Dominica “Nature Isle of the Caribbean”

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Contrary to popular opinion, there is actually serious hiking in the Caribbean Islands (and not just from the hotel to the beach) from the 10,000 foot scramble up Pico Duarte in the Dominican Republic, the highest point in the Caribbean, through the hovering, misty clouds of Nevis Peak, to the winding trails of ancient petroglyphs on the island of Saint John. But the crowning jewel of the Caribbean, by far, is the island of Dominica. Dominica is a hiker’s paradise; a mountainous, velvety green lump in the middle of the ocean, 29 by 16 miles small with gorgeous uncut rainforest and the last intact Carib Indian territory.

Dominica has never been your typical Caribbean island. When the first Europeans stepped ashore in the 15th century, they were confused because the native men spoke one language and the native women another.  For the next few centuries, Dominica remained off the beaten track, a refuge to runaway slaves, too mountainous for the sprawling sugar cane plantations that came to dominate the rest of the West Indies.  Today, Dominica is one of the smallest countries in the world, population 71,000, 15 degrees north of the equator and southeast of the much bigger Dominican Republic, which it often gets confused with.  There are few beaches for tourists, no big hotels and no tiki-lighted limbo contests.  But, there are over 70 active volcanoes on the island, 365 rivers (one for each day of the year) and plenty of rainfall.  Every year Dominica gets a whopping 300 plus inches of rain, and our stay was no exception, as it poured down hard on Planet Waves while we were anchored in the beautiful harbor of Prince Rupert Bay, off the town of Portsmouth.

There is an upside to all this rain. As a result of the daily soaking, one is awarded with an unbelievable environment; an observable view from the cockpit of incredible fertility, with the hillsides carpeted in a million shades of green.  Venture into the interior and one is met with grove after grove of fruit trees; oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, mangoes, six varieties of bananas, avocados, coconut, papayas, guavas, star fruit, bread fruit and passion fruit to name a few.  Stunning green mountain peaks, some as high as 4,700 feet, make for a dazzling backdrop against a verdant skyline of blue.  Christopher Columbus was asked to describe Dominica to the queen of Spain.  He crumpled up a piece of paper and threw it on the table to show how mountainous and textured the island was!

Columbus would eventually learn why the native men and women spoke different tongues. The fierce Carib Indians, who had conquered all islands, exterminated the indigenous Arawak men but spared the Arawak women who continued to speak their own language.  Today, everyone speaks English, often with a slight British accent (Dominica, a former British colony, gained independence in 1978) and the island is calm, with a growing economy based on eco-tourism and bananas.

We were able to complete three, albeit wet, hikes while in Dominica: the Indian River Source Trail, a portion of the Waitubuluki trail and the West Cabrits trail. We also took a small, guided boat trip up the Indian River, turning around after visiting the lush Jungle Bar, before the rain quashed our plans, making Dominica’s many trails too dangerously slippery for us to further our hiking goals.  We will revisit Dominica in the dry season with plans to continue exploring.

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Along the Indian River and Water Source trail one can observe how the river quickly narrows and gets completely overhung in a canopy of huge, swamp, Bloodwood trees on both sides of the river’s banks. Their massive buttress roots spread out above the soil and down into the water, twisting and tangling into intricate, wavy illusion like designs.  Overhead, long vines dangle into the river, fish appear below the water and crabs crawl along the rooted shoreline. Sounds of insects, animals and birds, the white heron and iguana among them, make for a magical, mystical quality in the atmosphere.  The setting for the Witch of Calypso’s house, featured in the Pirates of the Caribbean 2, lies along the river’s trail where it is maintained for hikers to view.

Hiking along the first section of the Waitukubuli Trail, we swam off our heat in the cooling rapids of the Powell Basin pools after crossing a forested extension bridge that led directly uphill to an excellent view of Prince Rupert Bay, where Planet Waves lay at anchor. The Waitukubuli Trail is the National Trail of Dominica.  It is the Caribbean’s first long distance trail and runs the entire length of the island from north to south.  Reportedly, it takes 14 days to navigate the trail from beginning to end.

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Hiking in the Cabrits National Park, the trails took us to Fort Shirley, an old British fort dating back to the 18th century, through the abandoned barracks overgrown with massive rooted trees and to the top of the West Cabrits peak, for an excellent view across the Caribbean sea of the islands of Les Saintes and Guadeloupe.

What is it like hiking amid nature’s abundant and splendorous mountain rainforests? Something that can be described along the lines of this:

The sun disappears above the canopy of trees and you find yourself in a cool, dimly lighted world. The vegetation is incredibly thick.  The 125 feet tall Gommier or “Gummy” trees, with jungle vines dangling like tentacles, line the trail with spongy pillows of moss that you can put your fist through, huge, waxy elephant ears dominate the bush with dime size raindrops sliding off of them.  Unlike most other jungles, there are no dangerous animals lying beneath the trees, no poisonous snakes, with the fiercest creature being the yellow land crab, one of which tried to pinch me as I stepped clumsily through a rocky stream. As you hike, if you choose, you could play Tarzan and swing from the vines to sail over mud puddles.  We watched violet throated hummingbirds drink from lavender Morning Glories.  We peeled cool, delicious Mangoes for snacks and cracked open fallen Coconuts for fresh milk to drink.  The sounds in the forest are buffeted by crickets and frogs and the drumming of tropical rain.  Near the trails are running rivers, waterfalls and balmy, tranquil but rapid waters that can seep into your skin as you soak for a much needed rest.

Sometimes the trails in Dominica are perfectly marked and well cleared and sometimes they are not. The trekking could at times get tough and induce shortened wind and panting.  There are two types of hiking in the world: heads up or heads down.  Heads up means the conditions are good, the trail is smooth, and you can scan the tree tops for birds and gaze off into the misty distance.  Heads down means you ain’t looking at nothing except your own two feet in front of you and where to put them next!  Having a hiker’s staff can help.

We wish to do much more on the island when we head north. Dominica boasts a variety of nature including the 365 rivers I mentioned earlier, streams, waterfalls, hot sulphur springs, a boiling lake and four cold freshwater lakes more than 2500 feet above sea level.  The island is home to two species of parrots, both endangered, and found nowhere else in the world.  The Imperial, known locally as the Sisserou, is Dominica’s national bird.  The red-necked or Jaco Parrot is smaller and can be found at lower elevations than the Imperial.  Hiking enthusiasts claim the Boiling Lake Trail is the definitive, most challenging, best hiking trail in the Caribbean. Dominica’s Morne Trois Piton National Park is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Eastern Caribbean.

The island of Dominica is a floral paradise. There are over 1,000 species of flowering plants, including 74 species of orchid and 200 species of fern, with the national flower being the bwa kwaib. In the interior west coast there is an abundance of dazzling flowers, including the orange, pink and yellow Lantana and the bottle brush flowers of the Campech, red, yellow and green Heliconias and the purple leaves of the blue Wax flower.

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Twenty one years ago, Dominica was a favorite stop for us, but very different then than now. In the capital town of Rouseau, we met a lot of local men and women who we found engaging and fun and listened seriously to their frustrations about their lack of opportunities for work.  Educated and skillfully trained, they were torn about the prospects of having to leave their island country in order to pursue a living in their respective fields. Then, we were required to anchor in deep water off Rouseau, and bring our stern along to the bank where it was tied off to a tree on the shore line.  A group of men had fought for the job of tying our lines for a paltry amount of money and we had felt constant pressure from them to purchase their so called services during our stay.  While anchored in Prince Rupert Bay, we had been hassled by the “boat boys” who clung to our lifelines and pestered the living daylights out of us to buy things from them or give them money.  I have video of a bewildered looking young man on a surfboard holding on to our lifelines with a strange look on his face while we stacked to the back of his surfboard all of our unwanted canned food we had purchased in Trinidad.  In shocked, unguarded amazement, he looks into the camera and says, “But…you have something to give?”

