Ottley Hall – the Good and the Bad

Hard to believe but we’re now into our third month of Ottley Hall inhabitancy, and we have good news and bad.  The good news is that once the stern-tube was out and Mike could clean it up and have a good look at it, we found that with a bit of machining we can actually fix what we have rather than having to change the whole system.  And it’s also looking like we can fix the slight ding we have in one of our propeller blades rather having to get it sent away.  The not so good news is that we don’t have enough money to do even that at the moment.

But we’re working on it and doing what we can in the meantime.  The Sunday we were back out of the dry-dock we even did a bit of salvage work when a catamaran came in under Coastguard escort.  They’d hit some rocks just up the coast and were taking in water through a hole in the bow of the port pontoon.  First they tied up at the other side of the dock and came to see if they could borrow a pump, and when Mike went over it was pretty obvious that the damage needed fixing if the pump was going to keep up with the water coming in.

They came alongside us so that we could run our 2” pump off the 240v as there’s no power where they tied up, and Mike got in touch with Jack the diver and he came.  And, after pumping out the water and putting a temporary outside patch on, they went inside and mixed cement and sugar (which makes it set quick) to go in the hole, and managed to stop the water coming in, by which time it was dark.  We turned off the pump but they stayed alongside over night and the pump was at the ready just in case.

The family on board were from Martinique, a couple, two daughters (one who was celebrating her 20th birthday), a boyfriend, and the wife’s parents who were in their 70s and had come over from France for a holiday.  This was not only the first time they’d ever been on a catamaran, it was the first time they’d been outside of France.  And their plan had been to take them to Bequia and the Tobago Cays before returning to Martinique the following weekend.  Hitting a rock had obviously not been part of their plan.

Although the boatyard has a travel lift it’s not wide enough to lift catamarans so the next morning Mike organised for the big crane to come to the side of the dock and they lifted up the port side so Jack could do more repairs to the outside.  And it was pouring with rain and blowing a hooley, but they managed it, and late in the afternoon they set off for Bequia.  Not a great start to their holiday but at least they could get to Tobago Cays and back to Martinique.

Later that week Angie, who’d come up to Bequia with Jay, came to visit for a couple of days which was really good.  And Gabi, Jurgen and Jay came over for the day.  Earlier this week we took the ferry over to Bequia to see Robin (Fix Man) who’s not doing so good and will be heading back to the UK for further treatment soon.  We haven’t seen him for a couple of years so that was really good too.

The weather hasn’t been so good with high winds and lots of rain.  So much wind that part of the siding on the dry-dock blew down, and the Buzzard is constantly blown off from the freighter we’re tied to that it’s sometimes difficult to get on or off the boat.

Mike and I, for all the mayhem and madness and adjusting to boatyard life, and despite he tried to cook me rotten prawns for Valentine’s day supper, are getting on really well, possibly because it’s the first time we’ve been on our own for so long.  He’s now started on the cap-rail and picking away at other projects we can do without having to spend the money we don’t have.  I’m still working on my book which is actually going well and keeping me sane (four chapters and 25,000 words in six weeks).  I can’t quite believe we’ve been here so long already, but even though this was obviously never in our plans, it’s turning out ok.  As Capt Burt said, our enforced stay might just be a blessing in disguise, for many different reasons.

I forgot to mention Nellie in the last blog.  She handled the whole dry-dock experience with her usual aplomb and slept through most of the excitement.  The black cat followed us around and boarded us in the dock so we still had cat fights over there, but since we’ve been back she’s been seen on the dock and I think they may have reached a truce as we haven’t heard any late-night fights lately.  After her going really thin she seems to be putting weight back on again, she certainly eats enough. The only down side is that she’s taken to sleeping in odd places, like in the middle of the rubble that’s our bedsit at the moment, and under the kayak on the side-deck, and she’s getting steadily dirtier and dirtier, her white bits almost back to her rusty brown Maryport colour.

Love to all …

Dry-Dock Experience – Part I

A sort of, but not quite, ‘as it happened’ account of our time in the dry-dock:

Friday 19th January – As if going into the dry-dock wasn’t enough for one day, some guys came first thing to look at the Yanmar generator we’ve had in the engine room for years that we don’t use any more.  They want it, which is great news because we really need the money, but they want it today (they don’t work Saturdays as they’re SDAs).  So it has to be chain-blocked across the engine room, then up through the hatch in the bedsit.  (And then they didn’t come for it until Sunday in the end.)

Trying to work on my book (which I finally started, after months/years of prevarication, at New Year).  Stomach churning when I saw the tug moving out, then even more so when Capt Bim (Capt Burt’s tug) started up at the other side of the dock.

On the dock taking photos, but really hiding away and not wanting to be on board.  Nipping out between boats, peeping around the corner and clicking the camera from a distance – quite amazing any of the photos have the Buzzard in them.

Capt Burt doing some brilliant manoeuvers, getting us right to the entrance of the dock, one line on and then they didn’t keep tension on and we swung across the gates and he had to go around to the other side and push us back the other way.

Finally in the dock at around 3.30 pm … started pumping, including our 3” as one of their pumps is broken.  Five o’clock and everything stopped because they finished work.  We put a gangplank across, level with the gunnel.  First thing in the morning and the water’s come back in and we’re almost at the level we were the day before.

