The Treachery of Images

What is the purpose of an image? We come into this world naked with our eyes wide open. We can hear but we cannot speak. We begin to absorb “understanding” like a sponge within the framework of images.

In 1929 the French surrealist Rene Magritte painted “The Treachery of Images”. It is more commonly known as the “The Pipe” painting. It is a simple painting of a tobacco pipe with the words, in French, “this is not a pipe.” Of course, its not a pipe, it’s a painting. Just a bunch of oily pigments on a piece of canvas arranged in a particular order which deceives the brain into thinking about a tobacco pipe. It may trigger associations with particular smells, of people we know or have seen. Strangers from books and movies spring to mind – Sherlock Holmes! Old men in overstuffed chairs sitting in a swirl of pungent smoke, or a cartoon character with anchor tattoos on his arms may also spring to mind. It depends on your own past experiences or expectations. Isn’t that the treachery of images?

All this came to mind as I read a NY Times article about the rapid development of “facial recognition” (the fancy high tech term for “Yeah, I know that guy”). That development has morphed into the ability of computers to literally “paint” perfectly looking photo quality faces, completely from scratch. The face is completely inhuman in the sense that it is not a photo of any one on earth but it is impossible to discern that. We may wonder who the Mona Lisa really was but know she is just pigments on canvas. Photo people with animation? Photo people in locations, surroundings and with real people? The treachery is real.




Our good friend Paul Gauguin painted this when we were in the Bahamas

The amazing thing with “photo people” is that they can be manipulated, simply by turning a dial. Turn the attractiveness dial slightly and the woman’s features change slightly. Maybe she becomes more or less attractive. Turn the gender dial and she looks a little less “feminine”. Turn it more and a she becomes a he. Dials for, ethnicity, age, weight, etc. are easily manipulated as well. This is not all that is new, photo filters did the same but they start with a real person. But technology marches on, ever blurring the line between what is real and what we imagine. And what we imagine starts with what we see.

Uses for such abilities abound. Models may be replaced by “photo people” who need not get paid. Your Facebook persona and your face can be whatever you desire. In this time of masks, what can go wrong? Ah! But Bill, what has this got to do with Kalunamoo and living and sail aboard in the Caribbean? Good question.

It has been almost a year since we have been back in the States to hug family and friends. Notice that I did not say “see”. We have seen and talked to them frequently. The clever machines that empower us to do this proliferate exponentially (some family members, however disappointing, refuse to participate!). And so I start to wonder about the treachery of images.

We are here in Antigua. You can trust me. Just check my IP address (or am I using a VPN?) The photos that are digitally taken record actual scenes. Or do they?  What filters were used to enhance the photo from paradise to Paradise? How much color saturation would you like with the photo of the sunset (or sunrise?). That water is crystal clear, but only if I use a polarizing filter. The adage that I learned back in the 60’s was don’t trust anyone over 30 (we were in our 20’s). Maybe that should be changed to don’t trust anyone who has been pixelized. As Jack Par always said, “I kid you not”, these are my thoughts when we start relying on those clever machines for long distance relations.

The Salty Dawg Rally boats have arrived with almost 100 cruisers some of whom we met before. None of them are pixilated, especially in their bathing suits. Other cruisers we know sailed in from other islands as the hurricane season has wound down. The pandemic certainly affected travel but the desire to gather together is hard to put aside. Six feet apart and masks are not onerous.

Hopefully we will be able to fly up to New York soon, but in no case later than next March, for my Dad’s 100 birthday! My dad was eight years old when Magritte painted The Treachery of Images. Its hard to imagine that time when photos were black and white and the world, recovered from WWI was on the road to even more disruption, chaos and calamities. The images didn’t need to be manipulated to see what was and separations could not be bridged by clever machines.

We will remain in Antigua indefinitely, enjoying the islands beauty and pleasures until a time we can sail on. Thanksgiving is this week. Our turkey dinner with other cruisers is planned but our mental images, un-pixilated, will be with those we miss the most. Those clever machines will bridge the separation.  

Dad turns 100 next March and memories of mom will always remain.

Good-bye, Hello, Welcome Back

“I guess you’re glad to leave St. Lucia”. So said a cruiser friend after reading the last blog. After all, we were in St. Lucia for 8 months. Well yes, we were antsy to have a change of scenery. After all, the idea cruising on a sailboat is to keep moving.

Saying that, however, we don’t have the desire to sail around the world, which we have the capability to do. We know and met many cruisers who have done just that. They either take a year, or many, continent hoping. They either sell their boat when finished, pull into a port and become liveaboards, or go back to work. We met one Canadian couple in Trinidad who left Canada 20 years ago, sailed west, and the boat has not returned yet. They have spent some time back home between voyaging legs. Many cruisers that we met here moved on to either Europe, or the Pacific on their never-ending voyages. Others seem to like just moving quickly and to take in as much of the earth as possible. And some did the temperate and tropical circuit and are now sailing the poles. That is definitely not our idea, but I guess some people really like the cold. In our travels we met many who did all of this.

