Friends Afloat

We love sharing our somewhat strange lifestyle with friends.  While it’s clearly a vacation from their normal lives, it’s also a break from the cruising routine for us.  We were recently privileged to welcome Phil and Holly, our neighbors from Orient, NY aboard Neko.

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Orient comes to L’Orient

We had a lovely tour of St. Barths and a circumnavigation of St. Martin, experiencing both the Dutch and French sides of the island.  They were GENIUS to buy travel insurance because the week they first planned to visit we were pinned down in the lagoon due to extreme winds and squalls.  They were able to push their trip back a week and we were all blessed with clear sunny skies.  These two are the king and queen of chill, which makes them a pleasure to have as guests.  It was a joy to catch up with them and the goings on back east.

Next up were Dave and Eileen for a long weekend in the BVI’s.  Flexible travelers make the best cruising guests, and these two are masters at last minute bookings.  It was fantastic to give them a short respite from the long NYC winter and work grind.  We got in some spectacular snorkeling and sailing during their quick visit.  After 20+ years of knowing Dave we only  just learned about his obsession with coiling lines.  A trait that is always welcomed on Neko.  With both, it was of course always a party with great meals and good wine.

Along with the joy of land visitors we had reunions with long lost cruising pals.

We met Mike and Robin from s/v Mermaid back on the Pacific side of Mexico, we haven’t seen them since Panama 2014.  And of course our comrades Charlotte & James on m/y Pegasus can’t get rid of us 😉   What a treat to all be together again in St Martin.

And we were delighted to run into m/y Tropical Blend & s/v Symbiosis and spend a day exploring the island of Anegada together.

Our latest buddy boat is s/v Nightingale Tune. We’ve been together on and off all season and are so proud of them for adopting not 1 BUT 2 island dogs.  Fur friends are always welcome on Neko.

Finally, we were excited to catch up with Torben and Judy from s/v Tivoli.  They had just finished a transatlantic sail from the Canaries to the BVI’s and we were there to welcome them to their first landfall in three weeks.

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Tivoli arriving in Virgin Gorda looking fresh as daisies after 3 weeks transAtlantic crossing.

If you are a regular reader of our blog, you will see that Torben and Judy were with us for our first significant trip on Neko – sailing her from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  They taught us so much in that weeklong trip that we consider them our cruising godparents.  It was 4 years since we had last seen them, but the time melted away instantly into perfect camaraderie.

It is wonderful to catch up with friends old and new and to share our salt water life with them, even if it’s just for a short time.

Double Dutch

Saba and St. Eustatius, aka Statia, are two large rocks passing as islands in the Netherlands Antilles.  Sandwiched between St Martin & St. Kitts, many bypass these island because of their questionable and often times rolly anchorages, both of which have a decidedly “industrial” feel.  However, don’t judge a book by its cover should be the motto of these Dutch islands – and we would hate to see them not get their share of cruisers because of the marginal anchorages and homely surroundings that greet you. Sounds great doesn’t it 😉   But I (Mary) got a bee in my bonnet that we had to go to them because we’d read the scuba diving was some of the best in the Caribbean.   So we waited and waited and finally got calm weather to visit these Dutch delights and we are thankful we did.

oil barges Statia

oil barges Statia

The less than green side of Saba

The less than green side of Saba

OK landlubbers, the next couple paragraphs are for our fellow cruisers to help them enjoy a stop in these islands. You see, the anchorages are exposed to ocean swell that wraps around the island (remember they are essentially just rocks in the ocean) and can make boats at anchor or mooring roll gunwale to gunwale.  While we were at Statia we saw two monohulls come in only to spend one miserable night and leave at first light, not getting to explore the cute little island.  It doesn’t have to be like that.  We spent three days in Statia and another three in Saba and it was not bad at all.  You just have to RIG YOUR GROUND TACKLE TO PUT THE BOAT’S BOW INTO THE SWELL.

Neko the only cruising boat in the harbor

Neko the only cruising boat in Oranje Baai, Statia

There are two ways you can do this:  First, like us – put a bridle on your anchor.  It works just as well on the moorings in the harbor.  Put one line to the bow and another to the stern.  Adjust the lines so the wind catches you broadsides and the swell comes at your bow.  It makes for more windage but you should have ground tackle that can handle it.  The other method is to pick out a mooring and motor out in the direction the swell is coming from.  Drop your anchor and back down and the wind will push you seaward from the mooring.  Take a line from your stern to the mooring and adjust to hold your bow into the swell.  This method has the benefit of keeping you in this attitude even if the wind dies. But either way, COME ON PEOPLE, give it a try.  In Saba, you also have the option of going to another side of the island to avoid the swell.  It’s got anchorages and moorings on the west and south side, so you can pick the location with the least swell.

