, Kelly's Eye
 
CARIBBEAN: JULY TO SEPTEMBER 2005
 

Radio nets
We mentioned in the last report that we kept in radio contact with five other yachts on the way down to Trinidad from Grenada. This tale is a good example of why we keep in touch with other yachts and to save any embarassment I won't name names. We heard the yacht at the back of the 'fleet' call in to register that he was making the trip and say that he wasn't very experienced. He was in regular contact with one of the other boats through the night but when we approached the Mouth of the Dragon (The Boca as it's known) we heard him call the Trinidad Coastguard to say that he had a problem and didn't know what to do. We then lost radio contact but we were concerned that he hadn't called our radio net - we were the closest boat and would have gone to his aid. Two weeks later we bumped into him and heard what happened...

He is in his late fifties/early sixties and had lived in Trinidad for a few years. He decided to buy a yacht and learn to sail and the passages up to Grenada and back were his first open-sea experience. On the way back he managed to do an involuntary gybe - the wind gets behind the mainsail and the boom slams from one side of the boat to the other with enormous power - which is a classic beginner's mistake. The results can be catastrophic, it can bring the whole rig down, or, if you don't see it coming, it can hit you on the head and kill you.

He did see the boom coming and made the next beginner's mistake, he tried to stop it. His arm was broken in eight places above the elbow. The good news though is that the coastguard was highly professional, they put a man aboard and got him off to hospital. He was quite chirpy when we met him and although he said he didn't know what to do he did absolutely the right thing in calling the Coastguard. The sobering thought is that few islands out here have a Coastguard, hence the self-help radio nets.

Trinidad impressions
One of the most enjoyable things about cruising is meeting the local people, the atmosphere on different islands does vary. Trinidadians have an easy smile and if we say "good morning" with a smile their eyes and faces light up and we are rewarded with a huge smile in return. In fact we worked out that we only really need to smile to get the huge smile back.

I guess because we are living in their environment, using their shops and restaurants etc we seem to be readily accepted by the locals, rather than viewed as tourists to be tolerated (also Trinidad is not a 'tourist' island). The open air markets are a great place to meet people who are always helpful. On one occasion in Port of Spain market we were thinking of buying some blue crabs when two local ladies came up and bought some. Mike asked them if they just boil them and one of the ladies looked appalled and launched into her favourite crab recipe (onions, garlic, curry powder lightly fried; add cleaned crab and stir to coat crab; add water, coconut milk, fresh herbs; boil for eight/ten minutes). She then picked out three crabs for us. Slightly later we bumped into her again and she said to the stallholder, in no uncertain terms, "you make sure you look after these two".

The Trini's have a wicked sense of humour which often involves taking the mickey out of each other. An example of this was we were approaching a group of young lads who were standing around a white boy-racer type car that had obviously been cleaned and polished with loving care, it was immaculate. Mike said "good evening chaps" and we got smiley "good evenings" in return. Mike took this as an invitation to play and as he got level with the boot he stopped and said "hey, you missed a bit" and started polishing the boot with his clean white T-shirt. The onlookers collapsed laughing and started giving the owner some serious mickey taking - it was very funny and the sort of thing that would probably get your head kicked in in the UK.

However, there is a dark side. Murders run at seven per week (UK population equivalent, 320 murders per week), kidnappings at two per week and there are no-go areas where it is best not to be, even in daylight. Also, extreme domestic disputes seem to be resolved by the machete. The strange thing about this is the newspaper headlines, in the UK we would expect a lurid headline such as "Bloody machete murder". Not out here though, the last case got the totally factual headline "Wife chopped".Whilst on the subject of the local papers, the photgraphs that are printed of accidents are far more gory and detailed, in close up and in colour, than you would see in the UK.

We're not immune to the idiocies of this world either. Shortly after the dreadful London bombings a bomb was planted in a rubbish bin in the capital, Port of Spain. Two people were seriously injured and others hurt and it is believed to be the first bomb ever in the Caribbean (there have been two subsequent bombs). Since we had walked past the bin a week earlier it brought back memories of living in London when the IRA was active. We thought we had got away from such idiots.

