Saturday, July 16, 2016

Lessons and Impressions In The Life of Cruising

Before we embark on the telling of tales and sharing of pictures about the Caymans, we would like to share a story, a series of events that happened to us; at first challenging, then rewarding.

So often the dreams of cruising couples and the wish to sail and explore are brought to an abrupt end for a variety of reasons:
 * One or both, realize the sailing life is not meant for them.
 * Frustration with the vessel and all it takes to keep one floating and all 
    systems operating.
 * Health issues or Injury
We have met cruisers that have come up against all of these obstacles and we have absorbed their thoughts and lessons, helping us become wiser cruisers. We are grateful.

The Series of Events 

KABOOM!  Time passes. Perhaps an hour or two. 
KABOOM! Time passes. Maybe more or less than an hour. 
KABOOM! And so it goes, on and on. 
The kind of repercussions that reverberate through your chest.
The KABOOMS continued - every day - all day well into the evening - over the long 4th of July weekend 2013.

We are docked in Fairhope, Alabama readying Leap for crossing the Gulf of Mexico. 
Charlie is working in the engine compartment replacing the injector pump. Something that was not on the list of things to do; until the Perkins diesel decided it would have us do one more thing before departing. 
The engine compartment is under the companionway stairs; meaning the boat is torn apart. Tools are everywhere on the galley and nav station counters, as well as the cabin floor. The engine work space is cramped; a back wrenching, knuckle breaking, gremlin hiding, grousing space. Needless to say the aggravation quotient has kicked in.

I am in pain. For two days I have been lying on the main saloon settee with an ice pack strapped to my lower back. Moving and helping is not possible, as I can barely stand and the pain is so severe it brings on nausea. I cannot even get Charlie a beer to drown his woes.

Just prior to the holiday weekend as I was stepping off the boat onto the dock; one of the dock boards gave way sending me crashing down onto the dock, landing on my tailbone. No one heard me call out for help. Not many people were around during the week. The boat next to us was closed up because they were running their air conditioning, so they could not hear me. It was near the end of the business day and Charlie was out running errands. I laid on the dock for almost an hour.  I could not stand up, the pain was excruciating.

Charlie returned and somehow he managed to get me back onboard. I could only crawl. The following day I was not any better, so off to the doctor we went. Fearing a major injury we were relieved to find I had not broken anything. Ice packs, rest and short walks, as soon as I am able, were advised. 

Karen resting. KABOOM!

Charlie, wrench in hand bent over the engine in tight quarters. KABOOM!

Karen startled; curses the pain

Charlie startled; curses bloody knuckles and bruised head.

What? - you ask - is going on? What is the KABOOM? 

A cannon! A celebratory firing of the cannon! Incessant - random - firing of the cannon!

Mind you the repercussion is exponentially increased, as the marina is nestled in a valley and the water becomes an amplifier. 

Day two, Charlie exclaims, " I am going to go find out what is going on and see if I can get that group to ease up on the cannon firing."

Charlie talks to the fellow that owns the cannon. He has no intention of easing up. 
Charlie asks if he would yell - Fire in the Hole - before he fires the cannon. 

The fellow says - he sets off firecrackers before he fires the cannon - So we should listen for the firecrackers and then we will know the cannon is next.

Charlie says, " No - you don't always set off firecrackers."

To which there was a "tough shit" shrug and statement, "Sometimes I forget!"  

Nothing is resolved and the cannon firings continue.  What started on Thursday evening 
continues all through the long weekend ending on Monday evening! 
We keep wondering, when will this guy run out of gunpowder?!

It is a few days before I can walk around, but I eventually get to see the "Cannon Guy". No words exchanged, but the face is imprinted in my brain.

Charlie got the engine running and I recovered slowly but surely. Little did we know then, that we would go through more frustrating events in the months to come. Fortunately not major injuries, but mechanical problems, and our bout with Mother Nature's Lightening. We persevered and now here we are, heading to new cruising grounds and looking forward to the adventures in the Eastern Caribbean.

