Into the clouds…

Capt. Mike and I last climbed the La Soufrière volcano on St Vincent 20 years ago, so of course my memories of it are SHARP! Just kidding. My memories of that hike are actually as foggy as the thick clouds at the top of a volcanic mountain. So when Peter on SV Bakoua organized a trip to climb La Soufrière, we jumped at the chance to join.

For the first time in ages, we set an alarm for 5:00 am in order to take the 6:30 ferry from Bequia to Kingston, St Vincent. Oof, that’s a rough start to the day! And a rough passage crossing the channel between the islands. Jimmy met us at the ferry terminal with his big white van (after another taxi driver tried to poach us: “Who you waiting for? Jimmy? I know Jimmy. He tell me to pick you up”. Yeah, right!) It took about an hour and a half to drive up the east coast of St Vincent with Jimmy pointing out some of the changes since we last visited just before the volcano erupted in April 2021. We turned off the main road onto a skinny, bumpy track heading inland, past the sign saying “Volcano trail temporarily closed” 😆 We were the first bus to pull into the parking lot – yay! no cruise ship crowds!

We laced up our shoes, grabbed hiking sticks, and headed out into the bush. We made it barely 50 meters up the trail before the rain started. We were smart enough to bring rain jackets but, sheesh I didn’t expect to need them so soon. Luckily, the vegetation of the rain forest protected us quite a bit, and to be honest the jungle is quite atmospheric and dramatic in the heavy fog and light rain.

The first milestone on the climb that really proved we were walking on a volcano was crossing a riverbed of hardened lava. The lava stream was left behind by the eruption of 1979. Because of all the rain, the river was raging and full of dirt and ash, looking like a river of chocolate milk. It took a little encouragement to get me to jump across the flow!

Soon enough, we climbed out of the jungle and encountered the open, gravely flank of the top of the volcano. Instead of a trail, we now followed a series of rock cairns and plastic bottles topping branches. And a trail of blown-out shoes, lol. Holy cow, the rain and wind really got serious at this point. Capt. Mike estimates the gale-force wind speeds at the top between 50 and 70 knots, using the Beaufort Scale and later Googling “How strong does wind need to be to blow a person sideways”. 😆 Yep. I’d pick up one foot to climb, and find myself blown a bit to the left, planting that foot a couple of feet further left than I had planned. I should have eaten more Christmas cookies! Did I mention the rain? By this point, the gentle rain had transformed into big powerful drops, driving sideways into us with such force, we couldn’t decide if it was pure rain or hail. I had so much water running down my face and off the tip of my nose, it was tough to tell whether it was rain, tears, or snot. But at this point, the summit was only a couple hundred meters away, so we persevered. No lingering on the summit! We snapped a couple pictures and a short video and headed down to safety and comfort.

For some reason, the first little bit of downhill seemed even harder than the climb. I guess we were aiming a little straighter into the wind. And we were also trying to find the trail, instead of just talking any old route to the top. Kasia crab-walked sideways, and I was extremely grateful for two hiking poles. It wasn’t until we reached the shelter of the trees again that we could relax and stop for a quick snack and to drink some water. The rest of the trail was a walk in the park, and we found ourselves back at the van in no time. Soaked to the skin but at least it’s the tropics so we aren’t going to die of frostbite!

All in all, it was one of those “An adventure is never fun while you are having it” days, but we truly felt like we conquered the mountain. Now I’ll bet these memories of hiking La Soufrière won’t fade as quickly as those uneventful, nice weather, shorts-and-t-shirts memories from 20 years ago!

Playing tourist in St Vincent

Sanitas is safely tucked into Admiralty Bay on the island of Bequia in St Vincent and the Grenadines, greatly looking forward to an island Christmas. 🎄 Yesterday, we went on a grand adventure to the nearby big island of St Vincent to explore its west coast and to visit waterfalls, and the REAL Pirates of the Carribean 🏴‍☠️

Have I admitted our greatest fault as a cruising couple? We ALWAYS run a bit late. This time, I blame the Rum Shack Tour we attended the night before. Our cruising friends on SV Sonder must have been a little worried, because they called us “Are you awake? Are you on your way to the ferry? Should we just buy our tickets and go aboard?” No worries, mon. We made it just in time and found great seats on the upper deck to watch the world go by for the 1-hour ferry trip to the big island.

