique

We had visitors last week.

Our friends from Kansas came to visit.  They stayed in a small studio apt in Sainte Anne.

We went, saw, did, explored, ate, drank.....Tom and I fell into bed each night and slept like rocks.  Whew!

We rented a car for the week, taking two full days to tour the island.

And still we didn't see it all.  Not even close!

We introduced them to some of our cruising friends.

There was also a fair amount boat time on sv Honey Ryder.

As well as snorkeling and beach time.

The weather was good while they were here.

Perhaps a little too good.  There was some pink skin but that is quite common with people on holiday.

It was so nice to see them and we had a great time.  Thanks for coming guys!

Les Salines Beach Hike - Martinique

Saline beach

The winds finally died down and we got off the boat and did some hiking.
French love their beach hammocks

There are good hiking trails on the SW corner of Martinique.  They are relatively flat which is good since it has been ages since we hiked or even did a decent walk - AKA out of shape.
They really LOVE the hammocks

The hike takes you past several beaches.  Some are crowded, some are not.
Snack shacks

Some require swimsuits, other do not.  Hey, it is France!
Secluded beach

We had lunch at one of the many beach snack shacks on Saline Beach and then hiked back.
Quiet, rocky point

Near the end of our hike we passed a group of locals having their own beach party.  They invited us over and insisted we have a drink with them.  They were a young group of  beautiful people having a good time on a Tuesday afternoon.  We were hot, tired, sweaty and smelly but we didn't want to be rude.  They welcomed us anyway.  Through broken English and lots of gesturing we communicated.
Tom and gang

Here in Martinique they sell juice in big boxes with a spout like wine boxes.  It is common to see people at the beach with these boxes making "punch" by adding rum.  Others share bottles of French wine at the beach.  Not really a "cooler of beer" sort of island.
My turn

They wanted us to stay but we thanked them for the refreshment stop and headed home for a well earned swim.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Memorial of Anse Cafard

These 15 statues watch the sea and Le Diamant Rock.  This memorial was done in 1991 during the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery.  Note - It wasn't until 1865 that slavery in America was abolished.

Their low shoulders and lost looks mark the tragic loss of lives when a slave ship grounded and sank off this point in 1830.

Fellow slaves on a habitation (plantation) nearby tried to rescue as many as possible.  The ship's slaves were tied up and could not swim or run away.  The survivors fell into a weird legal middle ground and were eventually shipped to French Guyana.

The triangle shape of the installation symbolizes the triangle slave trade.

A moving memorial.

High wind good news bad news

One of our morning coffee buddies
Most of the eastern Caribbean has had really high winds for the past 8-10 days.  It is forecast to continue. What do I mean by high winds?  Sustained 20-25 with gusts to 30+.  Yesterday, reports were coming in from USVI and St Maarten of 40 knots.

Here are some things I /we have learned with high winds.
-You need to have a good anchor set.  We do
-Once your anchor is set, it may never come out.
-Once your anchor is set, you are not anxious to change anchor positions, even if it might be less windy/white caps/rolly.
- Swinging around so that you are 180 to your anchor set is weird in no wind.  It is un-nerving in strong winds.
-Charterboats are scary.  Charterboats in high winds are very, very scary.
-The wind generator keeps the batteries 100%.  
-With the batteries at 100%, you can make lots of water with the watermaker.
-With the batteries full, you can charge lots of devices.
-With the batteries full, you have to find things to use the power on. 
-After a swim, I can get a free blowout of my hair just by standing on the foredeck.  My old salon on land charges $35+ for this service.
-Dinghy rides are....exciting.
-Dinghies can flip tied to the boat.  Ours did not but I thought it would last night during a squall.
-Cleaning the bottom of the boat in white caps is challenging. 
-Cleaning the bottom of the boat in white caps means you will swallow a certain percentage of saltwater.
-Do you think turtles end up with a snoot full of sea water when they come up for air and there are white caps?  I know I end up coughing and sputtering.
-Laundry dries really fast in high winds on the lifelines.
-It is easy to lose laundry drying on the lifelines.
-I lost a rug I really liked.  I got it in Port of Spain Trinidad.  It would probably be totally wrong to ask cruising friends there to get me another one given that they are vegetarians and the rug is made of strips of suede leather, right?  Yeah, I know, wrong.
-Winds between islands is usually higher than forecast in normal weather.  These past several days, those areas have really been screaming according to reports.
-Speaking of screaming winds, OMG - winds on the front edge of passing squalls are just howling! WOW!
-There is rumored talk of a break in the winds.  Cruisers are prepping to sail on.  Everyone is anxious to move on to the next anchorage.  We are not.  We have friends coming.  Yay!
-Another overnight update - Screaming winds overnight.  I woke up several times because it was so loud.  I never turned on the electronics to actually see what the readings were but they HAD to be in the mid to upper 30 knot range.
-Update - a cruiser friend said his wind meter hit 31 knots overnight three times.  WOW!
-Cruisers stay put in high winds.  We don't like to break things.  We like to be comfortable.
-A few days ago, a cruising boat anchored next to us with NO rig.  They had on their foulies and the boat was beat up - torn dodger and bimini.  It was obvious they lost their rig sometime recently.  Ugh!
-Charterboats go no matter the weather.  They have limited time, they must see it all...even if it is only for a couple of hours before they dash on to the next stop.
-The last few days, the charter cats powering in around 16:00 - 17:00 with everyone tucked below while the hired captain steams in wearing his/her foul weather jacket.  Just another day working in paradise.

