Saturday, July 28, 2012

104th Chicago-Mackinac Race

Once again it was time for one of the highlights of the summer in Chicago, the “Mac raceaboard Joie De Vie. The crew aboard this were Ken and Randy Hastings, Jim, Kerry, Elizabeth, Susan, Garret, and I. Unfortunately, Marty Hastings is no longer with us but his spirit was alive aboard and even more since the whole Hastings family were participating. This race was in the honor of Marty and his ashes were spread under the Mackinac bridge. A big thanks to Donna Hastings to keep Joie De Vie, so we all can get together and relive the memories from the time Marty was with us. I also missed my foredeck pal, Lee. He could not join us on the race because of health condition, but he did drive up to the Island for a couple of days.
In this race Joie De Vie with Jim Clauser at helm had the best start in the section.   
This year was also the warmest ever. I didn’t wear the foul weather gear at all, not even during night shifts, which is unusual. But no worries, Jim, John and I had to pay back on the way back. Right after departure from Mackinac, a weather front came through with high winds and heavy rain. The rain drops felt like bullet in the face. Seas were steep and short and with the wind (25-30) on the nose. On top of that I had a few rum drinks too many the night before! The rain and high winds lasted the whole day. So the gear I brought all the way from Earthling came to use.     
Mackinac is a beautiful island with a history to it, read last year’s blog input. Ken and I rented two bicycles and biked around the island, which reminded me of the first time I visited Mackinac 14 years ago.
The second highlight of the mac race is to deliver Joie De Vie back to Chicago, which usually takes five days. This year we stopped at Charlevoix and Manestee in Michigan and Shaboygan and Racine on the Wisconsin side. One of Marty’s highschool friends, John joined us back for the delivery.
I also replaced my Iphone right before the race and have been handicapped and out of touch. I was really hoping the phone could be returned and it almost did! Somebody found it, called us, and returned it to Burnham Harbor. But there are no traces of it at the marina office!  
The 104th race to Mackinac took Joie De Vie 46hrs 24min to finish.
 Sunrises and sunsets are other parts of this event that I certainly enjoy. In the last 9 days Ive seen five sunrises and five sunsets. 
Sunset first night
Sunrise second day

Spinnaker flying the whole race

Sunset, second night
Sunrise 3rd day

Ken And Randy spreading Marty's ashes under the Mackinac Bridge

18 boats in 36.7 design rafted up
Joie De Vie Crew

Love from the Mac Race

Check the full photo album on facebook page, click here

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Unexpected visit to Barbados

Wharf River Front, Bridgetown
On my birthday June 27th, Katherine and I had tickets to fly from Grenada to Miami and from there I was going to Chicago and Katherine to New York. American Airline flight was scheduled for 8:50 am and we checked in at the desk at 6:30 am. In the last couple of weeks, I have been stressed out and concerned about my U.S residency card, which is expired. A new card has been applied for and it was send out to my address in Chicago but the post office don’t have any records of delivery.
At the airport in Grenada, I was asked to present a residency card. The lady at the desk  revealed that since the card is expired she has to get a permission to board me from the immigration in Miami. She called the office in Miami airport, but their computer system was down and they could not check my residency status, they asked to call back in 30 min. At 7:30 am, AA agent called Miami again, system still down, call back later. The time for boarding is getting closer and I have no permission to board the flight. Katherine and I decided that she should go ahead and board the plane and hopefully I will be getting a clearance to board last minute. At 8:45 am, I asked the agent to make one more call to Miami, she stated that it’s too late to board the plane but she will call! At this point I already had encountered with most of AA agents. They are not that many in Grenada, since there is only one flight a day. If I missed the flight on my birthday then I had to wait till the following day. Once again the officers in Miami declared the computer system was down. It’s after 9 am and the airplane is about to take off. I went to second floor to witness the flight taking off before I was able to come up with plan B. It seemed like this Boeing 737 was not moving, I waited 30 min by the window looking outside and it wasn’t moving. I went back to the desk and it seemed that all American Airline employees were stressed, the co-pilot was outside the terminal smoking a cigarette. It appeared that the airplane had mechanical problems and it couldn’t take off.
There is no airplane mechanic in Grenada, an engineer had to fly in from Barbados or Puerto Rico. The one in Barbados was not available since he was out fishing flying fish and the next person in Puerto Rico would take at least a couple hours to come to Grenada. Suddenly, I’m so happy the airplane can’t take off. Now I was hopeful again, it must be a miracle I thought, I’m supposed to be on this plane. But now the agents are so busy rerouting all passengers, they don’t have time to assist me, in addition they stated that boarding cards could not be issued after scheduled departure. But kindly I asked John to make a last call.
At 10:30, John called Miami and reported that the flight is delayed and they are going to try to board me if they get a clearance. The computer system worked now and within few minutes the officer in Miami said NEGATIVE! The officer described that I have to go to a U.S Embassy to get a “letter of transportation”. There is a U.S embassy in Grenada, but I already have been in contact with them and they don’t deal with residency issues so the only way is to go to Barbados. Well, I have to fly to Barbados then! Next flight to Barbados is at 14:45 with Liat (Caribbean Airlines). The lady at the Liat desk had seen me walking around the airport frustrated and concerned. I told her the whole story and she was very helpful and sold me a ticket at lowest price it could be sold at the counter. It’s 11 am and the original flight has not taken off yet. I’m concerned that Katherine might miss her connection and she probably has to stay overnight in Miami. There is no way to communicate with her on the other side and she doesn’t know what happen to me. The airport is pretty empty and nothing is going on. All of a sudden, I see somebody coming out from the gate, it’s Katherine. She decided to stay since she would miss her connection. The staff were digging for her luggage on the airplane and she cancelled her flight. Katherine bought a one way ticket to Barbados as well. Great, now I have my mate with me too! 
An hour before the flight to Barbados at the check in, we got to know that you can not fly on a one way ticket to Barbados unless you are connecting. We had to present tickets to our final destination, which we don’t have. They refused to board the two of us even though we told them the story. We had to get a permission from the immigration in Barbados. At this point I am furious. What’s going on today? Is it time to pay back for all the good times I’ve had in the last 8 months? Finally the supervisor agreed to call the immigration in Barbados on our behalf and was able to get permission to board us 20 min before departure. What a day! 
The view from highest elevation