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statia-anchor

A little more work than just tossing the hook as we all are accustomed to, but it is worth it.  Both islands have excellent diving.  On Statia, we went on dives with Golden Rock Dive Center to two wreck sites.  One consisted of two trading ships that went down in the harbor in the 1700’s, leaving today only two giant anchors and a line of coral where the ships once lay.  The other could not have been more different.  The Chien Tong sunk in 2004 and is largely intact.  It was eery to swim in and around it and see how the ocean life is slowly taking it over.  We hiked up the picture perfect volcano cone – it looks like they could have filmed King Kong here.  We inspected the ruins of warehouses and offices and other dockside structures built in the 18th century when Statia was a leading trading island, hosting dozens of ships at a time in its rolly anchorage.  

On land, Statia offers a charming and sleepy town with historic fort, hikes and some of the most literate goats we’ve met.  These guys were hanging out on the steps to the library waiting for it to open.  

Goats waiting for the library to open. Reading or eating the books is the question.

To help you on your next appearance on Jeopardy (you’ll have to split your winnings with us), note that Statia’s was the first government to officially recognize the United States as an independent nation by firing a signal cannon to recognize a ship from the newly declared republic entering its harbor.  

Next stop Saba

Next stop Saba

The other nearby Dutch island is Saba.  We were there during one of the rare calm spells, so we didn’t have to employ any special anchoring techniques, but the diving on Saba was just as unique.  The water is clear as … well, water and the sea life abundant and not afraid of divers.  There were more living huge corals than we’d seen in a long time.  Ben and Kato at Saba Divers run a great shop, and are highly recommended.

Saba’s two main towns are called “Bottom” (its at the bottom of a hill) and “Windwardside” (its on the windward side of the island).  Saba’s pioneers were apparently very literal people, or perhaps they didn’t have time to dream up fanciful names for their towns.  But what the towns lack in naming creativity, they make up in abundance in cuteness.  Imagine winding little stone paths, with gingerbread cottages and knee high white picket fences.  There was even a tame neighborhood rabbit living in the well-tended cemetery.  The red roof ordinance was in effect here, as most of the buildings sported clean red roofs, lending the town an appealing uniformity.

Red roof ordinance

Red roof ordinance

Stone pathways lead you through the village.

Stone pathways lead you through the village.

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Luckily Sabans moved their customs house to the more easily accessible Fort Bay. Until the 1940s everyone and everything entered Saba up “The Ladder”.  Walking waist deep in the breaking waves, up 800 steep steps to the customs house perched high above the rough seas.  Royals, commoners, medicine, furniture, food, etc. all used this route.  Think about that next time you are complaining about the wait at customs and immigrations.

The Ladder consists of 800 steep stairs up to the old customs house. Until the 1940s everyone and everything entered Saba this way.

The Ladder consists of 800 steep stairs up to the old customs house.

The road up from the harbor is a twisty set of hair-raising switchbacks leaning over the cliff, with a tiny stone guard rail that wouldn’t stop a runaway ten speed.

The long and winding road.

The long and winding road.

Mrs. Lollipop, our cab driver said they were all safe drivers on the island, but when Mary pressed she would not confirm that no locals had a drink before setting out on the road.  Indeed, when she picked us up after our dinner, she popped out of a bar to hop in her car.  The drive down was safe and slow, though, as she told us about her kids all scattered across the islands and America.  It was just as well, because a big swell was due the next day which would make our location uncomfortable.  So we battened down the hatches and set off on a quick overnight trip to the British Virgin Islands, and our planned meetup with friends.

Going With The Pyroclastic Flow

Sometimes we have to remember to get off the boat for more than going to the grocery store or hunting boat parts. For me at least, if I don’t make the effort to find out what is unique about an island, time can just slip away obsessing over the boat “to do” list and waiting for weather windows.

Our recent stop in Montserrat was the perfect reminder of why we make the effort to travel at slow speeds to remote locations. You don’t go to Montserrat to idle away the time on your boat watching sunsets and fixing things – the anchorage is much too rolly for that. Perhaps it is old Neptune’s gentle kick in the ass to get off the boat and explore and meet the locals.

Our new pal who talked up a storm. We loved ever second.

Our new pal who talked up a storm. We loved ever second.

It’s a small island set off by itself with a marginal anchorage so it does not get a lot of boat traffic.  When we were there only a handful of other boats came and went.  But that is part of its charm.

