Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve

We were picked up right at 9:10am by the dive boat, and threw in our gear and headed over to the north coast of Bequia to do a drift dive. On the boat with us was Dan, Dani, and Dana, a family of divers. Dan and Dana were in their 70s, and Dani was their daughter in their 40s. It wasn't until we were in the water that I realized what was different about Dani—she had lost the use of her legs, and could only use her hands to propel herself under water. Yet her arm motions were graceful, and she moved just as easily under water as any of us, and had great eyes, spotting wildlife and other notable objects that I would miss.

Our first dive was a drift dive, known as Cathedral. Drift diving is a great way to see things under water. You sit and watch the world go by as the current pushes you along, and when you see something you like you stroke gently against the current and float in the water. I could do it all day.

Our second dive was at Boulders, which was a loop around some fascinating formations. A giant grab was spotted but I didn't get to see it. When we came back to town, we had Roti, and then spent some time at an internet cafe, where I uploaded the last of my book reviews. I then negotiated with Alena about our departure time the next morning—she wanted to catch the 7:30am ferry, but my position was that if we missed the 7:00am ferry, we would have a backup, whereas if we missed the 7:30am ferry we would be in trouble. We eventually negotiated on a pick up time of 6:20am.

We then returned to the Illusion with everyone, and I got the phone number of Peter the water taxi guy, who would be working all night on New Year's Eve. Dinner was going to be at the Salty Dog today (with Norman paying for everything except drinks), and then there would be fireworks and a party afterwards.

By the time we got ashore on the water taxi, the party had already started. Loud boom boxes and speakers were playing all around town, and I was impressed by how earth shattering even cheap speakers could sound if you simply poured enough power into them. By the time we got to the Salty Dog, we saw the Josh and Noah had already been there and were already working on some beers. They said they saw Jude Law on Princess Margaret beach after their dive session was over. Allison and Norman soon joined us, and then they got us a table. There were foreboding storm clouds coming over the hill, but we saw nothing more than a sprinkle.

Dinner started with a bowl of Callaloo soup, and the main entree was a choice of fish or steak, though Lisa got a special vegan dish made for her. Both came relatively quickly, though since the steaks were all cooked the same I wondered why they bothered asking each of us individually how we wanted the steaks done. Dessert, however, which was a key lime pie took a long time in coming. By the time it was delivered it was 9:30am, and we had started to see some fireworks fired off by various houses that were too eager to wait for midnight's official showing.

Lisa and I were pretty tired, so we took leave of everyone and went back to the Illusion to get some sleep before the next morning's early start. I heard some fireworks go off just before I drifted off to sleep, and folks the next morning would tell me about dancing in the streets and a wild party, but I was never much of a party animal anyway.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Review: Treason

Treason was a free book I picked up from the Kindle store. In fact, all of Don Brown's books are available for free. It didn't take 3 chapters to figure out why. When I read that this book was about a JAG case and JAG lawyers, I was excited because of my good experience with John G. Hemry's excellent JAG in space novels.

However, these novels are a different story altogether. It starts off by stereotyping Muslim characters as being religious fanatics, and then depicts the two protagonists (beautiful, white, Christian characters of course) trying to put them in jail, but not before depicting the justice system as being a joke by putting an innocent Filipino-American in jail first.

By the time I got to the end of the book, I had decided that the remainder of Don Brown's books would also have no redeeming value, but the last few pages advertising the Christian press that published the novel explained it: the evangelical religions are having a great time blasting away at each other, and I have no trouble believing that the same people who publish such hateful novels would have no problem shooting doctors who provide abortion services.

Not recommended, even at the Kindle price of $0.00.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bequia

Despite Norman's tinkering with the skiff's outboard, it still wasn't running reliably. At this point, I made the comment to Ron that these diesel engines seem to last forever, at which point Susie corrected me, "No, it's not a diesel engine. It's just a gasoline engine running so badly that it stinks!"

Norman thus made the decision to skip Mayreau and Mustique on the way back, since neither places had water taxis, so we had to head all the way back to Bequia. Today, Norman seemed to have calmed down a bit, and got Alena, Paul, Mary, and Greg to help out with the sailing rather than try to do everything himself. The departure went uneventfully, and the sailing was smooth. We did see various catamarans and other boats go flying past us, however, so we knew that we were getting pretty good wind.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The ship's generator had been broken since the day before, but fortunately, Norman had changed his mind about letting me plug in my CPAP battery, which meant that I would be able to get two more nights of CPAP therapy, which was all I needed before I would have consistent power. At this point, everybody's cell phone was drained down to next to nothing, and even my battery extender was gone.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Upon arrival at Bequia, a water taxi was called. Paul & Greg had reserved a room in a hotel on Bequia, and they seemed relief to get off the boat. Lisa, Noah, Josh and I went over to Bequia Dive Adventures and arranged for 2 dives tomorrow, since it was our last chance to dive. We then bought a little bit of food, and Lisa bought some souvenirs to bring back home, though I had to remind her that our flight from St. Vincent to St. Lucia was going to be extremely weight limited! Looking around the harbor, it was clear that a party was going to be happening on New Year's Eves. Big huge boats were coming into the bay. Even Club Med had a boat coming into the harbor and disgorging tourists and all sorts of water-borne toys.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

We then double checked with the tourist information to make sure that there was a ferry departing on New Year's day. We were told that there were two, one at 7:00am, and one at 7:30am, and the cost would be 20EC per person. We ran into Paul and Greg outside their hotel, and they graciously let Lisa and I use their bathroom to shower.

Upon returning to the Illusion, Norman asked if I had a print out of our itinerary from St. Vincent to St. Lucia. Since we had booked everything online, and didn't have a printer handy at Wallilabou Bay, we didn't have a print out. "If I had known, I would have brought the laptop today to the internet cafe and printed out a copy!" I said to Lisa. I probably said it too loudly, since Norman yelled back, "You knew, Piaw, because you were there when Zach left the boat, and you heard me ask him for his flight papers." I guess when you're the skipper of a boat you expect everyone to hang on your every word. I'll remember not to do that the next time I'm the skipper of a boat.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Fortunately, Allison was going to head down to shore with Norman anyway, and she had her Mac. So I powered up our laptop, copy and pasted our online copy of our itinerary to our portable hard drive, and then copied it to Allison's computer. We were very relieved to get all this out of the way, and had an uneventful dinner.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Canouan to Union Island

I slept well, but in the morning almost everyone else complained about the surge moving the boat so violently that they had trouble sleeping. I guess there's something to be said about having a medical condition that makes sleep so uncomfortable normally that you don't notice minor things like your bed shaking around with the waves. I sleep better on boats than I do at home.

Paul had not managed to find any flights or ferry from Canouan, and in fact would have to stay with us until we got back to Bequia.