Cruising -The Tough Stuff

Earlier today I posted about the tragic death of one of the bright young lights of the cruising community - Bethany Smith.  It is such a tough subject but one that I felt I needed to talk about.  It got me thinking about other tough things in the cruising life.

Cruising is freedom.  Cruising is living a life outside the norm.  Living life on your own terms.  However, there is NO free lunch in any life.  There are trade offs, payments, blood, sweat, tears....whatever you want to call it.  This is true for the cruising life as well.  Besides the lack of basic land life norms and conveniences, there are some really harsh, harsh realities.

I have told you many times, cruising is not all pretty sunsets, sandy beaches and lovely drinks with little umbrellas.  I won't repeat it again....oops, too late

However, there is more.  Tough things I have not shared with you.  We need to go deeper.  We need to talk about the really tough stuff.  If you think you want a life of cruising, you need to really think about these realities.  There is separation, loss, expectations vs reality (aka my dream/your dream), and guilt (aka massive guilt).

Separation -  Separation from family and friends is tough.  For some, it is tougher than others.  More than one cruising dream has been crushed by grandkids.  Actually, in certain demographics, this is THE reason people stop cruising.  Missing births, graduations, engagements, marriages, deaths....major life events are part of the separation anxiety.  In the USA today, often it goes beyond missing "major" life events to missing regular involvement aka band concerts, little league games, and such.      

Illness/Loss - Not being there when someone important gets sick and or dies.  Grandkid with a serious illness.  A best friend with cancer.  A parent that falls and breaks a hip.  A sibling going through a painful divorce.  An uncle, aunt, or cousin dies.  Or simply the wide array of aging parent challenges.  

Expectations vs Reality - It is very, very rare in cruising couples/partners that both are onboard with "the dream" with the EXACT same conviction and expectations.  In some cases, it is because expectations were not set correctly.  Or rather, they were incorrectly set by one or BOTH.  Lack of real expectations and preparation causing what seems like insurmountable challenges (to them) can play a part.  Many, many cruising dreams die a quick and painful death because of the valley between expectation and reality.  Some rocksolid land relationships don't survive on the water in close, confinded spaces with 24/7 contact.  Or under extreme stress of bad weather, or broken boats or  repairs.  There are well known places to pick up terrific cruising boats for pennies on the dollars because of this very thing.  "Broken dream boats" as I call them.  Harsh but true.  Money issues can play a big role in terms of expectations vs reality.  Cruising is not an extended holiday.  It is a way of life and as such money is usually budgeted very closely and for many, tightly.  Some do this well, others don't.

Guilt - A BIG one!  THE big one.  So big it probably deserves it's own blog posting.  I don't know if there is a cruiser out here that hasn't had to deal with guilt in some form or fashion.  It is very rare that a cruiser's land family is completely onboard with the whole "sail off into the sunset".  For those "left behind" it can be simple fear for the cruisers but more commonly, it is fear with regard for themselves (although they usually don't see it this way).  Often it is more along the lines of some sort of abandonment issues.  This might be from grown children, grandkids, siblings or parents.  With elderly parents, it might be directly from them or from siblings.  Misunderstanding of the cruising life (all umbrella drinks and sunsets vs exploration, growth and learning) can lead to bad feelings and jealously in some cases.    