Today, Dominica appears more economically robust in general, and with the government’s help, has put into place a structural organization for the implementation of services to the yachting and eco tourist community consumers. The “boat boys” of yesterday are long gone and replaced by a group of gentlemen called P.A.Y.S. (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services) which are comprised of trained certified guides and local businesses that patrol Prince Rupert Bay and for a   regulated fee, help boaters with numerous services, from taking garbage, to organizing scuba trips, to interior driving tours, to guided hikes of all types, to mooring assistance and much more.  If you want to snorkel or dive in the marine parks, you must hire a guide and purchase a park pass.  There is plenty to do independently, but services are made to offer for a reasonable price, by gentlemen who are courteous, friendly, and very knowledgeable about the island.  Every Sunday the PAYS members hold a fundraising BBQ on the beach, all you can eat chicken and pork with all you can drink rum punch.  It is well attended and the food and music are fantastic!  In the city of Rouseau, rather than having to anchor in deep water, mooring balls are now provided at a reasonable price.  With the mooring fee comes the security of having the waters patrolled through the night and a safe place to land your dinghy.  In the downtown capital, we found a lot of activity, a booming medical school, a thriving shopping district and several construction projections.  Work opportunities seemed improved to us. We spoke with a young man who could recall playing along the waterfront as a young child some twenty years ago, during the time when we were anchored and tied to the tree, and appeared to be genuinely delighted to learn that having been in his country once, we had made a determined and enthusiastic point to return.

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Did I mention how beautiful the people are? Every person we encountered we found to be friendly and exhibiting a natural curiosity about us, our sailing travels and our home and family back in the U.S.  We were invited into homes, given fruits and vegetables from gardens, encouraged to share in homemade spirits from passed along family recipes, smiled at, waved to, and laughed with.  In sum, an extraordinary experience!

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Thank you for reading my blog. I have a ton of pictures of Dominica so hope you will follow my Instagram account @shelleysdavis.

 

 

 

Caribbean Musings: Part 4. The French Antilles, Where France Meets the Caribbean

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“Not only do the French have the most beautiful country in the world, they also have the French Antilles”! The islands of Guadeloupe, Les Saintes and Martinique have been among our favorite stops on our trip south through the Caribbean. The islands are volcanic with diverse landscapes that range from rain forested mountains, to white and black sand beaches, to attractive towns and quaint fishing villages reminiscent of the French Riviera.

The island of Guadeloupe is butterfly shaped and benefits from two different weather systems and landscapes. The wetter Basse-Terre, in the west is covered in rain forest and steep volcanoes including La Soufriere, the highest peak in the region at 1,467 meters.  Guadeloupe’s eastern region of Grande Terre is drier, with rolling hills and restored sugar plantations.

Les Saintes, part of Guadeloupe, lies six miles south of the big island and is comprised of eight tiny islands with only two inhabited, Terre-de Haut and Terre-de Bas. The islands have superb beaches, gorgeous bays, interesting historic sites and a charming village full of excellent restaurants and unique art galleries.

The island of Martinique has a French, Creole and African cultural influence and may be most steeped in history as the birthplace of Josephine, wife of the infamous Emperor Napoleon. Beyond the capital of Fort de France, there are pretty villages dotted around the coastline, rum factories, Mt. Pelee in St. Pierre, and fabulous beaches in Anse de Arlet, Grande Anse and Anse Mitan.

But, the greatest thing about the French Antilles…no doubt…and by far…for sure… is…the… FOOD!

When you anchor in the harbor at Terre-de Haut in Les Saintes, Guadeloupe, one is greeted by the “tourment d’ amour, or agony of love. It seems on Terre-de Haut, that sorrow comes in a deceptively sweet form, half tart, half cake, and infused with a seductive mix of shredded coconut, cane sugar, rum and wistful longing. For generations, island women baked these small, round Gateaux in anticipation of their lovers’ safe returns from the sea.  If the cakes staled, heartbreak ensued.  Today, ladies wait patiently by the pier, greeting arriving guests with their pastry-lined madras baskets.  They keep their recipe secret, so you can only eat them on the island, which of course, will entice you to return again and again.

Guadeloupe, Les Saintes and Martinique, where sensory pleasures captivate, while small, subtle differences in character set them apart, only to have their local food culture, a mélange of traditional Creole and classic French cooking with a dash of African and Indian spice, unite them together.  The cuisine of these islands is both, local and exotic, rustic and refined.  It’s as easy to feast on made to order street food as it is to linger for hours over a meticulously prepared multi-course lunch.  I should know, because we’ve done both!

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Offering authentic flavors in their simplest fare on the streets, mom and pop vendors sell to eagerly awaiting locals and tourists, such island favorites as grilled conch served in a cone and hand churned coconut sorbet. Sold from take out windows alongside French crepes and baguettes, the “bokit”, a pita like pastry made from risen bread that’s been deep fried and folded over fillings like cheese, egg, vegetables, meat, tuna and salmon, can be purchased as the West Indian answer to guilty pleasure fast food. For the perfect island snack or appetizer, Accras et sauce chien, are much like savory beignets.  The salt cod fritters are deep fried in a batter of flour, scallions, garlic and spices and served at the beginning of nearly every meal along with “dog sauce”, a vinegar based condiment made from a zesty mix of carrots, onions, garlic, peppers, lime and cumin. Or, one can go first class like we did with our friends Hank and Caren, when we were treated to a three course lunch at the Hotel l’Imperatrice, that started with Duo Creole (Boudin and Accras) Steak de thon grille (tuna steak), sauce chabine, Persillade d’igname (sweet potatoes) and for dessert, Glace Caramel fleur de sel (caramel ice cream).  And of course, lunch was served on linen with a balcony view and a fine French Pinot Grio to accompany our courses.

The French Islands of Guadeloupe, Les Saintes and Martinique have great liquid offerings. We purchased coffee, made from 100% Arabica bean of the “”Bourbon Pointu” in Guadeloupe and found it to be pure and sweet with low acidity. No wonder it is considered by connoisseurs to be some of the finest coffee beans in the world.  We visited the DePaz Rum distillery outside of St. Pierre in Martinique.  The distillery survived the eruption of Mount Pelee, and its sugar cane fields that run up and alongside the mountain remain in production, as the distillery is one of many small, family owned companies in the French Islands that produce rhum agricole, which is made with pure cane juice instead of molasses. Rum is the national drink of the islands and if the islands had a signature drink it would likely be “le planteur”, a cheerful mix of tropical fruit nectars like guava, mango and passion fruit, flavored with cane sugar, syrup, lime, vanilla, cinnamon and a healthy dose of white rum.

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We visited the historical covered Spice markets in the heart of Pointe a Pitre, Guadeloupe. If thick bundles of vanilla beans don’t speak to you, the welcoming “doudous” will.  Dressed in madras plaid dresses with brightly colorful headscarves, these sweet talking women will lure you in with exotic scents, filling your bags with locally grown packets of saffron, cinnamon, nutmeg, Colombo, ginger and West Indian bay, if you’re not careful.

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French Island chocolates are fantastic. Since the 17th century, island farmers have been cultivating cacao and transferring it into raw ingredients like cocoa butter or cocoa mass, a paste sold in markets in the form of “koto sticks” and traditionally used to make hot chocolate.  There are abundant French chocolateries that sell artisanal chocolate candies made with various cacao percentages and we never tired of trying them out.

It is hard to walk, even a block, in every village no matter the size, without finding a traditional French Boulangerie-Patisserie. While in Fort de France, Martinique, we bought our bread and pastries from the oldest bakery on the island, Chez Surena, a proud institution that first opened its doors in 1906.