Right after breakfast I heard the engine turn on. There had been no calls to get crew members on deck. Apparently, Norman had decided that from now on he would do all the sailing alone. On my initiative I got the boat hook ready and a bucket of water ready for the anchor to weigh, but Norman shooed me away. Well then, I would relax and enjoy the sail!
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The "sail" to Union Island was done without even unfurling the main. It was close enough that in 2 hours we pulled into the anchorage, which was crammed with boats of every size. As usual, the Illusion headed into the part of the bay furthest away from shore, but this time we appeared to be headed for a coral reef. We stopped right at the edge of the reef and dropped anchor. It's not considered cool to anchor right off a reef because an anchor hooked into a reef can cause serious damage to the coral. Ron and I raised our eyebrows at each other, but didn't do anything else—it wasn't as though saying a word would trigger anything but a storm of invectives. I'm sure that Norman knew what he was doing, but his questionable judgement the night before made us question this move a lot more than we would have.
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From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The skiff was out of operation, since the outboard motor had been flooded. Allison therefore called a water-taxi to take us ashore, but since they didn't have the cash for it, we would have to front the money and then have them reimburse us. Arriving ashore, we headed around looking for food. Allison had recommend this place called Jennifer's at the end of the street, so we chose it and ordered food. I had forgotten that this was the Caribbean, however, and everything operated on island time. The entire meal took 2 and a half hours, at which point it was nearly 3pm and we had a limited amount of time for snorkeling.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Josh, Noah, Lisa and I headed over to Big Sand Beach, which was recommended to us by Jennifer. When Lisa saw it, she decided that she didn't want any of it, and headed back to town to do some shopping. Big Sand Beach, turned out to have terrible snorkeling. The beach was so churned up by the surge that we could barely see anything. I did spot what I thought to be a moray eel, but it wasn't all that spectacular. The coral was also in poor condition, and looked like it had bleached out, a sure sign of it being about to die. After an hour of struggling to make the best of a bad situation, we finally called it quits and walked back to town, where I caught up to Lisa and we took a shower.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Getting the water taxi back to the Illusion was a fiasco. We had to split the party in two, as we did before, but we forgot to hold back some money and paid the taxi in full, so he never went back to pick up the rest of the party and they had to get a ride back from someone else. This reliability thing doesn't work very well when you're not in high trust countries.

The sunset from the boat was beautiful, though.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Young Island to Canouan

The new sailors turned out to be students from Columbia, Paul and Greg. we had heard from Norman that they were a couple, and apparently had told Greg the night before when he picked them up at the jetty, "I thought you were a woman!" The rest of us found it amusing, but I don't know if any of the principals involved also thought that way. (Paul later said that his e-mail exchanged mentioned that they were school friends, and somehow that got lost in the translation)

It turned out that Norman and Allison couldn't provision the boat yesterday, because it was a Sunday, so they had to provision the boat this morning. I was left to assign duties and explain tasks to people while they went ashore to provision the Illusion. I showed Mary and Greg how to get water for the dishes, and then went over the ship with everyone: winches, genoa, staysail, main sail, and what to do with the skiff, fenders, etc.

We then prepped all the lines for sailing, but I forgot about the furlers for the genoa and the staysails. I then asked for volunteers for each station. I then asked Ron if I'd forgotten anything, and he said, "No, I think you've pretty much covered it." Soon enough, Norman and Allison returned, and once they stowed away, Norman was on fire wanting to move the boat in a hurry.

Unfortunately, while I had briefed everyone, what we had was effectively an entirely new crew. Unless you have a crew that's been drilled multiple times in what's expected of them, asking your crew to move fast is likely to lead to confusion and chaos. This was, unfortunately, what ensued. The main got unfurled, but the boom topping lift got dropped at the same time. And of course, my forgetting the genoa and staysail furlers enraged Norman even more. It didn't take him 10 minutes to start chewing me out, and by 20 minutes he had fired me as first mate. In fact, he fired everyone on the boat who had ever sailed before from their stations.

Ron and I were actually pretty happy about this. "Well, I didn't pay for a full-on charter where I got to sit around to do nothing," he said, "but I'm getting a vacation like that anyway!" It took about an hour and a half to sail back to Bequia, where we would stop for lunch and some sailing snacks for the long haul to Mayreau. Union Island was deemed to far for the sail given how late we had started.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The stop in Bequia was uneventful, and again on the sail out of Bequia Norman directed every aspect of it. It was quite clear that he could show people what to do if he wanted to do so, but only 2-3 people at a time. Even though there was decent wind, the Illusion is definitely not a great sailing vessel, and after an hour or so, Norman turned on the engine to get us an extra 2 knots. Despite all that, it was deemed unlikely that we could make Mayreau by dinner time, and a last minute decision was made to change the destination to Canouan, where Norman owned some land.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Canouan bay looked deserted compared to Young Island, though when we got closer we could see that there was other yatchs also moored or anchored out in the bay. We dropped anchor around 7pm, and since there was at least an hour before dinner, Norman said he would run folks over to shore for showers and/or a drink. Ron decided at this point that he didn't trust Norman's judgement, and decided to stay aboard, as did Mary. I didn't feel like I needed a shower, but I knew that Lisa felt otherwise. I did make the lucky decision to ask Lisa to put everything for shore into a dry bag, rather than bring the backpack.

We all loaded onto the skiff, and Norman brought us ashore. As we approached the jetty, we saw that there was a dinghy that had been lifted out of the water and placed right onto the jetty. That wasn't usual, but I thought it might have been out of the water for repairs. As Norman brought the skiff around to the ladder, Lisa stood up and tried to get onto the ladder, Norman said, "No! Lisa's the least suitable person. Can one of the guys do this?" Lisa sat back down and Josh jumped out of the boat and onto the ladder, but it took him a couple of tries. Then we felt a surge come. The boat felt like it went up 3 feet at once during the surge. I had stood up at this point to get ready to get onto the jetty.

At this point, another surge came and this time I lost footing and was thrown off the skiff into the water. I flew through the air for a half second or so and then hit the water head first. When I stood up, I felt the gritty taste of sand in my mouth, which meant that the water was pretty churned up. I was almost immediately knocked down by another surge. When I got up again, I saw that the skiff had turned turtle, and there was screaming coming from it. I moved towards the skiff, but when I got there, realized that I was the wrong side from Noah, Norman, and Josh, who were trying to right the skiff from the other side. By the time I got to the correct side of the rescue operation, the skiff had been righted, though it was full of water.

Paul was screaming, but Lisa had stayed calm throughout the whole thing, and hung on to the dry bags. We ran up the beach to a place where we could get onto the jetty and climbed onto it. Norman at this point had moved the skiff forward and asked me and Alena to tie it down. I tied down the boat, at which point Norman asked me about the fuel tank for the skiff. I turned to look for it, but Lisa had already found it and was bringing it forward. Noah, Josh, Susie, and Greg were on the beach looking for lost items that were washing up ashore. Lisa's flip flops were found, Paul's wallet with his citizenship papers were found. Susie's cell phone was lost. Paul's envelope with $2000 in it was lost. Susie thought she had lost her camera as well. My wallet had fortunately lodged in my pocket and stayed there through the entire event.

Most importantly, Paul looked like he was in shock. When asked if he was OK, he would say "No." He would occasionally scream when he realized what he had lost. Norman asked if everyone was all right, and then said he had to leave since folks from the resort said he could stay tied up there. "Tell everyone to meet me at the ferry dock at 9:15!"

Paul, however, looked like he was in no condition to walk any distance, and a walk in the dark to the ferry dock didn't sound appealing to any of us. So Susie and Alena went to report their losses, while Josh, Greg and Noah went to try to calm down. Lisa need to use the rest room to clean up afterwards, and we ordered some tea for Paul. It took quite a while to get all the reports filed, and by the time we were done it was about 8:45pm. Nobody felt like walking over to the ferry dock. Paul was particularly furious, since he felt that Norman did not stick around to check up on him while he was in shock.

Fortunately, one of the moorings charter skipper saw our plight and offered us a ride back to the Illusion if we needed it. We spoke with him and he generously walked up from his dinner table and led us to the jetty where his rubberized dinghy was sitting right at the end. "I put it here because of the surge." Then dropped the dinghy into the water, hopped into it gracefully, and then said, I will bring it around. You sit on the jetty, and when I am below you, just push off and into the boat. If a surge comes don't jump in. We wait it out, nice and easy."