Georgetown West End Grand Cayman

Cruise ships come in nearly every day of the week. Droves of tourists disembark for a few hours to enjoy what the island has to offer. When we ask the locals whether the cruise ship business is good for the island, we receive a non-committal shrug and various comments along the theme; Some days good, some days bad. 

Like every cruise ship port we have been in so far; there is an over-abundance of beach bar restaurants. Shuttle van services vie for business to haul tourists from one attraction to the next. Then of course there are the blocks and blocks of duty free shops selling the same items from port to port. How many name brand items does one need? We are flabbergasted at the numbers of shoppers slogging up and down the street buying from these shops. One wonders how any of the businesses survive as the competition is fierce for the tourist dollar.

One of the comical tourist attractions is the Amphi-bus rides pictured below listing a tad to port.

Amphi-bus along side the ubiquitous tourist attraction; Pirate Ship ride!

Pulling out for drop off and pick up of next load of tourists.

Warning. Sunset picture ahead.

Weather is on the way bringing winds that are not conducive to staying in West End.
We are moving into North Sound and Barcadere Marina. 

We were rounding the northwest corner of Grand Cayman when we spotted a classic sailboat not far ahead that seemed to be heading for the reef entrance to North Sound. We hailed the boat on the VHF radio asking, if that was indeed where he was headed, and if he had been through the reef before? He said yes, he was headed to the channel but no, he had not been through the reef before and then asked the same of us. He also asked if we had charts; which we did. He did not have a chart of the entrance, so he opted to follow us through the reef.  There was some confusion as another person chimed in on the radio with instructions and the classic sailboat took a different entrance through the reef. We both were headed to Barcadere Marina. 

The Classic Sailboat - a beautiful Hinckley Bermuda 40

We arrived in the marina first, secured our dock lines and kept watch for the other boat. Not long after, he entered the marina and motored up to his assigned slip, which was across from ours. We were going to help with dock lines, but at the last moment the fellow decided he should go to the fuel dock and top off his fuel tanks before tying up in the slip. He turned his boat around; smiling and waving, calling out to us that he would be right back.

I looked at the face, the smile, and turned to Charlie saying, "That's the guy! 
The SOB with the cannon!" 
Charlie says, "Nah." 
I say, "Yes it is. I can tell by that shit-eating grin."  

Are we about to be re-united with the Alabama Cannon guy? It has been 2 1/2 years since we have seen him. We help with his dock lines and visit briefly introducing each other, but say nothing of the cannon. His name is Carl. It seems he does not recognize us, so we let the moment pass. We see the home port on his transom - Fairhope AL - this surely is the guy! We also notice; there is not a cannon on the foredeck.

Carl Rents A Car

It is a ceaseless requirement. A new port means one can sometimes get parts, sometimes get repairs, and so; one goes shopping. In Grand Cayman taxis are outrageous, so Carl rented a car.

Carl offers us a ride to the parts store. Charlie goes along and becomes Carl's navigator.
Carl perseveres in learning to drive on the left side, his mantra - "wheel in the ditch." Driving a US car with steering wheel on the left, rather than a UK car with steering wheel on the right, allows this mantra to work. Apparently renting a right hand drive car to an American is more than the Caymanians want to deal with. Congestion caused by car accidents makes their already over-crowded streets impassable for long lengths of time.
Carl also learns to navigate roundabouts with the help of Charlie, in what seems to US drivers as backwards; driving around in the opposite direction. Carl and Charlie go on several outings the first few days. Carl still does not know, we know, he is "the cannon guy" .

It is during one of these trips that Charlie lets the cat out of the bag through a back door.

Charlie writes:
Karen is convinced Carl is the "cannon guy", so I set out to verify this assertion.  Now asking straight out would be a very short conversation, so I elect a more subtle approach. 
On one of our parts runs, I proceed to tell Carl a bit of our story; particularly about our time in Alabama. We talk about the Demopolis boat yard and mutual friends there. I tell him about our river trip down the Tombigbee River and our marina stay in Fairhope at Eastern Shore Marina. 

Carl goes wild - we know about his home! We are becoming good buddies as we discuss all the things I know about his stomping grounds. An obvious relief settles over Carl now that there is someone who can relate to his history. He is proud of Fairhope and his connection to the place is enormous. 