Saturday: start pumping again at 8.30 in the morning.  Two men working at any one time while six sit/stand around watching.  Big chain blocks have to be attached to stop it falling one way or another, which they put on then take off then adjust and move and re-adjust. Then the diver (Jack … one of the most normal/good workers we’ve met so far) has to place the supports in the right place.  And then more pumping and more pumping.

Slowly, slowly going down but as the water goes down there’s a rising stench of sea-bottom that I hadn’t been anticipating, and which got way worse when we started scraping the hull.

Having to use the wash rooms – only one communal one obviously made for men as you have to walk through the urinal part first, so I try to avoid it during the day when there’s always lots of guys around.  At least they’re not as disgusting as some I’ve seen, or at least they weren’t the first day I went in but perhaps they only get cleaned once a week because they’re getting skankier by the day.

Trying to work on my book again today but the generator’s been going to run our pump and I can’t concentrate … so I’m writing this instead.
3 pm .. dock almost dry and they stop pumping because it’s going home time (they leave early on a Saturday.)

Had a few well deserved beers and went out on Capt Bim to help a tanker leave Lowmans Bay.  Had to pull it away from the dock so we were out for a few hours.  Like I hadn’t had enough of tugs for one day?  Then we went to Gemma’s as we had no beers on the boat, and for bbq chicken, which they didn’t have so it was chewy local pork instead.

Early rise on Sunday.  Helping Spense cannibalise the AC unit we finally lifted off our top deck, and get some galvanized strips.  The yard doesn’t work but we had Jack, Boysey (or Bushy or Bugsy), and some other young lad to scrape.  They did about two and half hours work, got a good third of the whole boat done, and then the foreman shut them down because they shouldn’t be working for us.  They helped clean the sea-cock instead.  And the ice-cream man came and I got everyone choc-ices (the coconut ones are my favourite).

Manic Monday morning.  Guys everywhere: scrapers all under the boat scraping, the Venezuelan engineering guys working out the best way to get the rudder off – probably cutting it.  The crane hovering and lifting the scaffolding down, the welders ready to weld tabs … and lots of guys watching, again; from what I’ve seen so far I’m sure the average ‘work to watch’ ratio is normally somewhere in the region of 1:3, and quite often up to 1:6 or more.

Mike, Kem and Ghost(!) are working on getting the back deck cleared so we can put the rudder there, and finishing off the sea-cock.

The REALLY GOOD NEWS is that the bottom isn’t anywhere near as bad as we’d thought it might be and, apart from the button patches and places we knew there was a problem, the rest looks ok, and on a fair bit you can still see the two-part epoxy we put on in Maryport.  Of course it’s ok being good on the whole, but then it only needs one hole …

The rudder took longer to get off than anticipated. First they settled on cutting it at the top before the flange, and the bottom skeg, which they did.  But they couldn’t get the bolts out at the top, so eventually they ended up having to cut the nuts, I think, there were definitely lots of sparks flying at one point.  This was after 4 pm so most of the workers had already gone home.  Then the rudder was lifted off and away by their big 35 tonne crane, which makes ours look a bit on the puny side, and they started on the prop and shaft.  Luckily this went well and within an hour it was on our back deck.

Edwin and Michael came to visit/help.  Probably could have done without it, but hey, what can you do?  Edwin cooked whole roast chicken on the Buzzard (can’t remember the last time we had that on board), following his grandmother’s Romanian recipe.  The only downside was that it wasn’t ready until about 11 pm and we didn’t get to bed until midnight which was not so good with another busy day ahead.

Tuesday.  Spense on board at 6.30 delivering more galvanised strips.  Then Mike down the engine room by 7.30 working on the intermediate shaft, which is finally out.  Now they’re working on getting the stern-tube out, the 5200 is hanging on in there and causing a few problems.
Unfortunately they’ve found a few more holes and thin bits that need patching.  The biggest being under the engine-room floor which they’re having to cut and weld right now.  The rest Mike reckons can be Navicoted and/or button-patched until we come back in next time.

Mike’s been running around for the last five days now, at the moment looking blacker than a black man, although some of them are pretty black right now too.  Guess you can’t take out greasy shafts and clean bilges without getting some of the black stuff on you (and the carpets and walls and handrails …and me).  Although I know it’s hard work and there’s a fair amount of stress involved I think he’s actually quite enjoying it, getting to be project manager/boss of more than me and any motley crew we happen to have.  Wish I felt the same.

All being well we’ll be done and floating again by the end of the day … although it’s 1.30 already and he hasn’t started on the button-patch/Navicoteing, and they haven’t welded in the patch yet either.

Wednesday.  Still in the dry-dock.  They got the stern-tube out and the patch cut in the engine-room, then all went home because it was 4 o’clock. It gave Mike a bit more time to tighten the button-patches and slap on the Navicote, but it means paying for another day which is something we sure could do without.  We got Capt Burt to bring yet another case of beer, supposedly for celebrating being out of the dock, so instead we had a couple with the guys helping us and then called it done.  Then went and sat under a boat in the yard, in the rain, to get the internet …

Roderick came by to bring us a roast breadfruit but we were too tired to cook, I couldn’t even eat.  Up at six this morning, Mike to go sit under the boat in the rain again to check what amazing things have changed on the internet since last night. Spense here at 6.30, so I was up too.  Not feeling my best, guess the whole thing is getting to me, the dirt and stress and people everywhere, oh and the cost and the money we need for the next phase … trying to be positive but it’s hard sometimes.