Sure enough, it was surprisingly easily done. It took him 2 trips to ferry all of us, but it all went uneventfully. Turned out the he was a skipper for hire for Moorings, which had a base here in Canouan. He said that these surges happened because of a North Atlantic storm, which translated into huge waves.

When we got back to the Illusion, Allison looked quite concerned. We all got cleaned off, though I still felt quite sandy all over, and ate the dinner she prepared. Paul was still unhappy about his experience and monetary loss, and was unhappy that Norman wasn't around to talk about it. But when Norman showed up, the entire event turned into a confrontation instead of a post-mortem, with Norman being very defensive about his actions, and saying that the capsize happened because we were too slow in getting off the skiff. I felt that the proper thing to do would have been to recognize that once there was a surge, abandoning the evening's drinks and shower activities would have been the appropriate thing to do. Nevertheless, if it was rare, it would have been difficult to realize the degree of danger we were all in. That's why post-mortems have to be conducted as dispassionately as possible. Unfortunately, that takes a leader quite capable of self-criticism, which Norman was not that night. Harsh words were exchange in elevated voices, and within half an hour everyone was quite sick of conversation. Josh tried to calm everyone down, "It's just an accident, it's nobody's fault," he said. Norman declared that he had taken care of every one by arranging for a pick up at the Ferry dock, and that it was my fault for not getting everyone there. Arguing with Norman at this point was a lost cause, so I just shrugged and accepted blame. He needed a scape-goat at this point, and prolonging the agony when everyone needed sleep would have done no one any favors.

Paul, having had a bad experience and lost all his cash, declared that he wanted off the Illusion as quickly as possible. He was still trying to arrange a flight or ferry from Union Island for tomorrow as I went to bed to sleep off this near-disaster.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Young Island

We had our last two dives on St. Vincent scheduled for today, as the idea would be to leave Young Island the next day for Union Island after picking two more crew members late tonight. This would mean a full crew of 10, with Norman and Allison not having a cabin.

At 9:00am sharp, the Dive St. Vincent boat showed up and we were off. Our first dive was Dan's Reef, which was in the shadow when we arrived, but clouds lifted at the end. Since the other two divers were at the end of their stay with a flight out the next day, it wasn't a very deep dive—around 70'. When we were finished, they asked DJ if they could repeat a dive at the Garden, which was their favorite dive so far. Since we were OK with that, we ended up doing our last dive there. Both sites were beautiful, with the garden being interspersed with coral and sand, so it truly was like visiting a laid out garden.

We finshed the dives, ate at Xcape again, and bought 3 burgers for the dive shop operators as a tip after that. Josh had asked me to get his mask repaired, so I asked the dive shop for a replacement strap. That came out to be about 25EC, and Josh was happy about it when we returned the operational mask to him.

Upon discussing the day with the others, we learned that a private party had booked up the Young Island resort, and no one was allowed to set foot on the island other than those in the party. Alena decided to swim there while waiting for Norman to pick us up, but while she was swimming across, Lisa saw Norman leave the jetty, apparently having picked no one up. It turned out that his cell phone's clock was about 15 minutes faster than everybody else's.

There was nothing to do then, than to wait for Alena to swim back from Young Island (where she had been invited to the party), and then hire a water taxi back to the Illusion. Lisa and I packed away her dive gear, and then had dinner, where Norman launched into another one of his stories, this time about land ownership and a project in Barbados.

I then asked Norman for a piece of cord, and proceeded to have a knots lesson aboard the Illusion. "Wow, we've never had a formal knots lesson before," said Allison. We first started with the figure 8, then moved on to the half-hitch, and finally did the bowline, whereupon Norman got mad enough at the way I was demonstrating it to give everyone a demonstration instead. I figured that we would start with knots tonight, move on to sailing principles tomorrow night, and maybe ask people if there were topics they were interested in afterwards.

After that, there was a brief period of reading, at which point everyone turned in, not waiting for our latest crew members to show up.

Review: Snake Agent

Snake Agent is Liz William's novel about an Occult investigator named Detective Inspector Chen. When I heard that it was set in a version of Singapore, where I grew up, I could not resist, and picked up the entire series over at Bean Online.

I was to be sorely disappointed. First of all, the novel isn't really set in Singapore, but Singapore 3, which is some sort of excuse for Williams not to do any research whatsoever about Singapore. For instance, there are references to Beijing throughout the book which indicates that Williams, like many Americans, think that Singapore is part of China. A look at any atlas or even a world map will show you where Singapore is, and it's not in China.

The novel itself is fairly trite. Detective Inspector Chen investigates a girl's murder, and then discovers it to be part of a broader plot that threatens the heavenly order. The bureaucratic view of heaven and hell come right out of Chinese culture, but everything else is made up. The result is that you go through the book with one new rule after another being turned up, and our protagonist is tossed about like a bottle on waves in the Ocean, displaying very little of the qualities we expect from Detectives or Police inspectors.

Ultimately, I finished the novel, but I want the 2 hours of my life I spent reading it back. Not recommended.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Review: Stabilizing an Unstable Economy

The recent financial crisis has been called a Minsky moment by many economists I respect. Minsky's 1984 work, Stabilizing an Unstable Economy was out of print for many years, and certainly not available at my local library, so I bought the Kindle edition and decided to read it over my vacation.

What the book encompasses is a re-engineering of existing orthodox economic theory. Fundamentally, Minsky believes that the lessons of John Maynard Keynes has been misunderstood and unincorporated into modern economic theory, which holds that a free market, capitalist economy is self-stabilizing at an equilibrium that approximates full employment. The typical argument then, is that government intervention is self-defeating and does not accomplish much.

The book covers several topics, the most important of which is an exposition of what Minsky considers the basic instability of our capitalist economy. He fundamentally divides financing schemes for projects into 3 types: hedge finance, where debts are paid for out of ongoing operations, speculative finance, where debts are paid for by a series of continual refinancing activities in the hopes that ongoing operations will eventually exceed the costs of refinancing, and finally ponzi finance, where even the interest on debt is paid for by a series of increasingly large refinancing activities, in the hopes of a future payoff. An economy consisting entirely of hedge projects is very stable, while an economy filled with speculative and ponzi projects runs the risk of a financial collapse. The post-war economy from 1946 to 1966 looked very much like the former, while the economy post 1966 looked very much like the latter.

How then, does our current economy not collapse into a depression despite having had several financial collapses? The answer, Minsky answers is Big Government, which is capable of running a deficit as well as organizing bailouts of bad financial bets when they reach a collapse. However, Minsky argues that this leads inexorably to the increasing instability of the economy, since each bail out legitimizes and validates the dodgy financial instruments that caused the financial collapse in the first place.

Acceptable financing techniques are not technologically constrained; they depend upon the subjective preferences and views of bankers and businessmen about prospects. With the financial structure that ruled in the 1950s, it was correct for businessmen and bankers to increase short-term indebtedness. However, success breeds a disregard of the possibility of failure; the absence of serious financial difficulties over a substantial period leads to the development of a euphoric economy in which increasing short-term financing of long positions becomes a normal way of life.16 As a previous financial crisis recedes in time, it is quite natural for central bankers, government officials, bankers, businessmen, and even economists to believe that a new era has arrived. Cassandra-like warnings that nothing basic has changed, that there is a financial breaking point that will lead to a deep depression, are naturally ignored in these circumstances. Since the doubters do not have fashionable printouts to prove the validity of their views, it is quite proper for established authority to ignore arguments drawn from unconventional theory, history, and institutional analysis. Nevertheless, in a world of uncertainty, given capital assets with a long gestation period, private ownership, and the sophisticated financial practices of Wall Street, the successful functioning of an economy within an initially robust financial structure will lead to a structure that becomes more fragile as time elapses. Endogenous forces make a situation dominated by hedge finance unstable, and endogenous disequilibrating forces will become greater as the weight of speculative and Ponzi finance increases.
The result of these continual series of bailouts is that inflation has become a persistent and endemic part of the economy, and each bail out has to be increasingly larger, while not solving the fundamental instability of the economy in the form of financial institutions which while under regulation very quickly take control of the regulators, no matter the intentions of the legislation behind such regulation.