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Every morning in the French islands, we would begin our day at the nearest Boulangerie-Patisserie to buy our fresh daily made bread for the day, le baguette, costing no more than one dollar and sometimes less. After buying our bread, we would enjoy sitting under the shade of the outdoor tables that lined the establishment’s sidewalk to eat our croissants and drink our daily espresso with friends.  This, as you can imagine, became extremely addictive.  And of course, I developed a favorite, the Pain au chocolat (or chocolate bread).  The pastry is a Viennoiserie sweet roll consisting of a cuboid shaped piece of yeast leavened laminated dough, similar in texture to a puff pastry, with one or two pieces of dark chocolate in the center.  Can you say delicious?

Having the “France meets Caribbean” vibe means you can enjoy fancy cheeses and pastries while wearing flip flops. Fish dishes that are being served are always being changed based on the particular catch for the day.  Pizza is baked on open air fire hearths.  There are abundant French wines for the taking, stored in climate controlled cellars in out of way places.  Our preferences for cheese went with the soft, Camemberts and Bries, their consumption becoming routine.  Not knowing much about French wines, I did know what I liked, so purchased wines made from the Alsace region, primarily a white wine region in France in the upper Loire and known for their Savignon Blancs, widely available for reasonable prices.

We had the best sandwich in our lives at an outdoor café in Les Saintes. The sandwich was composed of a skinny, fresh baked, baguette spread lightly with Dijon mustard and layered with a thin sliced ham (jambon) and a thin slice of brie.  The iconic French Sandwich, a pure, simple sandwich with no other competing flavors to muddy up the delicious bread, high quality ham and creamy, fresh cheese.

And if you want to stay aboard and cook, the grocery stores have everything you need! Grocers   stock baked baguettes, good cheeses, French wines, fresh produce, freshly butchered meats (including pheasant, rabbit, lamb and duck) and a good assortment of canned French food and condiment products.  A real treat while you’re sailing, let me tell you.

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So, I guess, the bottom line is this. I aime les iles Francaises!  Bon Appetite!

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you will continue to follow me here and my pictures on Instagram @shelleysdavis.

 

 

 

 

Caribbean Musings; Part 3: God Save the Queen

Nevis

Nevis looks like a sombrero from sea; peaked in the center and low around the edges. Clouds usually cap Nevis Peak (and did while we were there) which is over 3,000 feet high.  The clouds tend to cling to the summit and fall down the sides, looking a lot like snow.  Supposedly, Christopher Columbus named the island “Nuestra Senora del las Nieves” (Our Lady of the Snows) for the clouds that hung over the peak and after one of his favorite churches.  The first town on Nevis, called Jamestown, sank into the sea after an earthquake and tidal wave in 1628.  Various battles between the French and the British hampered development until 1783 when the British took it over and made it flourish as a plutocracy with many plantations and sugar mills.  Two historical figures associated with Nevis are Alexander Hamilton, who was born there and Horatio Nelson, who married Nevisian widow Fanny Nisbet.

We had to tack our way south along the mountainous, green island of St. Kitts before making Nevis and our mooring ball across from the Four Seasons Hotel alongside the always beautiful, Pinney’s Beach. Pinney’s Beach is several miles long with Mount Nevis ascending into the clouds behind. Gliding Pelicans crash boldly into the sea while lazy turtles swim leisurely off the bow of the boats moored.  The setting is so spectacular it is impossible to describe on paper. From this anchorage, St. Kitts lies to the north and seems so close that it appears to be part of Nevis’ sweeping panorama. While moored for a week, we enjoyed one spectacular sun set after the other and admired the Southern Cross constellation every night; all from the comfortable shelter of our cockpit onboard our sloop Planet Waves.

Twenty years ago when we visited Nevis, the Four Seasons Resort was brand new and the beach was even more beautiful than the present, as it was backed by literally miles of palm trees whose slender trunks and wavy, lacy leaves caught and reflected the ocean’s immense sunlight. Sadly, when the Resort was built, a disease was introduced that first sickened all the palm trees that were planted around the hotel. These “hotel” trees were kept alive, have now been treated and look fine, but nearly all the other palm trees on the beach have died from the infection. They are now gone. We inquired with the local people in Nevis about the lost trees and the country’s response to the disaster, but were unable to garnish any real information.  I suppose I could google it, but haven’t.

We had a great time in Nevis. We watched the Miami Heat lose to the Toronto Raptors sitting beachside at the Turtle Time Grill and Bar next door to Sunshine’s Bar, famous for their world reknown “killer bee” rum punch.  We hiked around Nevis’ only town, Charlestown, taking in the history of the old architecture, the Hamilton House and Nelson Museum.  We spent a day hiking around the choice land of olden days, “Gingerland”, just south of Nevis Peak.  In Gingerland, on fertile soil, one is elevated high enough to be cool and still be graced with a pleasant view.  That is why most of the old large plantations on the island were built in this location.  We visited two plantations with gorgeous gardens and architecture; Golden Rock Estate and The Hermitage.  Both owners gladly welcomed us and allowed us all the time we needed to freely explore the grounds at our leisure and at no charge.  Golden Rock is a magnificent estate covering some 96 acres of lush, tropical gardens on the edge of the rain forest.  It dates back to 1801, and is presently owned by artists from New York City who have succeeded in doing a fabulous job of enhancing the new and old architecture so the whole looks like a work of art.  We saw a tribe of African Green Vervet Monkeys while hiking on the estate’s grounds.  These monkeys are all over the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis.  They are large, handsome, with extremely long tails.  They were brought to the islands as pets in the 17th and 18th century.  They are fruit eaters and eat lots of mangos but only half way down, preferring not to get their fingers sticky.  The Hermitage is the oldest estate on the island dating back to 1640 and the original building, where you now dine, is all built of wood.  The main frames go way down into the earth to hold the building in storms and as it was built of Lignum Vitae, one of the world’s heaviest and oiliest woods, the wood is still in good shape, even where it has been buried for centuries.

Nevis had abundant produce through its Main street farmer’s markets and fresh, cold spring water for drinking. Outside of Charlestown, we ventured to relax at Nelson’s Springs where we soaked our tired, worn bodies in its hot, healing, medicinal waters. We loved reading a local sign in town that read:  “We need to give God thanks for everything he allows us to do because he is God and he is in control of all things.  God is Love.” Or the one at the port that read:  “Locking your dinghy is Prohibited.”  Both signs, for us, were a sure message that we were in good hands with the lovely people of Nevis.

We checked out Tamarind Beach and Oualie Beach before exiting the Narrows between St. Kitts and Nevis for a close hauled, white knuckle, reef in the main, sail to Montserrat. Always a pleasure; Nevis, we shall return.

Redonda

Redonda lies between Nevis and Montserrat. It is a large, handsome rock, one mile long and almost 1000 feet high.  There is no proper anchorage.  We sailed close in by the rock in screaming winds and fairly high seas and got a bird’s eye view of the shore.

I mention Redonda, currently under the dependency of Antigua and Barbuda, because it has an unusual story associated with its history. The history of the “Kingdom” of Redonda is a tale shrouded in doubt and legend and involves self appointed monarchs, Gothic stories and literary authors of Fantasy and Science Fiction. On the question of the Kingdom of Redonda, the author Wynne-Tyson writes:  “The legend is and should remain a pleasing and eccentric fairy tale; a piece of literary mythology to be taken with salt, romantic sighs, appropriate perplexity, some amusement, but without great seriousness.  It is, after all, a fantasy.” Google the Kingdom of Redonda. You will get a chuckle.

Montserrat

In 1995, heading south in our 31 foot Southern Cross, we spent one night anchored in the town of Plymouth, then the main city and port on Montserrat, before leaving early the next day with favorable winds for making Guadeloupe a little further south. We did not go to shore that evening and anchored for the night with our q flag hoisted.  The town, and the island, looked beautiful from the cockpit and we told ourselves we would stop on our way back and spend some real time exploring. Little did we know then, that we would be among some of the last groups of yachts to ever anchor in the harbor at Plymouth. The Soufriere Hills volcano would erupt right after our leave and its fiery intensity would lead to the eventual evacuation and destruction of the city. When almost a year later, sailing close around the south end of the island heading back north from Trinidad, I took video of the three of us in the cockpit with bandanas around our noses and mouths due to the smoke and sulfur in the air that surrounded us at sea. Montserrat was no longer accessible. We had missed forever our chance to see Plymouth.

