2009-2010 Caribbean / Bahamas Trip
Wednesday, February 10th, English Harbour, Antigua, W.I.
Here we sit, anchored off of "Nelson's" Dockyard. British naval hero Admiral Lord Nelson spent several years here fairly early in his career, keeping order. I guess he didn't really like it here much though they don't tell you that in the local museum. I gather the local British merchants didn't think too much of him either. He was a stickler for following the rules and wouldn't allow the locals to trade with the Americans thereby cutting way down on their profits.
In the week since the log has been updated we have traveled from Dominica to Iles des Saintes to Deshaies, Guadeloupe and finally to English Harbour. The sailing has been great. The trip from Dominica to Les Saintes was short but sweet. It was a reach with 20 knots of wind. Shango was very happy.
The Iles des Saintes were terrific. We actually went to only one Saint, Terre d'en Haut, which is where the only town of any size is located. The Island was colonized by Breton fishermen hundreds of years ago and there is a very unique feel to it. It is small enough that we were able to walk to the major sights. The hike up Le Chameau provided a terrific view from an old lookout post. We were glad that we tackled this climb in the early morning before the sun was overhead. We also made our way up to Fort Napoleon, which like it's English counterpart Fort Shirley on Dominica, details the "Great" naval battle of Les Saintes between the French and the English. Twice was enough for me but Roger was up to the task. The architecture along the front street, facing the harbor was wonderfully colorful. There were several bakeries and lots of little restaurants to keep you salivating. Our lunch out was at a place called Le Genois. The plat de jour included among other things tiny little homemade sausages with three different fillings. During our stay I managed to get my hair cut. Unfortunately my French is so poor that I was unable to convey what I had in mind and the resultant cut was not exactly what I had hoped for. The hairdresser was blameless. Once we finished our time in town, we anchored for a day off of Ilet de Cabrit, a national park in the Saintes. It was a beautiful little anchorage. After we finished cleaning the dinghy, we enjoyed an afternoon of swimming.
On Friday the 5th of February we headed from Iles des Saintes, up the west coast of Guadeloupe to the town of Deshaies. While doing our initial walk around town we met a Swiss couple from a boat called Ceres. We shared an enjoyable walk and a beer and compared cruising notes. They had started their journey in Norway last Summer and arrived in French Guyana in December. It's not a route you hear a great many people taking, but interesting I'm sure. Our stay in Deshaies was brief and included a trip to the market and a lunch out. The clock was ticking.
The sail to Antigua was a bit slow at the beginning and at the end but great in the middle. To keep us entertained during the slack periods the island of Montserrat, off our port bow, spewed great plumes of smoke and ash. There is currently a four mile exclusion zone around the Island. Happily it wasn't on our to-visit list.
Antigua has turned into more of a chore stop. We did visit the Dockyard Museum and walk the Yard but our focus has been on projects. Oil change, varnishing, 2nd haircut for me (sadly, yes), etc... We did have lunch with the Ceres's which was fun but we'll head out without taking an Island tour I think. The next stop: Barbuda.
Friday, February 19th, Anse de Colombier, St. Barts, W.I.
It has been a very varied week (or so) for us. We've gone from pristine and primitive to being surrounded by mega-everything (yachts, luxury, etc).
When we left Antigua, site of our last update, we motored fortyish miles to Barbuda. There wasn't a whit of wind so there was no getting around it. There was a definite haze in the air which we were to discover was from the collapse of the dome of Montserrat's volcano. Yikes! Roger caught (and released) a barracuda enroute. This seemed to cheer him but I think he'd rather have caught something higher on the edibility scale. We arrived at Low Bay, Barbuda by four p.m. and dropped the hook in twelve feet of beautiful blue water with a nice sand bottom. Low Bay fronts an eleven mile long beach with only two very small hotels at either end. It was quite beautiful. As we were to discover during our whirlwind 24 hour stay here there are one or two things about the place that may be considered to be problematic.
