It’s January. I know this not because of a fresh, crisp frost etching its way across the window pane, or fumbling with frozen hands to saddle up on the bike, the trusty hayless horse, to peddle through the sharp wind to meet the 0644 from Exeter St David’s, or because the otherwise abundant hedgerows are dormant, offering their last winter berries for the fauna to scratch out a living on. No, I know its January because we are off once more, sailing North to complete the second year of the survey. It’s exciting to be started again. That means June to December 2009 passed in rather a haze, and without a strong seasonal variation it’s difficult for north Northern Hemisphere descendants to gather their bearings. Because of the El Nino year and various other underlying conditions it was the quietest hurricane season on record in the Caribbean – and the difference between Wet and Dry season here has become indeterminable. We have two full masts though so something must have happened in the meanwhile…..
June 2009 was not without incident and ended with the last day of surveys in Grenada, and losing Megan. Well, we didn’t lose her, she went back home. Megan has been with us for 5 months, spending every living and sleeping hour within our 50’ wooden world – what could have been a fairly fraught experiment for either side turned into a mini-family, a floating one. By the time we were waving goodbye in the airport we were all a little tearful which is testament to how the wee Megan from Seattle burst into our lives and is one of our best friends still.
To honour the departure of our girl, we put together a series of “must-do” activities which was quite frankly a disaster. After a bout of some nasty little staphylococcal critter the Goyave Fish Festival on Friday had us fighting over the bowl on Saturday, and some nasty little Grenada chap, Saturday night’s dancing and good humoured merriment had Katharine searching for the British Consulate on Sunday we were all a little shell-shocked and looking jealously at Megan’s ticket out of Grenada. I was resting at this time, without belt or shoes, in a rather dark and urine-scented cell, with a few other chaps for company trying to remain composed and philosophical, and definitely in command of my falling down trousers, whilst internally losing all sense of proportion and feeling not a little harassed.
The night had started well, until a flamboyantly flung arm (one of mine, it seems) tipped over a mannequin near the dance floor, and the stitch up that ensued was seamless. The officer arrived instantly, the owner announced a 2000USD fine, I said no, Katharine diplomatically suggested I’d fix it, I agreed, they did not, I was dumped in prison, and the officer in charge went home. One of my fellow inmates suggested that at 2000USD I could have a “real woman”, another chipped in “and not just for one night!”. Fortunately sense was seen by the police, belatedly, and we returned to the safe haven of Lista to decide whether to stay in Grenada or go elsewhere.
After presenting our interim findings to the SCSCB Conference in July we put down our notepads, tucked away the binoculars, laid to rest the rat traps and dry bags, and focussed on giving our survey ship some love.
When faced with a large and mysterious project it is quite normal to resort to a nice checklist – ours had 50+ jobs from “replace main mast”, and “rebuild cabintop”
to some slightly less toxic items like “order mainsail” which keep morale up during the descent into utter destruction. The spreadsheet was crafted (“spreadsie” my shameful nickname pursues me) and the total estimated work effort exceeded the days available by only 13, a success – efficiencies in process would win us back the days, no problem! This sounds all a little organised and belies the hours spent staring, bemused and baffled by a piece of two-by-four, or wrench or some such, or grasping at handfuls of sodden wet mouldy wood. The survey at the time of buying had indicated things may require attention in the next two/three years…. I hadn’t quite understood the gravity of those loosely guised statements.
The grizzly finances needed resolved too. We had expected our mast job to be an insurance claim but in the end, after much effort by several parties, and many of our own hours wasted trying to cost up a viable way forward it ended up being a write-off. This was a sad moment, and any boat owner would feel offended, defiant, uneasy at the jargon in the industry “total economic loss”. In actual fact it was more testament to the dearth of wooden boat building skills in the world, the high cost of labour, and the limitations of the right lumber being available in the Caribbean (to say a few trees were harvested during the colonial years would understate the wholesale deforestation of some islands, a hard-to-shake habit which seems to continue into the post-liberation years). The insurance company in this case were efficient and helpful, not the nasty evil corporate story people eagerly expect.