In hindsight, I don’t think they had any intention of getting us out of the dock yesterday.  They hadn’t taken down the chainblocks from our counter-stern or moved the skip with all the scrapings in.  It would seem they want us to pay for another day, even though there’s a boat waiting to come in as soon as we leave. But they do seem to be getting on with it all today so I guess it will happen this afternoon.  Only Capt Burt has just brought OceanWolf in next to Alliance and I can’t see how there’s going to be enough room … but I know they know what they’re doing and I won’t be on board, or watching, and all will be fine.

They finally finished welding in the patch in the engine-room, it’s now 1 o’clock and they’ve started filling the dock.  Weird.  Unlike coming down which was slow and quiet, now the water’s rushing in and it’s loud, louder than my heart which is beating faster than it should be.  Lets just hope all the welding, the blanking plate, the button-patches and Navicote hold.

1.38 and I think we’re beginning to float already, or at least I can feel the boat moving.  Except it wasn’t really,  just where the water was thundering into the hull, because the first half hour they were only rinsing out the crap in the bottom of the dock so the water’s clear for the next one and Jack can see to put the blocks under.

As the water finally starts to come up there’s a slight leak in the bilge, which may be where they’ve just welded, or it might be a new hole in the other side of the keel.  OK, the leak in the bilge is no big deal and Jack’s put some Navicote on.  Then there’s another hole underneath where the button-patches are, big enough to need another patch, which Jack went down and put on. But so far no more leaks.

I’m doing my breathing exercises.

And then I left the boat because my stomach was churning and I really did need the bathroom, and I didn’t come back until we were out and back in our original spot at the other side of the dock.  I went and sat under the verandah of the canteen just outside the gates and had a beer and tried not to think about what was happening on the Buzzard.

It wasn’t until an hour or so later that I saw Capt Bim start up and the process of getting us out the dry-dock begin.  Of course by this time it was just gone 4 o’clock so the workers had left and there was only Boysey and Jack to help move the ropes along.
But finally all was good, no obvious leaks.  Although it was a bit disconcerting standing on the dock and having all the looky-loo guys saying how much lower in the water we seemed to be, and were we sure there wasn’t water coming in.

Capt Bim left to go bring a freighter and tanker in and get us yet another case of beer, because apparently they don’t last long on here.  Mike had a shower and the back water tank ran out, and he couldn’t prime the front one because we’re now up at the stern so we don’t have water until he gets it sorted.

We made a quick visit to Wolfgang on OceanWolf as they fly to Canada first thing tomorrow and wanted to give us the meat in their freezer.  Capt Bim came back in with the beer but had another job so couldn’t come and help us drink them as planned, which was probably just as well because we were so tired that, after some smoked pork (from Wolfgang) and fried roast breadfruit (from Roderick), we were in our bunk by 9 pm.

The bilge alarm didn’t go off in the night, not even the often heard phantom one, so that’s really good news.  Although there is a small amount coming in through the button-patches, and Mike’s just found another small hole on the port side which will need a patch.  So now it’s time to get the water sorted, get the engine room cleaned, bring the stern-tube and intermediate shaft out on deck, and then move on to phase 2, whatever that may be.

It’s now midday and he hasn’t had time to fix the water yet.  Which means I can’t start on the much needed laundry and cleaning, which so desperately needs doing.  And I know he’s busy and has better, more important things to do right now, as he always does, but it’s hard when the whole boat is so dirty and I desperately need to get my hands in hot soapy water.

Finally we have water in the back tank, and after a fun-filled, action-packed week, normal(ish) service is resumed.

Love to all ….

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year … and the beginning of a wonderful 2018!

We had a quiet start to the year, probably the quietest we’ve had, ever.  Just the two of us on board, and Nellie of course, having a few beers and playing cards … who would ever have thought that would happen??  We did walk round to the end of the pier for mid-night and, in the absence of fire-works, let off a few out-of-date (1987 no less) flares.  Two of which fizzed and died, one hand-held which provided a spectacular display, and a parachute one that went in the opposite direction Mike pointed it and landed on the deck of one of the old steel freighters tied to the harbour wall.  Luckily there was a night watch-man on board and we went straight over to check and no damage was done, but it did sort of put a dampener on the whole pyrotechnics project.

Talking of dampeners, we’ve had so much rain over the last few weeks we’ve had to disconnect our water catching system as it can’t keep up with the flow, backs up to the weakest point and causes an indoor water-fall that cascades down the funnel, across the passage-way and through the hatch into the hold.  Such is life that while we’re stuck in the dock, with only the two of us on board, and with easy access to water, we’re catching more than we could possibly need, and a lot of which we may well end up pumping off when we finally go in the dry-dock.  Obviously the rain hasn’t done much to help the outside welding and deck work along either, but at least we’re not having the mud-slides that are devastating so much of southern California.  Mother Nature definitely has a mean-streak she’s not afraid to show.

So, yes, surprise, surprise, we didn’t get to go in the dry-dock the first week of January.  Although today we have been informed that it will definitely be next Tuesday … only six weeks late and who knows how many dollars short.  Have to say that, having just got the word, the butterflies have taken up in my stomach.  We’ve been waiting for, and working towards, this for weeks now and it’s going to be great to get the Buzzard one step nearer to being fixed and on the move again, but whilst Mike is excited and ready to go, all I can think about is what might go wrong and what problems we might find when we do actually get in the dock.