Most of the islands in the Caribbean are volcanic in origin and several of them bear the scars of human suffering at the hands of the volcano. But none present the modern day tussle between man and mountain as does the beautiful green island of Montserrat.

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Perfect view of Soufrière from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory

The Soufrière Hills Volcano on Montserrat lurched back to life in 1995 after about 400 years of slumber, and continued to erupt on a periodic basis for the next 20 or so years.  It still rumbles and spews in its high redoubt.  No glowing basalt flowing down the sides like the dramatic ones in Hawaii, Soufrière brought showers of ash and pyroclastic flows of mud, rock and ash to the inhabitants of its capital town Plymouth.

Photo illustrating how high the ash and mud was. Just the top of St. Patrick’s church steeple peeking out with church buried below.

29 people are said to have died in the eruptions.  The volcano caused massive disruption among the populace, many of whom had to abandon their homes and take temporary shelter in schools, churches and wherever could be arranged.

All residents now live North of the red line.

“Temporary” stretched into years as the volcano refused to go back to sleep and the daily activity and commerce moved to Little Bay on the northern side of the island.  The island had 11,000 inhabitants before the eruption and only about 3,000 now.  Many fled the hardships of life on the island.

Local guide Joe Phillip

Joe Phillip is a lifelong resident of Montserrat.  He offers a tour of the areas devastated by the eruption accompanied by his story of surviving the aftermath.  Joe had a lovely house in the danger zone that he abandoned when the volcano erupted.  Realizing life in the shelters would be cheek by jowl with only a cot as personal space, he commandeered a classroom in an abandoned school and made it his home for two years.  He snuck back to his old home and brought back appliances to furnish his new quarters.

At a low point and about to leave the island, he made a commitment to his island home and decided to stay, despite perhaps disappointing his wife.  When he could he bought a small plot of land and built a new house.  Joe took us on an emotional tour through his old town and showed us his and his neighbors’ houses under a foot of ash and being reclaimed by the jungle.  It is only a matter of time before the jungle wipes this once-thriving little town completely away as if it never existed.

Soon the trees will completely cover these homes.

Soon the trees will completely cover these homes.

can you see the house in there?

can you see the house in there?

Sir George Martin's famous AIR recording studio. Once recording Paul McCartney, Rush, The Police, Duran Duran, Black Sabbath and many more is now almost completely covered by trees

Sir George Martin’s famous AIR recording studio. Once recording Paul McCartney, Rush, The Police, Duran Duran, Black Sabbath and many more is now almost completely covered by trees

We went into an abandoned condo on the outskirts of Plymouth to view the devastation of the capital city of Plymouth.  It is buried some 30 feet deep – not by ash as some think, but by the mud that washed down from the denuded hills after rains.  It is sealed off and no one is allowed in without government permission and a police accompaniment.  It is a stark, lifeless place that feels like a Planet of the Apes movie set.

But Montserratians are a happy bunch and have taken it all in stride, even making lemonade out of lemons or should I say cement out of rocks.  Realizing that volcanic sand makes for better cement than salty beach sand, Montserratians have started several businesses to mine, refine and ship the valuable black sand.

breaking up large volcanic rocks to produce and sell cement.

breaking up large volcanic rocks to produce and sell cement.

We were greeted by smiles and wishes that we enjoy their island everywhere we went.  The food and drink are great, and we especially enjoyed a big lunch at Pont’s Place, where he decorates his outdoor dining area with all sorts of things he finds on land and at the shore.  It’s a delightful spot overlooking the sea.

interior of Pont’s Point restaurant decorated with flotsam and jetsam

Pont's Point

There is a spring on the island where it is said if you drink from it you must return to Montserrat.  We gladly sipped some hoping its magic is real.

Anchored in Antigua

Antigua is an island with English ties, and you can certainly feel it and see it at English Harbour, a beautifully restored British naval site first established in the 18th century. British naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson was stationed here when this harbor (surprisingly small when viewed in person) was the base for British defense of its colonial isles. The historic harbor here, now called Nelson’s Dockyard, has been restored and contains many interesting relics and ruins showing what life was like in a colonial military outpost.

Nowadays English Harbour and neighboring Falmouth Harbour are a stopping point for some of the most impressive megayachts in the world.

This makes for good eye candy but renders the port a little lifeless for us simple cruisers. But hanging with Shelley and Johnny from s/v Planet Waves always brings life to any party. We spent a lot of high times with them including one hilarious night casually chatting on the dock when a guy rode up on a donkey and tried to sell him to us for $5.  Sorry I don’t have a photo of him but here is said donkey, Selassie named for Ethiopia’s Emperor, Haile Selassie.  If he would have fit on the boat, I’d have bought that sweet donkey.  DonkeyEnglish Harbour is well worth a visit for its historical importance and provides easy bus access around the island.  We rode across the island to see what’s what in the capital of St John’s (not much).

