Friday, December 25, 2009

Ho Ho Ho and a Bottle a Rum

It's been a wild ride this year and we've had a great time so far. Looking back we have done quite a few things and met some fantastic people along the way.  As I was looking back over our path this year to recount our many fantastic anchorages and ports of call, it became clear to me that the most important thing was not so much the places, as beautiful as they may be, but the people we have met along the way.   For us the best part of this journey is not the scenery, the food or the peace we find along the way, but the people we meet on our path that enrich our lives and make us thankful for the time we have spent together.  Thanks to all of you and we wish you all a very Merry Christmas.  Here's looking to the New Year and many more exiting travels and friendships to make and share. 

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The River

We have been absent from the net as of late because we have been without it completely.  It was simply not available. Can you remember a time when the net was not there and we actually put letters in envelopes and trusted our government to deliver them for us?  Now that we just email I guess there is no reason left to put trust in them.  I digress.  We motored south of Trinidad to the Venezuelan town of Perdinales and presented ourselves to the local Guardia National post to request permission to enter the river and Venezuela.  The trick here is that they don't actually grant you any clearance into Venezuela.  This is a problem when you move on to your next port and you don't have a recent clearance.  It is very suspicious in the mind of a customs or immigration officer in this part of the world.  The local agents are aware of the situation so they grudgingly accept it.  You may have to listen to some long drawn out lecture about proper procedure but simply do as I have learned; smile, nod and thank them for making you aware of the law.  It makes them feel important and that is after all why they do that job.  

Our trip started out as a four boat excursion but we were unable to make the start due to some engine issues which were taken care of the following day.  We wanted to travel in company due to the rumor mongering about Venezuela and pirates and kidnapping etc, this may be the situation in Caracas or elsewhere but in this particular neck of the woods it seems quite safe.  We were a bit apprehensive upon entering the river for a number of reasons.  The obtuse posture the US and Venezuela have taken towards each other was of course one consideration.
We were not sure if the locals would throw eggs at us or be friendly.  Guess what, no eggs.  The river is poorly charted and what charts are available are not accurate.  I quickly learned that it was much easier than the ICW because here we didn't have to constantly dodge aids to navigation.  The river tended to be anywhere from 12 to 120 feet deep.  There were a few shoals but not the sort of thing to lose sleep over.  It's just river mud.  The river was damned in the 70's so the current is almost completely tidal. It is difficult to get to hard aground with a rising tide. 

The Bora was another issue.  It consists of floating water hyacinth which can form enough of a blockage in some of the smaller tributaries to allow animals to walk across it.  It is a mess if you get caught in it with your dinghy and it hangs on the front of the boat sometimes causing the anchor to break under the added weight.  Another concern is that it is home to all kinds of creature, snakes, scorpions, all manner of insects and huge rats.  We bought a machete for the purpose of cutting this stuff away from the boat so as not to get our hands in the stuff.  One boat we traveled with did pull a 4' snake up with the chain and it got caught in the chain wheel of his windlass.  He probably won't have guts enough to do that again. 
The last and most problematic issue we had to deal with was the bugs. 

If the bugs in the delta have one thing in common it would be that they all like to bite and or sting you.  We and by "we" I mean Sunny fashioned drop nets for the windows and made a large enough net for the cockpit we could sit outside at dusk with little bother.  That along with the sunshades she made prior to leaving really added to the comfort of the trip. 

I won't bother you with all the ins and outs of where we went primarily because I don't have a clue what any of it was called.  We used a sketch chart which had some gps positions of a shoal and some tourist lodges.  None of the local names of the small tributaries or "Canos" existed.  I was able to get a few of the names but lost them. 

I like this about the river it really has no official cruising guide.  Doyle would not be interested because there are no chandleries or restaurants to get bad food at an unreasonable price at.  You get the feeling that you are on your own to explore as you wish and that is exactly what cruising should be.  The three boats we were supposed to go with left as soon as they got there to meet a schedule and we spent a week in seclusion until another boat happened along which we immediately became friends with.  It is good to have a buddy boat here in case the worst should happen.  When you travel 10 miles up one of these canos and your motor fails or you get bit by a snake it is comforting to know you have a plan "B" rather than a long walk through the jungle.  We proved this point on our last long expedition which must have gone 14 miles.  We suddenly and for no apparent reason lost thrust and lost the hub of our prop.  Sunny says it's because I drive like a maniac.  Luckily we had a buddy boat to tow us if need be.  We did motor slowly back some 4 miles under a severe downpour and can say we did not need rescued.  Our buddy boat ran out of gas as he approached his boat but he also didn't require a rescue. 

We saw some amazing plant life in the river.  The morichee palms and mango trees lined the river as did all manner of vine and bush which produced orchids, and flowers of all colors.

