Dominica Doesn’t Disappoint!

We’ve been wanting to visit Dominica for a long time – ever since we started planning this Big Adventure severeal years ago, and looking at the islands individually. Fran, in particular, has wanted to see it. A few weeks ago, we did, and we were not disappointed! I think it’s the most beautiful island we’ve visited – it’s so green and lush, the word “jungle” is always on your mind as you travel around. But the waterfalls – WOW WOW WOW!!! We walked / hiked / swam to seven, and every one was just gorgeous – and one was, for me, maybe the most beautiful natural feature I’ve ever seen, anywhere in the world. (Eric McKinley, I know you like hiking to waterfalls – you NEED to go to Dominica!)

Trafalgar Falls – this is Papa. Look close to see the person, to give an idea of the size.
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Look at the attached map of the Eastern Caribbean, and you’ll see that Grenada (not Granada – that’s in Spain!) is almost as far south as you can go without hitting South America. Trinidad and Tobago are the very last islands before Venezuela, but because of security concerns, we decided to skip them. That means Grenada is likely the farthest south we’ll get on this Big Adventure, even if we finally make it down the coast in the Western Caribbean. For you map nerds, we saw 11 degrees, 59 minutes North as we came around the southern part of the island, and at that point, we were 1,443 nautical miles (1,659 “normal” miles) from Satellite Beach, our Florida home for the twelve years before departing. According to Smartini’s electronic charting system, we traveled about 3,920 miles to get there, so there has been a lot of side-tripping and revisiting favorite places along the way, but that was the whole point of the trip, after all.

We spent all of October in Grenada, then went to the US for 32 days to visit friends and family all over the country. We returned to Grenada for a little more than two weeks, before leaving there on Christmas Eve, beginning our long, slow trek back north. (We spent over a week in Bequia – it’s a favorite spot! – then a few days on St. Vincent, and now we’re exploring St. Lucia.)

We liked Grenada – Fran liked it A LOT! It’s the first island we’ve been to so far that’s green and lush and beautiful for its peaks (the tallest is 2,756 feet), rainforest, and waterfalls, and it’s covered with hundreds, maybe thousands, of species of tropical plants. Everywhere you look you see bamboo, bananas, papayas, coconuts, nutmeg, sugar cane, cocoa, mangos, and flowers of every color, shape and size. The people are mostly friendly to tourists, although tourism is only their fourth largest source of revenue. They make delicious chocolate on antique equipment, and rum (that tastes like paint thinner!) on ancient equipment. We did our first Hash while we were there (see “Hash House Harriers” – it’s a drinking club with a running problem) – they do one almost every Saturday, and have been doing it for over 30 years! We got to meet and hang out with a bunch of cool boat people (virtually all of them sailors, but we’ve grown fond of them). We got to spend time with two couples we’ve met along the way who we dearly love – Max and Whitey on Nutmeg, and Paul and Liz on Oneiro. And we finally got to have a visit from my almost-niece Abby, who dealt with all the vagaries that boat life could throw at her, from a dead main engine to missing a flight home, like the world-class traveler that she is.

So here’s Grenada, in pictures!