For us it’s a mixed bag. For the last few years, living on a boat and traveling in the Caribbean became our niche. A few days here a few weeks there, a month in a port, a few months on an island and you start to fit into the rhythm of Caribbean island life. You become semi-local, with the capability of moving when the time seems right. Locals begin to recognize you and you learn the ins and outs of island life. The market ladies, the yard workers, the marina guards, the ladies in the office, taxi drivers, shop owners the checkout clerks, they become part of the community of cruisers we meet from all parts of the world. Think of Rick’s Place in Casablanca without the war.  

So, were we glad to leave St. Lucia? We now know more locals and cruisers based in St Lucia and so our community expanded. It is always a little sad to leave friends, but we are sure we will cross paths with some of them again. All of this does not substitute for our family back on land. That’s what airplanes are for.

The pandemic, however, has put an indefinite crimp in traveling. In order to enter most islands you need a covid19 PCR test before your arrival. The problem is this is all new to everyone and so regulations and procedures are constantly revised. We did get a PCR test in St Lucia at the Polyclinic ($100/pp) in order to enter Antigua. There was some confusion as to how to get the results, but we did get them within 48 hours. We like to sail in the most advantage weather window so that had to be coordinated with the test. We got the results too late to clear customs and so we lost a day but finally did leave on Friday. It took less than 31 hours non-stop to Antigua; a good sail with no squalls and moderate seas.

We are always concerned about the boat on a long passage after months of non-sailing. The old adage, use or loose it, applies. Things deteriorate and fall apart more from non-use then with use. We always have stuff break or fail on first voyages and this one was no different. The top mainsail batten seemed to rip its pocket and flew out with the wind. I noticed it but since it is not critical for the one-day sail, we could wait to get to port to get it repaired. The second problem was when we rolled in the jib, the

halyard took a wrap around the foil and this can cause it to jam. The result is either a damaged foil or being unable to fully roll in the jib.

Both issues were not as serious as I thought. After we anchored in St. John’s Antigua I, inspected both. The batten didn’t pop out but was somehow twisted. I still have to figure that one out. Maybe the vang was to tight and didn’t keep the leach of the reefed sail tight enough. The jib halyard may have been too loose allowing it to warp the foil. After going up the mast, all looked good but the halyard was somewhat slack. Always something!

We had to come to St. John’s to clear in. We pre-advised our arrival with the “esailclear” system and as instructed, called in 6 hours before arrival via VHF radio. We were told that English Harbor was not set up yet with the Health Department to allow clearing in there despite the announcement that they were. The fact of the matter is, all these regulations and directives are new, never implemented before and change frequently. It seems that the actual procedures were never established clearly and the personnel carrying them out have no authority to act independently.

We diverted our course from English Harbor to St. John, adding a few hours to the voyage and anchored around noon on Saturday. We lowered the dinghy and went to the customs dock to check in. Multiple health forms were filled out, body temperature’s checked, PCR test reports handed in, all seemed to be in order. Except the person who had the authority to sign off on all this left for the day!

Awaiting Customs, Immigration and Port Authority

It was after all, Saturday, and he had to go to the airport and to Jolly Harbor, blah, blah blah… Maureen was a little more annoyed than I was and complained about the inefficiency of it all. Welcome to the Islands mon! Back to the boat to await the return of the authority on Sunday, 10AM, to sign off the papers.

Sunday, 10AM at the customs dock, 2 other boats had to check in before us. The Canadian boat was here for 3 days trying to check in. After sailing direct from Canada for 15 days, the Health people insisted they had to quarantine for another 14 days! A few Facebook posts, calls to the Tourist Office and with pleading they finally got the ok to check in. After they checked in, we were allowed to enter the building and eventually paid our $15 to enter Antigua with no quarantine. It was almost noon. We sailed to Jolly Harbor for the night.

Lunch in Jolly Harbor

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out over the next months. Jolly Harbor looks dead. A number of restaurants have closed, probably permanently. The boat yard is full of boats on the hard. Maurice and Valentina, owners of The Crow’s Nest, doesn’t know how long they can hang on if tourists don’t start showing up. All hope is on the new season but as it looks now, it doesn’t look too hopeful.  

Crow’s Nest owner Maurice

The next day we sailed over to Falmouth to meet the Salty Dawg Rally boats coming down from the U.S. About 40 boats are expected starting the end of this week. The Antigua cruising community is forming, we already know 4 other cruisers here, three of them still in quarantine. How long will we be here? Hard to tell, but I’m sure we’ll be asked, “Aren’t you glad you finally sailed from Antigua?”      


Time to Sail

In a few days Kalunamoo will commence voyage 11 when we weigh anchor and head for Antigua. It’s been a while since we sailed. Eight months in St Lucia! Our cruising life turned into a retirement life here due to the pandemic.

Clouds, and Rain for 5 days

Just a short recap of how we spent our summer. We arrived in St. Lucia on March 2 for some engine work. That was for a new oil cooler which was completed on the 24th at which time the islands started shutting down due to the arrival of the covid-19 virus. All tourists started to vacate the island and the airports were closed to arrivals. To fly off the island some embassies arranged repatriation flights back to various countries. Some cruisers laid up their boat in whatever island they were stuck at and chartered private aircraft to get back home. Others sailed back to the states. Nationals of the islands started their trek back home. World-wide, cruise ships, empty of passengers, anchored. Airlines grounded most of their aircraft. The local inter-island airline here went bankrupt. The islands had various restrictions as to who they would let in or stay. Trinidad was the most restrictive and still does not allow non-nationals in. That left sailing to Trinidad, which we would have done, a non-starter. Many cruisers headed for Grenada, knowing they would be quarantined for two weeks at anchor. We decided to stay in St. Lucia.

