July 2005
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Caribbean Cruising and Trinidad Refit

Well, we didn’t really drop off the face of the earth.  We have just been extremely delinquent in getting our news letters off.  You are probably thinking, eegads, now we are going to get a year and a half worth of babble all at one time.  The bad news is you’re right.  The good news is we don’t have a whole lot to report. 

After Carnival (2004), we left Trinidad and headed north up the Eastern Caribbean chain of islands.  We found the sailing to be a bit on the exhilarating side.  Romping upwind with some pretty good seas between islands and even some fickle current to make things a little more interesting, we made our first stop at the island of Grenada.  We found a nice quiet anchorage at St. Davids Bay where we relaxed and spent time with new friends Larry and Virginia on Rya.  A road trip around the island to visit the nutmeg factory, rum distillery and the town of St. Georges has become a treasured memory as most of this beautiful island was destroyed later by hurricane Ivan in 2004.  Unfortunately they were hit again just last night (July 13, 2005) by hurricane Emily.

On we went still romping in the wind to Carriacou, Petite St. Vincent, Tobago Keys and Bequia. 

Jeff found a new friend to play with.  George (Pyewacket) and Jeff spent hour after hour in deep concentration playing with PIC microprocessors, other electronic parts and software.   Long into the wee wee hours you could find the two of them amongst wires and electronic looking devices.  Laura (Pyewacket) and Gail hid and found various things to do, like sleep, during what we like to refer to as the nerd hours.  The many hours must have paid off.   Jeff has incorporated much of what he learned into a new design of Blinky (The Watch Commander).   Many new improvements are on the way.

Gail found a new hobby about the time Jeff was spending time improving Blinky.  Her hobby, however, often found little colorful beads rolling around on Sea Witch’s floor.  Virginia, on Rya, took her under her wing and taught her how to bead and weave.  The best part of the classes were when Virginia and Gail got to sip a glass of wine while watching the sunset on Rya’s swim step.  Thanks Larry for letting us take over the boat.  More than once!

Somewhere around here we received a very exciting email that our really good friends and diving buddies John and Aleta of Holding Pattern had left Brazil and were on their way to meet us.  Yahoo!!!  (For Gail, that is still an expression of excitement and has nothing to do with the computer.)   We hadn’t seen them in two years and couldn’t wait to jump in the water with them.

After Holding Pattern caught up with us, the race was on to make it to Antiqua Race Week.  HP and SW did long grueling days with more of the same upwind.  Of course there were two boats so that makes it an unofficial race.  I hate to say it but I think HP won most of the races.  The good thing about that is, they were able to scope out the anchorages for us before we came trotting in.

Along the way we jumped in the water whenever we could to do a bit of scuba diving.  I think the most exciting find this year was when Aleta spotted a full size sea horse.  The first spotting for all four of us 

We arrived at Antigua to find a whole bunch of boats.  Big, little, new, old, fast and slow.  Anchoring was really a fun exercise.  Not too much room, but, we did manage to find our spot and parked it.

Thanks to Stan and Sally Honey, who were racing on Pyewacket (Roy Disney’s boat), we were offered a ride on Pyewacket’s chase boat.  We quickly accepted.  What a treat.  We were right out in the middle of the race with the Big Boys and could practically see the sweat on their brows as they were grinding those winches.  Another highlight was a tour of the marvelous racing machine, Pyewacket.   Not only is she beautiful and a work of art, she is technologically amazing.

Further north Sea Witch went, squeezing in some diving wherever we could.  On to Barbuda, St. Barts and Saint Marteen where we turned around to head back down the chain.  A terrific stop at Saba and some awesome diving with a local dive shop (Saba Deep).  A sail by Monserrat to grab a glimpse of the volcano and then across to Pigeon Island off Guadaloupe.  We spent a couple of days at Isle de Saints, a lovely little French island.  Numerous water spouts passed by, something we had never encountered before. 

Still heading south, we stopped at St. Pierre, Martinique where we did a late afternoon wreck dive.  After diving,  Jeff went into town to collect the bread we had ordered earlier.  It’s a pretty funny story, much too long to write about and it would lose something in the telling.   Let’s just say the whole town knew about this American trying to buy a baguette.  And, everyone was much friendlier and more helpful than when we were here in 1993.  