Our very first stop after Customs and Immigration! It’s not Intra nor Deviate, but at least they had something other than island lager!
With Liz and Paul from Oneiro, at the Container Park. So many shipping containers come to the islands with nothing to put in them for the trip back, that they end up getting left on the islands and used for all kinds of things – like an entire food court made of them!
L to R: Butch, Max (Nutmeg), Fran, Paul (Oneiro), Whitey (Nutmeg), and Liz (Oneiro). We’ve met some great people on this Big Adventure, but none finer than these four!
At the completion of the Hash (a 30 – 40 minute run through the bush, across streams, gardens, etc.). This was the 1,109th Hash since the Grenada Hash House Harriers started well over 20 years ago.
Some of the local fare they served after the Hash. Green bananas (or maybe it’s breadfruit?), manicu (possum), and iguana.
Fran’s been saying for years she wants to see monkeys. While we did see one in the wild, this guy was caged up, and it’s a good thing – he stole Fran’s phone right after she took this picture! Good thing it wouldn’t fit through the fencing, or we’d have been out one phone.
Concorde Falls – you can drive right to it!
This is a cocoa pod, full of the seeds (beans?) that are processed into chocolate. There are at least two chocolate makers on Grenada, and they also export a lot of the dried cocoa seeds to other countries who make their own chocolate with it.
Just one of the many types of chocolate that Jouvay makes.
Grenada has an interesting recent history (1970’s and 1980’s), during which they overthrew a virtual dictator and installed a new government, which then failed 5 years later when the Prime Minister was killed after a major split in the government. During those 5 years, Cuba was sending them aid, and of course, the Soviet Union was supporting Cuba. This Soviet plane, and another from the same era, are all that are left at the original airport, which is now used as an informal dragstrip and livestock pasture.
They dress fairly conservatively on most of the Caribbean islands.
A dinghy full of trick-or-treaters on Halloween. We had at least 20 dinghies full, with at least 75 kids in costume. Paul and Liz (Oneiro) joined forces with us to handle them all.
Jamar came onboard twice every day and took care of May while we were in the US for 32 days in November. He sent us pictures of May every few days, but she didn’t seem too interested in the photo shoots.
Fran carries a small bag of cat treats (the ones May doesn’t like!) with her whenever we’re out and about, so she can win the affection (or at least the attention) of all the island kitties. A few minutes before this photo, this cat was happily eating Cheetos that our driver had tossed to her.
This 178 year old water wheel turns the machinery that crushes sugar cane. The cane is fed into the crusher by hand, and as you can see in the background, the husks are hauled off by hand, too. The cane juice is fermented, then distilled into rum, then immediately bottled and sold – not one day of aging! They make – and sell – about 500 bottles every day. At 142 proof, t’s the definition of “firewater”.
The cane crusher that’s turned by the water wheel.
Moving the crushed cane husks out of the way for drying. After they’re dry enough, they’re burned to provide the heat for the distilling process.
The cane juice is fermented in open air vats, and then distilled. This is the last vat before distilling.
Butch, Elon (our distillery guide), Fran, Abby, and Curtis (our driver and island tour guide).
Roasted cocoa beans are sorted by hand – these ladies are looking for any bad ones, which go into the triangular hole in the corner of their “desk”.
One of two or three presses that are used to squeeze the chocolate nibs until every bit of oil (cocoa butter) is separated from the dry powder. Later in the process, they add some of the butter back to make the chocolate more creamy.
Nutmeg, fresh off the tree. The outer husk is used like mulch. The red lacy “wrapper” is called mace and is also used as a spice. The actual nutmeg spice is the seed in the center. It’s a very important export for Grenada, and the main reason it’s called The Spice Island.
Buying a squash (which they call “pumpkin”) that we later made into a delicious soup. Notice the two signs in front of the truck: “No Parking” and “No Vending”. Ha!
Abby, my almost-niece, on the aft deck with May.
Walking up to the fort that guards the entrance to the harbour. The town of St. George (aka St. George’s) is in the background. It’s Grenada’s largest town by far.
At Annandale Falls.
A giant tree on the marina property. See me in the picture? It must be a thousand years old.
On the north end of Grenada is an “exclusion zone” for boaters – where an underwater volcano is. If the volcano were to start emitting gas, the water would get very bubbly, and any boat in that water would sink like a stone! Smartini is the red arrow, as we skirted past, just outside the danger zone.

So that’s Grenada! We liked it – I hope you did, too!

DIY Sensors with Signal K Part 3 – The Software

This is my third and final post about using inexpensive microcontrollers to gather boat data and send it to Signal K. The first one was an overview, the second one detailed the hardware involved, and this one will detail the software.

There are two main bits of software involved – the Signal K Server, and what I’ll refer to as the Sensor Software. This post deals only with the Sensor Software – the software that is installed on the microcontroller to gather data from the sensors and then send it, over wifi, to the Signal K Server software. The Signal K Server software is most likely running on a Raspberry Pi, and you can read all about it on the Signal K website. For purposes of this post, I will simply assume you have the Signal K Server up and running, and that you did a standard installation of it.

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DIY Sensors with Signal K Part 2 – The Hardware

(This post was originally published on the Signal K Blog site in August 2019. It was written as part of a 3-article series. I decided to post all three of them on the Smartini Life blog. If you’re not a bit of a nerd, this may not be your cup of tea.)

In a previous blog post, I wrote in general terms about using small, inexpensive microcontrollers to gather all kinds of data around your boat and make it available on your boat’s network through Signal K. In this post, I’m going to describe, in detail, the device I built and deployed on my boat to gather and report four temperatures from my main engine. I hope it’s detailed enough so that you could duplicate the project yourself. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of doing this yourself – this was only my second ever real microcontroller project – it’s not complicated.

In this post, I’ll detail the hardware aspect of the device, and will address the software details in the next post.

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DIY Sensors with Signal K

(This post was originally published on the Signal K Blog site in August 2019. It was written as part of a 3-article series. The next one in the series is here: I decided to post all three of them on the Smartini Life blog. If you’re not a bit of a nerd, this may not be your cup of tea.)