New oil cooler above the white filter

St. Lucia, population about 165,000, has had about 70 cases since the start. It has one of the lowest rates in the Caribbean. Restrictions over the summer, included closed airports, a complete lock down for a week, masks, social distancing, testing and tracing kept the island secure with no deaths. However, the last few weeks have seen an uptick after weeks of no new cases. The Health Minister noted that people with mild cases have ignored restrictions and contributed to community spread. Illegal island hopping may also be a factor. The three French Islands didn’t (couldn’t) restrict visitors from EU and now they seem to be paying the price as cases there have been high. It seems the world will be facing an up-hill fight this winter. 

We spent our time mostly in the marina, although we did anchor for some of the time. Flights to the States slowly resumed late in August but restrictions on both ends including quarantine made travel very difficult. The hurricane season cooperated (the major reason why it is the off season) as there were no storms here at all. Actually, if it weren’t for the pandemic, sailing here in the “hurricane season” is not as dangerous as advertised. The trade winds and seas are calmer so in many ways the weather is better than in the winter.

For us, daily life has been slow although the time goes by fast. Video calls to family and friends kept us in touch as the marina has good internet. Socially, we got to know a few other cruisers and locals with weekly dominoes or lunches, swimming in the bay and Netflix at night. All in all, a low key life-style.

Since the hurricane season is winding down, the tourists are being lured back (all islands need the money) and we can sail to other islands. A few days ago we left the marina and anchored in the bay to get Kalunamoo ready to sail. We’ll head to Antigua, about a 32-hour non-stop sail, when a good weather window opens. Since we left the marina it has been overcast with heavy squalls (saw no Halloween full moon!). This extensive system has stretched west slowly and is now tropical storm Eta west of here. It is not often that we get 5 days of clouds and rain but at least it is not cold!  No threat to us but possible could affect Florida and the Bahamas late next week. Before that, the skies will clear here and a good window to go north should open.  Besides a change of scenery, we will be able to sail to various anchorages and ports in Antigua even if the virus keeps us on one island. In addition, about 40 Salty Dawg Rally boats will arrive from the States about mid-November. We will be able to meet some new cruisers (at a social distance)!

At present we need a covid-19 PCR test before entry. That test cost $100/person here and will be good for 7 days before arrival in Antigua. Hopefully, Antigua doesn’t change their restrictions before we arrive. Those restrictions change daily and so we don’t expect to make long range plans other than to go to Antigua.

Silver Lining or Storm Clouds?

After that, the whole season is questionable, especially for the islands. As mentioned above, they rely on tourists for a major part of their income. They survived the early end of the last season and weathered the off-season without a hurricane. Will they survive the new season with fewer tourists? Few cruise ships will sail, and resorts are under restrictions. And of course, back in the U.S. besides the pandemic, the political scene will change (or maybe not?). Our votes were sent by FedEx so we did our part. As the whole world watches, only time will tell how all this will all play out. Voyage 11 will commence soon!

When Leaves Turn Red

There is an old people’s legend of why leaves on trees turn red in the fall. This is that legend. (Above photo by Dave Marshall, Adirondacks, New York)

In the earlier years, the leaves on the trees did not turn colors when the air became cooler and then colder. They remained green as they were when first sprung from the shoots of new sprigs. But as the winter came upon the land, the people gathered together and would need heavier coverings to keep the cold winds out. The snows would soon follow, down from the north, and covered their villages in a white blanket that warmed no one. The sun would shine less and be as cold as the moon. Crops and animals, both of which the people relied upon, would soon hide in the earth.

The people needed to keep warm and the animal skins and coverings were not enough. They needed their fires to burn longer and hotter both day and night to keep the winter cold away.

This they did and set out each day gathering the wood from the trees to feed the fires in their hearths. They did this every time the winter, the snows, the cold winds came. The trees saw this and took pity on the people by offering their branches and wood. The wood burned bright and warm all during the cold winters. In the spring and summer the trees grew taller and replaced what the people used in the winter. The people respected the trees of the forest for their kindness and sacrifice and protected them from any harm. They vowed only to use the wood that was needed to keep them warm.

Carol Gaiman, Kenoza Lake, New York

But as time went on the people became more plentiful. They needed more and more wood to keep warm, cook their food and light the night. They used more wood to build their shelters, and for stuff that kept them amused. They used wood for many things; rafts to cross lakes and oceans, bridges to span rivers and spears to make war. This alarmed the trees and also the animals that depended on the forest for their own lives. They feared that a time would come when there would be no more trees, no more forests as they would all be burned to warm and to satisfy the people. And so, the trees talked among themselves and asked the great sky maker to guide and help them. The great sky maker talked to the trees and said you need to talk to the people. They will understand what you need. Of course, the trees don’t have the same language as people and so they didn’t know how to do so.

Then one day a tree noticed a newborn baby cradled by her mother. There was much love being shown between the mother and the little one as she nursed and cared for her. Trees can sense that better than people. The tree thought that if the mother could love and protect her little one so much, she could love and protect the trees as well. If only the trees could tell her what they needed.