As it was there was a decision to be made – we could have salvaged the vessel at that time, cut our losses, and enjoyed sundowners rather than spend the following lifetime prodding and sniffing timbers for signs of aging, and burning effigies to deter the dreaded ship worms. Instead we effectively re-bought her by undertaking the works ourselves, to at least craft a spar to get us going. What should have been a tough decision actually seemed to form itself quite quickly – Lista was our home and both Katharine and I are fairly prone to make emotional decisions. So, I type this whilst in our new (old) little study, and might just take a little break to prod some frames in a minute, you know, to content myself she is still a strong-un at the age of 75…..
We embarked on the renovations knowing that we knew too little, and that the ones that knew too much were out there in the undergrowth somewhere but didn’t know how much we needed them to help us know but needed to be found. Clear twas not.
In the old wooden boat world there are hidden gems, old goblets of untarnished wisdom, ancient mariners, crusted in salt whose advice is enshrined in practical experience, blisters, grunt, in fine barques on the sea, but in as many failures in the sea too. To find these grumpy old men one needs to sift through a hundred thousand new ones, made in Taiwan, shiny, practical, effervescing, full of suggestions but having never actually having come eyeball to eyeball with a stand of potential trees to find the chosen one. To succeed in the small matter of making a mast we decided to find these old gits (and I use the term fondly and respectfully to describe anyone of any age who has bothered themselves to experiment in old salty ways) and emulate being one, this seemed the only way to success.
So it was that we headed off on the first Monday back from Antigua to the Forestry Department of Grenada’s government to speak to Anthony, a friend and contact from the seabird work and Mr Forteau whose permission was required. In the event I was told to return the very next day to pick up a lift to the mountain. I did, and was deposited in the forest on the leeward side of the great Grand Etang volcano, to look at the remnants of a plantation that had survived Hurricane Ivan. It needed to be straight, I had been told, with tight eyes, I was told, enough girth to the top, easily felled and retrieved, without too many branches, and taken in the lunar cycle when the sap would not be rising. I was told by friends on a Norwegian vessel, Embla, that folklore had it that permission must be asked of the tree and its inhabitants one month before being felled. In the event this was a non native Caribbean Pine tree imported from Jamaica, stifling native flora and fauna, not supporting it – so we went ahead without a whisper……
The beast was tentatively earmarked, and I descended from the Volcano to the sea on my rusty bike in a sort of trance at how things seemed to be unfolding. Actually, a trance is no state to be in when neither set of brakes work and you drop 2000’ in 3 or 4 miles but all ended well.
On Wednesday, Katharine, Shorty, Bob, Rasta and Lal returned and before we had really finished explaining the probably fall path Bob had severed the tree and it came crashing to the floor. Voila.
After some amount of struggling, and closing the main arterial route across the Grenada it was deposited onto the largest truck available at the port (17’ flatbead, for a 51’ tree) by lunchtime and weaved its way down the mountain to be laid onto trestles at the yard by the end of the day. A small series of good fortune and some very open minds had allowed us to get this far, and the extreme generosity of the Forestry Department to allow us to unpack our world on their porch. From then on its was our daily routine to paddle to shore, jump on the bikes across the hill and spend the few weeks turning a round tree into a square stick, into an nice round again using planes, chainsaws, draw knives, just about anything sharp, and then plenty of sand paper, and a lot of searching in old books and my new circle of salty folk that know these things to get the right methods.
We made friends at the forestry department and it became our window onto Grenada. Each day we became a little more grubby, and the inhabitants of the capital St George became intrigued – and yelled to our passing bikes “you D ones making dee spaaar???!”. Men and women arrived at the department to look wistfully at the wooden pole and share wisdom, or pride at their tree. Then we left it to rest.
We managed to eek out a couple of like minded folk during this time and took a minute or two to drink tea and find fireflies and local horses….
Nearby, Albatross of Nikoli and Sylvie were inspirational, him with his burly manner and adventurous mind, and her with wisdom and that freedom to laugh and fetish for seashells,
and Devi and Hunter on Artic Tern (another seabird, how apt!) , a fascinating couple who took time to dig into Grenada and find out so much more than we had time to, and Dave on Epicurus with little Lolita. The list goes on – I hope we all remember each other and smile.