In 1995, the population of Montserrat was around 11,000 people who farmed, fished, and were employed in the tourist industry. Many Americans, Canadians and British had made second homes on the island.  Every major British rock star from Paul McCartney to Eric Clapton had cut hit albums at Sir George Martin’s infamous Air Studio which was attached to his Ovelston Estate. Major eruptions of the volcano would not end in 1995; they would continue to occur through 1997.  Living and business conditions would become very harsh with daily volcanic dust polluting the air threatening the safety of islanders. There followed an exodus off the island of nearly 2/3 of the population, and those who did not have homes in the north had to resettle in the island’s designated safe zone.  Today the population of Montserrat stands at 5,000.

In 2016 the volcano is still smoking after all these years, one of the most active volcanoes in the world and the most continuously studied by scientist, but it has become quieter, and you can now go all the way to Richmond Hill in the north for an excellent view of the buried city of Plymouth. In the south, the tone of the island is quiet and rural.  It is beautiful, with pristine reefs and emerald water, rugged, glacial mountains populated by goats and cows, and very few cars along the steep roads making hiking an excellent choice.  The mood of the people living on Montserrat is upbeat and friendly.  Many locals told us they were very happy to be living on the island rather than in a tenement in London, where many islanders were relocated after the eruption and with the assistance from the British and Canadian governments. In our opinion, the outlook of the people seemed to be optimistic and focused toward the future with the goal of bringing in more tourists in order to create jobs and bring back Montserratians who have fled.

We anchored in Little Bay on the north end of the island, which is now the main port in Montserrat. Little Bay is far from the volcano and considered safe, as it is protected by the Center Hills mountain range.  The island of Montserrat is almost like two different lands.  The southern half, which is off limits for boaters, is starkly beautiful, with a harsh terrain dominated by the awesome Soufriere Hills volcano, barren and smoking against the skyline.  By contrast, the island’s north half is lush, dark green, with steep and convoluted mountains that fall away to the Caribbean coast. It is amazingly beautiful.

We paid for a guided tour of the island, something we rarely do, and it was well worth the expense. We were accompanied by our friends on the sailing vessel Jewel of the Sea, making for a fun day and learning experience. Some of the highlights were:  Visiting the Volcano observatory and talking with the geological scientists on staff. From the observatory we were able to view the volcanic dome in a gaseous state.  Collecting Pumice rock in the Bellham Valley, what was once a river but now covered in 30 feet of ash and being mined and exported.  Observing the remains of the city of Plymouth from the once luxurious hotel, Montserrat Springs, now in ruins and buried completely in ash. With the smell of sulfur in the air, we were able to see the geological contours of the wide path of magma rocks that flowed down the mountain’s side and across the valley toward the shoreline, destroying everything in its path including an 18 hole golf course, and altering the coastline forever, before it reached the historic, architecturally rich city of Plymouth and completely destroyed it.

Of course while we were there, we also had great snorkel and beach days in Carr’s Bay and Rendezvous Bay and Johnny had some small luck fishing. We hiked along the southwest coast through new and old neighborhoods and through a mountain path to an abandoned house looking over the sea. We met a 74 year old Rasta herbalist who shared plants from his vegetable and herb gardens with us.  We drank beer with some entertaining locals who shared their mangoes.  We socialized beachside at happy hours with other visiting yachts.  It was a great time, but onward we must go, further south, toward the Islands of France.

Thank you for reading my blog. You can also follow my pictures on Instagram @shelleysdavis.

 

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Caribbean Musings; Part 2: Vive la France! Or…If it Ain’t Dutch, It Ain’t Much?

13177427_10207891929927899_815805597586096277_nSaint Martin/ Sint Maarten

Although the island of Saint Martin is barely 7 miles in each direction, it is divided across the middle. The northern part is French; the southern part Dutch.  So, the story goes (and it has not been supported by historical fact) that the French and Dutch were so civilized, that rather than fight over the island, they had a Frenchman armed with a bottle of wine walk in one direction and a Dutchman equipped with a flask of gin take the other.  Where they met became the boundary, and the French ended up with a bit more land because the gin was stronger than wine!  In the early days, Saint Martin was successful for their salt ponds, valued by the Dutch in the south, and also produced tobacco and then sugar until those markets started to decline.  In 1939, in an attempt to bring back the island, it was made completely duty free and this strategy has been a good one that has definitely paid off. Saint Martin has become the Caribbean’s number one shopping mall and it thrives today, hosting over a million visitors annually, full of hotels, boutiques, restaurants, casinos and cruise ships.

We had a great weather window to cross the Anegada Passage from the BVI to Saint Martin. Now, when I say we had a good passage what I mean is we were able to motor sail the 90 miles  due east in 15 hours without getting our asses kicked.  Got it kicked twenty years ago and didn’t want it to happen again.  We were in company with friends on the sailing catamaran Sapphire, and were happy to toast our good fortune together when we reached Saint Martin and anchored in Marigot Bay on the French side of the island, very relieved to have been able to put a big part of our easting to go south behind us.

The next day, our Customs Agent at the Port Authority made the Soup Nazi in the Jerry Seinfeld episode look meek. A real ass he was, breathing down my neck while I pecked gingerly on a French computer, confused by the totally different keyboard and dumbfounded by every document being in French, and greatly put out with his impatience, indifference and his arrogant sneer. I had to practice some real cool to keep my mouth shut through that process as the man provoked the ever loving shit out of me.

Afterwards, with the nightmare that he was behind us, we looked about our surroundings and found the seaside town, the blue, wide harbor, the gourmet food, the tall, green hills, and the people on the street to be exceptionally beautiful and kind and not at all or in any way like the customs agent. The Euro exchange rate did us no favors at $1.13 to our $1.00 but prices for food and drink we felt were quite affordable, duty free and excellently tasty.

And the harbor was full of boats and there was quite a bustle of activity as many were preparing to leave the Caribbean season behind them and make their trans-Atlantic crossings to Europe. Saint Martin is one of the main jumping off point for yachts returning to Europe and we found the harbor to be filled with pretty people, pretty boats, lots of radio chatter, and in the air, a feeling of excitement and good cheer.  We were swept away with abundant spirit, so pleased to be in and surrounded by such company, diversity, as well as like mindedness.  But that Customs agent kept haunting me, and in the back of my mind I felt a sense of foreboding dread, a foreshadow if you will, that would reveal itself to us on the third morning of our stay in Marigot when we woke up to find our dinghy and outboard gone from the stern of the boat where it had been tied, but not locked, through the night. Gone…as in stolen; the. End.

So as things turned out, Johnny and I got a real up close and personal experience of the Caribbean’s number one shopping mall! Spending a great deal of time along the waterfront shops in Simpson Lagoon, we settled upon purchasing a new nine foot AB Dinghy from Budget Marine and an 8 horsepower Yamaha outboard from the Yamaha dealer, duty free of course, so a good deal but still a shattering blow to our finances.

After the dust had settled, we were ready to split quick so we parted from our friends, who had been a huge help to us though our ordeal, and moved around to the south side, the Dutch side of the island, to spend one night in Simpson Bay before heading off to Sint Eustatia. We had fond memories of being anchored in Simpson bay twenty years ago (pot luck dinners on the beach, long swims between anchored boats, a large tuna caught trolling, and a warm company of sailing companions, just to name a few) and would have liked to have stayed awhile and reminisced but, we did not go to shore.  Our winds were too good to not take, to not move the boat south, so we took them the next morning and pointed the boat toward Statia.