At another time, the little one started to cry. She was hungry and needed her mother’s milk. The mother was busy with her planting work and so did not come at once. The little one continued to cry and soon her face was changing color. It became red like the setting sun and her crying voice carried over the fields. The mother soon heard the cries and saw the crimson face of her daughter and quickly lifted her to her breast and gave her the food that she needed.

Mark Hoenke, Crystal Mountain Michigan

The tree knew it could not cry out in any voice the people could hear, but they could turn red. Their leaves can cry out to the people that they need the love and protection as much as the newborn.

And so, each fall, when the cold winds start to blow, and the sun sinks low in the sky and before the first snow flies the trees give out a cry. Their leaves turn crimson or yellow or purple or any color other than green. They are talking to the people to respect their forests and not to burn it down in their hearths and use it to destruction. Many people have learned this long ago and yet the trees still cry out.

The old people’s legend continues today as we hear the trees speak. They let the forest prosper and head south. Those picturesque photos of the turning colors in the forest are a plea and a reminder. So, take heed all of you who feel for the earth, the signs are there, even if we cannot hear the voices. Time to head south, save the trees.

We, of course, have not been north in the winter for many years. Here in the islands the winter rains keep the vegetation and trees lush and green, and the air never turns cold. Our friends and family send pictures of the changing colors which brings back pleasant memories of the changing seasons. People will drive south, and cruisers will be heading south in a few weeks; we will meet many when they arrive. I’m sure they are unaware that their actions have been passed down from their ancestor’s understanding and compassion When Leaves Turn Red.

Between Voyages

We are between voyages and remain in St. Lucia. The pandemic continues in most countries as travel restrictions remain or evolve almost day by day. Here in St. Lucia, no new cases in over 3 weeks, no current infections, and the island itself has the lowest cases per 100,000 population of all the Caribbean islands. They did a great job controlling it and even began to allow tourists to come to some resorts after they undergo testing and restricted travel. Soon it will be the start of the new tourist season so we’ll see how that goes. Our Sunday Dominoes and some touring keeps us busy between video zooms, books and NetFlix.

The Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Castries, St Lucia
Mexican train Dominoes

When we were in Trinidad for the season one of the reasons to fly back to New York was for routine doctor checkups. Since we were here, Maureen did schedule a dermatologist checkup for us and a cardiac doctor for herself. The cardiac doctor, in conjunction to a call that Maureen made to her doctor in New York, did some tests and medicine checkups and all is well. The dermatologist exam was very thorough and found 3 spots on me. She recommended that the two on my scalp be removed by a surgeon. That was done at Tapion Hospital and we are awaiting the biopsy report and don’t expect it will be too serious. All in all, the medical system looks sufficient and capable. What I noticed in the few doctors we saw was in their offices. They didn’t have the “staff” (assistants, secretaries, billers, etc) that are found in our NY doctor’s offices. However, considering how the country is controlling the pandemic, there is nothing to complain about.

The other major reason why we are “between voyages” is the hurricane season, or more specifically to avoid hurricanes. I did a post awhile back, Where Will My Hurricanes Be, part of which was also published in the Caribbean Compass, a Caribbean monthly newspaper. A bit of an update, now that we are in the peak of the season.  

Ok, it Is definitely an active “season”. As of today there is a storm over Bermuda, a storm heading to New Orleans, a few storms heading across the Atlantic and a brewing weather system that will come off Africa. NOAA originally predicted 13-19 named storms back in May. In August they upped it to 19-25 (7-11 hurricanes 3-6 major hurricanes). The Eastern Caribbean already have had 3 named storms, no hurricanes, of the 19 named storms so far this season. The last time there were over 20 storms was in 2005 with 28 storms. If there is any consolation, only 2 tropical storms and one hurricane crossed the Lesser Antilles that year: in the St Vincent and Grenada area. So far this season only three of the 19 named storms have crossed the Eastern Caribbean. But as they say past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Fingers crossed for the rest of the season.

2005 Storm Tracks
Surface Forecast 4 days from now

This is our first time in the “Hurricane Box” and so we are mindful of the possibilities. So far so good. In any case Rodney Bay Marina seems to be a good place to ride out any storms that come this way. In a larger sense, the fear of being here in the hurricane season may seem a little bit out of proportion. Yes, the danger exists but there are ways to deal with it, not the least of which is to sail away from the storm. The weather at this time of the year is notably different than in the “winter”. The Trade winds are down, no northerly swells, the water temperature is about 5 degrees higher, less crowded islands – it’s the off season – air temperature is also about 5 degrees higher (still with breezes but not as strong). Humidity is about the same year-round. Squalls don’t seem to be anymore prevalent than at other times, although they are usually heavier and the island looks greener. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, cruising among the islands might be more enjoyable than in the “winter”.

In a few weeks, we plan to haul the boat here for some bottom paint and prepare for our next voyage. Of course, it all depends on the pandemic restrictions but hopefully we can find an opportunity to fly north for some over-due visits. In the meantime, our in-between voyages became our Retired-in-Paradise time until Cruising-in-Paradise resumes.