Fraser (the best tour guide in St Vincent!) met us at the ferry terminal, waving wildly to get our attention amid the hustle and bustle of Kingstown on one of the last full shopping days before Christmas. The six of us settled into his pristine white van and set off through the capital city traffic and soon onto the quieter, winding, motion-sickness-inducing west coast “highway”. After stops at stunning viewpoints of Kingstown and several black sand beaches, we made it to gorgeous DarkView Falls. We set off on an intrepid hike through the jungle, crossing a swaying bamboo bridge over a raging river to find the falls. Just kidding! We all did the walk in flip flops. The falls are impressive and beautiful, but today the pool was a bit too shallow for swimming. Fraser did jump in long enough to find us some cute little freshwater crayfish to cuddle.

Next stop, Walliabou Bay where Disney built an entire small city to play the part of Port Royal in the first Pirates of the Carribean movie. Much of it has faded over the years, but the jetty and a few buildings have been preserved as a museum. And of course there’s a bar/restaurant whose walls are covered with photos of the stars Johnny Depp and Keira Knightly smiling and mugging for the camera with local kids. Fraser told us a few stories about the filming and how it completely took over the island – there were no hotel rooms anywhere on the island, with some crew staying on yachts and even a boat ride away on Bequia. It’s kind of fun – by now we’ve sailed Sanitas into many of the most beautiful spots where the franchise was filmed. We’re going to have to watch all of the movies again!

Fraser’s own house is just down the road from Pirates of the Caribbean Bay. He was kind enough to take us there to meet his family and see his backyard garden. He taught us the island method of picking mangos. Did you ever think about how they get all 800-1000 ripe mangos off a mature tree before they fall to the ground or get eaten by birds? Apparently, you cut the longest bamboo stalk you can find, tie a bag to the end, and hoist the whole massive thing into the air grabbing one mango at a time with the bag. No mango is safe from Fraser’s skill. If I were in charge, only the birds would be fed.

Part of the fun of a Fraser tour is listening the Fraser’s stories – he’s the same tour guide we hired last year for a tour of the east coast of the island just days before the Soufriere volcano erupted! He’s lived and worked his entire life in St Vincent and is clearly a brilliant mind for business and a respected member of the community – proved by how many people stopped to wave and talk to him as we drove through each small town. We learned about Fraser’s childhood of walking 5 miles each way to school when the buses broke down. And his long career as a math teacher and accountant before a layoff inspired him to start his own tour and taxi business. And about his two very smart kids studying accounting and law in Trinidad. Maybe a future prime minister of St Vincent? After a lovely lunch on a black sand beach, we headed back to the hustle and bustle of Kingstown for a bit of veggie shopping before the return ferry. We honestly didn’t need much, because Fraser sent each couple home with three massive mangos from his tree, a huge papaya, and a hand of sweet red bananas.

When our ferry arrived safely back in Bequia after an extremely rough ride, I picked up my Christmas present to myself – a massive bouquet of ginger and birds-of-paradise flowers that arrived on the same ferry. I knew it was going to be big, but was still slightly shocked by the size of the bunch I received for about $15usd. I kept about half of the bouquet and turned it into my tropical Christmas “tree” while Capt. Mike played Santa and delivered extra flowers to three of our buddy boats. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas on Sanitas!

A marathon day of boat maintenance

If you’ve been following me on social media (and if you haven’t, why not? 😆) you’ll know that Sanitas has been experiencing a real run of bad luck lately. Pretty much every day we’ve found something new that’s broken, worn out, or just downright failed. There’s a saying, “Everything on your boat is broken. You just don’t know it yet.” And that’s certainly how it’s felt since we returned to Grenada this fall. After more than a month of playing Whack-a-Mole and trying to fix each problem as it cropped up, things finally came to a head this week.