Oh well, I’m sure all will be good … and all being well we’ll be over at the Bequia Music Festival next week-end, catching up with the friends we haven’t seen for so long, and celebrating the successful completion of phase one of the Buzzard over-haul.

As well as dealing with weather, and whether or when we’ll be going in the dock, we’ve also had stuff stolen from the boat.  The first time in all our travels and all the different countries we’ve visited, and it’s not a good feeling, especially as it turns out it was the guy on the boat next door who we’d tried to help.  The worse bit was that he’d not only taken tools, which he may well have found lying around, but also some things from the drawer under the bed in our cabin so he’d obviously been having a good search around.  Kemdal, the other guy who was arrested just before Christmas for stealing, spent two weeks in jail and then was released without charge, he’s been given the sack from the boat in the yard that he’d been working on for nine years, so now he’s sort of working for us as no-one else will give him job and he has no money.

On a more positive note, Capt Burt and crew are still taking us around and getting us out of the yard every now and again.  Nellie seems to be getting the better of her nocturnal visitor; rather than hiding away she’s patrolling her territory, and although there’s still been a few late night caterwaulings going on we haven’t actually seen the other one for a while, and she’s not limping quite so badly … there’s obviously life in the almost 17 year old/young girl yet.  And we had fresh brussel sprouts for supper last night, a couple of weeks late for Christmas, and a little bit expensive, but the first we’ve had for years, and they were fantastic and we savoured every single mouth-watering bite full … do we know how to treat ourselves or what??

Hopefully the next blog will be full of pictures of the mighty Buzzard in the dry-dock, showing off her flowery bottom to one and all.

Love to everyone …

Belated Merry Christmas!

Three days late but I guess better late than never!  Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and you’re now gearing up for an even better New Year.

We’re still in Ottley Hall, still waiting to go into the dry-dock, and although starting to get used to our new locale we’re still struggling with the heat and the noise and the mozzies.  The tug that’s in the dry-dock at the moment has decided it’s staying there until all the work is done, so now the earliest we could possibly go in is the first week in January.  And given that most of the workers left the Friday before Christmas and won’t be back until the middle of next week, even that’s looking somewhat doubtful.

It’s good that we have Capt Burt and his crew around, he gets us out of Ottley Hall every now and again, and the week before Christmas took us up the east side of the island checking out which was going to be his Christmas pig.  Andre has been over to help Mike with the shaft bolts which, after a lot of heat and hammering and hardwork, are finally out.  We also had Kemdal helping for a while, until he was jailed for stealing, and a young guy from the boat next door, until he was told he had to leave the yard after threatening one of the bosses with a machete …

We’ve also attracted a miscreant local cat that keeps coming on board and terrorising Nellie.  First there was the missing cat food and holes in the bread (which we originally thought might be rat related), then the midnight cat fights started.  Poor Nellie, at nearly 17, whose back legs are already wobbly and whose hearing is all but gone, doesn’t need the action, and is limping around to prove it.  She’s also taken to sleeping either with us, under the kitchen counter or down in the officers.  After the last cat fight a couple of days ago we managed to get the interloper cornered, with Mike on one deck and Nick on the other brandishing torches, wielding broom handles and generally making a racket.  We haven’t seen it since but Nellie is still skitty and anxious and sure it’s about to return.

Christmas Eve we went into Kingstown with Burt to do a little last minute supply shopping, and ended up getting stuck in the supermarket for an hour and a half when the power went out and all the cash-registers crashed.  Then back in the bay we had the spectacle of the 6,000 tonne barge being taken out of the harbour, with attendant tugs, shouting and near misses of the harbour entrance.

Christmas Day was definitely different too.  First thing Christmas morning we moved Tjeldoy, which had been tied up alongside us for a couple of days, then we went on Captain Burt’s working tug to help a tanker off one bunker pipe-line in Lowman’s Bay and then move to the pipe-line on the south side of Kingstown, where the old airport used to be.  We didn’t actually have to do much other than be on stand-by but we were out for a couple of hours.  Then it was back to the dock for copious quantities of pork and beer and visits from other tug and freighter dwellers stuck in the yard for the festive season.  There was not a brussel sprout, Christmas cracker or roast potato in sight, although we did have some Caribbean Christmas cake and a Christmas pudding that my daughter Jess had brought out two years ago.

Not sure what we’ll be doing for the Old Year’s End .. will let you know.

Love to all ….

Crew-less in St. Vincent ..

What a difference two weeks makes.  The day after I posted the last blog Mike called the Captain of our soon to be saviour, Nurse Jean.  This was another PSV that had been into Portsmouth a few weeks previously and said that though they were then going north they would be back at the end of the month to make a trip to St. Vincent.  And indeed they were, and a few days later, bright and early in the morning, they rounded the head-land heading for the dock in Portsmouth.

This was definitely a sight for sore eyes, especially as we’d just about given up on the Trini boat ever being ready to leave or if it did, being capable of actually towing us.