Saba

And a fabulous ride it was! We flew under full sail past the Dutch Island of Saba as it rose from the sea like a fairytale picture of a forbidden land; it’s steep to rock pointing straight out of the ocean to a height of 3,084 feet but still visible through the clouds.  We thought about stopping. It was pretty hard not to, but our winds were too good, so we kept on sailing.

Sint Eustatia

Sint Eustatia is a small island with a very large history. The island is steep to, the town built on a cliff west of a perfect volcanic cone that rises to 1800 feet.  It’s a quiet place now but in its Golden Era during the mid to late 1700’s, as a neutral territory belonging to the Dutch, it was the trade capital of the Indies and one of the world’s busiest harbors. Up to three hundred sailing ships once lay to anchor here and all along the shore, a sea wall once protected a long street of shops and warehouses.  Goods were available from all over the world:  fine fabrics, silver, gold, household supplies, slaves, guns, sugar, tobacco and cotton.  In 1776 the Andrew Doria, an American vessel, came into harbor and gave a salute.  Governor de Graff, not sure what to do, decided to fire a return salute, but with two guns less.  He didn’t realize that, although Andrew Doria was a merchant ship, she was under the command of an American rebel navy captain, thus, Statia became the first nation to salute an American naval vessel. Today, the historical society, with funding from Holland, has done an excellent job of restoring many of the ruins and old buildings of the by-gone days on the island and an American medical school and big oil storage depot in the north of the island is helping to stimulate the economy, it seems.

We have fabulous memories from here. In particular, I recall befriending some very knowledgeable locals who owned a shore side diving business twenty years ago and who insisted I take a novel from their store at no charge, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, to read to Zach, after I had told them we had just run out of books to read onboard.  Or, when checking into the country, standing in line at the customs office with a group of Dutch doctors on a charter boat trip, I asked them if they would examine the wound to Johnny’s temple from a fall he had taken hiking in the rainforest in Dominica.  Had I treated it well enough, how were my carefully applied butterfly bandages, did it look infected?  And my immense relief when they unanimously smiled and gave me the universal thumb’s up sign.

But making new memories was not to be for us this trip around. We stayed only one night as our winds remained favorable and because, after talking to Zach on the phone, he had gotten us both pumped up about making the anchorage at the Four Seasons in Nevis in time to watch the Miami Heat play their 7th game of the quarter finals against the Toronto Raptors. So we left Statia after only one night, recalling a very similar memory from leaving there twenty years ago.  Then, it had been a race against time to make the brand new Four Seasons Hotel in Nevis, where we were pretty sure there would be a television, in order to accommodate the wishes (or insistence) of our ten year old who wanted to watch the Houston Rockets play in the NBA Finals.  I can still here us loudly exclaiming in the cockpit as we sailed away:

“Hey Zach, what’s your favorite beach?”

“Nevis, Mom!”

“And you, Mom, what’s your favorite beach?

“Nevis, Zach!”

So Nevis it is.

Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you will follow my pictures, too, on Instagram @shelleysdavis.
 

 

Caribbean Musings; Part 1: Three Virgins

We have been moving a lot since May (the last month I published a blog post) in order to make for safe harbor in the lower latitudes for the 2016 hurricane season. We are presently anchored in Bequia; in the country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, about to embark on yet, another varnish project to Planet Waves’ top sides in order to complete the work we started in the Virgin Islands. We’ve covered a lot of territory since my last post, so I thought I would share my thoughts on our travels in a series of “Caribbean musings”.  The posts will be entered (sort of) in the order of our travels south.

The Spanish Virgins

Puerto Rico is a mountainous tropical island directly in the path of trade winds. These tropical conditions account for its rain forest and tropical wet and dry climates.  Puerto Rico is composed of one large island, the two smaller inhabited islands of Vieques and Culebra, and has in total 143 islands, cays and islets that comprise the “Spanish Virgins”.  The islands were discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493. Ponce de Leon, looking for the fountain of youth, established the first Spanish settlement colony in Puerto Rico at a spot where old San Juan is now located.  In 1897 Puerto Rico was granted autonomy by Spain, however, the Spanish American War of 1898 hardly gave autonomy time to develop.  In July 1898 American troops landed in Puerto Rico and the United States acquired the island through the Treaty of Paris.

After making our way east along the south coast of Puerto Rico, it was a real pleasure when we were able to turn our boat north and sail toward the beautiful Spanish Virgin Islands. Our first landfall was a familiar one; Punta Arenas, or Green Beach, on the island of Vieques. We had sailed here twenty years ago, our only stop on the island, as it was then a bombing range for the U.S. Navy and visiting the island was restricted.  Green beach is now part of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge and as it is positioned on the west end of the island, offers very scenic views to the main island and the El Yunque rainforest.  The beach is calm, surrounded by tropical foliage and tall, leaning palm trees, turtles abound and the snorkeling is excellent.  There were only two boats anchored next to us while we were there and we knew both of them.

Sailing east along the south coast of Vieques to the town of Esperanza was exhilarating, as the williwaws coming off the mountains made for a boisterous ride close to shore. The coastal side of Esperanza is known as the “Malecon” or “the strip” and is a favorite hang out for boaters, hotel visitors (although there are very few hotels on the island) and backpackers.  It is a laid back, picturesque town with views of Monte Pirata, the highest peak on the island, a gorgeous beach, offshore cays, fisherman boats and a nice selection of bars and restaurants.  We had a great time hiking around the town, day dreaming of buying a home close to the beach, and having for happy hour excellent fish tacos and margaritas.  From Esperanza, we took a taxi and spent the day on the north side of the island in the quaint town of Isabel Segunde, where the ferry runs to Fajardo, and is home to the last Spanish fort built in the Americas.

From Esperanza we sailed up the coast to Fajardo for provisioning and a sail repair, and then on to Isla Palominos, where we picked up a free mooring ball for a couple of nights off the private island that caters to the guests of the El Conquistador Hotel. Tall palm trees line the long, sandy beach and swimming and snorkeling were great in the clear, turquoise, almost emerald green water.  The Puerto Ricans play their music loud and this anchorage was no exception, making for a party atmosphere among the many local boats moored overnight.

From Isla Palominos, we had an upwind but great sail to Culebra, sailing close off Cayo Lobito and tacking through Cayo Lobo and the Canal de Luis Pena, down the side of Flamenco Beach and into Ensenada harbor where we anchored behind Cayo Pirata. Culebra epitomizes what the Virgin Islands use to be, before all the charter boat companies, mooring ball fields and cruise ship passengers invaded the island. It is a sleepy place, where you have a choice of a half dozen spectacular beaches, often sharing a mile long stretch of sand with only a hand full of people or with no people at all.  The town of Dewey is small, quirky and fun.  No one visits Culebra for the night life, but the Dinghy Dock restaurant has tables right on the water, with herds of three foot tarpon lingering dockside and a pretty decent happy hour to boot.  There is a very, laid back attitude in Culebra.  I took a picture of a store front sign that read, “Open some days, Closed on others.” We loved it there and felt we did not spend enough time, so will return when we make our way up the island chain after hurricane season, catching Isla Culebrita and Turtle Beach on our way back.

The U. S. Virgin Islands

Discovered by Columbus in 1493, the Dutch would eventually gain possession of these islands after many battles for many years with the British. The Danish West Indies consisted of three small islands in the Caribbean situated to the east of Puerto Rico, namely Saint Thomas, since the 1660’s, Saint John since 1718, and Saint Croix from 1733. Altogether the islands make up only 333 square kilometers.  The colony was characterized by trade and shipping in Saint Thomas and sugar plantations in Saint Croix, whereas Saint John was considered as just an appendix to the neighboring Saint Thomas.  The three islands stayed a Dutch colony until 1917 when they were sold to the United States.

