February 2001: Heading South from Antigua
 
After a lovely visit with Lisa and Guild in their new home in Venice CA, we returned to Akka in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua and prepared to head south toward Trinidad and Carnival. We acquired two crew members: Suzie Jardine is English and just a bit younger than we are; you may recall the story about her losing her husband at sea. Danny Gertman is a 25 year old Israeli who is working his way around the world. In addition to youth and strength, he brings a desire and knack for cooking, including baking bread daily. Yum!

We also had acquired a used replacement handle for our outboard motor, so dinghy-ing is now much more reliable. There is still a residual mystery problem with the exact ratio of acceleration and choking, but we're working that out. Each time we open the outboard motor cover to check things, we find more of that wonderful soft sand from Barbuda. We think we'll have it for years.

We left Antigua around noon on February 3rd, bound for Martinique. The wind and waves came up, and we had a boisterous 27 hour trip. Both Danny and Suzie got seasick, a fate Andi avoided by using a Transderm Scop patch. Despite the seasickness, the trip was beautiful. In Martinique, we went to the capital of Fort de France and anchored right at the center of the city. Martinique is a 'department' of France, and looks and feels French, albeit with lots of Caribbean flavor.

Danny has an easygoing, winning personality, combined with a marked readiness to talk with strangers, even in French. The result is an amazing set of instant friends everywhere we go. Our first night in Fort de France, we walked into a bar for a beer. Danny turned to the couple alongside us, talked with them for about five minutes, and then announced to us that the couple had invited us to join them for dinner at an Israeli restaurant in town. That restaurant turned out to be closed, but the couple found us another restaurant and we had a wonderful evening with them, conversing in a combination of English and French.

Martinique seems more prosperous than Antigua, with much better roads, a bigger capital city with larger buildings, and fewer street vendors (and consequently more shops). We spent 3 days in Fort de France. We kept intending to move across the large harbor to the less urban, more resort-y Trois Islets, but never quite made it. Another contrast between Antigua and Martinique: From our anchorage in Falmouth Harbor, Antigua, we were awakened daily by roosters crowing, goats, dogs, and the occasional donkey. In Fort de France, the cathedral bells chime at 6 a.m. (and every quarter hour thereafter) and the fort itself broadcasts a trumpet reveille. Honking horns and the occasional car alarm complete the morning sounds.

We left Martinique late afternoon on the 7th, bound for St. Vincent. It had been drizzly until our departure, but the skies cleared and we had a fabulous beam reach in about 15 knots of wind. We soon realized that our time estimate for the passage, based on averaging 6 knots, was wildly wrong, because we were going almost 9 knots. (Former crew members will recognize this situation.) We proceeded to shorten sail to try to slow down, first changing from jib to staysail, then reefing the main once, then twice. We couldn't get Akka to go slower than 7 knots. So we proceeded under an almost full moon in 70 degree weather, exclaiming again and again how beautiful it was, and complimenting each other when we managed to slow the boat down. We passed St. Lucia and got to St. Vincent at about 3 a.m., then sailed into the lee of the island, finally slowing down enough to arrive at a harbor in the daylight.

St. Vincent is an incredibly rugged, rocky island whose population doesn't seem to be able to decide whether to try to extort our money or become our friends. The guy who rowed his boat out to meet us at dawn that morning offered to "tow us in." When we said no, we're OK, he rowed alongside us as we came into the bay and railed on, saying his "name is Death" and telling us to "Go back to Viet Nam." He pronounced "Death" as "Debt", so we at first had difficulty understanding what he was saying, but Danny understood his Creole accent and enlightened the rest of us.

In contrast, the people Danny and Rob met on shore when we went in to clear Immigration were extremely friendly, as were the police, who checked us into the country. The first young man we met on shore touched fists with us (the local handshake) and said "respect." We replied, "respect" and he seemed happy. Rob was glad that we had (as is his custom) dressed up to go into town, out of respect.

St. Vincent is renowned through the Caribbean for the quality of its ganja, so Danny asked a woman running a convenience store whether ganja is legal here. She vigorously denied this, saying you would "be taken away in handcuffs" if the police saw you smoking it. As she spoke, a man standing just outside her store was smoking a cone the size of a cigar. When we pointed this out to her, she said that he would run if the police arrived. Danny had asked her what the people here did for a living, and along with fishing she mentioned "working in the forest" as a principal occupation. After our conversation about smoking dope, she admitted that the forest work she had referred to was really the illicit culture of marijuana.

Since that conversation, we've seen people smoking dope on virtually every street corner. None of them appeared to be running from the police.

We think they hunt dolphins there, and sell the dried blubber and meat. They claim these are not dolphins, but "black fish", which are "bigger than dolphins". Maybe -- the people of the Grenadines are renowned for their whale hunting.

Next day, we attempted a climb of 4200-ft. La Soufriere, an active volcano. The "easy way" up is from the windward side, so we dinghied around the point from our anchorage to the village of Clare Valley, then rode a bus (actually a "collective taxi", which is really a van run by entrepreneurs) to Kingstown, the capital. Each additional passenger represents another $.30 US, so they pack people in like sardines, with everybody sitting partly on somebody else's lap. Then another packed van to Georgetown, where we hired a guide, Joel.

As it turned out, Joel didn't speak much English, but only Creole. He got along by repeating everything we asked.

"Why do they put bags around the bunches of bananas?"

"Dey put bag around dem banana before dey pick dem."

"Yes I know." We're looking at about a hundred bright blue bags around bunches of ripening bananas. "But why?"

"Dey put bag around dem banana."

"To protect against insects?"

"Ya."

On closer scrutiny, the bags are pierced with one-inch holes, but there is no point pursuing this line. Joel doesn't know why.

We knew that there was a road to the trailhead, so we asked Joel to get us a car ride. He responded by flagging down a van, which took us to a road that disappeared into a banana plantation. "How far to the trail?" we asked. "Turty minute," he replied, so off we took, gently but persistently upward, through huge stands of banana, plantain, and coconut trees. About an hour and a half later, bulging with ripe windfall bananas, we staggered into the turn-around at the end of the road.

"How long to the top?"

"Three hours. Steps." What did that mean? Six actual hours, or two? Steps all the way up the mountain? Who knew? So we (all but Suzie, whose bum knee was acting up) headed up the mountain.

The scenery was fantastic, as we trekked through rain forest, bamboo stands, valleys filled with huge ferns, and eventually high savannah. There were very informative signs along the way, describing the various flora and fauna, just like a nature walk. And there were steps -- thousands of them, it seemed.

We got to a place where the sign described the beautiful view of Georgetown and the Grenadines, but there was no view, only dense fog and cold wind. We had been on the trail for over two hours, and it was beginning to get late. We asked about more steps. "No more steps," Joel replied. "Just path straight up mountain." Recalling Into Thin Air, we decided that the prudent thing to do was to turn back.

We found Suzie safely where we had left her and returned down the plantation road, stopping to whack the ends off some coconuts with Danny's machete and drink the juice. And did we mention eating bananas?

We're off to the Grenadines, Grenada and Trinidad over the next few days.