Sunday, October 8, 2017

Forbidden Fruit

Petit Piton in the morning
While our friends and so many other Cruisers are gathered further south in Grenada for Hurricane season, Bruce and I have strayed from the pack. This is not new for us. In fact, we seldom run with the pack… not because we don’t like the pack… But because we like our alone time and because we like to decide for ourselves about where to go and when to go there.

The decision to stop in St. Vincent was one of those decisions. We do know a few Cruisers who have stopped on the Island which is home to Kingston, the capital of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but more of them have decided to skip this island and clear into the country of SVG in Bequia or one of the other islands further south. The reason for the boycott is that there was a violent crime perpetrated against a Cruiser and it has never been resolved to the satisfaction of the majority of Cruisers. The second reason regards safety. We have pondered these two subjects long and hard and have come up with our own path. I hope that those who disagree with out decisions can keep it to themselves.

Bruce and I see it this way. If we intend to boycott every country that has allowed a criminal to go unpunished… the United States would be at the top of that list. With news of yet another act of domestic terrorism and so much violent gun crime going on in our own Country… With governmental chaos and a careless disregard for common decency becoming more the norm than not… Who are we to pass judgement upon the Countries we visit? Furthermore, how fair is it to the majority of the peaceful, gentle and delightful people living here that we pass them by because of something over which they had no control? Our pack is withholding tourist dollars from people who truly need them and to that we say, those who are without sin, cast the first stone… 

As for the safety aspect… well…. It looks as if the entire island chain is no better or worse than another - with a few notable exceptions. Those islands we will not visit. So. Without further ado… we take a bite of the Forbidden Fruit - St. Vincent.

We missed our target departure time by about 45 minutes due to a passing squall. At least we HOPED it was passing! The forecast called for light winds with decreasing seas as the tradewinds were being suppressed by the actions of storms far to our north. We were thankful for a forecast that would require us to motorsail as long as we didn’t have to bash between islands… I had my travel food prepared and even Jezabelle seemed resigned if not eager to get on the road once the rain let up.

Fishermen already hard at work at the base of Gros Piton
We unceremoniously slipped our mooring line and raised sail as we left the waters of St. Lucia for who knows how long. The passage was uneventful in the extreme… we made water and counted ourselves lucky to get such an easy passage. Until near the end…

Pretty flat at the beginning...

Down comes St. Lucia... Well loved

As always happens with these islands… The winds and waves pick up considerably near the northern end of the island. We saw a gradual increase in both wind speed and wave height. The waves were still manageable, mostly… Every now and then one would almost round us up and the autopilot had to work hard. We quickly trimmed the sails to relieve some of the pressure and our ride smoothed out once more.  

We were headed for an entry point some 2-3 miles off the northern tip of the island in hopes that the waves would be more organised. I have no idea if this plan works, but it has gotten us into the lee of the islands with only a hour or so of the most extreme sailing conditions of the day each time. Suddenly everything calms down as if the brouhaha never happened and we find ourselves motorsailing serenely on calm seas with the stunning landscape of our new island home rolling out before us.  

And the island of St. Vincent did not disappoint! The summit of the volcano, Soufriere not surprisingly…, was visible as we came alongside her. Her lush green slopes were lined with alternating ridges and ravines and we saw one deep gorge that spilled out at the water’s edge that must have been a lava flow… There were steep cliffs with patches of tall palm trees, their spiky leaves making a funny and very distinctive pattern on the hillsides. Misty clouds nestled in the valleys between peaks like something out of a movie…. but no movie set could match this place.

We made it! Now all we have to do is find a spot to anchor briefly in the bay near Chateaubelair long enough to clear Customs and Immigration… then jet off to one of the more desirable anchorages. And by desirable I mean reportedly more safe.  

The flow from some long past volcanic action.

A closer look at the tent village on shore

We dropped sails and had everything tidied up by the time we approached the black sandy shores. A considerable swell was running up behind us and whooshing up onto the beaches where skinny little kids played in the surf. The slope is very steep here on these volcanic islands… We came quite close to the beach before depths began to drop enough for us to consider dropping anchor.