If you visit English Harbour everyone will tell you to go up to Shirley Heights Lookout for the view and Sunday night party. This may be the cynical curmudgeon in me talking, but I don’t see the big deal. Yes, the view is nice but it is jammed packed with every other sucker that believed the hype trying not to spill their overpriced drink as they attempt a clear view of the sunset. I say grab your flask and take the easier hike up to Fort Berkeley and get a spectacular view of the harbor and you’ll have the place to yourself.  Even with our old jaded attitudes we were able to connect with a younger generation of cruisers (how is that possible?) by meeting up again with Nightingale Tune and new friends on Disco Fish and Corpse Pounder (how about those names?).

Somewhere behind Mary are fellow cruisers from Disco Fish, Nightingale Tune and Planet Waves at Shirley Heights Lookout.

Antigua is pretty compact in size and has good anchorages all the way round, so we wanted to circumnavigate it, but as the Christmas winds kicked in, we were stuck in port as it howled a steady 20 – 25 knots outside. The winds aren’t so bad but when they are this strong for so long they kick up some impressive seas. We had no interest in bucking 9 – 10’ seas so we went around the leeward half of the island. Here we enjoyed the peaceful and more secluded 5 Islands, Jumby Bay and Great Bird for a holiday feast aboard Nightgale Tune, nice snorkeling and kite boarding.

Soon, though, we had had enough and set out on a squally, windy day for the short downwind run to Montserrat and its brooding volcano.

Season 4, Episode 1

We are back on the boat and traveling again.  It feels good to be home and doing what is familiar to us.  It’s a whole new season with new friends and new places to explore.  We are excited to be underway again.

We left Neko on the hard in Clarke’s Court to get her bottom done and a few other bits and bobs.   Terry O’Connell and his crew did a great job removing all the old bottom paint and applying new stuff. We were happy to become friendly with Terry and trusted his work ethic implicitly. We highly recommend Terry (terenceoconnell3@gmail.com) for anyone needing bottom work – just bring the paint with you as you can get it more cheaply in the duty free islands.  Neko was not much worse for wear after sitting in the scalding sun for 3 months. We had two LCD screens burn out from the heat alone and a couple minor leaks, but it could have been much worse.

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Neko heading back to the water with her slick new black bottom paint.

We left Grenada and started our way up the islands. Finally, we aren’t fighting our way east, but are off the wind using those tradewinds to do what Neko was meant to do, sail. Ideal conditions along with her new bottom paint have us consistently sailing at 9 and 10 knots, making great time between islands. Winds are steady and brisk in the right direction and the boat handles the decent sized seas like a champ. We almost always have one or more reefs in and might as well pack away the gennaker as we can’t foresee needing it for a while. We realize this is what VPLP designed the Switch 51 to do.

We returned to some old stomping grounds in the Grenadines and delighted in their clear water and laid back Rasta feel.

But after about a few weeks and just as we were running low on provisions in those lesser-inhabited islands, we set course for one of our favorite islands, Martinique.

Here we could bask in the glory of French culture in an island setting, having great coffee and baguettes every day all while having a few boat teething pains worked on. Le Marin in Martinique is a major stop for French cruisers needing boat parts or work, so what better place for the French-designed and built Neko to put in a stop. It was an added bonus that the harbor in Le Marin is supremely protected because we had a full week of squally, windy, rainy weather. Oh, did we say that it rained a bit? When we have a lot of rain, we catch it and save it to give our water maker a rest. In Le Marin we had more rain than we knew what to do with. We filled our tanks, spare water jugs, buckets, tea kettles and anything else we could think of.   It was just a reminder that in all our lives a little rain must fall.  So we just waited for the sun to come back and the next adventure to begin.

Our Maggi Chain

Update:   I wanted to update my original post with Maggi’s response to my public complaints about the chain we purchased from them. Shortly after the posting, we received a response from the company seeking to expedite assistance to us. It turns out that they do not produce very much Aqua7 chain in 5/16” – most of their production is in metric sizes. This accounted for the delay. Bad communication accounted for the lack of explanation to us.  As to the rusting issue, the CEO of the company tells us they do on rare occasion suffer loss of galvanizing, but no more on the Aqua7 than on Aqua4. This is hopeful as there has been some speculation that the higher strength chain does not take galvanizing as well as lower strength chains. In any event, they offered to ship to us immediately a replacement chain in Aqua4 and then when a new batch of Aqua7 is produced to ship a length of that to us as well, since the Aqua4 in 5/16” is not an appropriate strength for our boat. We have now received and installed the Aqua4 and are awaiting final production of the Aqua7 replacement. This has been a more than sufficient response for us so far, and we look forward to final receipt of the Aqua7 chain. To reiterate, we had been happy with a length of Aqua4 for 6 years (which had been on the boat for 10 years). We hope that the new chain they send us will perform as well and that the rusty batch was just an outlier.