The timing also took our mind from the loss of Seb as part of the crew.  He left the same morning to catch the ferry to Martinique and fly back to the UK.  His original two week stay had extended to almost four months and unfortunately, as much he wanted to, he had to make plans and head home.  He’s been a wonderful asset to the Buzzard and become a great friend whose hard work, engineering skills, and positive disposition will be very much missed.

At 2.30 the same afternoon Nurse Jean came alongside us, moved us forward to pick up the anchor, took up the tow rope, and headed out of the bay.  Twenty hours later we arrived in St. Vincent and, after a slight issue with setting us free, our friend Captain Burt, on his tug Captain Bim, took us alongside the dock in Kingstown.  After checking in and going to a supermarket that actually had food (and beer), he brought us around to Ottley Hall just before dark and we tied up alongside a freighter.

So here we are, ten days later, waiting to go into the dry-dock to pull the rudder and the shaft and fix the sterntube.  Unfortunately there’s a tug already in the dry-dock that is taking longer to fix that they’d thought, and then there’s another boat waiting to go in before it’s our turn. But we’re here, and safe, and hurrying up and waiting.

The first few days took some adjusting to.  The small Ottley Hall harbour is full of freighters and ferries and barges and tugs, and there’s banging and ramps clanging and generators going most of the time.  Oh and it’s hot and there are lots of mozzies.

Chris and Tom flew back to Grenada after the first three days.  Chris had more than done his time with us after being on board since our first run to Dominica, and Tom’s few weeks helping had turned into a five week odyssey that hadn’t been expected, plus there’s not a lot they can do here to help right now.  Like all our crew they’ve been wonderful and it’s been great having them on board to help and support us, and it’s more than strange to be on our own once again.

Since they left Mike’s been busy trying to source a cutlass bearing and take apart the intermediate shaft so that once we go into the dry-dock everything will be ready, but unfortunately things haven’t been going quite according to plan.  After a week of emails and Skype conversations the company he was dealing with in the States have said they can’t come up with what we want, and even with the much appreciated help of Captain Burt and his crew, some of the bolts on the shaft are proving obstinate. Still, it’s looking like we’ll have longer than we wanted/anticipated before we go in the dry-dock so I’m sure all will be done before then.

Boatyard life, not something we’re used to, is proving difficult but we’re getting there.  For the most part the people in the yard have been friendly and helpful, and of course we’ve had the added bonus of Captain Burt.  We see him most days and he’s been a real godsend, showing us around and making sure we’re welcomed in all the local bars …

We also met up with Dr. James who came with us to Dominica with medical supplies on our last trip from here.  He took Mike in for a check-up and blood tests and prescribed more of the thyroid tablets that we ran out of whilst in Portsmouth.  He also introduced us to friends who I’m sure we’ll see again whilst were here.

We had really hoped that we’d be in and out in a few weeks and able to do a Christmas run to Dominica but unfortunately, the way things are going, I can’t see that happening.  Then again, although this is not where we want to be, and the thought of how much this is all going to cost is a constant worry, we’re here and safe … and there are definitely worse places to be.  Thanks to everyone who helped us get here!

Love to all …


Dominica … still

Unfortunately not a good few weeks for the Buzzard.  After returning from Guadeloupe we stayed in Portsmouth waiting to know what the next step would be and trying to get supplies organised from St. Lucia.  After a week of fruitless phone calls, the Kalinago Territory folks said they would provide fuel if we went back to Guadeloupe to pick up generators and six tonnes of food, so that was the plan.

In preparation for the trip Mike and Seb went to put some more packing into the slightly leaking stern-tube, and then couldn’t get the internal flange back on.  The following morning Tom and Chris went down on the outside to see what was happening and found that the external stern-tube flange was severely compromised, with sheered and loose bolts.  For the next four days we had Nickroy diving, Tom and Seb running under-water support and Mike and Chris running chain-blocks (to take the pressure off the shaft and align the bolts) and generators (supplying air to the diving lines).  Whilst, after drilling and tapping, they managed to get some of the bolts back in, the internal flange still wouldn’t go back on.

So, after lots of hard work and deliberation, the decision was made that it wasn’t safe to  move under our own steam and we would have to get towed to the dry-dock in St. Vincent. Rather that than risk doing more serious damage to the stern-tube and/or shaft.

There was an ex-long-line Trini boat in the bay, having its own engine problems, who said that once they were fixed they were heading back to Trini and would tow us to St. Vincent.  That was two weeks ago.  They have, with some help and support from Mike and Seb’s, got their boat running again, but they’re still waiting for another boat that was supposed to be coming down to take their remaining cargo.

In the meantime a PSV (platform support vessel) came in and originally said they were heading south also.  Only today their plans have changed and they’re now re-loading and heading north to St. Martin before returning to Trini. So, as of now, we not exactly sure what’s happening and when we’ll be able to get to the dry-dock.

On a positive note though, our leaks have almost stopped and we’re not in any danger … just frustrated and stuck and having to employ all our powers of patience to remain sane and civil, a situation not helped by a dwindling supply of provisions and very limited internet/phone connections.

Of course there’s always lots of maintenance to do on the Buzzard so we’re picking away at niggly jobs that have needed doing for quite some time, and cooking, cleaning and laundry are always constants, for which it’s a bonus we have the ‘fairies’!

