Monkeys and Turtles

Mon 29 Jul 2013 19:42
In the quiet of the early morning I took a walk. The sun was just up and the world was still cool and fresh, 27ºC or so. So I walked past the yard barrier, crossed the road and followed the parrots along the path into the rainforest. Green upon green upon green, even green swooping against the blue sky as the parrots flew overhead. All around were flowers of paradise and butterflies, big yellow ones, stripped red ones, bright orange ones, flittering in the filtered light. Every hundred yards or so the path was littered with golden ripe mango, oozing syrup when the fall had split them open. A clattering above made me look up, high in the top of the trees a troop of capuchin monkeys were bounding from branch to branch, a big silvery grey one paused to chatter at me, baring his teeth and bouncing left and right to look down at me either side of the branch he was on. There was no doubt as to whose forest I was in. As I walked back, arms full of flowers and pockets full of gold mangoes, I could already feel the sweat start to trickle down me. It's been hot, mid 30s but with high humidity it means it feels much hotter. When you come out after it rains it feels like you are swimming through the air, like breathing in a fragrant sauna, and the puddles are bath temperature when you splash through them.

We have had to shut the portholes whilst the boat is being painted, to keep out the dust from the sanding and the paint, which means we have no air flow on board so the boat spends all day just getting hotter and hotter and hotter, even the cool of the evening brings no relief as the boat simply throws off all that stored heat until just before dawn when it starts to get bearable, just before the rising sun starts the cycle again. So we eventually gave in and decided to hire an air conditioner, reasoning we'd get so much more work done if we could cool off. The problem was, no one would hire us one. They said because we were in the area of the yard where all the work was being done it was too dusty and the electricity supply was too overloaded so they didn't want to risk their units there. However, Richard would sell us a second hand one, if we wanted to risk it. We did, however the first two units couldn't cope but now, third time lucky, thanks to Taylor, we are delighted to be able to keep the temperature aboard down to about 27ºC at night. It's less successful during the day, due to both cutting out whenever the workmen use a compressor and having to compete with a very insistent sun. But we are able to keep at least the pilot house very comfortable now, and it's made the world of difference. In the mean time we seem to have adapted some too, and don't get so tired when we're out walking or cycling in the heat of the sun.

Work's going well. We've decided to scrap the idea of an arch at the stern for solar panels and wind turbines - the design of the arch was too problematic, what with limited deck space for mountings and avoiding the mizzen, so we're planning one turbine on a pole and figuring how we can rail mount the panels either side instead. The Dynamite team aren't around much at the moment, the new bearing's being made next week then they'll be back to fit it when we're next lifted, so Ray's not been feeding us, however Sam's been doing some varnishing for us and has been looking after us magnificently. In fact, I told Sam, he should re-design his business cards to say "Varnishing and General Caring for Services" because he does everything in his power to smooth things for us. From turning up with breakfast doubles in the mornings, finding out why the electricity is down (again!), through locating the third (finally successful) air conditioning unit, stripping the husks off coconuts, clearing the access to our ladder, through to coming in at the weekend just to bring us fruit. Oh, and his varnishing is excellent too!

The other evening one of the guys had been out fishing and brought the catch back for the workers, so they set up a barbecue and cooked them there and then, breaking out the Carib beer and playing dominoes in the shade of a boat. We were invited to join them and were served the long beaked fish that we'd had around the boat when we were at anchor (see "Coming out the water" blog post) and another fish they called salmon, which wasn't the salmon you would recognise but both were delicious. I was invited to join in playing dominoes so I had my first ever game. I'd watched a while but hadn't been able to work out the rules, except the one that said that when laying your domino down you must slap it on the table as loudly as you can. It was fun trying to figure it out - I still find the broad Trini accent very hard to follow, so mostly had to ask them to repeat everything they said, but we got there in the end and I had fun.

We took some time out to join Jesse James, no not in the saddle, but in his 'Maxi Taxi'. Jesse sets up tours and trips for the yachting community here, from visits to the cinema, through weekly runs to the fruit and veg market, to whole day trips exploring all across the island. We joined him to go and visit a beach on the North West of the island where the rangers watch over the giant leatherback turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs. They were magical. The leatherbacks are very particular about which beaches they use, the sand needs to be the right consistancy to enable them to dig a chamber for the eggs without it collapsing, and to drain any rain and sea water that may come in, so they return to the same beaches to lay. We've seen these magnificent giants in the ocean, streamlined and agile, the only time they come ashore is to lay eggs and I can understand why: it is clearly a huge effort to pull their weight up the steep beach and when they return to the ocean they often pause to rest before slipping with relief into the surf.

Leatherback females spread sand over their backs to camouflage themselves when laying. She's about 6ft long and about 35 years old.

The leatherbacks don't like too much noise or white light, they'll turn back to sea and find another beach, but aren't bothered by red light so we were able to join the rangers and watch a female laying. The rangers were monitoring her heart rate and temperature, checking stress levels, as we watched and when the time for laying arrived we were able to take photos and come right up close without bothering her as she slips into a sort of trance whilst she actually lays her eggs. Once she has laid the eggs she fills in the opening to the egg chamber and proceeds to spread sand all around the area to cover her tracks. Although we didn't see any hatchlings emerge, some had come out earlier that evening so the rangers had held on to a few to show us - they were sooo cute, so Phil was able to add turtles to his repertoire of animals that he is official whisperer to.


It was quite wonderful to be so close to such lovely creatures but we did feel guilty to be intruding on such an important time in her life and in the hatchling's first few hours out of the egg, however, knowing there were turtles laying and hatchlings emerging just on the other side of the island was too much of a temptation to stop us and, with the ranger's help,  we did try to minimise the impact we had as much as possible. We came away filled with wonder at the living things that we share our world with, along with a renewed sense of responsibility to do our part in protecting the oceans.