If you’re a “yachtie” you’re not suppose to like Saint Thomas and you’re only suppose to take your boat there if you’re tired, or the weather is bad, or if you need fuel, or if you need provisions, or if you’re picking up guests from the international airport. After all, St. Thomas has too many tourists, too many mega yacht one per-centers, horrible or marginal anchorages, it’s too expensive and everyone knows the islanders are rude or downright criminal.  And yet, for all these reasons and more, we love, and have always loved, Saint Thomas!  Like (“horrible”) Nassau, we have fabulous memories of Charlotte Amalie, in my opinion one of the most beautiful natural harbors in the Caribbean, and had no intention of missing it. We anchored there happily for over a month while we stripped and applied major varnish to Planet Waves’ topsides and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Anchored off the luxurious Yacht Haven Grande, in beautiful water, with free use of their dinghy dock, garbage systems, restaurants, boutiques, and with a lovely boardwalk into the duty free shopping district, we worked contentedly day after day, socialized a great deal, and never missed a fantastic sundowner from the cockpit of our boat. While we were anchored, the marina hosted the Rolex Yacht Regatta, the first Annual cultural celebration and museum showing on Transfer Day, and offered easy access to the St. Thomas Carnival. Let me emphasize, we were not paying guests and yet, no one seemed to mind. Everyone was so friendly, so laid back, so kind and respectful.  The central location of the marina afforded us quick, cheap connections to safaris that took us to grocery stores, hardware stores, marine stores, Laundromats, clinics and libraries all over the island. While in St. Thomas, we received guests in Charlotte Amalie and sailed with them to Honeymoon Harbor, spent some quiet time at Christmas Cove on St. James Island, where the Pizza Pie Boat is anchored and serves up fresh pizzas, and rocked out in the rolly anchorage to the Red Hook nightlife; great happy hours, awesome music and good company with a slew of sailor friends.

We only spent about a week in Saint John, in Coral Harbor, the old hippie, sailor community. The anchorage was quiet and beautiful, the town small and laid back with goats in the road and only a few hip cafes alongside the infamous Skinny Legs Saloon. We caught the bus into Cruz Bay a few times for some good meals and some town life.  It rained constantly.

St. John has always been a National Park, but back in the day we anchored everywhere, anywhere, and for as long as we liked with little to no fan fair. It was off the south coast of St. John where we picked up the Ciguaterra from a King fish Johnny caught for supper and were briefly hospitalized in Cruz Bay afterwards convalescing at our leisure off Maho Bay with lots of local attention to our welfare. Things have really changed.  Anchoring is no longer permitted in the park; one must take a mooring and the movement of boats is highly regulated. I have nothing against moorings if they are maintained properly and I do believe moorings help preserve the turtle grass from anchor chains, but at a cost of $26.00 per night, that seemed a little unreasonable to me and so we were not too happy about it.  Because Johnny is over 60 years old, he was able to apply for and receive a senior discount pass from the park which cut the cost of the mooring ball in half. All told, kind of a bummer we thought.

We didn’t do all we wanted to in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Too many projects and not enough time, so we will sail back up the island chain to revisit after hurricane season, with the goal of spending more time in St. John and St. Croix.13147784_10207883640400666_8559694148936705557_o

The British Virgin Islands

Although Spanish copper miners were sent to Virgin Gorda during the early 16th century, it was the Dutch who established the first permanent British Virgin Islands settlement during the mid 1600’s. Privateering and piracy ran rampant on the British Virgin Islands during the 17th century when the French, Spanish, Dutch, and British navies fought with each other over the control of these strategically important islands.  The British ultimately won out and have managed to maintain control over the BVI since 1672.  One of history’s most infamous pirates, Blackbeard, was based on Tortola during the 1700’s.  Sugarcane and cotton were the main industries until the 1834 abolition of slavery.  The 1960’s marked the birth of the tourism industry, when Laurence Rockefeller constructed the territory’s first luxury resort. And tourism it remains in the BVI!

We had little time this go around in the British Virgin Islands, for it was so late in the season. Things have changed much since our visit twenty years ago.  Always a charter boat destination, back in the day, we lingered between St. John and the BVI, easily sailing back and forth, anchoring as we pleased with plenty of room to swing and staying as long as we wished.  Today that would not be the case.  The BVI is a charter boat mecca and highly regulated, packed to the brim with vacation sailors, most in over sized Catamarans, making way for very crowded anchorages, while bumping up the prices for marine, recreational and culinary services.  Harbors are densely packed with mooring balls at $26.00 a night and outside the mooring fields it is often too deep to anchor safely. Customs agents are tense and not too pleasant.  It can cost you an arm and a leg to bring your pet to shore.

We snuck into the BVI, ran our Q flag up the mast and spent two nights off Prickly Beach in Virgin Gorda. It was nice off the Bitter End and we had plenty of anchoring room.  We had little time there before we had to catch our window across the Anegada Passage to Saint Martin so once again, we hope to spend more time there (if we can afford it!) on our way back up the island chain after hurricane season.  In particular, I would like to spend some quality time in the exceptionally beautiful Virgin Gorda Sound, make the full moon celebrations in Trellis Bay and hopefully hit the insane New Year’s Eve parties on Jost Van Dyke (wink!).

More posts to come. Thanks for reading my blog and I hope you will follow me along the way. You can also see some great pictures on my Instagram Account @shelleysdavis.

Zen and the Art of Wooden Boat Maintenance

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“All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet.  But let us begin” – John F. Kennedy

It is a little known fact that JFK, in this portion of his inaugural speech, was referring to the refinishing project slated for the presidential yacht. (Wink!) What boat owner has not stood before a Twilight Zone of peeling varnish and asked his self whether he has the strength of purpose to even begin? And Johnny and I get little sympathy from other sailors, who mostly question our wooden boat choice, diminish that choice, or judge us harshly for committing the time and energy that must be given to maintain the “quality” of wood on our beautiful Vindo 65. For all those sailors out there; the inquisitive ones, the ones who admire, the “know it alls” with their eyes rolled back, the ones who solemnly sigh at us in grief; I would like to ask you this: What is Quality?  How does one define it?  How does one know what is good?

Like sailing through a crest of ocean waves, a picture often used in Zen literature as an allegory for scaling spiritual heights, so too is the maintenance of the wooden vessel that carries one through the storm. If one can explore the idea of enlightenment or “quality” as a pass through the stormy ocean waves, then one must consider the ship that gets you through this course.  So one may ask, is quality a subjective or objective phenomenon?  Or maybe, does quality precede subjects and objects?  Maybe quality is actually the source or creator of the two.

Zen Buddhism: A spiritual philosophy founded in the 6th century B.C. in India.  It later spread to China and Japan.  Zen is the Japanese word for “meditation” and that is precisely the path to truth that this branch of Buddhism stresses.  Founded in China in the 5th Century A.D., Zen rejects worship of deities, reading of scriptures and performance of ritual.  Practicioners wait for flashes of intuitive knowledge that come when the self is quiet and free of desire and distraction.

The essence of quality and the Zen experience of boat finishing can be found in the direct effect that each phase of the refinishing has on the next laborious pursuit. Like life itself, the element of time has an unswerving way of exposing every change of heart, every lapse of energy, every omission of thought, in the commission of the refinishing tasks.  Like skins of an onion, the layers of our refinishing efforts (our life efforts) can be peeled back to betray or reveal our degree of commitment.  To achieve a quality, the woodworker, the one who cannot resist running his hand along a sensual surface of wood, the one who believes that within every neglected boat  lies a weeping soul, his transcended experience can manifest itself through the souls of those boats that long to be touched. (If only other sailors knew this or knew what they were missing, right?)

Is Quality everlasting? Brightwork finishes have a natural life span.  They get old and start breaking down at the foundation, just as we do. No matter the quality, everything in life must be replaced eventually. That is the natural order of things.  If entire coastlines comprised of stone cannot win the battle, common sense tells us that a thin transparent membrane will stand little chance of becoming anything more than a fleeting memory in the Grand scheme.  Our Zen principles tell us one must acknowledge a tired, worn out finish and give it respectful passage.