August and September nearly broke us. We turned attention to the Hull of the boat as various parts of rigging etc were being shipped from the UK and no more could be done for the mast itself. The final step was to boil the rigging and let it sit
I had become more and more annoyed that the constant head clattering which was the fault of the genes and diet of my parents to grow me into such a long thin tree, rather than the broader shorter “trees”, that are the men and women of Flekefjord who put the boat together.
Either way I wanted more headroom without spoiling Lista’s low profile from the shear line. Katharine and I spent a week removing the furniture and floor, shifting Lead ingots, swearing a bit, replacing the odd bit of timber and putting it all as it was. To one who had known the boat, apart from the odd nip or tuck she is ostensibly the same, only 5” down. This is often reminded to visitors who otherwise care less just to satiate our own need to justify the ridiculous effort involved for such a minor amendment!
Then there was the making of a |Caribbean bed. A Caribbean bed must be large enough to fit two long people, spread slightly wide, without so much as the longest of armhairs making contact with thy neighbour. It’s is simply too hot for these sticky liaisons in the tropical night. Romance thoroughly dead on our ship the end game was removal of 5 bunks to make one big Scandinavian platform shrouded in reclaimed planed timber so it seems more in line with a sauna than a boudoir. Our ferret hole for the past 12 months was a cramped memory from about September onwards.
We also decided we ought to have a study for our very own Darwin (Kath) so a bit more sawing, some more swearing and some more nails and discarded timber on the deck and that was soon arranged.
My memory of these days is a little hazy but involved not doing as much running as we promised ourselves – losing the kitchen so eating very badly, jumping overboard a lot to de-clog all orifices of sawdust,
and wondering how this was helping in anyway to searching for, promoting and generally enjoying the natural world. Our survey boat needed mending I suppose, but my nerves were a little frayed, I believe Katharine will testify to this.
But we had much natural world alive and well below the water line and it was that we tackled next. Alas the slipway became free and after a few false starts involving some scuba tanks and fixing the haulout cable we were trollied up into the trees alongside Tyrell Bay in Carriacou – pigeon level as it was. This is to be extolled – the best yard in the world – on our own, surrounded by foliage, and clear lapping waves on the seaward side of our railway, and only a few steps up to a dark path to our rustic shower and toilet. No ordinary toilet though, it became the euphemism that taking a number two was going to see the frogs. I’m “off to see the frogs” was a trip into the dark chirruping world of microscopic frogs that lived in the bowl. They kept one company in the night, and only on a few occasions did they seem to suffer fundamentally from the inevitable flush. And of those I suspect they re-emerged sometime later as the population of chirrupers didn’t seem to diminish in our time there.
On the slipway we made a very big mess again. The boys from Windward arrived -shipbuilders with mixed Caribbean and Scottish blood, and a fettish for setting to on dead wood. Before I had quite got my list of priorities together a good portion of our port flank was missing in pieces on the ground.
In fact we just carried on ripping off old boards until we had removed all the soft wood and had allocated all of the 100ft of new boards we had procured off the ship before us (Scaramouche of film fame in “Pirates of the Caribbean”). Then they set to on putting it back. After a slight artistic difference in which I was reminded that quality and time were on opposing axis I conceded that tree-nail fastening was not an option, and that galvanised dumps would have to do here if Lista was to return to the water at all. This is a real shame because wood-on-wood fastening is what has granted Lista her relatively good condition into her 8th decade, but we know where they are and can perhaps work out the nasty galvanised dumps and threaded-rod when we have more time, and the 2” thick hardwood timber has taken its form.
Katharine got intimate with Lista’s bottom, and I got pyrotechnic about Lista’s traces of Shipworm in her keel. By the end of two weeks we had replaced 6 planks, 5 frames or parts thereof, replaced a 12’ section of deckbeam, one end of the cabintop and about 60’ of deck planking until the dumps ran out. We reused as many of the monel metal dumps as possible, and we both learned a huge amount whilst helping the guys cutting in new sections and strengthening the hull.
We happily returned in Caribbean colours to the blue waters, short of a mast and with a deck filled with wood scraps to dump at sea, but with a renewed hull and ready to move once more.