The Chief Justice here described crime as "uncontrollable" and there is much local criticism of the government and police force. From a cruiser's perspective it isn't really a major problem: the marinas and yacht facilities are located well away from the dangerous areas; we get good advice about where to go/not go from Jesse James, who runs the local taxi service; we're here long enough to understand what is going on; when we go out at night we tend to go mob-handed. However, this is not an island to visit on holiday and we believe the Foreign Office has put Trinidad and Tobago on the 'don't visit unless absolutely necessary' list.

A near miss by hurricane Emily
The development sequence of a hurricane is: tropical wave; tropical depression; tropical storm; hurricane (category 1 to 5, 5 being highest). Tropical activity has been high this year, for example we had five tropical waves come through in the first half of June, when the norm is one in the whole month. It was for this reason that we weren't unhappy to arrive in Trinidad earlier than planned and, sure enough, not long after we arrived in Trinidad hurricane Dennis formed from a low pressure area over Grenada and went on to hammer Cuba and the USA - it was one of the earliest category 4 hurricanes of all time.

We had been watching a tropical wave (that had a lot of convection activity) coming over the Atlantic and around Monday July 10th it turned into a depression, then a storm on the 11th. By the 12th it was forecast to possibly turn into a category 1 or 2 hurricane - the bad news was that it was coming straight at us! Normally the track of storms/hurricanes bends slightly north of west, away from Trinidad. Not this this little nasty, every time it moved north a little it then moved back south again, there was a ridge of high pressure pushing it south.

On the 13th there was good news and bad news. The forecasters thought it wouldn't become a hurricane but it was still a storm heading towards us with maximum sustained winds of 50 knots, gusting 60 knots and due to arrive on the 14th. At that point we doubled up our mooring lines and put on anti-chafe gear. In the evening we took down our three sun awnings while they were still dry.

On the morning of the 14th we were up at 06.15 to listen to the 06.30 forecast, not much had changed and the storm was forecast to pass fifty miles north of us with winds going round to the west/west south west - straight into the marina. The marina was a hive of activity with people adding extra lines, we added a 30 metre line to a quay and 30 metres of chain and warp to a big anchor, both out to the west to help hold us off the concrete pontoon. It was pouring with rain when we did that but it cleared up later in the morning. At midday the local radio stations announced that the government had instructed employers to send all employees home to prepare for storm conditions.

We didn't have anything to do except keep monitoring the forecasts (we were getting detailed information regularly on both VHF and HF radio) and hope for the best. We were expecting the worst weather to arrive between 21.00 and 02.00 and we wanted to be well rested so we started a two hours on, two hours off watch system at 16.00. At 18.30 and 19.00 we received two forecasts for our location, by two different forecasters, but based on the same raw data. The first told us to expect 20 to 30 knots (not bad), the second to expect 30 to 50 knots (ouch). At 22.35 we heard that Emily had been reclassified as a hurricane with sustained winds of 80 knots and gusts of 100 knots (seriously big ouch). Then at 23.15 we received evil Emily's latest position and something quite extraordinary had happened. Emily's centre had collapsed and reformed further to the north. Mike worked out a projected track that gave her closest position about 88 miles to our north, putting us on the very edge of the strong winds, at worst. Because of the collapse the hurricane stalled briefly and the strong winds were now timed to arrive between midnight and 06.00.

At around 02.30 we decided that the situation didn't require somebody on watch and we both went to bed. Emily crossed Grenada at 03.00. Then we were woken at 05.20 by a combination of factors: there was a loud roaring sound; water was dripping onto us from the hatch above the bed; something was banging against the hull. The roaring was wind and, in particular, rain (4 inches in an hour), it was chucking it down as squalls went through, accompanied by lightning; the leaky hatch was caused by a piece of the hatch cover trapped in the rubber seal but we didn't dare open the hatch to fix it because of the solid wall of water falling from the sky; Mike went on deck to check the banging noise but we never did find out what it was. It was around this time that we had the strongest winds of the night gusting to 30 knots from the south east. Mike was up again at 06.20 to get the next weather forecast - the weather was expected to clear by midday but the swell continued for hours with all the boats rocking and rolling.