Minsky then goes on to describe what he considers to be important measures that could stabilize an economy. These prescriptions seem guaranteed to piss off liberals and conservatives alike, but in the light of his theory seem very sensible. He proposes setting a desired target size for the government such that it is big enough to manage changes in the economy. He further proposes the elimination of welfare, and replacing it with a guaranteed jobs program much like Roosevelt's. Then, financial institutions can be allowed to fail, since a series of Ponzi schemes that fall apart would not automatically spread across the entire economy.

I think a lot of people wouldn't like the typical man on the street to read this book: the existing Economics establishment wouldn't want you to read it because it highlights the failings of conventional economic theory. Conservatives probably wouldn't like the prescription of a Big Government, and Liberals wouldn't like the destruction of transfer payments. Yet the book is relatively accessible: none of the math involves more than simple summation series and algebra, and the writing is relatively clear and lucid, though dense. More importantly, if we realized the major structural problems in the economy that Minsky describes, we can actually have a debate about how to fix the root causes, rather than indulging in one bailout after another which doesn't actually seem to solve any problems, and just sets us up for further economic collapse. Highly recommended at the full price.

One caveat about the Kindle version: It's not very well formatted for the Kindle, as footnotes are inline rather than hyper-linked. This makes the footnotes very jarring to read. Nevertheless, it was worth it to have the book available on vacation.

Review: Passage at Arms

Passage At Arms is Glen Cook's submarines in space novel. It follows the story of an ex-military“embedded-reporter” attached to a Climber unit in a war. The Climber is commanded by his former officer school classmate, and he finds himself resented for taking up a useless space on the climber, in addition to another useless experimental weapon thatt was fitted onto the ship for a special mission.

In a typical action adventure story written by a lesser writer, the narrator will prove himself to be a superior human being, able to make use of his useless weapon in unprecedented ways against the vce enemy. This being Glen Cook, however, we get a very well told submarine tale, with more than a couple of surprises in store, but nothing as trite as what you would expect from the set-up.

Nevertheless, this is early Glen Cook, and those who are used to later Glen Cook should be aware that you can see Cook polishing his narrative style in this novel for his later, greater works, such as the Black Company series. The prose is sparse and spare, very reflective of a former military officer who's used to saying little with few words. Sentence fragments effectively render the moods of the men and machines, and little pieces of narratives provide what I consider really well written vignettes of the military and its situation.

If I have any criticism of the novel, it's that the author also had a very spare approach to plot and character—nearly everyone was a stereotype, and you're expected to have sympathy for the crew out of proximity without any real characterization being provided. Nevertheless, the book is recommended, at the very least as an airplane novel.

Wallilabou Bay to Young Island

Wallilabou Bay is infested with mosquitoes. In general, Caribbean mosquitoes aren't bad, but Lisa had so many bites that her legs were pock-marked with mosquito bites. The bay was particularly bad because the Illusion was moored stern into the wind, which meant that there was no breeze flowing through that boat. But at least we now had the entire boat filled with water.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Norman wanted to leave at 11am, but Alena, Josh and Noah wanted to wait till at least Noon, because they had wanted to take a shower, and use the internet at Steve's. Despite Norman's assurances that our travel dates were OK, it turned out that January 2nd was not a good date to fly out of St. Lucia—the customs office would be closed until 9am, and our flight left at 8:40am. This meant that we would have to depart the Illusion on January 1st, take the ferry from Bequia to St. Vincent, and then fly from St. Vincent back to St. Lucia so that Norman could discharge us from Bequia on the 31st. So we had to book an extra flight as well as a hotel room. Alena was in the same situation, so we bought our plane tickets and booked hotel rooms together.

At 10:00am, I saw that we had at least two hours, so I jumped into the water and swam out to the arch and back again. It was a surprisingly long swim, despite the relatively quiescent current. By the time I finish, it felt like I had a really good work-out. I had half an hour to dry off and change before everyone else came back and we got the boat ready to go. I was put on the helm, and skiff line got undone and replaced, and then Ron pulled the mooring line off. Unfortunately, when I put the engine into gear to move off our mooring position, the engine didn't engage. None of us noticed at first, but after a while when we saw the shore getting closer it became obvious what had happened. Norman ran down into the engine room, and came back up a bit later, declaring that the shearing pin attaching the engine to the propellor had sheared off. Apparently, the boat was designed for there to be a loose coupling between the engine and the propellor, so that fouling the propellor wouldn't damage the engine (or the propellor). However, during a recent incident, the loose coupling broke, and Norman did not have a replacement handy, so made do with a rigid coupling. As a result, you had to baby the throttle and the gear shift, and even then once in a while, even shifting gears could shear off the pin!

Well, with the main engine disabled, Norman jumped into the skiff and to start it so he could at least tow the Illusion back into deeper water. When he tried to start the motor, however, the choke came off in his hand! At this point, there was a crowd gathering on the shore to watch the spectacle as the Illusion edge closer and closer to the beach. I felt the rudder go stiff in my hand as it dug into the sand on the beach. Tony and a few sailors from another boat came up to the Illusion and tried to push it back off the sand, but with a 20 ton boat, a few hands just wasn't enough to move it. I saw Norman rip off the cover on the skiff's outboard motor and start taking the engine apart to try to cajole it into working. It took him an agonizing 5 minutes, but he eventually got it started, and he then drove up to the bow to pick up a towline and started towing the Illusion into deeper water.

At first progress was slow and unapparent, but a few pushes from folks ashore helped it along, and soon the Illusion was headed into deeper water—but with another boat in the way. I felt a moment of error as the wheel wouldn't respond to my efforts as the rudder was still in the sandbar, but after a bit I felt the rudder free up from the sand and I turned the Illusion away from the other vessel and into the middle of the bay, where the anchor was dropped. The relief on everyone's face was apparent, but that didn't last long, as Norman was livid when he came back on board.

"You're supposed to check that the engine engages before coming off the mooring!" he shouted at Allison. "That wasn't on the check list?" "Yes it is, but you weren't looking at it!" It turned out not to be on the crew's check list, and I do remember checking it routinely when I sailed other vessels, but if you ask me this sort of thing is the skipper's responsibility, not that of the crew.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

We turned off the Illusion's main engine, and Norman worked on it while the rest of us cooled our heels and relieved the exciting moments. Norman knows every piece of the boat well, including the engine, so it didn't take him 30 minutes to replace the sheering pin, and we were off again. After all that excitement, the sail down into Young Island was unexciting, taking only 90 minutes with the engine at a fairly slow speed. We pulled into the Young Island area around 4pm, dropping anchor close to the shore but further away from the dock. Lisa and I got our dive gear ready, and were dropped off at the jetty along with several others, but while they would return to the Illusion at 5:30pm, we would do the dive and then be dropped off at the Illusion by the Dive St. Vincent folks. Since Allison would be joining us for the night dive, she would be dropped off as the others were picked up.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

We walked over to the dive shop, and got everything ready for the dive. By the time 5:30 rolled around, we were on the jetty waiting for the night dive to start. We saw Norman drop off Allison and pick up the rest of the crew at a jetty not far from where we were, but on the return, the skiff had its outboard out of the water and folks were out rowing. We asked Allison as she came up what was going on, and she said that the outboard had gone out. She made the comment that she didn't think that they were going to do the charter on the 15th after all, as the boat was simply not reliable enough.