Chateaubelair Dock
We motored over near the town dock which was reported to have a spot with shallow enough depths for temporary anchorage… but we noticed that people on shore were waving us away. They waved and pointed wildly to the opposite side of the bay… 

As we turned to motor off in that direction, a boy on a board came out and paddled furiously toward us. He said that the holding was bad here and with the violent swells, it wasn’t safe. We followed him over to the northern part of the bay and paid him gladly for the advice. This area was much less rolly than where we had been.

While we were choosing a spot to drop anchor, I heard someone hail us on VHF 16. I answered and spent the next five minutes in a discussion with Boy Boy, who had been watching our approach and subsequent choice of anchorage. He advised us that overnight this spot will become treacherous, but agreed that for just the time it would take us to clear in, we should be fine. I agreed to meet him ashore and purchase some of his bananas, then begged of to continue with getting the boat anchored securely in about 26 ft with a sandy bottom. Yes, there were still some swells reaching us here, but it wasn’t nearly as bad, so we felt good enough about this spot.

It took us a while to drop the dinghy, and by the time we reached the dock it was after 3 pm. Customs and Immigration charge overtime for anything after noon on Saturdays and all day Sundays and holidays. There was just no way we could avoid the overage fee… I just hoped the officers were not too upset with us making them work during their supposed time off. 

We approached the badly damaged dock and found the friendly face of Boy Boy… and about half a dozen skinny lads all trying to help us tie up. Boy Boy took charge and gave me a hand up as I climbed from the lunging dinghy to the dubious safety of the crumbling concrete dock. Hurricane damage was obvious and the dock was almost unusable!

You can barely see the "customs" sign  ahead on the fence

With all the attention and reports that Chateaubelair wasn’t the safest of towns… we decided that Bruce would remain with the dinghy. Boy Boy and I set off toward the beach and made a right turn toward customs. There was some confusion between Boy Boy and myself in regards to another man who seemed to insist on leading the way to customs. They argued between themselves and I asked if there was a problem. Boy Boy seemed somewhat cowed by the other man and told me he would go back and wait with Bruce. I told him I would pay him for the Bananas when I was done with clearing in. He still seemed nervous but agreed. 

I go down there???
I turned off down the black sand pathway and the man led me down an alley. There were alarms going off in my head and that little voice saying “Girl, what do you think you’re doing going off down a seedy looking alleyway following a large scruffy dude?” 

But the rest of me was just following the signs and waiting patiently while that man, and a woman who poked her head out of the window of the building across the narrow alley, called someone to come downstairs and clear me in. The woman asked if I was the captain of the boat and smiled when I told her yes. (no haters… thats what they call me even though I do not have a Captain’s License like many of you)

Looks official... right?
Anyway… a new man appeared inside the tiny window beneath the sign reading “Customs”… and the man I followed here melted away. The Customs process was friendly and after the initial greeting, became very informal and relaxed. We talked and joked and I asked questions about safety and things to do, to which he replied honestly. He did say that there was the one incident in which a death had occurred and that it has gone unpunished… but he was forthcoming with advice on how to be as safe as possible and seemed genuinely concerned for the safety of tourists to his Country. 

Go to the room down there to fill out the forms....  Prisonesque?
There was some doubt about clearing with Immigration as the officer was not there… but finally a phone call got through to him and he came right down. The Customs officer left me alone and I had a similar conversation with Christopher from Immigration… He even gave me his phone number! To call him if I wanted to arrange a tour… Seems everyone wants that cut for bring a tour customer… Eventually I was done… There was an extra fee, but it wasn’t that bad.

To Freedom! But still... very neat and clean.
I turned to backtrack out the seedy alley and found Boy Boy waiting for me. He was concerned that people would see me with money and warned that we should never show money to the locals. I had already thought of that and had his money in my pocket. I gave it to him and we walked out onto the beach toward the dock. Boy Boy was full of advice and warnings and I thought I would never escape his friendly ministrations… But it was clouding up and it was already 4 pm! I needed to GO if we were going to make it to our next anchorage before dark! 