And that was it, a very near miss by a hurricane. One interesting aspect was how people handled the threat. Some nationalities were very nervous and tended to go into a huddle and talk the threat up. The British were laid back about it and just got on with preparing their boats, Mike typified the Brits (of course!), the greater any apparent threat the more laid back he gets.

The unfortunate down-side of the whole event was that poor Grenada got pasted again. The roof was torn off the new hospital and the only hospital in Carriacou also lost its roof. Five yachts were washed ashore, one boat was sunk in Carriacou and the crew was rescued from a dinghy sixteen hours after evil Emily passed.

And then there was Katrina, as New Orleans discovered a major hurricane releases the equivalent energy of three megatons of TNT, EVERY MINUTE. It really is best not to mess with hurricanes.

The Trinidad national museum
The museum is located in Port of Spain, in a slightly run down old house. It charts the history of the island including geological information, the flora and fauna and how and why the Africans, Indians and Chinese arrived on the island. It also houses a real show-stopper - the instruction from the British government to end slavery. The first striking thing is that what would now probably take dozens if not hundreds of pages to write was written, with total clarity, on a single page. Not surprisingly the plantation owners were worried that if the slaves all walked out then their livelihoods, if not their lives, would collapse. The document therefore makes it clear that the slaves must keep working for six years, albeit with overtime payments, before being freed. Perhaps not quite what the slaves were expecting. It is is one of the most moving documents we have ever read because it changed so many people's lives.

Cruising is 'Boat maintenance in exotic places'.
You've probably noticed that we seem to spend a lot of time fixing things on the boat and you may have wondered why. The obvious reason is that we do put a lot of wear and tear on things, using them 24x7, month after month. In our first year we sailed more miles than the typical UK-based boat will sail in five to ten years, but the wear and tear is only a small part of the problem. The real issue is utterly appalling design by the marine industry and I'll give a range of examples.

The boat next to us had to have its engine removed because the oil sump (at the bottom of the engine) had corroded to the point it was leaking oil. How did that happen? The boat's designer had placed the engine a few inches above a wet bilge - it wasn't a matter of if the sump would corrode, just when.

The boat on the other side of us got wake-up calls, in the early hours of the morning, from first the marina staff, then the coastguard - his EPIRB (emergency satellite beacon) had fired. The beacon was deck mounted in a case that releases automatically if the boat sinks. The EPIRB wasn't properly waterproofed, moisture got in and shorted the contacts that fire the EPIRB. Poor design again.

We replaced a float switch in the sump because the insulation on the power wire had hardened and the wire fractured. Almost all float switches have the same design fault, the problem has been known about for decades and yet the manufacturers stll sell this rubbish, rather than change the design.

Perhaps the best example of poor design, from start to finish, is our Simrad WP30 autopilot. In order to make any repairs the steering wheel has to be removed first. Stop and think about that for a moment...if the autopilot isn't working you have to hand steer, but you can't hand steer because you have to take the wheel off to effect repairs. We wonder which marine engineering genius thought that one up. There are added complications in that if you don't take the wheel off regularly then it will be corroded to the shaft and you will need a large shaft puller to get it off.

Once you have the wheel off and start dismantling the autopilot you come across a set of nylon rollers whose shafts are so weak they are easy to break in the dismantling process (we broke 2). Then you reach the clutch assembly, which was our problem. There is a metal slide with a cut-out in the middle. At each end of the cut-out are nylon fittings held in by screws. A monkey could probably figure out that nylon rubbing up against metal will eat through the nylon. That exposes the sharp edges of the screw that then eat though the metal slide. So we have a piece of kit with flawed design right through from concept to construction.

From our perspective the faulty concept isn't really a problem because the autopilot is simply a backup to the windvane which has performed faultlessly - mind you we have seen wind vanes frozen solid because they are made with dissimilar metals that corrode together in the salty environment. This is getting really depressing.

We could write pages and pages on this subject, virtually everything we repair has failed because of poor design. And we are not alone, every single boat here in Trinidad has problems whether it's with their watermaker, generator, engine, pumps, radios, safety kit, whatever, people are stuck here trying to fix things. The cynical view is that manufacturers want things to break, to keep us spending money. Most of the design issues could be very easily resolved by asking a few cruisers what needs to be changed. Since that hasn't happened, and seems unlikely to happen, the cynics are probably right. Mike would like to write here what he really thinks about the marine industry, but since this is a family publication I won't let him.