“Art begins with resistance – at the point where resistance is overcome. No human masterpiece has ever been created without great labor.” – Andre Gide

Brightwork is a true art form. Some people are more impassioned in their tapping of those artistic reservoirs than others and their boats usually reflect that passion. Such is the case with our friends, Lynn and Russell Frazer onboard the sailing yacht Blue Highway, an immaculately kept art piece vessel.  But I believe that every boat owner has within them the capacity to make a statement, as surely as one would on a piece of canvas.

An artisan can take a certain pride in what they do and what they have. An artisan will understand the intoxicating feeling that comes with accomplishing something creative and challenging, something that departs from the easy and familiar. Brightwork refinishing, as an art form, can be much like a three part opera.  In the first act, the villain is dispatched with hopes of never returning (the stripping), in the second act, the town is restored to order and made ready for celebration (wood prep begins) and in the third act, the hero returns and the merry making ensues (the application of the new finish).

And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make and end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them; behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark and cover it inside and out with pitch.” – Genesis 6:14

Noah did as God said building that ark according to His specifications. But the nature of gopher wood remains a mystery today.  There are those that speculate that it was from the family of trees known as Cedars of Lebanon, while others insist it had to have been Cypress.  One thing we know for certain; given what we know today about the evolution of coatings, the finish on the floating barn had to be bright, since the Bible tells us it was a pitch concoction.  As Noah tossed about in a forty day squall, my suspicion is that he thought very little on how his finish was holding up or whether it was maintaining its beauty under stress!

Brightwork: The word is used to encompass any wood on the boat that is not coated with an opaque finish.

Of course our Planet Waves is no ark, but the finish of its wood does function not only as its guardian, but as its flatterer. Differences in her wood are emphasized from the two types aboard that need to be refinished.

The Teak wood aboard Planet Waves needs little or no protection. Teak maintains its own store house of protective oils and if left without a finish can survive relatively unscathed for decades.  If Johnny and I want to see its original color again, we can simply bleach off the oxidized surface oils and there it is!  In other words, putting a finish on teak is something we do not have to do, but may want to do for ourselves.  So, on our teak wood aboard Planet Waves we use the “no finish” finish! But our beautiful Mahogany cabin begs not only our flattery but the protection afforded by such fussing.  African and Honduras mahogany, while considered hardwoods, are not as dense as teak or so imbued with natural oils, and as a result, are predisposed to permanent staining from prolonged exposure to moisture.  It looks absolutely gorgeous all varnished up, but the foremost reason for applying such a finish is to protect it.

Varnish brings out the beauty in a wood and is the strongest protector of all bright finishes. As an exterior finish, varnish can look beautiful after three coats but requires substantial build up, no fewer than eight coats from bare wood, in order to function properly as a protector.  The “true” mahoganies, African or Honduras as we have aboard Planet Waves, are expensive woods usually found only on older vessels such as ours and are esteemed to be the absolute most beautiful in the arboreal family.

“Probable nor’easter to sou’west winds, varying to the southward and westward and eastward and points between, high and low barometer, sweeping round from place to place; probable areas of rain, snow, hail and drought, succeeded or preceded by earthquakes with thunder and lightning.” – Mark Twain.

So as we travel aboard Planet Waves, our Zen principles teach us to co-exist with nature when planning our refinishing projects. Obviously, knowing ahead of time about impending rain doesn’t necessarily make one feel better when a project is under way, but it does eliminate needless frustration brought on by surprise downpours or high, shifting winds. One must be attuned to nature knowing that the inability to control or manage the weather will force one to become more creative in the organization and implementation of wood working tasks.

Gumption: A kind of enthusiasm or courage needed for living deeply and well.

Johnny and I are grateful for the strength and beauty of our wooden boat.  Aboard Planet Waves, we have learned that when the art of refinishing is practiced with a Quality, it can be a peaceful journey and a way of self cultivation leading to calmness, serenity and concentration; a Zen experience, and one that is manifested in a deep and spiritual bond with nature.

Tis a lifelong toil till our lump be leaven

The better! What comes to perfection perishes.

Things learned on earth, we shall practice in heaven:

Works done least rapidly, Art most cherishes.

  • Robert Browning

 

Thank you for reading my post. You can follow us on Facebook at Shelley Sanford Davis and our photographs on Instagram @shelleysdavis.

 

 

Laundromat Tales

 

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This post is dedicated to my sister Tracey Sanford Wild, the queen of all things Laundry.

I have always loved doing my laundry at the Laundromat. There is something really great about being in one, something that feels very real. I have found that the environment can fascinate, entertain, and comfort me.  Doing my clothes in one is always easy and efficient, a meditative process at times, where I can get all my laundry done at once, in one sitting, without it taking all day and where I can engage or not engage in the mileu that is THE LAUNDROMAT.

I have many Laundromat tales. For instance, I once counseled women, and let’s face it, most folks in the Laundromat are women, after violent Christmas winds blew through Nassau Harbor in 1994, when all I could hear above my wash in the crowded laundry room the next day was a crescendo of crying, and bitching, and moaning about their husbands, their boat, the weather, their lack of comfort, and all things foreign and unfamiliar. Naturally, given the Laundromat setting and my credentials in psychology, I listened intently, then sounded off with verbiage that I’m sure was exactly what the crowd wanted to hear.  Sincerely and rationally I spoke, telling them all to leave a life that made them weary, to leave their dreary husbands who were putting them through “hell” as they saw it, to leave the horrible weather as they felt it was always going to be and buy a ticket (and I emphasized pronto) out of the Bahamas, back to their plush, cushy, safe, little (or big) homes for the winter. Most of them followed my advice, did so expediently, and thanked me profusely (outside of the Laundromat on their way to the airport) for being so caring and wise! (hah,hah!..it still cracks me up!). Or once, in a Laundromat in St. Croix, with Zach by my side as we ate roadside hot dogs with red pepper relish, I watched episode after episode of Judge Judy on the tube (I had never seen it before) in company with a fat, very dark, West Indian, middle aged man, who lounged across a folding table on his stomach like a mermaid, glued to the courtroom drama (as I was) and drank beer after beer while his clothes spun away until they were done and there was nothing left for him to do but the folding.  He was also a Notary Public.  Now that my friends, was entertainment of the highest order!

The Laundromat is a special place because it is a public space where there is very little in the environment to distinguish it from a private space. The Florida hailing urban sociologist, Ray Oldenburg, who specializes in cities, described such spaces as the “third place” in his 1990 book, “The Great Good Place.”  Third places are spaces of refuge where people can escape from the spheres of family and business. Along that line, Laundromats are essentially commercial living rooms, somewhere you can feel and behave as though you are at home.  It just feels really good to be in one, don’t you think?

Europeans, who cannot get enough of the unique American concept of the Laundromat, have begun turning out Launderette-bars in gentrified “in” districts by the dozen. So I guess no one in Europe has a problem handling their dirty panties in a hip bar, right?  The creation of this space, a “being space” they’re called, where catering and entertainment are no longer the main attraction, but where, like at home, you can actively read, surf the internet, drink coffee, eat with friends, even wash your laundry in a bar-café environment, is accessible to everyone.  This laundry concept is trending upward all over Europe and about to catch on in America where one has just opened in Chicago called Joz’s Launder-Bar and Cafe.

And there are many in Europe. In Germany, the name of a trendy bar-café hybrid is the Mangelwirtschaft in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district, which plays on the laundry mangle with a sign which promises 50% bistro-bar and 50% launderette. The front room of the bar offers a cozy, red velvety restaurant atmosphere which leads to a room in the back with twelve washing machines. The launderette in Hamburg’s Altona district is similar with a happy hour called Schlendergang (spin-cycle) and where the location is popularly used for live coverage of football matches. Cleanicum in Cologne is a sports clothes shop which also provides 20 washing machines in the front room of the store with sofas running alongside. Copenhagen hosts the Laundromat Café, a stylish café, launderette and bookshop with over 4000 international magazines. In Paris’ Oberkampf district, the Wash Bar, created by the electric giant LG, lets you try out different washing machines for free in hopes that you will buy one, and while you’re shopping and washing, offers a live D.J., drinks with names like Lingette, XX and Savonade (washing powder), internet surfing and movies streaming live in the lounge. In Belgium at the Wasbar, you and friends can drink, get a bite to eat, write, listen to live music and wash your clothes.