Our extended/enforced stay in Dominica has meant that we’ve had a chance to become more ‘local’.  Mike and Seb helped Jennifer and Crispin install a generator in their home in the hills above Portsmouth so that they now have lights and running water for the first time since Maria hit.  Yesterday they took us for a drive over to the north east of the island, an area still struggling to re-build amidst the piled up trees and devastation, and which doesn’t go away just because it’s been a few months since it happened and the world’s attention has shifted to something new.

We’ve also had the opportunity to talk to lots more people here, and to hear lots more stories of the worsening situation with regard to the bringing in of aid supplies and goods in general.  We’ve heard stories about relief goods that should be tax exempt that are being charged massive duty.  We’ve also heard many stories of people not being able to get their goods from the port, goods going ‘missing’, and off-loaded aid supplies being sold. The port in Roseau is now inundated with containers which are not being cleared and with the subsequent effect that those received first are less accessible and are not able to be released, resulting in extra demurrage and port fees = a form of blackmail..

A recent visit to Roseau by friends, resulted in photos of the main supermarket, with completely empty shelves because the commercial supplies coming in are not being cleared either.  The scarcity of goods also means that retailers are in a position to increase prices when they are available, which some are taking full advantage of, especially with regard to construction materials which are obviously at a premium right now.

Whilst there’s no doubt the port authorities have had a lot to deal with since Maria hit, it would also appear that there continues to be A LOT of incompetency and corruption, and that it is a situation that is getting worse rather than better.  However, life goes on and  the people carry on and cope as best they can … with intermittently available ‘cold’ beers (although no Kubuli, the locally brewed beer), and amid some signs of re-construction ..  with NOT a hammer to be had !



Dominica – Fifth delivery

For all those who don’t ‘do’ facebook (of which we were one until very recently), my apologies for lack of updates.

We have just completed our fifth aid delivery to Dominica and are anchored in Portsmouth doing some much needed bilge pump maintenance, and hopefully some leak stopping.  As well as catching up on a little well-earned rest and recuperation.

After our trip to Antigua we headed back down to Grenada, managing to get caught in some seriously rough weather, with our passengers on-board, and towing a yacht (with Angie and two others on-board).  The yacht had been damaged in Irma and although partly fixed had run into trouble going between Guadeloupe and Martinique.  Angie phoned us as we left Portsmouth and we picked them up just off Roseau as we headed south. We spent two nights in Fort de France waiting for a weather window between the on-coming tropical-waves, and then still managed to get a pasting going down to Bequia.  We were there two nights also, and Henry left us to sort out his house and get ready for his return to Germany.

When we finally got to Grenada we spent less than a week there before loading up and heading north again, with Tom as our replacement crew, and Kim and Lylette who were going to Dominica to distribute water purification systems that we had on board.  Overall they didn’t have as many supplies to pick-up as they’d hoped (although there were 13 coffins), so once we left there we stopped off in St. Vincent to pick up supplies (and Dr. James who was coming to joint a medical team), and stopped again in St. Lucia.  Loading during the day and sailing through the nights made for a tiring few days.

We arrived in Roseau early in the morning and eventually got permission to go to the main dock.  Unfortunately things in Roseau seem to have got worse rather than better.  Bureaucracy rules, people were no longer allowed to enter the dock area to collect their own packages, customs seemed to be arbitrarily deciding what was exempt from duty and what wasn’t, we had to off-load everything ourselves as no external help was allowed.  And all around the port was full of containers and supplies that are not getting out to the people who still so desperately need it. It made for a depressing and frustrating visit.

We left Roseau as soon as we could and headed to Portsmouth.  To be met with warmth and appreciation and lots of willing helpers, together with the knowledge that everything off-loaded would be going, courtesy of Cobra and his ‘soldiers’, to people who really needed it.  The contrast was, and continues to be, amazing.

It took us just over a day to finish unloading and pump off some diesel for the distribution trucks and then we went out to anchor.  This was the last run we were doing with the support of the Grenadian group (fronted by Hiro and Dave) who had raised monies to fund our fuel and expenses and collect supplies for shipping.  After working tirelessly for over six weeks, they were beginning to find that ‘donation fatigue’ was setting in and the amount of aid being donated was dwindling.  This phenomena is apparent in many of the other islands in the chain and, given the number of islands that have been so badly damaged this hurricane season it’s hardly surprising.  (It a supermarket in Kingstown, St. Vincent, there was a donation barrel on which a printed sign read: “Please give generously to help the people of the Barbuda, St. Martin, BVIs and USVIs”, and in pen “Dominica” had been added to the top of the list.)

So, not quite knowing what the next step would be, we spent a few days resting up and catching up with the never ending Buzzard maintenance jobs, and contacting people about further funding.  Thanks to Kim, who put us in touch with the Dominica Rotary Club, within two days we were given money for fuel and were on our way to Guadeloupe to pick up a load of supplies there.

We left here first light Monday morning, arrived Pointe a Pitre in the early afternoon, loaded what was there, loaded more the following day, left in the afternoon and were back on the dock unloading in Portsmouth early the next morning, Just over 48 hours from start to finish.  Unfortunately there wasn’t so much to pick up in the way of food, but heavy wood and building materials which is what seems to be needed here now.