The night dive was on a site close to Young Island known as Critter Junior. We were each given a flash light by Calli, and went into the water for a fairly long, 50 minute dive at shallow depth. Night scenes are completely different from day scenes—lobsters, which are usually hiding in crevices at night are out in full force, and we saw large lobsters roaming about scavenging in the open. We also saw many shrimp, and lots of other creatures that I can't remember. Allison had been a little nervous about doing the night dive (it was her first one), but once in the water she was completely comfortable and had no issues at all.

Despite the wet suit, however, I got cold somewhere around 45 minutes, and wasn't unhappy when the time was up and we returned to the dive boat and the Illusion, where the crew had kept some spaghetti for us. We met our newest crew member, Mary from New York, and went to bed worn out after all the excitement of the day.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day

There was no diving on Christmas Day, so everyone woke up late, and Norman prepared an outstanding English breakfast, with eggs, bacon, and English baked beans. "None of the sweet American stuff," he declared. Since we were allowed to stay on the boat all day, the first thing we did was to do some snorkeling off the boat! Ron had found a book that indicated that the best snorkeling in the North end of Wallilabou Bay, which explained why the snorkeling was disappointing to him the day before. We jumped off the side of the boat and swam around. The water still wasn't the crystal clear waters I was used to when diving, but there was more to see. Nevertheless, the fish were very small. After swimming nearly all the way out to the arch, I grew tired of the average snorkeling (though much better than at Bequia), and swam back to the boat. It turned out that Josh had broken his mask strap, and so he borrowed my mask and snorkel for a swim with his brother.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Lisa and I dried off, and then walked up to hill to the waterfall. On the way there, we ran into other yatchies, and they said that the waterfall was disappointingly small. When we got there, we discovered that the place was a newly designated park, and included a new building. The waterfall, while small, presented an oasis of coolness amidst the warm tropical climate, and after all that swimming in the Caribbean, it was refreshing to have a soak in cool fresh water for a change. I certainly enjoyed having the place all to ourselves—we were only interrupted by the squeal of wild pigs who had entered the park through a hole in the fence.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

When we had had enough, we walked back down the road and saw the artists' shack. This man had metal sculptures all through the front yard of his house, and then all sorts of art and craft items made out of found objects such as bottle caps.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Then we returned to Steve's for another shower (the men's shower is outdoors and exposed, so it's best to take a shower on an unbusy day like Christmas day. We then sat down to read and use the internet—I had finally realized that when my Blackberry Curve 8320 was connected to a WiFi network, all calls were treated as though they were made from the US, which meant that everyone could phone home. While the boat was filled with iPhones, Nokia phones, and yes, even a Nexus One, the phone that got the most use was still the Blackberry, mostly because of the unlimited international data roaming plan and the UMA service.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Norman also volunteered to cook Christmas dinner tonight, and it turned out to be an amazing 10 course meal. How he managed that with that tiny galley on the boat still amazes me when I think about it. Champaign, and both red and white wine was brought out, and the entire thing was topped off with Chocolate Volcano cake. We went to bed feeling quite full and satisfied.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wallilabou Bay

Apparently, the day before, a new boat had arrived, which forced Norman to switching mooring buoys. Norman wasn't very happy about it, because he had laid down the mooring buoy himself. Nevertheless, the Illusion was moved and everyone was happy. However, during the night the mooring broke loose, so the boat next to us drifted towards the rocks on the north end of the bay. Everyone on the boat had awakened upon hearing the shouts except Lisa and I! Apparently, it was very exciting with lots of pulling and shouting, but it turned out that there were railroad tracks underneath that boat, and they had just gotten stuck on them. A little bit of throttle and they were free. They sailed off and we never saw them again.

We left early this morning, since we had to do a taxi transfer and make it to the dive shop at 9:30am. It took us longer to get picked up this time, so it was a good thing we left extra time, but now that I knew where the two bus terminals were, and how they worked (one was for local rides, the other for long distance rides), we had no problem with the transfer, which had taken a whole hour the day before.

Today's Divemaster was DJ, a quiet St. Vincent native. Dive 3 was at New Guinea Reef, and I learned to be really comfortable there, and took the best picture of a Moray Eel that I had taken the entire trip. A barracuda was spotted, and I also saw some jelly fish and got a good picture of them.

Dive 4 was at Turtle Reef, where I spotted some Sphagetti Eel and had 100' of visibility. This was ideal diving, warm water, no current, and lots and lots of wildlife. DJ mentioned that a night dive was planned for December 26th, and we committed there and then to do it. In fact, since I knew we wouldn't be leaving until the 28th, I committed us to a 5 dive package.

We ate lunch, and then took the bus downtown where it took me about 25 minutes to find an ATM that would take my american ATM card and give me money. Then we got back to Wallilabou bay, but upon arriving discovered that Lisa had stuck the camera into her pocket and it had fallen right out of it during the bus ride, so we lost 2 days worth of pictures, including the ones that I was making just as I was getting comfortable with shooting underwater! I was so bummed that I ordered a beer at Steve's to the sound of Ron saying, "I can't believe Piaw is drinking alcohol!"

I did pass on Dive St. Vincent's snorkel trip information: they ran a trip to the Falls of Baleine in the north of St. Vincent, and a second snorkel site, with all day rum punch for US$60 a head. The price was too steep for everyone there, so they passed. Allison, however, was interested in doing the night dive with us, since she had never done one before.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wallilabou Bay

We woke up early in the morning, as Sarang, Norman, Alena, and Allison were headed over to the airport. Sarang had to return to Utah today, Alena needed to get her baggage, Norman and Allison had to deal with business and provisions. We all said our goodbyes to Sarang, had breakfast, and then Lisa and I left at 8:30 to catch a bus to Buccament bay while Sue, Ron, Josh, and Noah stayed in the area.

It turned out to be a 10 minute walk to the bus stop, but busses being the way they are on St. Vincent, we had gotten only three-quarters of the way there before a bus stopped to pick us up. It turns out that busses on St. Vincent are all privately run: they are owned by the driver, who also typically has a conductor who's job it is to not just collect money, but also to solicit customers and pack passengers into the bus like sardines!

The drive along the coast to Buccament bay was beautiful, especially since the bus wasn't crowded and full. When we walked out to the coast, though, I realized that we were on the wrong side of a big river between us and the jetty where we were to be picked up. A quick call to the dive shop confirmed this, and we had to walk back out to the main road, and make a right into the village through an open field and then along the stream. However, the road then turned across the stream again in a little bit.

We stopped and talked to a local, and he showed us a place to hop across the stream on boulders, and then we followed his directions past a hotel under construction before getting onto the jetty. The entire ordeal took a good half an hour, and I was glad that I was paranoid enough to start the day very early. In 15 minutes the Dive St. Vincent boat showed up and we were helped onto the Dive boat by the dive master, Calli. There was another person diving with us that day, and unlike us, he had paid for a full-on dive package, complete with a land resort.

Calli was a big St. Vincent native, and he handled the speedboat with ease, pulling us seemingly just around the corner, and then single-handedly picking up the mooring buoy with ease and tying the boat down. He then dragged out all the equipment, fitted Lisa's gear to the dive tank, and then got us all ready to dive.

