Captain's Log, Stardate:

3/8/02

Arrived Isla Margarita!

Buenos Dias to All!

Our new crew arrived in Trinidad and, not wanting to go hog wild on this "sailing" thing, they preferred we stay in Trinidad's "five islands." These are most of the nearby islands to the west but not Tobago, which is to the east.

Our first chore was to provision the boat with fresh veggies and the place to do that is the Farmer's Market early on Saturday mornings. This is quite the place. All the vegetables you ever heard of before are there along with about a dozen you haven't! Prices are about 1/5th of what you would pay in the supermarkets in Port of Spain and about ¼ th of what you would pay in the US. In addition, there is fish and meat to be had. Fish were gutted and scaled on the spot and if you were partial to chicken, you had only to point to the LIVE chicken you liked and it was butchered and plucked before your very eyes. Hard to believe there would be less chance of contracting salmonella down here than in the meat department of an upscale US supermarket, right? On the other hand, the whole procedure was so gross we stuck to the veggies. But still, no chance of salmonella, right?

We had a nice sail down to Chacachacare where there are several anchorages in this huge horseshoe-shaped bay. One morning, we had a dry run to Grenada. Without checking out of Trinidad, we headed for Grenada for about 2 hours, then did a "180" and returned to the Western shore of Chacachacare. All on board felt they could have handled the real thing and so maybe next time, we'll cruise to Grenada from which we gain a pretty good angle for the overnighter to Tobago, one of my favorites. Otherwise, it's bound to be an uncomfortable slog to windward directly from Trinidad. (Do you know how early mariners could tell direction before the compass? They assumed the wind was coming from the east so if the wind was on their port beam, they knew there was an excellent chance they were going south. Down here, that would still be a good bet.)

The west coast of Chacachacare is not listed as an anchorage either in the charts or in the guidebooks. But we were able to get the anchor to hold well in the sand and spent several days there. There were lots of brown pelicans, frigate birds, ospreys, and even falcons. Using our wonderful pair of image-stabilized 18x binoculars, Rosanne had noticed a raptor of some sort sitting on a branch just ashore from where we were anchored. She handed them to me and, as I raised them to my eyes, the bird flew. I stayed with it though, letting the binoculars stabilize the image and nearly fill the field of view with this not-an-osprey bird. Then it swooped down to the water level where I was hoping it would grab a fish in its already-extended talons but no! It grabbed a small bird, itself in mid flight! The bird was probably a ruddy turnstone as we had seen quite a few ashore earlier. It carried the bird securely in its death grip for several hundred yards and disappeared over the hill and out of sight. WOW! Memorizing all its features, we got out the bird book to discover it was a peregrine falcon! Thanks Rosanne for your impeccable timing and "eagle-eye!"

During our several days of snorkeling, one of us was able to spear a fair sized lobster! Now this lobster was just as fresh as our chicken would have been had we bought one at the Farmers' Market and Chief Chef Claudia knew just what to do with this lobster. It doesn't get much better: eating fresh seafood as the sun is setting over the blue sea while bobbing gently at anchor amongst marine and seashore wildlife, waiting for the Southern Cross and other stars and planets to come out! Thanks Claudia for your help in preparing all the wonderful gourmet meals!

Unfortunately, Julie came to me one morning to say we had to go back to Port of Spain because she had lost a filling and needed to see a dentist promptly. So it was with heavy hearts we lifted the anchor to return to civilization. Oh well. We were scheduled to return the next day anyway but "damn the luck" all the same.

Damn what luck? As we approached the SW tip of Chacachacare island, we noticed some puffs of water vapor. Dolphins don't spout vapor when they "blow," do they? As we maneuvered closer, we could see that THESE dolphins did. They were different than the Atlantic bottle nosed dolphins we had seen before. These were HUGE, maybe 8-9 feet long. When they would surface, you could hear their blow distinctly and see the vapor, as when I had seen pilot whales (and full sized whales) in the past. They were solid gray and definitely had "bottle noses." We have no fish book on board that could tell us what species they were (maybe we need a mammal book?) so if you know, please write! They did have one distinctly dolphin trait though; they loved frolicking in the bow waves. As they picked us up on sonar, two of them first approached, did a trial frolic, and then called for backup! Soon there were a dozen or more of these huge dolphins, "porpoising" right below our eyes. Thanks Julie for your impeccable timing, without which, we would have missed one of the best highlights of the trip!