Then we begin to discuss the time frame of our visit to Fairhope and the things we experienced while there. 
I relay the story about this guy with a cannon, who kept firing it incessantly over the 4th of July. I purposely sounded only a little aggravated, like I was looking for some sympathy, like he might share the same aggravation. But no. The silly shit-eating grin began to engulf his countenance. The recounting of the conversation I had with the cannoneer widened the grin even further, to a breaking point, I may add. 

Carl could no longer contain himself and proclaimed "I remember you. Our little conversation only heightened my resolve and enjoyment". 

There was an additional remark about a ....."Yankee trying to instruct a Southerner, about proper conduct, which didn't set well at the time."

We both laughed. The story and history of the cannon would fill multiple hours of conversations over the following months of our new formed bond. Who would have ever thought a cannon could be a bonding agent? But it was. 

Karen continues:

After the truth revealing outing, Carl apologized to me for "disturbing my recovery".  We three became fast friends. Carl is kind and generous with a self-deprecating sense of humor and his shit-eating grin was contagious. It is cathartic to laugh at yourself. 

Carl pictured with a cannon we spotted on Cayman Brac. 

Birds-eye view of the Gloriamaris berthed in Barcadere. Photo taken by Carl with his drone.

In between our - adventures with Carl - we have the never-ending list of maintenance and repair, cleaning and provisioning on the Gloriamaris before the owners arrive. One set is coming for Christmas, and another set after New Years. 

Christmas Tree time

We are off to do some exploring before the owners arrive. Circumnavigate Grand Cayman visiting a few anchorages and checking out dive spots.

 Stingray City - for those that want an up close and personal encounter with a stingray.
Located on a sandbar in North Sound, the stingrays have become acclimated to humans. This association started decades ago when fisherman off loaded the scraps from their catches. The stingrays came to associate boats with food. In the 1980's divers started hand feeding the stingrays and now these docile creatures are visited daily by boat loads of tourists. It is impressive to watch the stingrays interact with the tour guides and visitors. However, it can also be so overcrowded with tourists, as to not be enjoyable. 

Rum Point

Time for afternoon refreshment.

Christmas Day view at Starfish Point

First batch of owners have returned home. Now we do laundry, clean and re-provision for the next owners. In the meantime.....

An outing with Carl to Hell, Grand Cayman


The terrain in Hell is jagged, sharp and wretched looking. So why not create a tourist stop by embracing the concept of Hell, complete with tourist trap gift shops.....

..........and setting up a legitimate post office so tourists can get their mail stamped with a postmark from Hell.

Next stop lunch at  Macabuca Restaurant. The two bonded cannon bums on the right.

Thanks to Carl, who has met a local fellow, Bert, we have been invited to a local New Years Eve beach party.

Happy New Year - Fireworks West End Grand Cayman

L to R, Charlie, Karen, Carl, Bert. Photo taken by Bert's wife, Rose - a Wisconsinite

Carl and his drone


Karen and Charlie - photo by Rose

New Years Day outing. 

Bert cleaning conch. Bert being the local, can harvest conch. Yay, Conch ceviche coming up!
Carl cleaning conch
Charlie cleaning conch


Bert preparing Caymanian Conch Ceviche. Delectable!

The gang L to R - 
Bert, his wife Rose, Karen, fellow cruiser - Margrit, Carl, Heinz - Margrit's husband, and Charlie

Bert showing us a turtle

Cleaning the mold off before releasing the turtle

The Cayman Islands was known for its turtles. In the days of yore these islands were an essential stopover for turtle hunting, feeding Columbus and crew as well as numerous other pirates.
Turtle hunting is no longer allowed here. All turtle meat sold is farm-raised on Grand Cayman.

Bert wanted to treat us to a turtle dinner, specifically his homemade stewed turtle with plantains, sweet potatoes and rice. We were hesitant, as we both love turtles and could not imagine eating one. We do not like to offend the locals when a generous offer is put forth, so we agreed. 

The dinner day arrives. Bert and Rose show up with pots brimming with fabulous smelling food.
Bert has been working on this meal for days. 
Sequence of events:
Order turtle meat. Choices are - in the shell, out of the shell, or out of the shell and cleaned. Bert orders out of the shell but wants to clean and prep the meat himself.