Original Post:  Our boat had a load of Maggi Aqua4 chain (or whatever they called their G4 back then) that was original to its build in 2004. It was superior chain that we changed out in 2015. It was really only showing a bit of rust where the links connected, but I had the opportunity to replace it and wanted to lighten my ground tackle load. I purchased Maggi Aqua7 chain in a size smaller – 5/16”. It is essentially equivalent in strength to 3/8” G4 chain, and it saved me well over 100lbs on the foredeck.

However, after about a year on the boat the chain started showing alarming amounts of rust and corrosion. Now, after a year and a half, I need to replace it ASAP. This is far to soon for this chain to rust away. The galvanizing on the Aqua7 is not the smooth, hard finish I had on the Aqua4. It is lumpier and seemingly softer. In any event, it is all gone and the bare surface of the chain is rusting. I have heard other reports that Maggi Aqua7 galvanizing does not stand up, and now I have first hand experience.

The most concerning part of this whole episode has been the response of the Maggi company to our issues. The premature corrosion issue was quickly acknowledged and a new chain promised… and promised and promised. But never delivered. Despite what I deem to be the best intentions of Maggi’s US supplier, I have to conclude that I have been given the runaround, perhaps in an attempt to wear us down so we let it go and buy some competitor’s chain. If you want a sense of the degree of runaround we have been given, read the correspondence in the attached file, which begins in April 2016 and ends in December 2016 with me basically saying “Bueller, Bueller?”

This is a major chain manufacturer and supplier to the marine industry. I think the boating public needs to know about the quality of the chain they are selling and the customer service that backs it up. I warned them I would write posts such as this and take other steps. This is one way in which the individual customer has some power in this internet age. So why not exercise it? Buy Maggi chain at your risk.

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A photo taken in April 2016:

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Land Cruisers Part II

We are back in Grenada after our 3 months sojourn in the UK, Antwerp and Amsterdam. We owe a big thanks to our pals Charlotte and James for letting us base out of their lovely riverside flat in Inverness while in Scotland.  

Gorgeous view of the River Ness from the apartment in Inverness

Gorgeous view of the River Ness from the apartment in Inverness

We really have to pay it forward with the cruising community after Charlotte and James’ generosity and Julie and Ken introducing us to the housesitting service that let us stay abroad for so long without breaking the bank (and letting Mary get her dog fix – and cat and chicken fix). 

We left England to spend a considerable amount of time in Scotland, starting off with a bang in Edinburgh.  Arriving just in time for the Fringe Festival, lauded as the world’s largest arts festival.  Everyone should head there for it at least once.  You can walk around the historic city and drop into a comedy show, theatrical, music, film, or any number of other performances whenever they strike your fancy.  

Next up was a trip to the highland capital city of Inverness.  The Scotland highlands reminds us of Tahoe with conifer-covered hills and mountains and open countryside.  Except here there is the odd abandoned castle off in the distance.  We’ve seen enough old castles and manors to last a lifetime, but we love learning about the history and occupants of each one.  The Scotland National Trust does a great job of preserving the history as well as the buildings.  And to Pete’s delight the Whisky trail led him to single malt Scotch heaven.

When we finished with our house sits, we set off to explore the western shore of northern Scotland.  Driving the North Coast 500 was a trip on the beautiful open roads.  Just be sure to bring your cojones because the roads are narrow, often even single track, and twisty with blind corners.  Oh, and with sheep roaming free.  The roads and weather were so gorgeous Pete wished he was back on the Ducati.  We made it all way round from Loch Ness up to John O’Groats (we had to go there just because of that name) and then back to Inverness to catch our breath.

Our trip didn’t end here, but our camera did.  Sadly hundreds of photos were lost to the technology gods.  So you’ll have to imagine and hopefully see for yourself one day the exciting city of Glasgow, Northern England, Wales, Antwerp and Amsterdam.  Here are a few snaps from the phone. 

It was the perfect break from 3 years on the boat and definitely a much needed change of scenery, proving to us that one can even get tired of tropical islands and variety is indeed the spice of life.  Bring on Season #4…