Our first dive was known as The Wall, which was a coral wall that extended deep into the Bay. We dived down and followed the dive master almost immediately down to 92 feet. Calli was an incredibly good Divemaster, pointing out sights and wildlife constantly, and identifying anything we needed. We even spotted the rare golden hamlet, and he found us a sea horse with its tail wrapped around some coral. The water clarity was amazing, and our eyes were almost poping out of our masks by the time we were then. I decided there and then that we would do as much diving here on St. Vincent as possible.

Our second dive was at Pinnacle Rock. The sun lit up the shallow water, giving us dappled looks under water as we explored. It was a beautiful dive, and we decided that we would sign up for more dives the next day.

Calli told us that it was easier for us to get a taxi back from Kingstown, so we were driven back to the dive shop. We used the showers at the dive shop and left Lisa's dive gear at the shop since we were going to be diving again tomorrow, then had lunch at Xcape almost right next to the dive shop on the beach facing Young Island.

After that, we took the taxi into Kingstown, where we wandered around looking for the supermarket for snacks for the surface intervals. After that, we hopped onto the taxi back to Wallilabou Bay, and then pulled ourselves across to the Illusion from shore. We had no sooner stepped on board, however, than have Norman come up onto deck and holler at us. "You're too early! You can only come back after 5:30pm! You can tell the others that too. I'm working on the boat all day and can't have you folks underfoot!"

So we had to leave the boat and visit Steve's where Ron, Sue, Josh, and Noah were also waiting out the skipper. Apparently, Norman and Allison had committed to doing a charter in the middle of January, and all that renovation was happening to put more guests onto the boat over the next few days as well as for the charter customers. We asked the others about their day, and they said that they went to Kingstown and explored and shopped, but had to endure a taxi ride with 22 people on board!

We took showers at Steve's, and lounged around. Someone at Steve's saw my Vibram Five Fingers and offered to buy them off my feet, but he had feet that were the wrong size for my shoes.

The night was spent discussing plans: the others were going to snorkel and explore the waterfall within walking distance. Norman said that we would only move to Young Island on the 26th, and we would actually spend 2 nights there, which gave us lots of time for diving. I was asked to investigate if the dive shop would do snorkelling trips as well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

La Soufriere

We woke up at 5:30am and ate a hurried breakfast before heading out to Tony's to wait for our guide, Franklin, to arrive by 6:00am. Unfortunately, we had all forgotten that we were in the Caribbean, on island time, so Franklin did not arrive until 6:30am, along with his brother. His explanation was that he went partying last night and missed the bus. Since it was getting rather late, he persuaded us that it would be better to hire a taxi to take us to the La Soufriere trail head, rather than take the bus and then be forced to walk to the trail head.

The taxi ride was expensive, but since there were many of us the split wasn't too bad. Since we were all under-equipped for extensive hiking, a stop was made in order to procure water and snacks. The drive was on St. Vincent's coastal road, up and down the hills. I was very impressed by how rugged St. Vincent was, though given the volcanic nature of the islands perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised. The taxi driver barrelled along at high speed, blasting Caribbean Christmas music on his CD player, which despite the rough roads surprisingly did not skip very often.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The start of the La Soufriere hike involves taking off your hiking shoes and wading across several streams to get to the beach. There would be no cheating on this hike—we truly would be starting from sea level. In the early morning, the misty air lent the walk a mysterious nature—until we ran into someone walking his cows on the beach.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Leaving the beach behind, the trail led us through several canyons, which would be a respite from the heat later on in the day. Once past the canyons, the trail headed steeply up the climb, and it was with relief that we approached the first rest stop of the day, the Rastaman's hut. We were given fresh fruit (including one I had never seen before, a tropical pink plum-like fruit), and in the case of two of our party, some weed to smoke.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

After we left the Rastman's hut, the trail started becoming steeper, but was nevertheless mostly shaded. A little while later we passed a donkey parked on the trail for some unknown reason. With 10 people on one hike, the going was a bit slow, but I didn't complain about the pace, because the views around us were so beautiful! You could see ridge line after ridgeline before and behind us, and the slopes all dropped steeply into the sea. This was not what I typically think of as tropical island hiking, since the shade was plentiful, and by the time we ran out of tree cover, there was a beautiful breeze which took away the heat we generated, yet wasn't cold. The stunning views helped. Finally, as we got near the rim of the caldera, I couldn't help myself and took off at speed. Franklin was even faster, however.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

La Soufriere is a volcano that last erupted in 1979. The bottom of the Caldera still showed spots that steamed, and the rim is rugged. While the highest point on the volcano is 4048 feet, my estimate was that the rim itself was probably no more than 3300 feet in elevation (though again, you had to walk from sea level). We sat and ate lunch, drank, and walked around enjoying the views and sense of achievement. Alena had finally heard that her lugguage had been found and was arriving in St. Vincent tonight, and was excited to finally have more than the clothes she had in her carry-on lugguage.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The descent itself was fairly easy, but as usual tough on the knees. There were only 2 stops this time, the first to shake down some Avocado trees for some fruit (they took a long time to ripen, so we didn't have them until near the end of our trip), and another visit to the Rastaman's hut for more fruit.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Upon returning to the bottom, Sarang arranged for the taxi to drive us to Dark View Falls, where I stood in my swimming trunks and enjoyed a fresh-water shower. Then, on the way to a snack, we saw a coconut stand, and all of us got out of the car and watched while the coconut stand guy got his neighbors and friends to shimmy up a coconut tree and kick down coconuts so we could get refreshing coconut water! We each drank a coconut and then filled our water bottles for about 2 EC dollars each before moving on to our afternoon Roti.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

By the time we got back to the Illusion, it was 6pm and we were quite tired. Upon returning to the boat, we saw water lines leading into the Illusion's deck fittings to fill the water tanks with water, but unfortunately, when Josh took a drink out of the tap the water tasted like turpentine! We notified Allison, who told us that yes, they were aware of the problem, and there were now separate bottles for drinking water while the Illusion's water tanks were flushed and cleaned to cope with this new event.

I called Dive St. Vincent, which was in my copy of the Caribbean Dive Guide, and after realizing that we were going to be here in Wallilabou Bay until the 26th, decided to schedule 2 dives for tomorrow. They weren't willing to pick us up from the Illusion, but we could take the bus to Buccament Bay for 4EC each.

Dinner was a lovely curry, which was packed away into our stomachs at record pace, indicating that we had all worked quite hard that day. All of us slept soundly and well.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Port Elizabeth to Wallilabou Bay

We woke up this morning and got our dive gear ready. For me, this meant my mask and snorkel, but for Lisa, this meant her BCD, wet suit, and regulator/octopus as well: she had recently (and tragically) inherited that gear from a friend with identical height and build who passed away from breast cancer without fulfilling her dream of diving in the Caribbean. Lisa would fulfill that dream for her.