Soon our wonderful time together came to an end and our three-person crew had to fly back to the real world. In order to meet new crew in Isla Margarita, Mary and I prepared to leave Trinidad but first said our goodbyes to all the cruisers on the morning VHF radio "net." A woman responded in very broken English. Cho-Cheh was born in Los Testigos but left her 7-year-old daughter with her grandparents 3 months earlier to take a job on a large cruising sailboat. She wanted us to deliver two bags full of treats (including a box of Fruit Loops and the powdered milk to go with it) to her daughter if we would be stopping at her island along the way. Mary and I remember the island from 4.5 years ago when we passed through on our way to Margarita from Grenada and it was one of our favorites so we readily agreed. It's actually a small island chain with a total population of 160 fishermen, their families, and the Guarda Costa (Coast Guard). We delivered the bags to Cho-Cheh's father, Chon-Chon, two days later and were big heroes for doing so. Good thing we weren't FLYING into the island . . . for two reasons:1) When they asked us at the airport if we were carrying bags packed by another person, we would have had to say "yes." 2) There is no airport anywhere in Los Testigos.

For the record, in case your Spanish is worse than mine, "Los Testigos" does NOT mean "Lost Testicles;" it means "The Witnesses." [I have since learned that in legal proceedings of old, only men could testify. Hence, both "testify" and "testicle" come from the same Latin root, "testis."] In any event, Mary and I spent four wonderful days there meeting local islanders and cruisers alike. We anchored behind a 10 foot wide isthmus of pure white sand, framed on either side by palm trees. It stretched between two islands, parts of which were about 1 foot below sea level at high tide, so that the waves would crash into the submerged beach some 50 yards in front of the boat. This was truly a page out of "South Pacific" (without having to deal with the Panama Canal or 20 days at sea).

About 10 a.m., we pulled anchor and headed for another favorite of ours (for different reasons), Isla Margarita. We spinnakered the whole way in 10 kts of wind on our stern and flat seas. At one point, two large dolphins of the same species as before, made two big jumps in the air between--and about 10 feet ahead of--our bows, and then disappeared from sight! They must have had four feet of air under them making loud splashes when they landed, er, oceaned! We scanned the horizon for 30 minutes afterwards and never saw them again. I suppose they felt they didn't have any backup so they couldn't justify staying on the case. Who knows what goes through their minds?

There are many nice aspects of Margarita but above all, it's a duty-free port in the true sense of the word. When you buy liquor at a duty-free shop at the airport, you get your liquor for about 98% of what you would otherwise pay. Most tax savings merely add to the profit of the liquor store, or go to defray their higher-than-normal rent.

But not in Margarita. They recently floated the Bolivar and it tumbled against the dollar so we now have an even better buying situation. Mary and I were at a big store Monday. They had top-of-the line liquor down to good buys on booze for putting fish to sleep (while you extract the hook). Dom Perignon 1993 was $75. They had some great deals on wine and, of course, rum. Mary and I really like the Chilean wines and they had a wide selection. On the high side (by our standards), for those of you who know your wines, they had Santa Carolina "Gran Reserva" 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Maipo Valley in Chile for $7.00/bottle. We haven't tried it yet but last night we tried a Santa Rita 120 Cabernet S 1999 Vinto Tinto for $3.10 per bottle. I liked it a lot but Mary wasn't crazy about it. I think she decides which wines she likes the same way she decides what jewelry she aspires to buy: The more expensive it is, the better it must be.

For rum, I don't remember the price of Bicardi but it was inexpensive by US standards. I seem to remember Cacique rum being good when I've had it in bars so we bought 2 bottles. Their top of the line "Cacique," Ron Extra Anejo, 0.75L, 80 proof was $3.36. But if you didn't want to splurge that much, they had a lower end, Ron Anejo Cacique 0.75L for $2.40! No, no, you wouldn't use that for fish anesthesia; you'd use Aguariente de Cocuy El Jirajara 80 proof rum for $1.25 per bottle! Amazing what you can do when there are no taxes to get in the way! Forgetting liquor tax, two liter bottles of Pepsi were 75 cents each. Isn't that about the same or even cheaper than in the US?

In summary, Mary and I may not be able to afford to leave here!

Oh, for housekeeping, we have a change of address: Our AOL email address will remain the same but for short messages, our on board email address has changed. Instead of using CruiseEmail, we have switched to Sailmail (which we greatly prefer). Our new address will be WDA2907 at Sailmail Dot Com (disguised to avoid email harvesters but you can figure it out) until May 3, with the biggest advantage being that you will not have to remember to put our call sign in the subject line since it is now embedded in the address. We will typically get that email once or twice per day [in winter months] whereas we only check AOL while we are in port. It's the opposite in summer time. A page of text or two of text is perfectly OK at Sailmail but you cannot attach files, include graphics, and please, no forwarded jokes, virus warnings, etc. Please send any of that to LeeSail@aol.com.

Hope all is well with you and your family!

Lee and MaryS/V Escape Cay