October was all about Tom and Trinidad. Tom is very good at getting things done, and forcing and indecisive mind into action one way or the other. He is very bad getting waylaid in the bar though – and as a result within 4 hours of him landing we were considerably merry – which plagued me for days to come. I think it’s the sugar in the beer. Anyway, poor Tom had to endure a shambolic deck state and our new sleeping arrangement downstairs in which everybody is very much in it together, with no real separation between the cabins. Tom chattered as he does, and we all got ready to head south on a galvanising mission to Trinidad.
In the few days before we left Katharine and I chased up bits of work which we had set running months before naively expecting much to be done. On almost every count we were running up against the locally referred to GMT “Grenada Maybe Time”. Very frustrating and pretty unforgivable but we did manage to get the metalwork we required in the nick of time, and set off into a mixed forecast just after dark bound for Trinidad. Given our one mast the going was slow and Katharine and I hopelessly tired but Tom seemed eager as is his way, moreso following his 3rd coffee of the morning by 9am, and somehow we puttered through the odd squall to arrive into Trinidad well ahead of Tom’s flight home.
No pirates, no nothing – mind you none of the navigation lights had worked and without our main mast rigging we must have been almost invisible.
Trinidad is a beautiful country and, so long as one can avoid getting shot or stabbed (the crimewave currently rife in the urban areas) then there are wonderful things to see, and very friendly local people to meet. The hire cars in the 10USD/day category are pretty appalling though and our’s bristled of former glory, LX don’t you know, but little still worked properly. In our stead we trooped our bits of metal to the galvanising plant some million miles to the south of the country, and then headed up to the hills to go someway to remedying my poor performance in celebrating Katharine’s birthday earlier in the year. A trip to the curious and amazing Asa Wright Centre for two nights was an absolute respite from all things boats and had us a trillion miles away.
The birds pop in and out as if unaware of their brilliance, toucans, honeycreepers, motmots, eagles, hummingbirds, all resplendent and shimmering.
We swam in mountain streams, read books, obeyed the Victorian ambience with high teas and sundowners, and almost enjoyed the centre to ourselves in the cooler mountain breeze as Lista, unlocked but unfettered remained in Chaguaramas.
November was the month to finish the mast and put on the fresh bread, roll out the red carpet and receive Katharine’s Mum for the royal visit. After that we had visitors whom we had longed to visit booked back through to the start of work so there was no time for mending too much – Lista had to be a ketch and at least 90% of the devastation put back together.
We developed a new method of serving the rigging using Katharine’s enthusiasm for cycling, and my zeal for shortcuts.
From this slightly Heath Robinson contraption we managed to parcel and serve c.100m rigging using 1km or twine before I finally vomited with the fumes of the Stockholm Tar!!
We become more and more black everyday covered in sticky black tar – a local guy said we were becoming Grenadian – I reminded him I still couldn’t dance so this wasn’t possible.
To say the mast was just popped in and rigging complete brings us to the grand arrival neatly but masks some fairly awful moments where I realized all the soft-eye measurements in the rigging had been swaged incorrectly in the UK, that 200kg of rigging got ferried to a rigging shop for mechanical terminals and back again without them as they could not be done on island, that the wire would not, with any degree of wrestling, be spliced according to my simple instructions in the book. Whilst i fretted, Kath spent 40hrs creating some very professional mast hoops
Then Jim from “Boldly Go” arrived, all laid back, gently puffing a cigarette but interested, and his wife Ellen, bristling with excitement. Turns out Jim used to manage a whole lift operation in US Ski-resorts, and consulted around the world. He knew wire and decided he would beat ours into shape. Aside from generally knowing the material, he brought with him his enthusiasm and would not be beaten by these bastardly shards of wire.
He and I worked for days being blooded and scraped and spiked until we had the rigging to do the job, and 48hrs before Carole arrived we hired the crane, and rallied the local cruising folk (Jim, Ellen, Ernie, Ron and Trom) to drop in our stick. We became a ketch again!
From November to December we had Katharine’s mum, Carole, God mother Sue, friends Claire, Matthew and Paula, EPIC President, Natalia, my brother and wife and kids Ross, Vicky, Max and George, friends Jake and Martha and Christmas and New Year. We to’d and fro’d between Carriacou and Grenada and had some amazing times – more of that to come…..