It was our first time in the centre of the butterfly of Guadeloupe and I hadn’t realised just how built up and industrialised this part of the country is.  We were in the main commercial container dock across the channel from the high-rises and tower blocks and continuous light shows.  The morning we were there our wonderful agent Gerard took us in search of various boat parts and supplies and the retail/commercial area was a complete shock to the system.  There were miles of shops and offices and restaurants, and more shops, and people and traffic-jams and concrete and chaos and cars. It was hard to comprehend the contrast between this teaming, metropolitan, city which appeared to be fueled by rampant consumerism, and Dominica where most people still don’t have enough food and water and are living under tarps … and they’re less than forty miles apart!

Of course this was only one area of Guadeloupe and I’m sure that the countryside in the north is totally different, and I know for a fact that, like most Caribbean countries, the consumer culture we witnessed is restricted to those people in the right area with the right jobs, with many locals still struggling to make a living.

Within the next couple of days we should know what our next step will be, whether it’s back to St. Lucia to pick up another load (which is looking like the most likely option), or back to Grenada to do some much needed more intensive maintenance.  Either way I’m sure we’ll be back in Dominica before long … unfortunately the need here isn’t going away anytime soon.



Dominican update

After a few hectic days of loading in St. Lucia we were finally full to the gunnels once more.  Although we’d had a slow start with the relief supplies the St. Luicians came through at the end and we had almost 100 tonnes of aid on-board (including 30+ tonnes of bottled water in our hold).  Unfortunately we didn’t manage to get any fresh provisions for us, or the oil and filters we needed for the engine, but we did get fuel and hopefully we’ll be able to get the rest of what we need at our next stop.

When we finally left Castries around 6 pm Friday with our five crew, two Global-Medics, and nine Dominicans needing to get home, we were already a bit tired after a long loading day with no promised dock helpers.  Luckily it was a relatively calm night, a few people were not feeling so good but at least no one got sea-sick, and the only calamity was a leak that developed on our starboard side that kept starting off the bilge alarm.  Mike, Henry and Seb managed to get that under control though and the majority of the passengers were none the wiser.

Arriving in Roseau at 7 am the next morning wasn’t quite the experience we’d hoped for.  We tried for 3 hours to get the pilots on the radio to find out where we could dock, and whilst we were milling around in the bay a small pirogue approached us.  In the boat there was an aid worker and a local guy from New Town (near Soufriere in the south of the island) begging for anything we could give them as they had received nothing since Maria hit.  We gave them water and food and all the anti-biotic cream we had to hand.  Whilst we knew that the road from Roseau to Soufriere had been blocked when we were here last week, we’d also seen the Chinooks and Sea King helicopters heading out, which we thought were delivering relief to the out-lying villages, but apparently whatever they did deliver hasn’t got through to where it’s most needed.

Eventually we got permission to dock.  There was one Dutch military boat unloading supplies but apart from that there was no other military presence, a stark contrast to last week and the war-zone atmosphere.  We spent the rest of the day unloading, with very little help as the dock workers weren’t working at the weekend.  However those that did help were amazing and moved mountains, and more than made up for those who came on the dock demanding their personal packages and leaving without a ‘thank-you’ when they’d got what they came for.

First thing Sunday we unloaded two pallets of water for Sea Shepherd to take down to Soufriere, and set off for Portsmouth.  We arrived here around lunch-time and were told we couldn’t dock as there was a ferry coming in (reminiscent of the three times we had to move docks in Castries because the ferry or the freighter was coming in).  We waited for an hour and were then given the ok as the ferry wasn’t coming after all.  We were tied up on the dock and were in busy unloading mode when the ferry steamed in and we had to stop the work, park the crane and move out into the bay until it had off loaded five passengers and picked up a few more.

As we experienced last week when we were here, the difference between Roseau and Portsmouth were immediately apparent.  We had Cobra’s helpers on board within minutes of docking and they were here for the full day and a half it took to unload supplies and diesel for their distribution trucks. Things here are still dire, the ‘bank’ opens one morning a week and consists of a woman outside with a computer, and people are still coming up to us desperate for food and water, but there is a wonderful community spirit that is really helping to get help to those in need.

Last night we finished at 8.30 pm and today we’re having another Buzzard maintenance day, as the wear and tear on the old Buzzard is beginning to show.  We have two divers (who may well become temporary crew) coming down to help fix the leak, and we have to do some crane over-hauling as it’s been used more in the last few weeks than it normally does in a year.  We also have to fix our water collection system that got damaged when a pallet slipped going through the funnel, not sure there’s much we can do about the cracked glass roof right now but I’m sure it’ll get fixed eventually.

Although there is obviously still a great need for supplies to get through to certain parts of Dominica and for the rebuilding project to start, the island itself is starting to re-grow already.  Whereas last week the trees were bare and the land brown, this week there are already green shoots on some of the trees and grass once more creeping up the hillsides.

Later this afternoon we leave Portsmouth and will be heading to Antigua to pick up more supplies to bring back.  They don’t have a full load for us but would like to set up a regular help commitment and would like us to be the aid deliverer.  The trip there and back and loading/unloading should take about a week and then, all being well, we’ll be heading south and back to Grenada for the next load …

Will keep you updated as and when we can.

PS  On a human note … two of the ladies who joined us in St. Lucia to get to Roseau had flown from London and needed to get to Dominica to see their grandmother who was in the hospital.  Despite the delays in leaving St. Lucia and getting to the dock here, they did manage to get to see her for an hour before she died.  They were so thankful that we’d got them here in time …



Dominica Press Release

Hi Everyone ..