Since we were thinking of leaving on Sunday we decided that we had better check out the following day, Friday. After a slightly rolly night we called "Garden of Eden" on the VHF to get a ride to town. Why not just take our own dinghy into town you ask? Drawback #One: Unless you have a tiny, delicate dinghy that you can drag across the aforementioned beach to the lagoon (which separates you by 2.5 miles from town), you need to call for a lift. We dragged our heavy dinghy up onto the beach after the usual gymnastics of a surf landing and met Pat, our guide (for the day, it would turn out.) Pat took us to town and asked us where we needed to go. "Customs" was our reply. It turns out that we should have said "To clear out." We went to Customs (barefoot guy in a tee shirt watching cricket in his living room. Customs explained to us that we were supposed to have gone to Port Authority first but seeing how he was already up he was going to let us do the route backwards. Thus began our Barbudian check-out ordeal. Three different stops, each located in a different part of town, AFTER spending forty minutes getting cash at the local bank. The last stop, Port Authority, at least provided a bit of levity. There was a poster on the wall telling you to "Keep your Bat in the Crease" Naturally Roger's curiosity got the better of him and he asked for an explanation. It turns out that it was a public health advertisement for condoms. Apparently anything using a cricket metaphor gets attention. Our guide and the Port Authority woman went back and forth on the condom topic until it was exhausted and then they went back to watching the African movie which was playing on the office cd player. "We like African movies because they're about people like us," said Pat the guide. Stamp, stamp, we were finally done. Back across the Lagoon and through the surf to the boat.
We had toyed with the idea of heading to the south end of the Island to anchor behind the reef in anticipation of coming swells. We were torn because we also wanted to take a trip to the Frigate bird colony which was at the north end of the Lagoon. What to do? At this point our friends on Ceres turned up. They were eager to check out and see the birds so we agreed to go along. Back we went with Pat and waited at the pier for Ceres to submit to the clearing out process. After the painful part of the program we headed north for the birding event. And an event it was. Frigate birds for days. The males were puffing up their red throat pouches to attract the females and the females were rubbing their beaks on the red throat pouches. It was all quite x-rated. There were small fuzzy-headed chicks looking like they were having bad hair days. All of this was going on with the large birds (six foot wingspan) perched precariously in the mangroves. Why they don't tip over into the drink I don't know. We really enjoyed the trip and Pat's knowledge really helped us appreciate what we were seeing.
I have made a passing reference to the surf landings that are required to go ashore in Low Bay. I should also mention the surf launchings. Both would fall under the category of "Drawback #Two." When we returned to our dinghy we were very discouraged to note that the swell had built up to a level that made us a bit queasy with dread. Even Pat looked a bit worried when he saw that the waves from the swell had been passing over the dune into the lagoon. The four of us had come ashore together so at least there was only one dinghy to get through the surf. I'm sure you can live without all the gory details but the low point was probably when Barbara was run down by the rebounding dinghy, hurt her leg and fainted. The rest was just child's play. We all managed (even Barbara, the brave soul) to swim out through the breakers after Roger miraculously got the dinghy beyond them. Needless to say the anchorage was extremely rolly by this point. The general consensus was that there was going to be no sleep that evening so we might as well do an overnight to somewhere significantly quieter. As the sun began to set we made out way through the widely spread coral and hightailed it for points northwest. Well, that is, Ceres did. We had one more glitch before we were able to make our escape. After the anchor was up I somehow managed, in the giant swells, to get the dinghy painter wrapped around the prop stopping us dead. "DROP THE ANCHOR!" were, I think, my exact words. Amazingly, Roger was able to dive under the boat without it landing on his head, and cut away the painter. Only fifteen minutes after this parting snafu we were underway again. "Barbuda, we hardly knew ya".
After a few rolly nights, one at anchor, one at sea, we decided to take refuge in Simpson's Bay Lagoon in St. Martin, bypassing St. Barts for a few days. It was a paradise of calm water, if not calm in general. The Lagoon at St. Martin is entered, thankfully, through a lift bridge. It is an immense anchorage which is half Dutch and half French. We checked in on the Dutch side and spent five pleasant days despite feeling we ought to duck every time a plane went over our mast top. I was romanced with pancakes on Valentines Day which was lovely. The services available in St. Martin are amazing. It is undoubtedly due to the fact that this is mega yacht central. There are at least five companies who will provision your boat for you. There are both Budget Marine and Island Water World chandleries as well as any number of factory reps for marine products. There is everything one could want for a boat. We took full advantage. We talked to Barbara after she had her leg x-rayed. She survived her thrashing at Barbuda with no broken bones which is a fine thing. We also caught up with the crew of Morgan and spent a fun evening at the Turtle Pier cruisers get-together drinking one dollar beer and eating three dollar hamburgers. Lovely.
Today we find ourselves in St. Bart's. Our anchorage, Anse de Colombier, has a lovely beach and lots of turtles swimming around. It is a bit more crowded than last night's stop at Ile Fourche but sunny and calm. Tomorrow we'll head to the capital, Gustavia, to ogle the rich and famous or at least buy a baguette on this, our last French island (heavy sigh).
Saturday, February 27th, Francis Bay, St. John, U.S.V.I.