Along with Noah and Josh, we were dropped off at the Gingerbread House ferry dock, just a short walk away from Bequia Dive Adventures, a dive outfit that Norman recommended. They were prepared to take us diving right away, but Noah and Josh had to do some serious pool work first, so Ron told Norman not to expect us back until 1pm. This was fine with the rest of the crew, since they wanted to go shopping for food anyway.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Our first dive in the area was to be the Moon Homes. These were a set of homes built out of flotsam and jetsam off the coast of Bequia, and were used as artists' retreats (albeit rich artists, as the rent is quite high). When we dropped down into the water, it became obvious that Lisa's new dive gear was very good stuff: while in rented equipment she frequently had a hard time achieving neutral buoyancy, with this gear, she had no problem keeping a consistent depth, and achieving whatever she wanted under water. I attribute this to the integrated weight belt and the closer fit of the wet suit.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

While I had lots of complaints about the visibility from the beaches on Bequia, the diving bore no such complaints. Here, we got the classic 70 foot visibility that I associate with the Caribbean. The water was calm, and the fish and coral plentiful. I was very pleased with the dive, and made a note to return for more diving since we were scheduled to be in Bequia for the New Year.
When we were done with our dives, it was Noah and Josh's turn, since they had completed their dive training, so we went to town to get some snacks for the sailing trip, since we knew we would not be stopping for lunch. Alena and Sarang went to the Princess Margaret Beach, while Sue and Ron walked all around town.

We got back to the Illusion around 1:00pm, and immediately got ready to set sail. From Bequia to St. Vincent was a short sail, but we were going all the way to Wallibou Bay. Norman decided to give Noah and Josh lessons on navigation, while Sue was given the helm. Sailing into Wallilabou Bay around sunset, we had views of the Arch made famous by The Pirates of the Caribbean.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Anchoring was an involved process, because Norman wanted to park the boat with the stern facing Tony's, a bar right on the beach. Right in front of Tony's was the left-over facade from filming the movie, including a declaration of the Pirate's retreat. A man with a rowboat rowed out to greet the Illusion, picked up a mooring buoy, and then a line from the bow was run through the mooring buoy. Then a line was carried off the stern by rowboat and tied to anchor points on the shore., and then tied off. This arrangement made sense after Norman wired up the skiff with two lines: one line would be pulled to move the skiff to shore, and another would be pulled to bring the skiff to the Illusion. This allowed us to get on and off the Illusion without using engine power, and independent of each other.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

We went ashore to get some drinks. Just like everywhere else in the Caribbean, the Coca-Cola served in St. Vincent is made with real sugar, rather than high fructose corn syrup, and was a real treat. The others tried various drinks including Tony's Rum Punch.
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From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

After dinner, Sarang asked Norman about his time in jail for manufacturing amphetamines. This was a long and involved story, including descriptions of suitcases of cash, how the drug as cut, and how many people were involved. It was all a lot of fun, but left me scratching my head over a few details. We were going to have an early morning the next day, since the hike up the Volcano was to start at 6:00am, so we turned in early.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bequia

I woke up at 6am today, which was my indication that my cold was mostly over. Yet when the opportunity came up to dive, I declined it, partly because Lisa didn't want to go, but because of fear that any lingering congestion would make equalization difficult.

We were dropped off at the main jetty in town, where there was a fruit and vegetable market, a T-shirt/souvenier market, a collection of restaurants, super markets, and many such services. We had heard that Friendship Bay had a great beach with good swimming and snorkeling, so all of us piled into a taxi and rode it over to Friendship Bay, where there was a resort with a diner and restaurants. We arrived there at 10:00am, promptly changed into our bathing gear, got out our snorkels and fins, and jumped into the water. Lisa didn't feel like swimming that day, so she went for a massage instead.

Unfortunately, the water was disappointing. Visibility was about 5 feet at most, not at all what I expected from a Caribbean snorkeling spot. There wasn't much wild-life, but Alena claimed that there was another spot a bit aways out of the way. After a brief break, I swam over to the area, and it was better, but still not spectacular. With that disappointment, we had lunch and then walked over to the other side of the island. Along the way, we saw many local tropical fruits such as papayas, but nothing that was ripe and easily picked. The weather was warm, and by the time we reached the saddle between Friendship Bay and Port Elizabeth, I was ready for another swim. We saw a sign that pointed to Lower Bay Beach, and decided to explore and take a look.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Lower Bay Beach turned out to be a beautiful beach, but had a very strange shelf just before the beach so there was a lot of breakers. After a short snacker, Ron and Sue decided to keep walking, but the rest of us decided to try the swimming. I took a couple of long swims after a snorkel revealed that there was really nothing to see in the area (again). I then discovered the big disadvantage of the Vibram Five Finger: once sand gets into them, it's pretty darn impossible to get sand out again without a washing machine. It was getting to be 4:30pm anyway, so we took a taxi ride back to Port Elizabeth where the only place with showers was the Bistro. We took turns taking showers, and then walked over to the jetty dock, which took far longer than we expected, rendering us about 10 minutes late.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

By the time we took a water taxi back to the Illusion, Norman was hopping mad. "When I say 5:30, I mean 5:30, not 5:40. And if you don't call us before 6:00pm telling us that you're late, we'll assume that you're staying ashore and having dinner on your own."
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Despite that bit of a downer, we agreed over dinner that it was quite a nice day. Lisa thought she'd be up for diving tomorrow, so along with Josh and Noah we agreed that we would try to get to do a dive tomorrow morning before the Illusion left for Wallilabou Bay. Sarang wanted to hike up a volcano before he left on the 23rd, and Wallilabou Bay would be a good place to stage such an assault.

Review: Transition

Review: Transition

Transition is Iain M. Banks' latest science fiction novel. It's about world hopping, multiple dimensions, and a cross-world organization that calls itself “The Concern”. While an ostensibly benevolent organization, The Concern still has the need to perform assassinations and other unsavory tasks, which means that they have to hire, train, and then deploy such individuals.

The novel is written from three perspectives: a patient in a hospital in an unknown world, who immediately identifies himself as an unreliable narrator, Adrian, a drug-dealer/hedge fund manager who's incredibly self-centered, and Temudjin Oh, an assassin for the concern. The three threads interweave, though not along the same time-line and definitely not all on the same world.

However, recurring characters flit between the narratives, representing opposing forces within the Concern. The conflict, however, seems far too black and white for a typical Banks novel, and the theatrics and special effects seem calculated for a science fiction summer extravaganza rather than for a cerebral novel that somehow makes comments about our society (one of the alternate worlds visited is one in which the Christian religion is the terrorist prone organization). Unfortunately, these side trips and diversions never get developed into full fruition, and the finale seems at most mildly satisfying.

While this was an entertaining novel, I can't say that it is one of Banks' best. Good for an airplane, though, but paying the $9.99 Kindle price seemed a bit much.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Rodney Bay to Bequia

The morning started out with introductions to the last two of our outstanding crew, Ron and Sue, both experienced sailors from Michigan. They were neighbors, and Ron owned a Catamaran over at St. Vincent as part of the Moorings charter for many years, while Sue had raced sailboats. They were both retired, and Ron in particular had spent quite a bit of time researching cheap ways to sail and dive. Ron was formerly worked as a fund raiser, retired from that and ended up being a real-estate developer, and finally retired from that just as the market peaked.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The furler had been fixed the day before, but there was a bit of last minute shopping to do, and Norman had to register the crew before leaving St. Lucia, so everyone went ashore for long enough to do some shopping. We were planning a long sail today, so the awning came down, and Norman directed everyone on how to take down the awning.

We once again set sail with the motor on, but this time went past Marigot bay and kept going towards the Southern end of St. Lucia, with the beautiful Pitons in the background. The wind was light, since we were well in St. Lucia's wind-shadow, so we had to keep the engine going. However, that also meant that the boat wasn't heeled over, so it made a stable platform for photographs, and for everyone to get to know each other.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Once out of St. Lucia's wind shadow, Norman had us raise the stay sail, and with the persistent winds, we got enough speed that the engine could be turned off for some true sailing. The boat heeled over nicely enough, but it was a long crossing to St. Vincent. Our destination was to be Bequia, which was the island past St. Vincent, with its tall volcano which would generate its own weather system and shield us from the wind.