Many of the above crossover and go together.  Missing the death and funeral of a close friend or relative can lead to guilt that can lead to unrealistic expectations between the cruiser, possibly spouse/partner and family back on land.  Hurt feelings are usually not far behind.  Technology has certainly helped us all stay in touch more frequently than in the past but it can only go so far as it is not a hug in person.

Why am I sharing this all with you?  Because it is important to talk about not only the good (sandy beaches, wonderful people, pretty sunsets) but also the bad, ugly and really tough stuff (the above) of the cruising life.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Death, Rituals, and Technology

Bethany Smith - photo credit Facebook page

Yesterday tragedy struck the cruising community here in the Caribbean as we woke to learn of the death of Bethany Smith.  She died when she fell to her death from the mast of the mega yacht she was working on in Jamaica.   She was just three days shy of her 19th birthday. 

We met Bethany and her family our first season in Trinidad.  SV Cape – David, Sarah and kids Bethany and Bryn are seasoned cruisers having set off many years ago from the UK.  Bethany and Bryn did most of their growing up on sv Cape.  I believe they moved aboard when Bethany was 9.  They are a musical family and that is how we got to know them at the weekly jams in Trinidad.  David plays bass, Bryn guitar, Sarah sings and Bethany plays/played flute.  *It is so hard to change tense now when referring to Bethany.  David, Bethany and Bryn are from Wales.  I remember Sarah and Bethany would sometimes sing an ancient Welsh song as a duet at the jams.  I don’t know what it was about but it was sad and beautiful.

Cruising kids are unlike land kids.  They are mature, smart and worldly while possessing an extraordinary openness for adventure, exploration and fun.  Bethany was no exception to that.  We were not around her a tremendous amount because she was doing teenage things – studying for exams, hanging with friends, texting with friends, reading, listening to music, sailboat racing at TTSA, etc…. Soon enough Bethany was off to make a life for herself.  She traveled to Dominica to help with hurricane relief, hitching a ride here and there on various boats headed to Grenada, Bonaire, and such.  Then she was off to test the waters of the crewing life in the French Med.  I think she was 17 at the time.  What were you doing at 17?  I was an idiot teenager in high school doing nothing important.  Eventually, Bethany landed a paying position on a beautiful mega sailing yacht.  She was 3 months shy of her 18th birthday, quite an accomplishment as most mega yachts will not take crew unless they are 18.  But Bethany proved to be an able bodied crew.   We all followed along on her adventures through Facebook and via her proud family.  She was living life!  She was young, working hard on a glamorous mega yacht, posting pics with other young fellow crew members in exotic ports around the world!  It was terrific to watch her coming into her own, living life to the fullest.  We saw her last year when she came home for a quick 10 day visit.

The cruising community is small, very small.  We meet fellow cruisers in a particular anchorage or harbor.  We become hard and fast friends.  Really fast.  Much faster than on land – cruisers somehow cut out all the extra bullshit when becoming friends.  We have to, ours is not a normal life.  We are oddballs living an abnormal life.  No one else understands this life but other oddballs.  And then BOOM - just like that, we sail over the horizon in different directions.  Sometimes we see each other again, and sometimes we do not. 

Technology has really helped cruisers stay in touch not only with those back on land but with each other.  Each morning I/we check into the SSB Coconut Net.  I hear our fellow cruising friends checking in from various locations all up and down the island chain.  I know where they are because of this.  However, I have also been online already that morning via smartphone, checking in with several others prior to that morning net.  Bethany’s mom Sarah and I often chatted via FB Messenger or Whatsapp in the mornings.  Just a quick message to say “Hello.  How are you?  How are the kids?  What country is David working in these days?  How is the boat coming?” 