When we bought our 14 year old trawler in 2016, I knew I wanted to improve the instrumentation. Not only the obvious things (chart plotter, radar, sonar, etc.), but also data about the engine that would alert me to a problem long before the engine started coming apart. At the Miami Boat Show, I stumbled across the Digital Yacht booth, where they were showing some equipment that used a new marine data standard called Signal K. It would let you see all the data from your boat’s data network (NMEA 0183 and 2000) on any smartphone, tablet, or computer screen, via wifi. “COOL!”, I thought!

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Work, Work, Work II

It’s often said among boaters that cruising is “fixing your boat in exotic places”. At times, it certainly feels that way. In August, while we were in Sint Maarten, we “hauled out” for 16 days to get a number of boat projects done, and this is the report of that haul out, and of the several other projects we’ve completed since then. My standard warning for all posts like this is that they’re probably not very interesting to many of you, and you won’t offend me by not reading them. (The original “Work, Work, Work” post, from early 2018, is here.)

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We Made it to Grenada!

When we left Florida on the Big Adventure on March 1, 2018, we were hoping to eventually make it to Grenada, which is one of the last islands in the Caribbean before South America. Yesterday, we made it!

We spent two months in St. Martin (French) / Sint Maarten (Dutch), where we hauled Smartini out of the water for 16 days and completed a lot of projects. (That will be the subject of another post.) But by the middle of September, we were getting tired of worrying about the next Tropical Wave spinning off the coast of Africa – was it going to come our way? Would it develop into a Tropical Storm, or a hurricane, and would it visit St. M? Would we be in a safe enough place to avoid damage? We decided to get while the gettin’ was good, and a forecast of calm weather for a week or more was all we needed.

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The Picture of Dorian: Gray

A quick tropical storm update for those following along at home: Dorian is passing by Sint Maarten as close as it’s going to get as I type this – about 90 nautical miles (104 regular miles). Winnie the Pooh would describe today as “blustery”, which you can see in the picture. Unless the storm takes a radical right turn in the next few hours, we’ll come through it unscathed.

We’re “on the hard” right now – hauled out in a boat yard, for some routine under-the-waterline maintenance. Today marks two weeks since the haul out, and if the weather today doesn’t hinder the bottom painters’ progress, we’ll be back in the water tomorrow. We finally got smart and decided not to stay on Smartini during the haul out – airbnb to the rescue! It’s nice to get away from the boat each day after 6 – 8 hours of sweaty dirty work and have a nice pool to cool off in, then a real shower to get clean in, and air conditioning to sleep in. May is diggin’ it, for sure.

Our friends Max and Whitey, who run charters on a big sailing catamaran (Nutmeg), took the boat to the Southern Caribbean (St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada) for hurricane season. They’ve done some dashing around down there to dodge Dorian over the last few days.

Our friends Jim and Kathy Booth, who have a sail cat (Moondance) at their home in Palm Coast, FL, are now in the bullseye of Dorian’s projected path.

Our friends Beth and Pat Winkler, who have a trawler (Olaf) and spend their summers on it in Maine, are currently watching Tropical Storm Erin, hoping it doesn’t veer west and whack them.

Hmmm….. maybe the smartest hurricane plan is to stay right in the middle of the Caribbean Islands, and just cross all fingers and toes! So far, it’s working for Smartini.

Trying to Reason: Update #3

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! This was from yesterday (Saturday) at 2:00 p.m.

Upper-level winds are then expected to become unfavorable for further development early next week.

  • Formation chance through 48 hours…low…20 percent.
  • Formation chance through 5 days…low…20 percent.

At 8:00 this morning, even better!

Look at the cute little disturbance!

…forecast to become less conducive during the next couple of days, and significant development of this system is not anticipated.

  • Formation chance through 48 hours…low…10 percent.
  • Formation chance through 5 days…low…10 percent.

I think we can call this one, folks. The chances of this system reversing its shrinking trend and becoming something that will be a problem for us are tiny. I won’t be surprised to see it disappear from the NHC outlook by this time tomorrow.

I hope my series of posts over the last few days have demonstrated what we go through each and every time a tropical disturbance starts to develop off the coast of Africa. We become fixated on these 4-times-daily reports from the National Hurricane Center. We start thinking about moving the boat hundreds of miles to the south – a journey we would not undertake lightly. We weigh all the options, and discuss all the scenarios, multiple times every day, for several days.