Cocoa trees also are prevalent and the occasional snack on cocoa pods was always well appreciated.  The river also contained many varieties of birds, 4000 different varieties I was told call the Orinoco Delta home.  The scarlet Ibis was truly a grand sight as were the hundreds of parrots, parakeets, eagles, pelicans, toucans and macaws we encountered.

The highlight for all of us had to be while we were in some little cano miles from anything and coming face to face with a wild Ocelot or leopard.  It's one thing to see sharks, bears or cats in a cage, but to see them while your sitting in their environment is always a bit of a rush.  Another amazing sight and sound is the local monkey population. 

The Red Howler Monkey is is a fairly shy animal but in the evening they make the eeriest noise which would remind you of some sound effect from Doom or Silent Hill.  It is almost soothing to listen ti and now that we are out of their habitat I miss the howling, a much better sound than that of the nasty chicken which overpopulates most “quiet” anchorages. 
The Capucine monkeys were also a treat.  They stand maybe 18 inches high but get all bold and tough when they see you.  They break branches and bounce around letting you know their tough guys, very entertaining to watch.

The Waroa that inhabit the Delta are an indigenous people who are coming to terms with the modern world.  A few years ago they lived peacefully along the rivers paddling their canoes and catching fish.  Now they all have 40 horse Enduros which are too big for canoes so they built bigger boats.  They have satellite TV, washing machines, generators, a taste for soda pop and a new found desire for stuff, all while living in a river hut with a thatch roof and no walls.  The fuel is practically free so they run up and down the river constantly and chase sailboats around to trade baskets for clothes and food.  They are becoming dependent on outsiders which I fear will mean that they will demand exploitation of the delta for oil so they can get jobs to pay for their new appetites.  It is unnerving to see the same exploitation of a people that we in the US were guilty of.  Right down to the handing out of rum to the Indians.  They suffer from many medical conditions as well namely it seems Tuberculosis.  They are hesitant to trust a doctor and even when they get medical treatment they still see the shaman to get the real cure. 

They are a very friendly and curious people.  The kids melt your heart as they paddle out to see you and to just gawk at you.  I can think of no where else in the world where three young girls maybe 5 to 7 years of age would be given a leaky canoe and a paddle or two and sent off into piranha infested water to have fun.  They are extremely skilled with a canoe and it takes only a short time to notice how good they are at it.  If the Olympics had an event in canoeing I would put all my chips on Venezuela to win.

The last thing I would mention are the Venezuelan people we came to know.  While the language was an issue we seemed to work things out. 

  We made a good friend in Maria Taboud who along with her husband manage the Orinoco delta Lodge.  She made us feel welcome and was very enjoyable company.  The river guides Antonio, Alexis and Clement who gave us all great advice.  The prize must go to Luis the manager of the local fuel station who tirelessly took Sunny shopping and was able to get her the biggest chicken I have ever seen for Thanksgiving dinner.  Not quite a turkey but hey we weren’t exactly in Plymouth Harbor.
Don’t believe all the nonsense you hear about Venezuelans.  They are good people who have a tough situation.

 I certainly hope the best for their future and am glad to have had the privilege of seeing a small bit of what must be one of the most incredible places on earth.  Your mileage may vary but we had a great trip. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Scarlet Ibis

Currently Slow-Mocean and crew are in the Manamo River in the Orinoco Delta Region of Venezuela.  This is turning out to be the greatest trip we have ever taken.  Too many sights and experiences for my feeble mind to put into writing but I will try and write about a few.
The Scarlet Ibis is a beautiful bird reminding me of the white crane you see in Japanese art with the black wing tips.  This bird has at least one striking difference and that is its scarlet red plumage.  The bird seems to forage under the mangroves and along the beaches and low water estuaries.  They remind one of Pink Flamingos only smaller and a much deeper red.  One of the first species of birds we saw as we were entering the river mouth in Perdinales was the Scarlet Ibis as they foraged along the river banks and sat perched in low lying limbs.  Further up the river they flew ahead of the boat and perched high in the trees until we approached then they moved on again and waited as we caught up. 
Ibis Island is a small river island perhaps a half a mile long and eighth wide.  It is a forested island covered in thick branching trees.  It is at the south end of the island we were told we should anchor the boat and view the Ibis.  We anchored about 200 yds south of the island and due to current and water depth etc, I felt like playing it safe so we did not get overly close to shore, this time.  As dusk approached many Ibis could be seen perched high in the trees surrounding the island and a few were landing at the southern tip as we had hoped.  Truly a great place to watch this bird.  Then as the light began to fade birds started flying in from every direction in classic V formations much like Canadian Geese.  They would head straight into the island and land, five, ten, fifteen at a time.  It was great to watch and as we watched it seemed that a thousand birds were perched on the island.  The inevitable happened as the mosquitoes moved in for dinner and started moving us inside.  As we turned to run in, thinking the show was basically over, we noted a huge wave of birds in the distance headed directly for the island.  Amazing I thought.  I had never seen that many birds flying together at one time.  Not even starlings in a grain field had these numbers.  I looked around and the sky was filled in every direction with birds coming to roost and they looked like waves on the ocean as the lines of birds undulated and glided ever closer. 
As the evening wore on we watched the green trees transform into what appeared to be trees bearing giant red fruit.  As more and more birds arrived the trees started to resemble the red flamboyant trees in the island s and as the sun descended the island was nearly one shade of red.  Because we have such cheap and useless cameras we of course have nothing but grainy, poorly lighted and absolutely dreadful pictures.  So sad our good friend Trish decided she would not accompany us.  Her 200mm SLR would have had a hay-day. 
In the morning we awoke before the sun was up and we quietly went on deck to listen as the morning quiet was transformed into a cacophony of sounds when the Ibis started to wake up.  As with the night before a few birds here and a few birds there started flying off to points unknown.  Then as the sky lit a bit more formations of birds emerged and flew into the distance.  In the distance a motor was heard and a Warao Indian came rushing past the island to get a better look at us, and the great flock arose and dispersed into the morning sky. 
Pictures to follow, once we get enough bandwidth to send some, but to be honest they are not so good.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Festival of Lights