We only planned to spend the night at Dominica, but then we met Martin.  After a promise of a tour of his beautiful rainforest and to find a calabash, we decided to stay an extra day.  New cruising friends, a terrific hike through the rainforest, Jeff climbing a calabash tree for Gail and a peaceful night’s sleep before we were off again. 

You are probably wondering why we were moving so fast.  We were on our way to meet up with Holding Pattern again and most importantly our sisters and nephews were on their way to meet us at Canouan in the Grenadines.

Amy, Kathy, Corey and Kevin arrived in Canouan and we spent 10 fun-packed days tooling around the Grenadines.  Tubing, wakeboarding, nonstop snorkeling (even at night).  Hiking, eating and occasionally sleeping. They kept Sea Witch’s crew on their toes.  We had way too much fun and hated to see them go.   The wind gods smiled on us and we were able to sail all the way to the island of Tobago.  Holding Pattern and Sea Witch spent about 10 day touring, diving and relaxing before we had to head to Trinidad for some boat work.

Trinidad Refit

Sea Witch was hauled out of the water on July 19, 2004.  Our plan was to have the teak decks removed and replaced and to have the gelcoat redone.  The estimate was about 3 months.  A tent was placed over the boat.  We removed everything.  She was striped naked.  No equipment, no sails, no metal.   Contractors removed the teak decks and ground the gelcoat off the hull.  Heavens, even her name was taken off.  A completely unrecognizable Sea Witch, or should I say no name boat sat in the yard at Power Boats. We got lost a few times coming back to the boat.  There she was, twelve feet in the air, covered in a plastic tent with scaffolding all around.  The only way on and off was to climb the twelve foot ladder, balance on the scaffolding stands, and to pretend you were a circus acrobat.

When we crossed the Atlantic in December 2003, many of our good cruising buddies were finishing their circumnavigations and returning to the US.  The hardest part of cruising is saying goodbye.  Life on the hard was grueling but another group of really good friends finished their circumnavigations in Trinidad and stayed for awhile.  It was great to have Holding Pattern, Immanuel, Ferric Star and Sea Wolf in Trinidad.  They put laughter in our days.

The estimated three month job turned into ten.  It was definitely not one of the greater experiences we have had while cruising.  The contractors took forever to get things done.  We had to stay on top of them all the time.  One friend likened it to “strapping on his six gun and going out every morning to see what problems he could shoot”.  A couple others used war analogies.  Their newsletters are rife with tales of woe. 

We sanded so much we didn’t have any fingerprints left.  Our knees were calloused from spending so much time on all fours.    Our backs were pretty much in constant pain, and there is no way Jeff will ever let Gail loose with a caulking gun full of black goo again.  Sea Witch is looking good.  She has new teak decks, fresh gelcoat, new varnish.   She even has her name back. Thank goodness that experience is behind us!

We had frustrations with the carpenter replacing the teak decks.   He had scheduling problems but did really care about the quality of the work.  There were some things his guys did that he was not happy with.  We didn’t see anything wrong with them but he replaced them anyway.  He cared enough about the results and didn’t worry about what it cost him.  We’d use him again.

The gelcoat work is another matter.  Sadly, we heard this about many other contractors.  He was sloppy, redid things many times and still never got it close to right.   In the end, we had to fire him.  After being there for 10 months, we were still months away from a properly completed job.  We’d been told by many others that had work done in Trinidad that you had to “seriously lower your expectations to achieve a job that was marginally acceptable”.  We understand what they meant.  Sadly, what should be a thriving yacht services industry in Trinidad is going downhill.   We hope they can find a way to bring up their quality, get their prices reasonable and live up to the potential that exists there. When we can, we’ll get a complete write-up of our refit experience posted to our website.

Departing Trinidad

The Trinis are great people.  Even when at the height of our frustration, we still liked them, even the individual contractors we were disappointed with.    The people at the Powerboats yard were wonderful.  They bent over backwards to help make our 10 months as pleasant as possible. Everyone, from senior management to the guards and maintenance people were friendly, helpful and always had a warm smile for us. 