This is an update on the ‘Dominican situation’..

In less than one week the great people of Grenada (the country, the communities and the cruisers) rallied, organised and gave generously, supplies materials and their time and energy to collect and almost fill the Flying Buzzard. Fantastic effort on such short notice.

The Flying Buzzard left Grenada last Monday (25th) with a very substantial load of relief supplies and three Dominicans going home to help. We sailed overnight to St.Lucia and picked up some more aid in Castries, then overnight again to Roseau (Dominica), where we were met with scenes of devastation and chaos, but with a large military presence (including big Chinook helicopters whirring around adding to the war-zone feel), and people there beginning to co-ordinate and trying to work together.

We were, unexpectedly for us, expected there and tucked in a corner of the dock within an hour. The result of personal connections from Grenadians/Dominicans and indeed everywhere … “One World One Love”. The customs officials only had a small car left as an office and the hood served as a desk, minimal paperwork and then the mammoth task of unloading began.

Starting with approx. 50 barrels and several hundred personal assorted boxes and packages, including those to and for customs, pilots, banks, credit union, church groups etc. .. showing again the value of good connections.  We had help from a variety of people, especially a group from the Christian Disaster Organisation, four fantastic hardworking teenagers and their house parents. The main cargo of approx. 8 tonnes of bottled water and many more of canned and dry foodstuff, as well as clothing was then craned out of the hold, palletized or loaded directly onto vehicles for delivery. One of our resourceful crew found a cement plant with 1 tonne dumpy bags to pre load inside the hold, which made the whole process a lot easier … yeah, much needed efficiency!! Less hand humping.

Two full days later we left for Portsmouth, surveying the wasteland on-route. Two crew went with the male house parent by road, seeing even more of the devastation whilst dodging the holes in the road, the rocks and debris and all the downed power cables.  The Buzzard arrived mid-afternoon, was given a dock space and at dark we finished unloading. We craned the lot onto the dock, except the personal packages, which were off-loaded by hand. In Portsmouth the customs shed is destroyed, meaning the aid goes directly to a locally run centre and from there mainly to the remoter rural areas on small dump trucks and pick-ups. However there are no fuel deliveries to the north end of Dominica due to the road being precarious in places and the fuel trucks would have to drive through rivers.  Executive decision time: We pumped off approx. 3 tons of diesel for the local delivery trucks, who are doing all this work without being subsidized for fuel even when and if they can get it, and also for a local boat running supplies with five gals of engine oil and all the gasoline we had on board. No paperwork, just 10 gals for the customs guys vehicles …

Portsmouth is a small town/large village with a community spirit and now with some running water and very limited cell service. The main coordinator is Cobra, a local tour operator ( he’s been given a sat phone to help him). He is run ragged and stressed but cheery, helpful, has a great team and makes stuff happen !! The difference between Portsmouth and Roseau is quite apparent. We realize: Comparing the two is a bit unfair as all the ‘international aid’ is centered in Roseau, but the politics between the international aid agencies and some corruption in some customs officials is very sad to see. We tried to by-pass all of the above as much as possible and gave the aid directly to people running local shelters etc.

We spent one night on the dock in Portsmouth and the next day set sail for St. Lucia taking five evacuees that needed to get out (including a mother and two teenage daughters, who were sea-sick the whole way, and an American who cleaned our cooker because she had to keep busy).  At present we are anchored in Rodney Bay (today is their Thanksgiving holiday) and we’re busy getting the Buzzard and ourselves ready to start loading in Castries early tomorrow.  It’s quite bizarre for us watching the touristy party boats going by, whilst not 100 miles north there’s a national disaster, but it seems ‘plastic life’ goes on here unabated.

We’re hoping that St. Lucia has pulled out all the stops and when we get to the dock there is more than enough to fill the Buzzard, they’ve definitely been working hard enough towards it.  If that is the case then we should take two/three days to load then be heading back to Dominica.  And after unloading there we will be going back to Grenada to fill up once more … or at least that’s the plan at present.

This is only a snap-shot of our experiences so far.

Cheers from the Flying Buzzard … and all her hard-working, amazing crew!


PS  We have added this post to the Flying Buzzard Friends facebook page, where we have also uploaded more photos.

The Hurricanes …

No doubt everyone will be very much aware of the devastation that has been caused to parts of the Caribbean by the category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Fortunately, being based in Grenada, we have not been unduly effected by them ourselves, although watching the unfolding destruction in countries where we have been and have friends, has been harrowing.

After Irma hit we were approached to take supplies up to St. Martin and the BVIs, but after getting first-hand accounts of the madness and mayhem that ensued in the aftermath, and still continues, we decided to wait.  Now Maria has passed and Dominica, another island we know and have friends on, has been all but destroyed.  There are relief organisations here in Grenada who are desperately wanting to send supplies up there … at present communications have not been repaired and it’s difficult to know how bad the situation is, other than ‘really, really bad’.

So .. we are going to be part of the relief aid.  Just had a meeting on board with the two main guys in charge, they want the Buzzard docked on the Carenage in St. George’s by tomorrow afternoon, starting to load Friday and hopefully be on our way early next week. That is, of course, weather permitting …

Love to all … we’ll try and keep you updated xx