Were a little late on this post as the festivities have been over for a couple weeks now. We were fortunate to be taken to a Divali celebration here in Trinidad.

I don't imagine many people equate Trinidad with India or Hinduism or for that matter many people probably don't know what Divali is. I will not enlighten you here, I'm sure. All I have been able to gather is that it celebrates the return of Lord Raama from his battle against the evil Ravana.

On his return the people lit small clay lanterns along his path so that he would be able to find his way home. The lines of lanterns are called Divali and it is now called the festival of lights. If your a Hindu or listen to too many Cat Stevens albums and you wish to take issue with my interpretations please don't bother. The point of all this is that the people here in Trinidad are not only of African decent as many would imagine, but also of East Indian decent. It is because of this population that Divali is a big deal here.

We were taken to the town of Felicity which I was told consist of 90% Hindu and 10% Christians. We entered a local temple and were welcomed by the caretaker who presented us with a quick story of Divali over a squawky PA system, which when combined with his accent sounded like the teacher in a peanuts cartoon.

There was a beautiful young lady who danced to a couple of songs and then a trio of drummers came in and did a bit of drumming. They were all quite good. To be fair the caretaker was a very nice man as well and we had a great conversation after the mike was turned off.

Our host and tour guide, Jesse James had a traditional meal set up for us and it was served on Large leaves. The food was vegetarian and because it was a religious holiday we were asked to not eat any meat or consume alcohol that day. Most of the Hindus we met had been fasting for over a month. Luckily I love Indian food and can't get enough roti so this meal which would locally be called a bus-up-shut was just perfect despite the glaring lack of meat on my leaf.

Once we finished we were told to take a walk around the neighborhood. Not something one would consider doing at night in this country, or any unfamiliar town.

We were treated to some of the nicest people one could hope to meet. As we walked people were in front of their homes dressed up in their "Sunday best" lighting the Divali lamps.

Fortunately the wind was minimal and there was no rain. The lamps are fashioned from clay.

The lamps were often placed on the ground or on the wall in front of the homes.

Bamboo was also split and woven into different shapes with the lamps or other lights affixed. A simple two rail fence fashioned from bamboo was also common. The lamps are filled with coconut oil because it creates less smoke. With this many lamps burning, smoke would have been a concern.

Fireworks were also present as was the use of what we used to call spud guns. These were made from large bamboo logs and filled with diesel. They work like a cannon and apparently send quite a few people to the emergency room every year. As we walked along people would be quick to greet us and start conversation. They also will give sweets to the guests who come by.

The sweets consisted of hand made treat bags which contained a dough like sugar cookie dough and perhaps some pieces of fruit. Nothing fancy and nothing store bought.

You know this was one of the best holiday celebrations I have ever witnessed. It combined aspects of Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas and Independence day all in one. With the exception of the local cell phone company lighting up a block or two with posters in the background there was no commercialism and the spirit of friendship was abundant.