As much as I complain to all of you (dear readers) about Internet connectivity issues, and as much as I DO NOT like Facebook – finally joining when we moved aboard - technology has allowed us to stay much more connected than in previous years.  I now know this connection also includes grieving together.  As the sun came up and the sad news spread about Bethany via technology, we all sat stunned in our individual little boats as quiet tears flowed in nearly every anchorage over her death.  She touched SO many lives.  Everyone handles the shocking news of death and the subsequent grieving in different ways.  For many/most, the need to be with family/community is an important part of that.  Technology allowed the cruising family/community to grieve together yesterday.  By late morning the pictures and stories of fun memories with Bethany started appearing and we could all add a faint smile along with our tears.  The cruising community is nomadic; we are spread out around the world.  However, in less than a day, cruisers whose lives were touched by beautiful Bethany were able to give their condolences and grieve together.  It quickly became apparent that she was liked and loved by all those that she came in contact with.

We will continue to mourn together through technology until we can hug in person.

One final note, in my grieving yesterday, technology allowed me to get to know Bethany even better.  I looked back through her Facebook page and read her blog postings.  The first thing that jumped out at me from her blog was the motto if you will.   Right there on the homepage it said Live life for today, you never know what tomorrow will bring.”  As I read through the various blog postings, it became apparent that Bethany did live her life.  It is unfair that she died….NO, IT SUCKS that she died.  However, it seems even in the short 18+ years she lived, she lived more than many people do in a long lifetime.  And that makes me smile a little as well. 

RIP Bethany Smith      
Bethany Smith - photo credit Facebook

Bethany's blog
There is a GoFundMe started by our good friend and fellow cruiser Willie Haskins to help the family pay for the extrodinary expenses so they can be together during this difficult time as well as ehlp with the final arrangements for Bethany.

Friday, March 10, 2017

3-6-17 Random Thoughts - From a French Island

Sunrise in Marin

While I have done pretty good at trimming Tom's hair, I haven't yet learned to do it without saying the occasional "oops" and "oh well, it will grow back." I must work on that.

You would think after all this time and all these meals cooked aboard, I would have learned not to sauté or cook liquid things in my swimsuit.  Ouch.  Actually, cooking overall probably should not be carried out in one's swim costume (as the Brits say).

No mater the size of dinghy or horsepower, some (most) dinghy rides are wet rides.  

It is shocking and freaking annoying how few cruisers still don't use DSC on the VHF!  Come on people!  It is 2017!

European cruisers dress different from North American cruisers.  
Meet Toto.  Yep!  Note also I am wearing my Kansas City Sailing hat

People (Americans) bag on the French that they are stuck up and don't want to talk English.  Not true. They are scared / intimidated to do so.  Guess what.....they think the same of Americans... that we don't WANT to try vs being scared.

If you ask a French person if they speak English, they usually say "a liettle" and make an inch sign with their thumb and forefinger.  However, if you sit and visit with them, generally they speak way better English than you speak French.  If during the visiting time there is beer, wine or rum involved, their attempts at English get more frequent, more confident and good.  And of course everyone is better looking at closing time.  HA!

See above about French speaking English.  Our Swedish cruising friend does not try to speak French at all.  When they speak French to her, she immediately speaks Swedish to them.  They are usually startled and then say to her "Ummmm, no Swedish.  You speak Engalish?"  She nods and the the French person says "Then we wills speak the Engalish - ok whiff you?"   Moral?  If you are traveling to French speaking land and are worried about speaking French, simply learn some Swedish.  

French do like to have the pronunciation correct to converse.  Example - Me = "Je voudrais orange consommation, s'il vous plait."  French person ="???"  Me= "Orange drink" with drink motion.  French person = "??"  ME = simply now pointing to an orange drink in the cooler behind the bar.  French person = "Oh!  Ohr-rah-zh drink."   Me = "Yeah, orange drink."   Ugh, my French stinks. 
Pocket cruiser?  Whose pocket?
We have observed that for typical American cruisers bigger is better.  More waterline, bigger dinghy, more gadgets, more horsepower, more, bigger,....  We have also observed that the French seem to have their own competition going, only slightly different.  Their contest seems to be who can have the smallest dinghy.  Bonus for putting the most people in it and extra bonus points for the smallest dinghy motor.  No lie.  We have watched a French cruising boat cram 6 or 7 people in a tiny dinghy.  TINY!  We have seen a couple of French dinghies that have to be display only dinghies.  Think of the tiny display tents in the Walmart sporting goods section - 1/4 mock up of the actual tents they sell.  Seems these French cruisers have decided to make use of the tiny 1/4 size display only dinghy.  Seriously.....I am not joking, these are itty, bitty dinghies.  Usually the motor is 2 to 3 horsepower and occasionally 5 but never over that.  