Today, almost three months after leaving this anchorage headed for Grenada, we find ourselves back in Francis Bay, St. John. . We have closed our Eastern Caribbean circle. A wonderful time was had by all.
Our final stop before returning to St. John was at St. Bart's. Gustavia, the capital, was full of very expensive yachts, expensive shops and at least a couple of affordable restaurants. On Saturday the 20th we checked in (customs was very nice) and located an internet cafe. ( Sadly no wireless in the anchorage.) Roger computed while I window shopped. All hands were happy. Together once again we wandered through town. We passed Le Select, the cruisers bar, where two guys were playing guitar and stand-up base and singing Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire". This is a favorite song of my 6 year old niece Zoe. She would have approved of their choice. On our way back to the boat we stopped for a glass of wine at a restaurant called the Wall House. Roger, not unusually, grabbed a paper napkin to wrap around a bleeding digit and settled in to enjoy his drink. At a table not too far away a young woman left her compatriots and headed for a boat on the nearby dock. She returned minutes later with a VERY large ziplock full of first aid supplies and headed straight for Roger. It turns out she was a trauma nurse. She didn't like the way Roger was abusing his wound and felt compelled to intervene. Not only did she bandage the offending finger but she left us with the giant first aid bag. She claims it was only one quarter of the supplies she brought for her one week cruise. After a brief chat we discovered that we knew her parents who cruise on a boat called Mariah. It is a small world. Roger's finger has healed nicely, thank you Renee.
On Sunday afternoon after our final French meal (fricasseed octopus and coq au vin) we put the dinghy on deck and headed out of St. Bart's for our overnight to St. John's. We motorsailed for a while till the wind filled in, then had a lovely reach toward the Virgins.
The Anegada Passage, as this crossing is known, can be a bit of a drag when you are headed eastbound. Westbound it is quite pleasant and we had no complaints about the conditions. It is a fairly busy piece of water however. Every cruise ship within one hundred miles drives around here overnight waiting to enter their next port at seven a.m. In addition there are a variety of cargo ships and freighters headed to and fro. Throw in a smattering of cruising boats and it becomes officially busy. During this passage we were able to verify something that we had begun to suspect over the months since we installed our AIS system. When we added AIS it was with the thought that it would be nice to be able to identify the course and speed of the giant ships that loom in the dark. What we began to notice was that it was dangerously easy to look at the AIS targets around you and use your eyes and the radar when the AIS failed to answer your question. If we were saving our eyes and our radar for last what were the big guys doing? We began to debate the merits of adding an AIS transmitter just in case they were falling into the same trap. It turns out that some of them are. During the night we saw that we were on a collision course with a cargo ship. We heard the cargo ship hail a sailboat near us to discuss what should be done. The sailboat explained to the cargo ship that he was talking to the wrong boat. At this point we broke into the conversation and gave the cargo ship our course and speed. The guy in charge (captain?) of the cargo ship seemed a bit lax and changed his mind several times before an agreement was reached on a safe passing arrangement. To add to his list of offenses, the cargo ship was running with only white lights. No red and green navigational lights were on. Roger had hailed the ship and was told that no warning signal had sounded to indicate to the crew that the lights had failed... Roger suggested to the voice that he might want to go above and take a look. A few minutes the cargo ship's red and green lights magically appeared. Just because they're big doesn't mean they have a clue. An AIS transmitter has now been added to the "ought to have" list.
As the sun came up on my six to eight a.m. shift I was greeted by a large group of dolphins. They were on the smallish side with tawny speckles. I haven't had a chance to look them up just yet but they were very enjoyable to watch. We spent a lovely hour together. I watched, they jumped. After checking in at Cruz Bay we headed back east and dropped the hook in Coral Harbor where we planned to meet four friends vacationing from home. First, a nap.
All we had to contact our former Plum Island neighbors was their cell phone numbers which they swore had worked during their previous visits. Hmmm. No luck. Happily, that evening they saw our boat in the Harbor. When they noticed that our dinghy wasn't tied alongside they assumed they would find us at the closest bar. How right they were. We all dined together at Skinny Legs, a bar owned by two guys from Lawrence, MA. Our waitress was from Southie and there were New England sports pennants all over the ceiling (there were no walls.) It was the oddest sensation.
Over the next several days we toured, ate, sailed and celebrated Roger's birthday with Jon, Andrea, Linda & Paul. After one last get-together for Linda & Paul's 30th anniversary on Monday the 1st we'll be on our way to the Spanish Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The sail continues!
2009-2010 Trip Logs