Ferrogosto

Today is Ferrogosto. I always thought it meant Fiery Hot mid-August Day. But no, it actually started out as a non-religious holiday on August 1 in what could be considered the original Labor Day. Emperor Augustus, 2000 years ago, gave the day off to the farm laborers after the long planting season and before the harvest. Christianity eventually moved it to August 15 to coincide with their holiday. Today it is a public holiday in Italy and Ferrogosto marks the height of the Italian vacation season when many businesses close. Years ago, when I worked for the Italian shipping company Costa, I was amazed at how all of Italy seemed to close for two weeks which turned out to be more like all of August. I think the Italians took pre and post vacations. Of course, now with the pandemic, who could tell the difference?

Well, since today is August 15 I should mark the day with an extra shot of rhum and rest extra hard. I’m   exhausted after months of thinking of activities to keep active when being active was discouraged. It is not hard to come to the realization that 2020 has not been kind to anyone that had things to do or places to sail to. It made many forgo work or school. No one could go to restaurants, weddings, or even funerals. Airplanes didn’t fly and the ports were closed. Forget going to a movie, seeing a ball game or visiting your friends. Your neighbors might have moved to the moon for all you knew. For all I knew our cruiser friends sailed to Australia, or could have, since they were long gone. It was vacation time for everyone but without the joy, activities and sometimes money to accompany it. So how do you celebrate a day of rest when all you were allowed to do for the last 6 months is rest?

My way will declare that August 15, 12 noon will be the end of voyage #10 for Kalunamoo. I was waiting to end this voyage in Trinidad when hauled and put on the hard. It seems doubtful that will happen anytime soon. Voyage #10 began at 10AM, Oct 15 2019, when we launched from Power Boats boatyard in Trinidad. Voyage ten took Kalunamoo and us from Trinidad to Bequia, Antigua, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique and St. Lucia. Engine repairs, sail repairs, and other minor delays slowed us down and kept us in ports for extended time before the pandemic. A total of 695 nautical miles over 10 months! The voyage metrics will be entered into the logbook now that voyage 10 is finalized. Wow, was that a slow voyage or what! Since we are still in St. Lucia, we will reset the clock and commence voyage #11 when we depart St. Lucia. When will that be? I have no idea as travel restrictions still apply and the hurricane season is here.

The peak of the hurricane season starts now and extends for the next 30-45 days. As of today, there has been 11 named storms in the Atlantic, only two of which crossed the Eastern Caribbean islands near here with minimal impact anywhere. They were not hurricanes and were poorly formed; both storms had storm winds north of the center and very light winds south of their centers. One passed between Grenada and Trinidad and the other north of Martinique. But there is little incentive to move around, especially if you are in a good protected harbor as we are. Cruisers do sail around during the hurricane season, but it may be a bit like playing musical chairs. When the music stops, or the hurricane arrives, you hope there is an empty chair, port, to go to.

This is also the height of the “off season” on the islands. Few tourists are around which might make for great cruising opportunities but many things are closed. But mainly the pandemic’s restrictions have mostly quashed moving country to country. We are in the Caribbean bubble, and have wrist bands to prove it, so it is somewhat easier but we are now between voyages and “resting up”. This is a time for doctor’s appointments and taking stock of what is needed for the next voyage. A short haul for some bottom paint and cosmetic repairs would be great sometime between now and November.

We rented a car for a few days to get around. It was a small red car (see the blog entry about The Little Red Car Tour in Guadeloupe!). I needed to see a doctor for some skins issues and Maureen will get a medical checkup next week. We also drove down to the coast to the Pitons at Soufriere. It is not far mileage wise but takes over 2 hours without stopping as it is nothing but a twisting mountain road with steep hills. St. Lucia is the island with spikes for hills and mountains. Interesting drive but I would not want to commute.

The Little Red Car

As mentioned above, between the pandemic and “off season” there were very few “visitors” on the road. When we rolled into Soufriere we were greeted by independent tour guides eager to make some money giving directions or tours. Flies attracted to honey? Yes, we moved on. We’ve been there, done that, and we were just out for a drive. Unfortunately, many restaurants were closed there so we drove back to Rodney Bay to our favorite Indian restaurant. There are actually some sail charterers arriving here and some resorts are opening so there is some activity starting. The virus is basically not here, but all eyes are on the arrivals! As mentioned above the marina distributed blue wrist bands to us to identify that we are “nearly locals” and not to be confused with recently arrived visitors of questionable health! Masks, however, are still required in public.

Wear a Mask!
The Pitons

Voyage #11 should take us to the U.S. Virgin Islands after the hurricane season and hopefully we will be able to catch a flight up to New York to see family and friends. That is yet to be proved, so we plan one voyage at a time and take advantage of favorable conditions when they arrive. For the rest of today, we will chill out and enjoy Ferrogusto!

The Mystery

Everybody is worrying about where they’re going to go
When the whole thing’s done
But no one knows for certain and so it’s all the same to me
I think I’ll just let the mystery be.

-Iris DeMent

Our good friend, Bob asked if cruisers should cruise to the Caribbean or stay home next season. Bob is on the Salty Dawg Rally team and he is their Port Captain for Antigua. Since the pandemic has affected the entire world, the same question could be asked more generally. Sally Erdle, publisher of the Caribbean Compass monthly asks how to entice cruisers back to the Caribbean. Ironically, if there is any place not affected, maybe that would be the last place cruisers would be allowed in.