And our job list was...
These are just some of the jobs we have done between July and September, some took a short time but the canvas work took many weeks.
- Fit a new magnetic compass
- Rewire the compass light and a 12 volt powerpoint on the aft deck
- Fit a fan in the aft cabin
- Repair the teak cockpit grating
- Recaulk some seams on the teak deck
- Remove the varnish on the opening hatches, main hatch and surrounding wood
- Rebuild the sump pump with a service pack
- Service the outboard engine
- Replace the main engine primary fuel filter
- Replace corroded bolts on the swimming laddder
- Derust and paint scuppers
- Fit new toilet seat
- Dismantle, clean, grease and reassemble seven winches
- Clean, derust and paint engine room (one coat of deruster, two coats of primer, three top coats)
- Finish the mainsail cover
- Make new sprayhood
- Replace clutch assembly in autopilot
- Glue rubbing strake back on dinghy
- Treat corrosion and paint outboard engine
- Derust and paint under floor in heads
- Clean bilges
- Build up anchor chain locker with five inch plastic strips
- Empty all storage lockers, clean, restow and list inventory
- Make new covers for two primary winches and anchor winch
- Make covers for two water containers and two fuel containers
- Make cover for aft deck box
- Make new deck cover for dinghy
- Make new deck storage bag
- Repair fractured wire in VHF radio microphone

Our engine
Our main engine is a Volvo MD17C, the MD17 was the last marine engine built by Volvo and all their subsequent engines are marinised car or lorry engines. As such it was solidly built and has hardly been touched for 25 years. Out of interest Volvo told Mike that if they were to build an engine now to the MD17 standard it would cost at least twice what the modern equivalent engine costs.

It had been on our minds to properly service the engine, if only because we reached the point of burning a fair amount of oil, and we decided to do it in Trinidad. Initially we thought we could do it with the engine in-place on the boat. However, we found we couldn't reach the bottom bearings because the engine is only inches above the top of the fuel tank (it's that designer again!) and there was no way to lift the engine.

So it was out with the engine on July 12th and, as always, things began to escalate. We found lots of little problems, including scorched pistons and dodgy engine mountings. It was interesting though that the cylinders didn't need to be rebored. At this stage we had a decision to make, either totally rebuild the engine or buy a new engine. Given that modern engines wouldn't last half as long as the MD17 we went for the rebuild (had we gone with a new engine it would have been a Yanmar, they hold the yellow jersey for reliability, at present). Then the hunt for parts started and it took us nearly three weeks to locate everything we needed, to get competitive quotes and finally to order from Torresen in the USA.

Then things began to spiral downwards. It became obvious that Torresen didn't have all the parts in stock as had been implied. When they did get the parts they made a mistake addressing the package which attracted the attention of Trinidad customs at the airport, who stopped the package. Fedex then told us they had delivered our package to Chaguaramas customs, in fact they had delivered only the paperwork to a hotel near customs. Once we found out what was going on and sorted the paperwork out, Fedex went back to the airport to get the package. Airport customs denied they had the package. After being shown their own paperwork they finally found it. We received the parts on September 2nd, approximately one month after ordering!

We now had a problem on our hands. Originally we were intending to haulout on September 17th and perhaps head over to Venezuela in early October. It seemed unlikely that we would have an engine by the 17th so we delayed the haulout to October 17th and our stay in Trinidad to mid-November. In turn that meant we had to extend Mike's visa, which meant an interview with the Immigration Department (I got a new visa when I flew back in from the UK).

The engineers began to reinstall the engine on September 21st but we were still waiting for the injector pump to come back from servicing plus we needed to replace a belt (none were available in Trinidad). As of September 30th we still do not have a working engine and we also have some unresolved problems with the electronics (that the engineer dismantled).

Trips out
During August we went to the Asa Wright bird sanctuary and the Caroni swamp. The bird sanctuary is up in the northern mountain range and while you don't see many birds in the rain forest you do see hundreds of birds at the visitor centre, where they put out a range of food. Just about every bird on Trinidad is multi-coloured and many are only found in Trinidad or Tobago. At the sanctuary it was difficult to know where to look next and the beauty of many of the birds literally drew gasps from us - Mike was true to form behaving like an over-excited kid!