Pick up your turtle meat order from the turtle farm store.

Clean your turtle meat and prep for cooking. This takes hours. The meat is also ground.

Cook long and slow with secret spices, stirring often. Bert says cooking for 20 hours is not unusual and that rushing the cooking makes for tough tasteless turtle stew. 

Bert 's stew was savory, tender and delicious. 

Bert with his turtle stew. 

Owners arrive and we are off to work. Sailing, fishing, diving and in general having a great time.
The last three days we have just the two sons with us. The parents opted to have some quiet time at one of the beach hotels for their last two nights on the island. 

As we are cruising along Charlie spots something. At first he thinks it is something on his glasses, so he wipes them off. Again, he spots something and slowly he realizes it is the water spout from a whale. Pilot whales had been seen a couple of weeks prior. So we think that is what we are seeing. 
Charlie calls out asking the boys if they want to get in the water. There is the briefest moment of hesitation before we hear, "Yes!" The boys suit up and grab their camera.
Charlie navigates the boat closer to the whale. I am trying to get photos and video of the excitement.

The whale has just surfaced to have a look at us.

The boys have a GoPro and Stenson was able to get this picture below.

The whale is as long as the boat making him approximately 50 ft long.
The boys swim towards the whale take pictures and video then retreat. This back and forth goes on for 20 minutes. Eventually the whale gets too close and the boys get back onboard.
We all are very excited. That evening when we go ashore for wifi we do some research.
This is not a pilot whale but a sperm whale! 

We also put a post on FB which started a discussion with knowledgeable acquaintance of ours, Craig Lewis.

Craig sent us this picture of a beached sperm whale. Check out those chompers!
Apparently the teeth are 5 to 6 inches tall.

Cayman Brac - the cliffs on the east end of the island.

Cayman Brac's only anchorage. Only comfortable when calm, as it is unprotected.

The lighthouse on the east end

Our friend Michael,  readying his drone for a photo shoot

L -R Charlie, Brian - another friend, and Michael checking out his options for photgraphing the cliffs with the drone.

Beautiful day

L - R    Brian, Karen, Charlie, Michael

The three pictures below of coral was taken atop Cayman Brac near the lighthouse. The elevation here is approximately 150 ft . The islands rose from the sea or the sea receded, which is it? Need to do some research.

Cayman Brac has several caves which have been used by locals for hurricane shelters.


Agave - prolific here on the island

High cotton, or silk cotton, as the locals call it. 

Someone was being creative - a previous beachcomber making a statement.
We see shoes at sea. There are some people that have vowed to never buy another pair of flip flops because, they can just walk the beach and pick up a pair. They may not match exactly but close is good enough.

Beach condo

Bamboo root

Walking the southeast beach. Carl in the distance.

Charlie and Karen documenting yet more plastic. Not shown is the plastic imbedded in the cliff faces.

Another cave stop

The House on the Rock - Cayman Brac style

And just down the road is .....

You too can buy a rock and build a house. Carl checking it out.

L - R Michael, Charlie, Karen, Carl, Brian. Dinner aboard the boat after a day of exploring.

Weather moving in. Cayman Brac does not have a good anchorage. So off to Little Cayman we go.

Little Cayman

The anchorage Little Cayman - Gloriamaris on the right and Carl's on our left.

Different view of the anchorage - Carl's boat on left, Gloriamaris on right

The posts in the distance mark the channel entrance through the reef. Very narrow.

There was a small shark feeding in this shallow bay. But alas, I could not get a picture.

So very happy we have screens on the boat portholes and companionway.

Hermit crab

One of the owners of the Gloriamaris gifted us with a fascinating book. 
Spirals In Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells by Helen Scales, a marine biologist.
A fascinating read. The section on hermit crabs is delightful. 
The book also tells the story of the shell, Gloriamaris - Glory of the Sea; at one time the most valuable shell.

This place appeared eerily apocalyptic. The trees were demolished in a hurricane.

Sign on the porch of the general store. Seems an appropriate end to this post.