However, cruisers will cruise, and the Caribbean is an ideal place to do so. Specifically, the Eastern Caribbean. The islands are a unique bubble; far enough to sail for a good “blue water” adventure yet close enough to easily get back home if needed. The weather is ideal if you enjoy summer beach days. The only thing cold here is the ice cream. And beer. And rhum drinks. Even the people are warm and friendly! The constant Trade Winds keep everything light and breezy. And there is enough besides the beaches to keep you occupied for days, weeks or years.  

I needn’t duplicate the islands’ tourist brochures or post pictures that are absolutely stunning as they would do a far better job than me. But I will comment on what I mentioned above: the bubble.

Inside the bubble, time moves at it’s own pace. Yes, island time is a real artifact. Cruisers usually encounter that the first time they clear into Customs/Immigration/Port Authorities on arrival. Once the initial adjustments are made and accounted for most cruisers realize that time is relative. You’re in the bubble. It contains all the elements you would expect of a tropical paradise and rarely fails to please the adventurous.

The bubble, however, is not like Disney World or a big amusement park. These islands are not manmade pseudo-replicas of reality unless you are in an all-inclusive resort. And if you are, why did you cruise here? Maybe it’s just me, but the islands’ natural beauty and landscapes are not enhanced by these large resorts. However, the fact of the matter is that they are inevitable.

They are inevitable because the bubble is not self-sufficient. The last time they were, if ever, was before Columbus “discovered” them. The Amerindians didn’t have resorts to accommodate visitors and it took over 400 years and a very tumultuous history to arrive at the present status. I highly recommend looking into that history to really appreciate today’s bubble.

Today, the islands rely on tourism and services for 70-80% of their economy. Trinidad is the only outlier. Besides an economy about 20 times the size of the other islands, services in Trinidad only accounts for 43% of their economy with tourism a small part of that. This translates into islands that need to open their arms as wide as possible to welcome visitors and yet keep the islands looking like “the islands”.

Then the pandemic came. Yes, the cases that were here obviously came from outside the bubble. As elsewhere, the fear of being overwhelmed forced a lockdown and barriers to enter. They have been successful as the virus did not overwhelm the islands, mainly because the tourist trade ceased, and they took social distancing, masks, lockdowns and curfews seriously. The timing of the virus’s arrival was nearly optimum. As the owner of Spice of India here in St Lucia told us, it came just as the season was winding down. The real test of survival will come in a few months.      

So the mystery is how will they accept tourists but not the virus they may bring? The islands are in a better position to control that then most other tourist destinations. Could Paris, New York, a small town in Italy really control it’s visitors? Grenada did a good job allowing cruisers in but required a quarantine. That system could not work for the general tourist season. Quick reliable testing at point of entry seems like the main way that could be done. That, or until vaccines that might arrive early next year are universally available, seems like a viable system.

Will that be the way these islands open? I think it may unless the mystery is solved some other way. Relying on good luck to stop the spread doesn’t work. There will be a great desire and demand to escape the restrictions of the last 5 months by everyone. The inducement to come may lie in demonstrating how safe it will be. Everyone is hoping that the bubble doesn’t burst.  

For now, I will just have to let the mystery be.

First Wave, Second Wave, Third Wave, Go!

Anyone who has spent time at an ocean beach knows that the big waves come in groups, or wave trains. Five is usually the number that seems about right. I learned that empirical fact in my early teen years every Sunday at the Riis Park ocean beach in Queens, NY. That was important since I loved to body surf. I also learned my capabilities of surfing, absent board or floatation device, and how to avoid the tumble in the curl or the bottom scraping in the shells that accompanies a less then perfect ride.

When young and inexperienced, I took the first big wave that came along. This gives a fair ride, as there will be enough water after the curl to keep you off the bottom and a fair run up to the berm. I told myself to keep the arms out front, keep the body flat and as stiff as possible. The hands act as forward foils and skid pads. That was important, to keep my chest from looking like the back of a just recently flogged pirate. I would also be out of the water when the following bigger waves roll in.

As my confidence grew along with my height and weight, the techniques were similar, but I waited for the bigger waves of the train. Third or fourth waves were the ones to watch for. The later waves might face the reflected backwash off the beach, especially if the berm is high on a steep winter beach. You can’t get a good run with that. The middle wave seemed to offer the best ride. The preceding troughs were getting deep. The height of the curl seemed to jump up. The timing of the launch was critical. The out-wash from the previous wave would try to suck you into the oncoming wall of water so you didn’t want to launch against the strong current. But you couldn’t wait too long and have the wave pass over you. Final launch included a last arm sweep to the side of your body. Head first, your feet and hands trimming like pectoral fins. Body trim was important. A slight concave body form will help. Don’t get too much of a down angle as you will surely tumble, maybe even hit bottom and end up with a head full of sand and shells. You may pop up just in time for the next wave to crash on top of you. Hopefully there is time to take a breath. But if all goes well you land high on the summer berm in inches of water, with little sand in your mouth. You look back, out to the ocean, just as the last wave of this train arrives and smile. Other body surfers may have missed their launch, tumbled or bailed out, but the sand in your suit was a testament of a ride well done.