Blue Orchid Beach
Barbados has been a destination of places to visit on my list since the first Mount Gay hat I obtained. Most sailing races in the U.S are sponsored by Mount Gay Rum from Barbados. Within the last five years, I’ve earned a few red Mount Gay hats with the map of Barbados embroidered on them. Therefore, I have been interested to see the Island of Barbados. This island is off the beaten path and it is not a destination many cruisers sail to. In matter of fact there are less than 300 cruising boats that check in Barbados and most of them land here after an atlantic crossing. In addition, there are no protected anchorages around the Island, but there are plenty of pristine pinkish beaches. The visit to Barbados was unexpected. I guess since the thought of visiting this Island has been send to the universe for a long time, now it’s attracting me and I have to visit it for above mentioned reason. This Island has surprised us in many ways. After all, Earthling has sailed and Island hoped almost all the Leeward and Windward islands in the last eight months and I have a understanding of the differences.
Barbados is a relative flat island, the highest peak in the middle is 1135 ft. It is well developed and it’s evident that tourist have been visiting this island for many decades. There are plenty of hotels, resorts, and villas to choose from. We stayed at Rose Apartments, which is small but it has a pool, jacuzzi and the rooms are clean and spacious. The owner of Rose Apartments, George, was very nice and kind to us and we had a great experience the days we spent there. I have not seen any other Caribbean island aside the French islands that have so many cars and traffic. This Island must also have the highest gas stations per square feet, many of them are 24/7. There are real highways that stretches to the north and around. The public transportation includes government busses that cover the entire island, private busses, and there are zillions of taxis. I would think, out of 285 thousand in population, half are taxi drivers. Don’t be annoyed if locals offer you taxi every few steps you take on the streets by the gap. Locals are friendly here, but after all their economy is dependent on tourism and they will try to sell you products and services. One observation about most local men here is the fashion of gold tooth. It also could be status in society, some have one gold tooth and some gold teeth.
Animal Flower Bay/Cave

Katherine and I got to explore the Island and drove to the caves on most northern part and got a taste of the nature of Barbados. We came across monkeys which was a surprise. Out of all the Islands, I have seen monkeys only in St. Kitts and Nevis.
Unlike other Caribbean islands, Barbados has it’s own currency, Barbados Dollar BBD, $1US is equal to $2 BBD. Furthermore, “No smoking permitted” signs are everywhere and even in some outdoor facilities, smoking laws are not enforced in most Islands in West Indies. Since there are so many tourist in Barbados, there are lots of entertainment, night clubs, live music, Reggie, house music and entertainment for every day of the week. Furthermore, tons of small and big establishments have slot machines and gambling. Right now is the low season, but still there are more tourist here than most other islands in the WI. The majority of visitors are from Trinidad, Brazil, Italy, Canada, U.S, and believe it or not Venezuela. 
Barbados has great sea food, Katherine and I indulged ourselves with Marlins, Swordfish, tuna, and what Barbados is most known for, flying fish. There is also an open diverse culture in Barbados, where we noticed more Asians, homosexuals, and Muslims than any other Island as one of the oldest synagogues in Western hemisphere is located in Bridgetown.
The economy of Barbados is mostly tourism and the Nation is considered one of the wealthiest in the West Indies. Barbados was a little too much for our cruising routine, however it got us ready and prepared for the chaos in Chicago and New York.

Love from Barbados
View the Barbados photo album on fb page, click here