Amongst the birds we saw were: Turquoise Tanager; Green Honeycreeper; Purple Honeycreeper; Crested Oropendola; Palm Tanager; and many different types of Hummingbird. The show-stoppers to us were the Honeycreepers that are irridescent and shine as though they have a 200 watt bulb inside them. Also feeding there were some large lizards and an Agouti, which is like a very large guinea pig. The most interesting bird we saw (funnily enough in the rain forest) was a Common Potoo. Our bird book describes it as "this very unusual species is a true night bird, that spends its days perched on a tree stump...where its amazing camouflage helps it to escape the notice of all but the sharpest observers". That is so true - it took us nearly five minutes to see it after our guide had pointed to its precise position. If you get a chance try to look it up on the Internet, it is a very strange bird indeed.

When we went to the Caroni swamp, south of Port of Spain, we took a boat trip and saw more birds including: Blue Herons; Egrets; Red Capped Cardinal; Fork Tailed Flycatcher; Caracara; and Anhinga. We also saw a Cayman lying motionless in the water, with just eyes and nostrils visible, plus one on a river bank. The scariest siting was a six foot long Boa Constrictor curled up on a mangrove branch, which was really difficult to spot until we were about twenty feet away - it kept us looking up into the mangroves above our heads for the rest of the trip! However, the main reason for going to the swamp was to see Trinidad's national bird, the Scarlet Ibis. These birds roost and nest in Trinidad but fly over to Venezuela to feed during the day. When they return, an hour or two before sundown, the angle of the sun lights them from underneath and they are the most extraordinary bright scarlet. Flying singly or in groups of up to twenty they make a truly spectacular sight.

Also in August we went to the national zoo and botanical gardens. We're not zoo lovers because it's always sad to see animals locked up, however we wanted to see some of the local wildlife close-up - ocelots, caymans (two types) and howler monkeys (that are really pretty). Unfortunately the botanical gardens are something of a let-down. There are hundreds of interesting trees there but very few of them are named, although many were numbered. I went off to see if I could find a guidebook and was told that if I wanted more information I would need to apply to head office in Port of Spain - talk about lost the plot.

And on August 23rd, Mike's birthday, we went to visit a steel drum factory and the Angostura Bitters factory. Steel drums (the correct name is pans) were 'invented' in Trinidad using oil drums brought in by the Americans in the second world war. Thus Trinidad is the home of pan music and they take it very seriously indeed with many competitions including bands of over one hundred musicians, playing up to one hundred and fifty pans. Although relatively easy to play, pan construction is complex and takes two to three days, bass pans have only three notes, rhythm pans over thirty (spanning different octaves). The visit was fascinating and made us want to see one of the top big bands in action.

The Angostura Bitters factory is something of a misnomer, they also make rum, gin and vodka - perfect for a birthday visit! We knew we were on the right track when our guide talked about tasting, she looked down her nose and was almost sneering when she said "you're probably used to a tasting where you swill it round the glass, sniff it, sip it and spit it out". With a big smile she then said "well, we don't spit it out". Excellent news, we thought.

The factory tour was fascinating, if only for the smells - we'll never forget the smells of molasses, rum maturing in oak casks and the herbs (a secret mix known only to five people) used to make the Bitters. Then it was back to the bar for tasting. What happened is probably best summarised by a conversation Mike had with David from the yacht Cheshire, while waiting at the bar. Mike - "what are you having David?". David - "well I've just finished my second rum, so I'm going to have a vodka to clear my palate before trying the next rum". Enough said. That night we went out to dinner with David and Deborah from Water Music (Deborah baked a magnificant surprise cake) and Rick and Lucy from Flying Cloud. It was also Rick's birthday and we had met Flying Cloud when they joined us and Water Music for a quiz night (that we won). Overall a great day and Mike was still standing at the end, no mean achievement.