“Watch for the second wave”. Or maybe the third. How different that means from the time when I was a young teen. The world is on lookout for the pandemic’s second wave. Are they ready to get in position for that ride to the beach? No, not everyone will ride it. Many on the beach will not even get their suits wet. Some of those in the water may tumble and bottom out. Some may not even catch that their breach after they get rolled. Most will make it up to the berm, even with the scars on their chest.

Here in St. Lucia, which is turning out to be our summer residents, the waves are calm. The first waves of the pandemic receded, no doubt due to the early on lock down and social distancing procedures of the country. How did we live with ten days of total closure? On even more days of no alcohol sales? Well, our rum locker was full and we do carry enough food to last weeks, even if that means granola bars and soup. No problem getting toilet paper! For a short time, we couldn’t go swimming by dinghy. The beaches were closed (I have a thing about “closed beaches”. Nobody can literally close a beach. Unless, of course, they drain the ocean or dig-up and haul the sand away. But what would be left? No, you can’t “close a beach”. You can, however, bar people from going there).

But it been almost four months now and most things are essentially open. We went with Narvin and Debra (Liferafts and Inflatables) to the Saturday market in Castries which is open. The local produce, meat and fish were plentiful but absent were the stands of t-shirts and souvenirs. No need to display those as there were no tourists to be seen. We noted that less than half the people had masks on. Since the island hasn’t had any known cases in weeks everyone feels confident that the wave has passed. However, last week the first “outsiders”, i.e. tourists arrived by plane from Miami and there are more to follow. They are “holed up” in all inclusive resorts and under “quarantine” in the resort. I suppose that is better than from where they came from, but the locals have taken note.

Debra (we are getting our life raft re-certified), advised us to move around the island now before the tourists start to arrive. All are concerned with a second wave that could arrive with the visitors. There will be restrictions and protocols and certainly the country will monitor the situation but will this be the next pandemic wave arriving on these shores?

Eyes looking to the States will not find any solace in how a powerful first world country deals with this situation. Well, maybe they do see a lesson in how “doing your own thing” sometimes is not a great idea. The first wave still seems to be racing across the country, even in the warmth of the summer. One can only imagine what the fall will bring. Open-air restaurants and outdoor activities seem to be recommended to limit the air-born spread of the virus. That’s easy to accomplish in places like this, but in cooler weather it is definitely going to be a problem. Schools and work spaces will definitely be a problem that must be solved.

I sit here thinking of the waves hoping that we learn the best way to ride and survive them. Many CARICOM (Caribbean Community) islands formed a “bubble” that will allow freer travel between islands and coordinated responses to help deal with any new waves that arrive on their shores. They hope the bubble will not burst and visitors will return. The big test will be in the fall when the season really resumes. Will anyone tumble, roll or bottom out? Will some pop up and catch a breath while others get pounded again and not be so lucky? There are worse things than getting sand in our bathing suits. We are all in the same water and we all must learn the way of the waves.

For now, the islands are almost devoid of their seasonal visitors. Dare I say that they are in their “natural” state? The beauty is still here, only the visitors are missing. Cruisers that have not sailed away have found their hurricane holes for their boats. They are now scrambling to find transportation off the islands for themselves. As much as it may seem like a more “natural” state, the addiction to the visitors cannot be erased. No doubt they will return, must return, for the islands to resume their economic survival. For the next month or two the islands will take a breather but the waves of visitors will surely arrive.

St. Lucia For Now

It’s the second half of June. Normally we would be in Trinidad by now and Kalunamoo would be ready to be hauled and put on the hard. We would take that opportunity to do some M&R, especially things that needed to be done when the boat is out of the water. We would also fly back to the States to visit family and friends, visit our favorite doctors, and get reacquainted to the hustle and bustle of big city life. Kalunamoo could be worked on by workers without our interference. We don’t have a problem living aboard even when the boat is on the hard so overall that works out just fine. There is a small community of cruisers and locals that we have come to know there so it’s not like our social life ceases. Actually, it is just as active as when we are sailing.

Of course, this year it’s a little different since the pandemic has “’locked down” much of the world. Even though a very small percentage of the world’s population has been stricken, the stealth, unknowns, lack of treatments or cures, lead most countries to be very cautious in letting the virus spread. That is understandable. It is also understandable that people’s empathy for others is not unlimited.

As of now, only a very few island countries have allowed cruisers like ourselves to enter. Most airports are closed to passenger flights and most seaports are closed to boats like ours. The two countries that many cruisers in this part of the world usually head for to avoid hurricanes or do their annual M&R is Grenada and Trinidad. Grenada is not really out of the hurricane belt but in the last few years has successfully encouraged cruisers to make Grenada their “hurricane hole”. Encouraging tourism is very important for them and so they opened their border, only for cruisers a few weeks ago, subject to a 14-day quarantine and testing. They actually organized a good system specifically to handle cruisers which will pay off in attract future business. Commercial flights in and out will resume in a few weeks (as of now).

Trinidad, on the other hand, still has closed boarders for all and it looks like it might be late July before cruisers will be accepted in. Trinidad is still our preferred destination (plan A) for a number of reasons despite their lack of concern for their marina and cruiser business. At this time, we will wait here in St. Lucia (plan B). St. Lucia itself has closed borders but internally there are few restrictions or problems staying here. At present we are at anchor and could go back to the marina if a hurricane comes this way or if we just want to be on the dock again.