And Trinidad was a nice place to be.  Comfortable and enjoyable.  We’d stop there on our next trip around but not to get significant work done.   We enjoyed Carnival 2 different times.  Watching the Leatherback Turtles come up the beach and lay their eggs was awesome.  We attended the festival of Phagwa where they smear everyone with bright colored dyes, sing Hindi folk songs and basically celebrate the triumph of good over evil.  We have the clothing and pictures to prove we were there.  We’d need a few more pages to cover everything we enjoyed in Trinidad.   

And, nobody ever leaves Trinidad without a huge “THANK YOU” to Jesse James, his wife Sharon Rose and their Members Only Maxi Taxi service.  They put together grocery runs, movie trips, turtle watching and numerous wonderful tours and are the first ones to jump up and help when anyone needs something. 

With Sea Witch back in the water we traveled west heading for home and starting the final leg of our circumnavigation.  We get to close our loop on the west coast of Panama.

Los Roques, Los Aves, Bonaire, Curacao

We had a great sail to the Los Roques islands off the northern coast of Venezuela.  It was a fantastic feeling to be out there again.   Anchored behind the reef, we found ourselves once again enjoying the relaxing peace and quiet of hanging on the hook. 

After a couple of weeks in the Roques we went on to spend another couple of weeks in the Aves.  Not a lot of people, beautiful water, heaps of birds and just a great place to veg out and do nothing.

And here we are.  We have been at the divers paradise island of Bonaire for a little over a month now.  We were going to be here a couple of weeks, but have just been having too much fun.  The diving here is beautiful and so easy.  We can take the dinghy to a good deal of the dive sites or go straight off the back of Sea Witch on the mooring.

We were very lucky to meet Linda and Chili on Natural Selection who live in Bonaire. Linda has taken us on some great shore dives.  She is the fish identification expert here in Bonaire and teaches a great fish identification class.  We now have a fish identification book, underwater slates to take fish surveys with and are members of Reef.Org.   It’s kind of nice to actually know the names what we are looking at.

Our great friends, Geoff and Sue came for a nine day visit which literally flew by.  It seemed they had just arrived when it was time for them to leave.  They kept us in the water doing two dives a day, each dive averaging 75 minutes long.  My fingers and toes looked like prunes.  We had a terrific time while they were here.  Cocktails at sunset, dining on the waterfront and a dinner Geoff arranged at one of the locals homes.  We played so hard we fell into bed each night.  They couldn’t have picked a better time to visit.  Just after they left, there was a wind reversal and we found ourselves on a lee shore having to head for the marina in the dark and rain.  Then a few days later we were headed for the marina again when hurricane Dennis brushed by. And here we are again sitting in the marina waiting for Emily to pass.  Every cruising, diving, touring, and fishing boat is hunkered down in the marina waiting for Emily.   She passed 60 miles north of Bonaire sometime after midnight last night.

Well there you have it.  We will leave here as soon as the weather is clear and head for the San Blas islands of Panama to visit the Kuna Indians and wait for Amy, Kathy, Corey and Kevin to meet up with us for our transit through the Panama Canal.

We promise not to wait as long to send an update on Sea Witch’s travels.  And just a heads up, you can probably start looking for us somewhere in California by the end of the year.  Sea Witch is headed for the barn. 

A few special thanks from Sea Witch to our friends:

Joyce and Carroll of Trinity for the lovely dinners while we were on the hard in Trinidad.

Bruce and Marsha of Imajica for kidnapping us from work to soak up some local color at Pagwa.

Ron and Nancy of Always Saturday for commiserating over the Power Boats experience and all the water they donated to Sea Witch when her water maker quit working.

Mike and Lynn of Wombat for making the arrival of a new water maker membrane from the States possible, and the countless chess matches.

Geoff and Sue of Malibu House for bringing us a new dive computer, a new camera and all kinds of goodies from the States.

And all the other people that gave us help along the way.  Way too many to mention.  The cruising community is very special.

Jeff & Gail Casher
Sea Witch