I waited patiently while he wrote his name and phone number on a paper for me… if I come back to St. Vincent I promised to call him for a tour… Then I deflected that other dude who wanted money for helping me… No. I deflected the half dozen skinny boys who wanted handouts or money… NO! We’ve got to GO!

I collected Bruce and the dinghy and we jumped in… I had to stretch a hand with a tip to the boy who helped us as the swell sucked the dinghy out into the bay! His eager fingers grasping the 10 EC note just as we drifted out of reach… He seemed happy with it and they all waved and big smiles were the last image of what had been a surreal experience like none other I’ve ever had… And then the rain began to fall…

Rain off in the next valley heading this way!
We could see it coming as it obscured the next mountain away. We could hear it coming as the drops met the water sounding an approaching whisper that grew to a roar! The waves flattened as we sped as fast as our little outboard would go. We fended off not one…but two would-be sellers of some unknown thing. Guess we will never know what was inside those buckets. Maybe we don’t WANT to know! Both boys turned back with disappointment clear on their faces. 

We tied the dinghy onto the stern and leapt to our stations… I don’t think we’ve ever left an anchorage as fast as we got out of there. I think at this time both of us were wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into. 

It was raining and we were motoring into an unknown anchorage where the guide book advised anchoring and backing to tie ashore to a tree… 

And it was after 4:30. I was motoring slowly in hopes that the rain would stop and because we were dragging the dinghy with the motor down… thanks to our hasty exit.

Bruce madly untangling the long line for stern-to-shore tie... in the rain!
Our spirits rose a bit with the lifting of the clouds… We were able to see where we were going and was surrounded by hills and mountains with clouds nestled in the valleys. Even with a grey sky this island is beautiful! 

Cumberland is a tiny town that caters to Cruisers if you can believe the guide book. It is reportedly safer than Chateaubelair and it is NOT the town in which the infamous murder occurred. We motored into the deep water bay and looked expectantly for the promised multitude of boat boys. Guess they don’t work in the rain! There were exactly NONE!

There were two other sailboats aft tied to shore on the southern side of the basin, but the book said the north side was more shallow. With the absence of help to tie ashore, we did our usual circles to check depths and found a spot in about 20 ft very near shore where we could swing into depths from 9 ft to about 50!!! It was getting dark so it would have to do! We went through our anchoring routine and were just finished setting it… when a lone man in a little wooden boat began paddling toward us from the shore! 

The One And Only Wesley!
His big smile turned on the sunshine in our minds and pushed our thoughts back from the abyss. With the growing shadows, I suggested we sit tight here for the night, then get some help repositioning and tying to shore in the morning. The man said it wasn’t safe and convinced us to re-anchor then and there with his assistance. As tired and freaked out as we were… we acquiesced.

And it was fine. We had the anchor repositioned in about 55 ft then backed toward a broken-down old dock structure that had been destroyed in some hurricane or other. The man, The One And Only Wesley… quickly tied us up and returned to give us his welcome speech! His customer service skills were finely honed and we felt our angst and fears melt away with the confident tone of his voice. His can-do attitude held back this third world country to give our American-ness the time we needed to adjust… It felt comfortable again. We were settled and it all turned to “adventure” once again. 

Wesley left us with a promise to return in the morning bringing us a basket of goodies and to see if we needed anything. He told us of a Cricket Match going on in the new park the next day, and that for a donation to Dominica Relief, we could get in to see the match.

We relaxed on the aft deck with much needed sundowners and talked about our day. Bruce admitted that back in Chateaubelair while he waited on the dock for me to return from Customs and Immigration… the time drug on so that he began to be afraid for me. He wondered how long he should wait until he came looking for me. He started trying to formulate a plan and wondered what he would do if… Well, it all worked out. Boy Boy would have helped him. And nothing happened!

I never felt afraid, but I will admit that the place was a lot more seedy than I ever would have thought for an official government office… Maybe the Cruiser embargo has left them with little need for Customs offices on this island… The people looked so poor but still welcomed us with smiles and offers of help. They wanted to do something for us, not just get a handout. My heart opened wide to let these people in today… And I was glad we chose to taste the forbidden fruit…

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