Capt. Mike inside the engine compartment
The list of surprise boat projects we’ve had to address since we splashed on Nov 1st

Our most serious issue so far has been a  leak in our transmission. This isn’t one of those leaks that you just monitor and hope it doesn’t get worse. This is one that prevents us from using the engine (for propulsion) for more than 15 minutes at a time and then requires pouring in another half quart of transmission fluid. If we blew the transmission completely, that would also blow our budget for the year, and maybe cut our sailing season short. Capt Mike has done tons of research and ordered parts to replace the rear shaft seal from the USA (that’s another whole blog post) and did everything in his power to fix the darn thing himself while we were afloat in Prickly Bay. To no avail! There just isn’t enough room to take the transmission apart to fix it without either lifting Sanitas’ diesel engine, or removing the prop to gain that half an inch of space we desperately need.

And so here we are. Back in the boatyard of Spice Island Marine almost exactly one month after we splashed. We made it harder on ourselves this time. Since our transmission was in pieces, we enlisted two of our cruiser friends, Dave on BooRie and Zach on Holiday, to serve as tow trucks and tug boats to bring us into the yard without a motor. They did amazing! Especially considering that when we showed up at our scheduled time, expecting a straight shot into the haul-out slip, the crew waved us off and forced us to side tie to a concrete wall first to wait for another boat to splash. Jeez Louise! Sanitas is not very maneuverable at the best of times, but under tow? Capt. Mike says he hasn’t experienced his heart pounding that fast during docking since our first season as sailors!

Our dinghy tow
Here we go again
At least the bottom pain still looks good

Once the crew hauled us out of the water and put us up on stands, Capt. Mike went to work. He removed our fancy MaxProp after making a few marks on the outside with my brightest nail polish in hopes he’d be able to put it back together again the same way. Returning to the engine compartment, he slid the shaft as far as it would go, until we could hear the shaft hitting the rudder. Success! With the prop removed, he had enough space to disassemble the transmission. Phew! I was afraid we’d have to drop the rudder too!

Strange to see the prop on the work bench
There’s a lot going on in a prop!

Using a tool he made from scratch (saving us a few hundred dollars) he removed the nut from the rear of the transmission, pulled off the rear seal, and surveyed the damage. Sure enough! It was easy to see where the seal had failed.

This keyed lock nut was a bear to remove
Et voila! Mike’s homemade tool
Success! Here’s the rear transmission seal
Can you see the busted seal?

After replacing the seal and the o-rings, and refilling the transmission fluid (and cleaning up the huge mess) Capt. Mike considered the transmission repair a success. Hooray! Next trick, putting the prop back together… While we had it all apart, Mike took the opportunity to reduce the pitch of the prop blades from 20 degrees down to 18 degrees. We’re really geeking out here, but apparently when the prop is over-pitched it creates too much resistance when cutting through the water and prevents the engine from achieving maximum rpms. For the geekiest of MaxProp geeks, 18° means X=E, Y=H. You’re welcome 😆

Now let’s see if he can put it back on

The final job for our stay in the boat yard required a trip up the mast to replace the spreader light. I find it kind of scary to hoist Mike up the mast in the yard – if he falls, he falls onto solid ground instead of water. But the Captain tells me I’m thinking of it all wrong. He says it’s much easier, and less scary, to work on the mast when the boat’s not moving. Makes sense I guess.

Don’t look down!

It stinks that we had to spend so much time making repairs and waiting for critical parts this year. And it was quite the unexpected expense to haul out again 😳 But I’m very impressed with Capt. Mike’s research and preparation that allowed us to accomplish all of this work in 24 hours, getting us back in the water with a (hopefully) fully functioning motor and transmission as quickly as possible. Now let’s go sailing!