I wish there were more holidays like this one. It was beautiful, peaceful, and left everyone I saw that night with a huge smile. Perhaps because they didn't have a ton of new credit card debt.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Greetings from Trini

Had a great sail down to Trinidad and found a YSATT mooring to keep us tethered to the anchorage.  So far Sunny has kept me busy hauling around her bags of shopping goodies.  We took a nice tour to the Divali celebration and hope to get some pics posted soon.  We are preparing to head further south to the Orinoco Delta and visit the Warewoa <sp> Indians and check out a rain forest river delta with howler monkeys and great flocks of brilliant birds. 
Stay tuned

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Moving on

The time has come to stop hiding from the hurricanes. Grenada has proved to be a wonderful place to spend the summer. It has been hot but the summer trades, great bays and the people of Grenada have made it a real pleasure. Not to jinx the season here but the weather has been much calmer than we could have hoped for. We were only in contact with three lows since June and none of them were tropical. Meaning we got some wind and a bit of rain but nowhere near the intensity of a cold front on the US east Coast. We were fortunate to meet many great and interesting people. The dark side of cruising is of course that we all go in separate directions and staying with your buddies usually proves too onerous a job. The wind blows differently on each boat. For us the wind seems to be pushing us to Trinidad which is about 80 miles due south. We intend to do an overnight passage so as to arrive in Trinidad no sooner than 0800. Customs is notoriously snotty in Trinidad and they probably get trained by the US Customs which we have found to be the most inhospitable agents so far. With luck we won't hit any oil rigs or encounter any pirates. Yes they do exist. We hope to do some shopping and meet some old friends who summered in Tinidad instead of Grenada. Hopefully we will find someone who would like to try the Orinoco River. Stay tuned we hope to have some fun this year and hope to dramatically improve on our photography skills.

As we prepare to weigh anchor we would like to say thanks for a great summer Grenada. You are a true Caribbean jewel.

Sunny and the ladies out on a lunch date.

Sunny and the ladies keeping hydrated?

Sunny and Jane sharing a lunch at the beach.

Chili float. Hal of "s/v Main Bris" invited all to join him for a dinghy float. Hal provided the chili and the guests provided the toppings. MMMM

Getting educated: Helped tutor kids who needed extra help in school. Not sure who learned the most here. Some really great kids.

Sunny had her hands full tutoring this young girl. She may have met her match.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Be the Captain

Please take a moment to answer the poll at the bottom of the page. You can help guide us through our next stage of the trip. We are a bit undecided as to where we should go. We could go north to Puerto Rico and get some some rum, mail and parts for the boat. We can head South to the offshore islands of Venezuela and see the sights along with carnival in Trinidad. We can head East to the islands of Antigua, Barbuda, Barbados, Marie Gallant, and St. Barts which we missed on the way down. Finally, we can head West and try to make Cartegana, Columbia for Christmas and sail to the San Blas Islands.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Since it was raining we decided to spend a day exploring the island. The mud is amazing and after you slide down a hill with 5 lbs of it on each foot a waterfall is a refreshing pit stop.

We arrived at Mt. Carmel Waterfall on the East coast of Grenada a few miles south of the town of Grenville. Who can resist standing under a waterfall and being pounded by thousands of gallons of cool water.

After a refreshing shower and some time cleaning our shoes we headed off to Grenville and toured the fish market. The Japanese have built a number of these on the islands in the Caribbean and they are very well done. The fish are kept in proper cold rooms and ice is readily available to keep them fresh in the hot weather.

Next we headed north the Rivers Rum Distillery. Rivers has been in business since 1785 and they claim that they have never stopped production.

Not much has changed in the last 200 odd years. They still raise their own cane and everything is done by hand.

The only machine is the Juicer which consists of an old steel water wheel connected to a crushing machine.

All the juice (I suspect that the gear lube also would be considered a juice in this heat) from the cane is drained under the machine and is transferred by a pipe to the cooking room.

In the cooking room the cane juice is reduced by boiling from one kettle to the next until it is concentrated enough to cook in its own juices and start fermentation.

The fermentation takes place in these large concrete walled tanks. I was expecting stainless or copper but I guess it would spoil the end product.

The Rivers Rum Distillery is proud of its history and the fact that it hasn't modernized it's process. When asked if they aged any of the rum in barrels they said that the demand was much too great to be bothered with aging it. They simply distill it in these grand old kettles and condensers and transfer it to underground tanks where it is ladled out and bottled by hand using funnels.

The next part of the tour was the moment we had all been waiting for, tasting. They had three versions of their rum to choose from. A spice rum made with allspice, a regular 70 proof white and the best of all; the over proof, 150 proof rum. The spice rum was actually kind of good and Sunny decided to purchase one.

I tried the over proof and to be honest I think I would have rather drunk brake fluid. Like the oak barrels that Jack Daniels is aged in you can really taste the subtle hints of aggregate and fly ash in the concrete of the tanks. Something grabbed my larynx on the way down and tied it in a knot.

If you ever find yourself in Grenada and want to try something a bit different, this is the place to go. Despite the harsh taste of the rum it is interesting to watch people make rum as it was made hundreds of years ago and to see a real water wheel in action.

There is something so special about the place that despite the fact your throat may stop working your smile won't.