In the midst of the crossing, the sun set behind some pink and red clouds, giving us a glorious view, and of course, forecasting good weather for the next day. "Red sky at night, sailor's delight." When night fell, we saw the stars in their full glory, since it was a new moon night. In addition to unfamiliar constellations (I had forgotten to install a star map application onto Lisa's android phone), we also saw the huge band of the milky way, all lit up to make the dark end of St. Vincent ahead of us more prominent.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

As we approached St. Vincent, I became very happy that I was not the skipper on this boat: being unfamiliar with the waters, it was very difficult to see what signs Norman was looking for before he started to steer us around the leeward side of St. Vincent. Finally, at 8pm we entered St. Vincent's wind-shadow, and the boat stopped heeling. In the quiet zone, Allison could finally prepare dinner, and we ate a late dinner at 9pm. Norman started up the engine again, and then told everyone who wanted to sleep to go to bed.

I didn't think I could sleep with the engine running, but between ear plugs, my cold, and general weariness, I fell into a deep sleep and did not wake until the next day.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rodney Bay

Lisa and I decided to stay aboard this morning, which meant that we got assigned dish washing duties out of sequence! Well, this was fine by me, since it meant that I got some extra reading time while Norman and Allison were out shopping, and Sarang went swimming again at the beach.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The afternoon was spent picking up snacks, getting more coconut water (which Lisa had become addicted to), and then having a relaxing walk back to the marina for a shower and to meet the new sailors who were coming aboard that day.

Noah and Josh were from Los Angeles, where Noah was a film producer for Warner brothers, and Josh was a sports promoter. Though they were a couple of years apart, they looked so similar that Lisa and I thought they were twins! Noah had worked on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, among other films, and Josh had just come back from a long stint in Spain, where he became fluent with the language, had a Spanish girlfriend, and hoped to return there to start a restaurant chain.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Alena was from New York, where she worked as a commercial real estate manager for Cushman, Inc. Born in Belarus, she had won a green card lottery when she was 18, and worked her way up from the accounting department at her firm after a few promotions. She spoke English with a charming European accent. Unfortunately, American Airlines had lost her lugguage, so she was stuck with whatever she carried on with her on the plane.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

We had drinks at the bar, and then returned to the Illusion for dinner. Our next two sailors would arrive from a later flight, but I was still under the weather from the cold, and so did not stay up to meet them.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Marigot Bay to Rodney Bay

Norman had threatened to get up at 7am to run the boat down to Rodney Bay this morning, since Zach had to be discharged as crew so he could leave us and go back home to New York. However, by the time I got out of bed at 8am, the boat was still not moving. It turned out that everyone else had gone ashore last night and had a roaring old time.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Since we were running short on time, breakfast was quick, and dishes were abandoned until we got to Rodney Bay. The furler on the genoa had broken the day before while sailing into Marigot bay, so we could not put up the genoa, but other than that, the sailing was uneventful, and once we got there, Zach was rushed ashore. Since we hadn't been to Pigeon Island yet, Lisa and I decided to pay a visit. Sarang wanted to go there with his snorkel gear, so he agreed to go with us.

Pigeon island, it turns out, is not really an island, but is a penninsula with a national park in it. As we got off the marina to start our walk there, it started raining, so the three of us chipped in for a Taxi, and got to there and ordered a Roti lunch. As is usual in the Caribbean, lunch took a long time, but by 2pm we were ready to snorkel. The snorkeling wasn't fantastic, there being not a lot of fishes in the area, and the ones that were there were small. Unfortunately, this would turn out to be the best snorkeling for the entire trip!
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

After the snorkel, Lisa and I walked up to the top of the park for some great views of Rodney Bay, and then we walked back to the marina along the beach, which surprisingly included a free ferry ride across a river between two resorts. It was fascinating for me to see the huge differences between the resorts and the public beaches: the resorts were lily-white, with lots of Europeans sunbathing, while the public beaches were entirely populated by local St. Lucia residents, who would swim, BBQ, or picnic, but not be terribly interested in sun-bathing. On the way back we saw a mango tree with some low hanging fruit, and I decided to pick one. Unfortunately, it wasn't ripe even by the end of our trip, so I have no idea how it would have tasted.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

We returned to the Illusion after taking a shower at the marina to see that the genoa had been taken down. Norman had wanted to get someone to weld in a new ring to anchor the furling line, but Sarang convinced him that a better solution would be to just apply some steel bands to the broken part to strengthen it, since welding aluminum isn't terribly reliable.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Rodney Bay to Marigot Bay

Breakfast on the Illusion is composed of Bran Flakes, powdered milk, fruit juice, fruit, and Wheetabix, an odd looking cereal that I had never seen before. Apparently, Norman and Allison found a good deal and bought up a life-time supply, as Wheetabix was the one item in the pantry the Illusion never ran out of.

After breakfast was done, we were introduced by Norman to the joys of washing dishes on the boat. Since the Illusion only carries about 200 gallons of water, all of which is to be used for drinking or washing hands, all dishes were to be washed with sea-water. This is something you can only get away with in the Caribbean, with its crystal clear water. Getting water out of the sea with a bucket is a bit non-intuitive: you have to tie the rope to your wrist, turn the bucket upside down, and then drop the bucket into the water so it would fill. Naively tossing the bucket into the water generally means that the bucket will land upright and net you no water.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

We did the dishes, then headed ashore to buy some sandals for Lisa (who still couldn't get used to her Vibram Five Fingers), some cough drops for my cough, and snacks. We also found a coconut stand where Lisa filled her water bottle up with coconut water for 2EC. Upon our return, Zach as first mate showed us how to set up the boat for sailing to Marigot Bay. "It doesn't matter how I do it," he said, "Norman's not going to be happy with me anyway." As a schooner (a sailboat with 2 masts of identical height), the Illusion has 3 sails: the genoa (large foresail), the stay sail (middle sail), and main sail (back sail). However, it was also set up with an awning, which Norman intended to have stay up for this sail, so we could ignore the stay sail.. The genoa sheets had to run outside 3 of the shrouds, inboard through a block, and then the side where the sail was going to be on had to be run through the winch. The furling line from the forward furler (which furled and unfurled the genoa) had to be run all the way back to the main deck. The main sail had to be untied to get ready for unfurling. Then, a bucket of water and a boat hook had to be moved to the anchor to get ready for weighing anchor.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

We weighed anchor at 1pm, and I was made the helms person. The cockpit of the schooner had a large wheel, and a seat in front of it. I soon learned, however, that one did not sit on the seat, as you couldn't see the forward of the boat otherwise. Instead, one stood on the seat, sticking his head through the hatch much like a tank commander would, and steered with his feet on the wheel. It was definitely a very different experience than the much smaller boats I had sailed with.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The skiff was moved from the side of the boat to dangling off the aft transom, and we were off. I discovered, however, that the Illusion was not a fast sail boat, despite its complement of sails. Norman kept the engine on for the entire duration of the sail. It was quite disappointing that most of our "sailing" would really be "motor-sailing."

Upon arrival at Marigot bay, we dropped anchor and were run ashore on the skiff. It was warm and beautiful, but the swimming and snorkeling was not very good: there was nothing to see, and the water was a bit churned up from the surge. After the swim, we took a shower at the resort, ate some fruits we bought from the store, and then went back to the Illusion for dinner.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

I was still tired from my cold, so Lisa & I elected to stay ashore while the others went back on land to buy drinks.