On the 24th we went up two thousand feet in the northern mountain range to Fort George, to watch the sun go down. We won this trip in a free prize draw and it was first class treatment all the way with a luxury air-conditioned mini-bus, free rum punch and snacks on arrival. To the west we could see Venezuela and to the south Port of Spain was laid out below us. The views were spectacular.

On the 26th of August we went to a pan and calypso concert at The Paddock, Queens Park Savannah. The pan band was the Desperadoes who won their category at the last Trinidad carnival - our first big band. Unfortunately it was not to be, the stage was too small and they brought only 20 players, playing thirty pans. The calypso was a serious crack, featuring four acts at least two of which are very famous out here. Valentino, who has dreadlocks down to his knees, sang about how politicians and the rich use/abuse the poor. It was hard-hitting material, the song's signature being "birds that fly high have to fly down to die". Much of the time he was singing he was also eyeballing and pointing at a member of the government in the audience - we were squirming just watching it. The funniest song of the night was by Crazy who sang, using innuendo only, the most filthy song about an electrician. I had tears running down my face.

Social events and other cruisers
If you get a bunch of cruisers together somebody will organise something, somebody else will then organise something else, etc, etc and the party begins. I won't go into great details of all the events, suffice to say that the weekly barbecue and pot luck (at our marina under the gazebo) was always great fun. Also there was a low key 'dining club'. Most of the food in Trinidad is cheap but can be a bit ordinary, so we set out to find the better/best food visiting Italian, French, Chinese, Indian and Thai restaurants, usually in groups of six to twelve people. Some of the Americans hadn't tried some of those foods before so the outings were very interesting and highly entertaining.

Since it was the other cruisers who really made our stay in Trinidad and generally got us into trouble, I'll name some names:
Alate, Dale and Rita (USA)
Altair, Mike and Jill (UK)
Apparition, Rico and Jackon (USA)
Aspen, Steve and Maria (USA)
Beathic, Phil and Brenda (Canada)
Cheshire, David and Suzanne (USA)
Dorothy Ellen, Don and Pam (Canada)
Dos Gatos, Martin and Ginger (USA)
Flying Cloud, Rick and Lucy (USA)
Invictus IV, Bud and Cathy (USA)
Minaret, Graham and Lynne (New Zealand)
Spirit of Hope, Vincenzo and Julia (UK but really Italian and South African))
Sunday's Child, Robert and Sue (UK)
Water Music, David and Deborah (Australia)
Wind Machine, Jim and Michelle (USA)
Zepherine, Pat and Gloria (USA)

Guns
Yachts are fairly vulnerable to crime and in known 'hot spots' everyone travels in groups. The big question is, to carry guns or not? Mike and I talked about it long and hard before we left the UK and decided against being armed. We think our lives are more important than our posessions and if you come up against four guys with AK47's you're not going to win. Others disagree and many of the American boats out here do carry firearms. This in turn leads to some interesting stories.

There is an Austrian owned Prout catamaran based in Union island and he was sailing off the Venezuela coast when a pirogue started to come up fast behind him. He carries a shotgun and an M16 and was convinced he was going to be attacked, so he got out the M16 and two clips of ammunition. He then waved the rifle so that they could see it, but they kept coming. At that point he fired a full clip in the general direction of the pirogue but not directly at it. He said "I bent down to pick up and load the second clip and when I looked up they had turned off". Wise fellows.

The St Vincent and the Grenadines government even encourages yachts to use their weapons. For example an English couple, who own a catamaran and have run a charter business there for twelve years, were boarded one night but chased off the intruder. They informed the coastguard who gave them a hard time for not shooting him (the coastguard knows them well and knows they are armed). The following night the English couple saw the same bloke board the vessel next to them, so they called the coastguard again. After fifteen minutes there was no sign of the coastguard so they decided to get in their dinghy and chase the thief off. He saw them coming and jumped in his own dinghy and headed towards the beach with them in hot pursuit. At this point the coastguard boat turned up and the next thing they heard was "everybody freeze" followed by the double-click of a machine gun being cocked. This was followed by bullets flying overhead as the Coastguard raked the bushes at the top of the beach, into which the thief had disappeared. Later they found a lot of blood but the thief got away and this time they got a real rollocking from the coastguard for not shooting him themselves.