So in Europe, it seems, the Laundromat has morphed into a beautifully designed social club. And I like the idea!  I really do!  And some of my better laundry experiences, my Laundromat tales, can certainly compete or compare. For example, while doing my laundry in the Black Point settlement on the Exuma Island chain in the Bahamas, I washed away my grubby clothes while looking out on a million dollar view of baby blue ocean and sky and sparkling white sand beaches, downloaded my email for free, and drank several cold Kalik beers under the eaves of the back porch in a delightful trade wind breeze.  And what you say about that time in the Emerald Bay Marina Laundromat outside of Georgetown adjacent to the posh Sandals resort? The cost of the washing machine was comp’d with the payment of our boat slip, the happy hour was on the house provided by the resident yacht club, the clubhouse was furnished and provisioned in high style, and the air condition flowed freely and was both chilly and downright cold. And then, there was the Laundromat attached to the Palm Beach Harbour Marina.  Free washing again with the slip, along with a super strong wifi connection, fresh, frigid air condition, the Miami Heat game on a giant TV screen in the plush, cushioned sofa lounge, and oh, let’s don’t forget, the ice maker, deep freeze and grill for the using!

Laundromats can feel romantic too. Famous tales and scenes abound in American film of the Laundromat.  Many cult or classic films have been featured in Laundromats.  Films such as “The Trip”, “Midnight Cowboy”, “My Beautiful Launderette”, “Rain Man”, “Paris, Texas”, “Color Me Kubric” and everybody’s low brow fav, “My Bloody Valentine” are some of at least 40 films made in or about Laundromats since 1970.  I have observed many flirtatious entanglements while doing my laundry and thoroughly enjoyed watching them.  Unfortunately for me however, I have never had a real life romantic moment in a Laundromat, but it remains a favorite fantasy of mine and one I’m hoping may still happen. (wink!)

I have traveled through a lot of Laundromats. They have not been European hip bars, those ones I frequented while sailing up and down the east coast of the U.S. and through the ocean byways to the Caribbean islands, but they have all been truly wonderful, vivid experiences. In my travels, I have found that all Laundromats are unique, but their true differences, basically, are only really slight.  Except, maybe for that one time when I did my laundry in Virginia, while sipping white wine and inhaling fresh herb in the comfort of my kin, and to the accompaniment of live blues music being played by my cousin Howie, a consummate, professional blues guitarist.

So, my laundering tales continue, as one Laundromat may stand in a hillside strip mall, like the one in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a good hike from the waterfront and where I taught a very affluent, eccentric, gay man how to operate the washing machines, as he had never before in his life been challenged with doing so. He would have been totally lost without me and I was glad I could help. And, another Laundromat may branch off an uphill, tree lined road through a lush valley to the top of a mountain where, while eating fresh blueberry pancakes for breakfast with new friends in Blue Hill, Maine, I did my laundry in one fell swoop in a brand new, super sized, stainless steel washer. And another Laundromat flanked by a Liquor Store, where I stocked up on wine, as much as I could fit into my backpack, in glitzy Newport, Rhode Island, where the sailors in from the Newport to Bermuda race were unloading their laundry and filling my head with tales of daring and do.  Or, in the heart of a small ghetto, like the impoverished area in Governor’s Harbor on Eluethera Island in December, as Christmas carols played on a radio in the suffocating heat and the washing machines pounded away on a dirty, sticky floor, badly lit, cramped, and dark with little breeze; stray dogs at the heels.  And one Laundromat may squat along some hipster avenue in a cosmopolitan area like in Hampton Roads, Virginia, where we had complimentary bicycles for exploring and a free pass to the pool at the Ritz Carlton while our clothes were washing away, or in Camden, Maine, where a chance reconnection with a long lost friend (last seen twenty years ago) made our day, while our clothes seemed to clean themselves in the cool, pure, northern summer air of an impeccably fresh smelling laundry room. And one Laundromat might never close, like the one in South Beach, Miami, and one might rarely open, like the one on Boot Key, in the Florida Keys.  One might ooze with graffiti and lint balls, like the one in Charlotte Amalie in the Virgin Islands, where the local children played relentlessly beneath my feet and posed repeatedly for pictures with our dog Bonnie, and one might shine with ersatz cheer, like in yachty St. Augustine, Florida; full of friendly, chatty sailors on their way north or south or to all points in between.  Each Laundromat may vary in its level of security and each may differ in the darkness of the night or in the newness of the morning light, and each I’m sure, may hold many secrets and hidden tales I could not possibly know or begin to absorb and re- tell. Each may feature its own salmagundi of culture and race, like the one in Port Washington, Long Island, New York, owned by Asians, run by Hispanics (with Telemundo loudly blaring) and patronized by African Americans (I was the only white person in the room).

And, let’s not forget that clean clothes are still a luxury tale to be told! In places where access to water is an issue, laundry means either bringing water into your home in pots and buckets or traveling to a water source.  There were no Laundromats in the Dominican Republic.  Twenty years ago we witnessed women washing their laundry in the countryside streams and rivers.  Dominicans today do their laundry in buckets and pots in their home.  The affluent send their laundry out to “laundry women” who scrub their clothes and hang them on outside lines to dry.  While in Luperon, I had my laundry sent out once, the rest of the time I did it myself like the locals, in a bucket on the aft deck of my boat, then hung on the life lines to dry.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that there is an unspoken Etiquette in all Laundromats, probably universal I suspect, and one that bears being told.

  1. Never wash your laundry on the weekends. The weekends are for people who work for a living and have no time to wash during the week. A Laundromat, wherever you may roam, is always busy on the weekends and it’s best for all, if you just stay out.
  2. Children are never supervised in the Laundromat, so relax and let it go. Learn to enjoy them as they scream and run around like banshees. Bring a dog, if you have one, for their amusement and a smart phone to take lots of pictures.
  3. Detergents matter. What can I say? People scrutinize the detergent you use and if you carry around detergent packaged in plastic pouches (like I do to save storage space on the boat), forget about it. People don’t want you throwing plastic in their machines and will tell you so with no restraint or hesitation.
  4. There is always a hierarchy in the Laundromat with a complicated ranking system issued it seems, by the degree of regularity, the products used, and the ability to commandeer as many carts as you need. Always respect the hierarchy.
  5. Keep in mind that a certain level of judgement always exists in a Laundromat. Your status can and will be noticed if you bring your own washing supplies and increase even further if your supplies expand beyond laundry detergent. Why? Two reasons:
  1. It shows others you have the means of obtaining additional laundry supplies and
  2. It shows others that you have an understanding of how to enhance your laundry experience.
  1. Laundry carts are a form of social currency. They provide temporary space you can claim as your own. You can store and transport your clothes without worry. Use them graciously.

One final Laundromat tale (yes, I think I could write a book on this subject). Laundromats are, or can be, agents of Social Change. As a practicing counselor and humanist, I learned a long time ago that to engage people, you go to where the people are.  The Laundromat Project in New York City, based in Harlem, is an example of this philosophy.  The project supports artists to create new community engaged work based in Laundromats, a place where people are going to be and have the time to collaborate.  Some of their projects have included renaming streets based on personal and social history, transforming Laundromats into yoga studios, or English speaking classrooms, or studios for making music and creating mixed tapes.  In South Africa, at the Rinse, Spin and Read Laundromat, adults read to and teach children of all ages how to read, all the while doing their wash.  Brilliant!

Thanks for reading. You can follow us on Facebook at Shelley Sanford Davis and all of our pictures on Instagram @shelleysdavis.