The British are a traveling people.  I mean they get off their island and see the world. 

We seem to be surrounded by Canadian boats.  It must still be cold up there.  The immediate group all seem to be French Canadian.

The cruiser next to us 1). Loves his dinghy or 2). Has a new dinghy that he likes to keep neat and clean and spends time on it as such or 3). Is in trouble with his partner on the boat and thus voluntarily / by force is spending an inordinate amount of time in his smallish dinghy.  The last two days he has been in the dinghy more than on the boat.  What do you think?  Yeah, we think the same.....he has been banished to the dinghy. 

The term partner is used quite a bit in the international cruising community.  Sometimes it means partner in life - sometimes married, sometimes not.  Other times it means boat partner.  We have noticed this in international travel as well.  
New to us method for chaining oil on charter cat saildrives - cheaper than hauling to change the oil

Sunday I tried to turn on my laptop but it wouldn't turn on.  That made me sad.  

Monday I took my laptop into Info Geek.  We were second in line.  Three more people came in.  Bad weekend for laptops.  

I had to leave my laptop behind.  That made me sad.  The tech said 'I needz to opens it up.  You leaves it?  Maybez Toosday or Wesnessday?"  Okay.

The Canadian cruiser next to us is definitely in trouble with his partner as his dinghy time has far exceeded his boat time.  

Seriously people.....DSC when using VHF!!!  Argh!

Why do some cruisers sound like they are always trapped in their cockpit locker when they talk on the VHF radio?  
Tom on the bow in St Anne - pre-hair cut

Did you know that France is electing a new President in less than 70 days?  No?  Understandable because of the rules, restrictions, limitations on campaign money and advertising!  So jealous.  Wish we had the same in USA!  

Turns out one probably shouldn't use toxic chemicals for cleaning while wearing your swim costume, either - see #2 above.  FYI - Easyoff burns.  What are the chances I will remember and NOT rub my eyes?  Yeah....I know....slim.

I got my laptop back today (3-9-17).  That makes me happy.  It also means more blogs to come.  That may or may not make you happy.  FYI - it was a battery issue.  YES, I did check the battery but not in a "doing weird glitch" sort of way.  $30E fee.

The chosen VHF hailing channel is 68.  We hail each other on this channel and the move to another channel to talk in order to keep 68 open.  If course NONE of that is necessary if you use DSC!  Channel 68 is simply the chosen channel and not a rule.  Others like locals and officials can use it as they see fit.  Anyway, tonight some "official" from Fort du France port control was requesting assistance on channel 68 from a cruise ship in locating a possible sailboat adrift.  They had two discussions.  Serious stuff.  Obvious stuff.  During the second conversation a cruiser chick (sounded American) comes on trying to play radio Nazi and tells them "move your conversation to another channel."  OMG!  They ignored her.  When they finished not one but two cruisers came on and set her straight / scolded her.  BTW - There is a HUGE difference between wanting cruisers to use DSC and being a radio Nazi.  HUGE!

Did you know that in general Americans and Europeans (and probably the rest of the world as well) count very differently when using their hands?  If I ask an American to count to five (to me) on their hands, they usually start with the forefinger, then middle, then ring finger, pinky and finally thumb and usually they have their palm facing me.  Try it Americans, I will wait......See.  If I ask a European to do the same, they usually start with the thumb, followed by forefinger, middle, ring and finally pinky, and the back of the hand is facing me.  Am I right my non-American friends?  So.....if you want two beers in Martinique, you don't hold up a peace sign, instead you hold up your thumb and forefinger with your palm facing you.  In fun discussions about this with our non-American cruising friends, I did ask them how they signal #1 at sporting events and they showed me the universal forefinger sign for "We're #1"  to which I suggested that this meant the American way of counting on your fingers was correct vs their method.  Besides, big foam fingers of thumbs waving at college football games would just be weird.  However I think "We're #1" and foam fingers are somehow lost in translation.  But it was fun to discuss and much laughter and joking ensued.

No, we don't have our new dinghy yet.  Yes, it has been several weeks.  More to come on this.