We could have sailed back to the U.S. (plan C) but that would not have solved the pandemic! In other words, leaving the East Caribbean would be a decision by itself and not based on the pandemic. We will eventually return with Kalunamoo but just not yet. But the future, as we all know, is written in sand. Well see what the next wave brings.

Life aboard is quieter as there are not many cruisers around. We have come to know a few but the “social distancing” has impacted happy hours! Maureen has joined the resumed Ladies Friday Luncheon and we’ll see how long that will continue. Our daily routines have not altered that much except that sailing and moving the boat around is severely curtailed. We have much more time to read and watch videos.

Just as no man is an island, no island is a complete world. We still believe Trinidad will open but in the meantime we will remain here indefinitely. Flying out when any airport opens is questionable and flying back is even more uncertain. Eventually the whole world will have to learn to live with this virus and adjust accordingly. In the meantime, Zoom, Facetime, video messages, and email are still pandemic free and, for now, keeps us connected.  

On the Hook

Three months alongside at Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia came to an end. The dock lines were thrown off and we made our way out of the lagoon, down the channel to the wide bay and dropped the hook in the clear warm waters of Rodney Bay. It was good to get underway again, even if only for a short time. The weather was fine and the fair winds made the journey all that was to be expected. Twenty minutes after leaving the dock we were securely anchored. A new view and new neighbors, although there are only a few boats out here.

On the way to the bay!

No doubt we are getting old. Time seems to fly by. Three months seemed like a few days. Difficult to remember exactly what we did during that time. Read a number of books, saw many YouTube videos, watched Netflix and Amazon, went swimming, did some M&R, ordered take out, saw fellow cruisers from 6 feet away, video chatted with family and friends and tracked the spread of a pandemic in real time. And watched the news from around the world.

Deja Vue all over again. Wasn’t it about 60 years ago we watched rockets blast off into space while demonstrators marched in our cities? Street fires blazed and riot police filled the TV screen. Only now we watch it on computers and telephones. How far have we progressed? Our inhumanity remains, only the space suits look better.

So, we set the hook in the rocky bottom of the bay. It looks well set so I don’t foresee Kalunamoo  wandering off in the middle of the night. We can still go ashore for provisions and takeout. More restaurants are opening with limited seating. The pandemic still looms hidden while our masked faces shield us from an uncertain fate. The fact that the stealthy virus can spread undetected and that most people will not be unduly affected really tests our ability to show empathy to those we don’t know. Protocols are followed lest we become the bearers of other people’s misfortune, or maybe, even our own. The rewards of virtue go unrewarded, but as my dad told me years ago, virtue is its own reward. The hook secures us to the seabed, tethered, if you will, to a world that shrugs at our plight.

Places are Opening!

That hook is no match to tempests that brew over the horizon. The last blog laid out the recent history of hurricanes in this area. It may have had much more information that you wanted! But much like the virus, only a small percentage of all the inhabitants may be affected. But what precautions and what arrangements are made by all! I suppose that is because there is a history that goes back to before recorded history. It takes a lot of repeating to get humans to really learn the lessons of life.

We will seek out a safe harbor before such a tempest comes forth. The marina here actually welcomes  boats back seeking shelter if a storm targets the island. Rodney Bay Marina is well protected in the lagoon with new floating and fixed docks so it could be a good place to stay if a hurricane does come.

We still plan to go to Trinidad, eventually, but they are being very conservative in opening their boarders to outsiders. Unlike the other islands down here, Trinidad has a much larger population, about 10 times as large as East Caribbean Islands, and doesn’t rely on tourists for foreign income. Most boats going to Trinidad, in fact, do so not because they are “tourists” but because of the marine facilities and services provided. I expect that by the end of June we should be there. Hopefully, air flights would resume sometime in July. In any case, the question of the future path of the pandemic is really an unknown so we will just have to wait and see.

Ready for underwater gardening

Sitting in a marina or even sitting on the hook for extended periods of time (measured in weeks) allows marine growth to really take hold on the under-water body of the boat. Even with anti-foul bottom paint, sitting still turns the bottom into a marine farm. At anchor, weekly wiping down the bottom keeps it clean (just like mowing the lawn except you do it underwater). When in the marina, I generally don’t like to get into the water. Besides the questionable water quality, it is usually not very clear so that visibility is very limited. After 3 months in the marina I could only imagine what the bottom looked like. On the way to anchor you could tell by boat speed that there was substantial growth. I was surprised when I dove on it at anchor that it wasn’t as bad as I imagined. The propeller did grow oysters and there were big barnacle patches, but I’ve seen worse. A thin grass line at the water line was the only grass. A month in Falmouth Harbor, Antigua produced more growth. Well, a few days of exercise and the bottom will be good to go. Literally.

In the meanwhile, the breezes at anchor temper the increasingly warmer air. The sun has been north of here for almost a month now, not to retreat south until the middle of August. That means we had to shift our sunshades to the port side of the boat. With wind always out of the east, the boat faces east at anchor. The sun, May to August therefore transits the sky to the north of us on our port side. Life returns to life on the hook.