You can see how stressful the whole process has been for May

This one is going to end happily (with 99.95% certainty). Not all of them do. Our friends Maxine and Whitey have lost two or three boats to hurricanes over the last 3 decades. Our friend Robert lost one in 2017. The lagoon in St. Martin / Sint Maarten is littered with reminders of how serious this needs to be taken. Over the next few days, we’ll discuss, yet again, the wisdom of even being here at this time. Should we take the next nice weather window and head for Grenada? Or maybe at least part of the way there, to Martinique? Or should we look at the long history of the lagoon here as an excellent hurricane hole, and just stay put? Hurricane Irma was a monster storm, in both size and intensity. If the Saffir-Simpson scale went higher than Category 5, Irma would have been a SEVEN when it came through here! It’s incredibly unlikely for something like that to happen again such a short time later.

Decisions, decisions. But for now, the only decision is Bloody Mary or Mimosa with breakfast!

Trying to Reason: Update #2

When you get the updated NHC report on “your” tropical disturbance, you’re usually hoping for some change – a new forecasted path that takes it farther away from you, or a downgrade in the winds, or the rare and beautiful “it’s just going to fizzle out” forecast. You’ve waited 6 long hours since the last update – you want an UPDATE! But the 2:00 p.m. update yesterday gave no such satisfaction. The image was virtually the same as 6 hours before. (See below.)

Virtually the same image as 6 hours ago
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Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season

(This post was supposed to come out yesterday – August 1 – at this time. Sorry! You’re going to get an update in just a little bit.)

Yes, it’s the title of a Jimmy Buffet song. But it’s also a good title for this blog post, which will describe what it’s like on Smartini when a Tropical Storm / Hurricane is brewing out in the Atlantic and headed our way. Rather than my normal style of waiting until something is over to write about it, I’m going to do this one each day, to try to convey a sense of the process we go through each time the National Hurricane Center posts an image that looks like this:

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Trying to Reason – Update #1

Now it’s Friday morning at 7:38. We’ve had two meaningful updates in the last 24 hours, both summarized below. When yesterday’s 2:00 p.m. update came out, we read every word at least twice, trying to get a feel for this “disturbance”. (By the way – that’s a great word for it – it really IS a disturbance to us. All plans are put on hold, or at least become very tentative, until this thing sorts itself out. Our lives are definitely disturbed right now.) We look at the image, somehow imagining that the path of the disturbance-that-might-become-a-storm is accurate down to the individual pixel – because that’s about how big we are in the image – a pixel.

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The Virgin Islands

Once again, Faithful Readers, I find myself apologizing for such a long wait for a new post. I can only imagine how many of you must wake up each morning and think “Today’s the day – a new post on Smartini Life – I just KNOW it!”. (I imagine that the number is zero.) At any rate, my apologies.

Arrival / Reunion Drinks with Whitey and Max

Smartini arrived in Charlotte Amalie, one of the largest settlements on the island of St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, on the afternoon of March 28, just two days ahead of our first guests, Steve and Challen. Friends of ours, Max (Maxine) and Whitey, who we met in Key West after Hurricane Irma, and who run the charter sailboat Nutmeg, were anchored there, so we joined them, anchoring on the West side of Water Island. We promptly put Killer in the water, picked them up from Nutmeg, and went ashore to Tickles, the bar/restaurant at Crown Bay Marina, and proceeded to celebrate our arrival in the Virgin Islands, and our reunion, as it had been over a year since we had last seen them.

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At Long Last, Culebra!

Before there was M/V Smartini, before there was M/V Turtle E. Awesome, before Fran and I even knew what a trawler was… Culebra was on our radar. We don’t remember where we even learned of its existence, but when we first hatched the idea of eventually living somewhere in the Caribbean, it was there. We made it a “Favorite” on the weather app on our phones, so when we checked the weather for Indianapolis and Satellite Beach, we also saw what is was like in Culebra. Year-round, the daily highs and nightly lows wouldn’t vary more than two or three degrees over the ten day forecast period, and the day-to-night changes were almost always less than eight degrees. “We’ve got to see Culebra!” we said to each other, many, many times.

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41 Hours at Sea

We left Turks and Caicos just before midnight on March 5 and arrived in Puerto Real, Puerto Rico about 5:00 p.m. on March 7. Forty-one hours start to finish, give or take a few minutes. It was mostly uneventful, but it was our longest non-stop run by far, it was only our second overnight ever, it was the first time a single trip took parts of two different nights, it was the first time we took turns driving and sleeping, it put us the farthest away from land we’ve been so far (only 38 nautical miles, but at our speed, that’s about 5 hours from land)… and I thought that you, Loyal Reader, would want to hear about it.

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