The interesting thing is that the St Vincent Prime Minister has been on television to advise the population that it would be foolish to try to rob cruisers, because they are generally armed, and if any local person is shot by a cruiser the government/police won't want anything to do with it. Unfortunately we don't know the Prime Minister's views on health, education or fox hunting.

Trip home
I returned to the UK for just over two weeks in early September, which was great fun albeit busy as I rushed round trying to see people and get through my To Do list! It was good to see both my and Mike's families and also a number of other people, also to manage a day at the Southampton Boat Show. To those I didn't get to see I'll try and be more organised next time!

Odds and ends
I mentioned before that we read a lot and our 'best books so far' list is:
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
The 9/11 Commission Report (it pulls no punches and is the sort of thing that would never be seen in the UK)
A Mighty Heart by Mariane Pearl (covers the outrageous beheading of journalist Danny Pearl in Pakistan, have a tissue handy)
A Brief History of Everything by Bill Bryson

The craziest cruiser we know is Steve from the boat Aspen (USA). He was training here, running up to twenty five miles on some days, in preparation for a big race back in the USA - one hundred miles at an altitude averaging twelve thousand feet!!!! He managed sixty two miles this time and said "you can't really train at sea level for altitude running". He's a lovely guy but what a nutter, it's the nineteenth consecutive year he's entered the race!!!!.

The best thieving-French story, so far, was told to us by an Australian cruiser. He stopped in the Chagos Archipelago, an uninhabited island group in the Indian Ocean. Being uninhabited there is no law, so the unscrupulous can have a field day. One day, during daylight, the skipper of an English boat was below deck and heard strange noises from the back of his boat. He went on deck and saw two Frenchmen in a dinghy unbolting his Aries windvane gear. He shouted "what the f*** are you doing?". They looked up and said "ah...sorry...wrong boat" and went off.

The most stupid regulation we have come across is brought to you by the Trinidad and Tobago Customs Department. If the whole crew leaves the boat, say to return home for a while, then, before departure, a full inventory of the yacht's equipment, including valuations, has to be supplied to customs. In the event that things are stolen, in your absence, then import tax has to be paid on the value of the stolen items. Customs takes the view that the stolen items are no longer 'in transit' and have been imported (by thieves). What planet do these people come from?

When natural disasters occur it is common for developed countries to trumpet the level of aid they are giving - doubtless the donor populations have a nice warm feeling. But do governments lie, does anybody check? The reason I ask is, if anybody can explain why Grenada has not received the aid it was promised a year ago please let us know.

The Trinidad Goverment announced that the hunting season would be from October 1st to February 28th. You may not shoot protected species including: Ocelot; Silky Anteater; Porcupine; Pawi; Red Howler Monkey. You may blast into small pieces: Deer; Agouti; Lappe; Tattoo; Wild Hog; Iguana; Matte; Cayman; Cagebirds; Waterfowl. Just thought you would like to know that.

The 'Government Most Friendly To Cruisers' award goes to St Vincent and the Grenadines - when you clear in there is no restriction on length of stay. Obviously most yotties do move on but what the governments out here know is that a yacht's crew spends, on average, the same as the occupants of two or three hotel rooms - without the costs of building or environmental damage. All credit to the St Vincent government for acting on that knowledge (and they get a bonus point for their way of handling yacht crime, as mentioned earlier).

Best topical joke. Scene: Australian pimary school, the children are telling the class what their fathers do for a living. The teacher asks young Bruce what his father does. Bruce: "My dad's a male stripper in a gay night club. Sometimes he makes eyes at members of the audience and takes them back to his dressing room". Teacher: "Bruce!!!!!! You know that's not true, why are you telling lies"? Bruce: "Well, I was too embarrased to admit he plays cricket for Australia".

Where next?
Assuming the boat is ready in time we are intending to act as a finish line boat for this year's ARC, it would be nice to put something back after our good experience last year. So it will be St Lucia late November to mid December, then on to Antigua for Christmas. After that, our current thinking is to head further north to visit the islands we missed last year (including St Martin and the Virgin Islands). Then we are due to meet friends in Antigua again, for Race Week in April 06. Whether all that happens or where we go after that is unknown, after all, this is cruising.