Saturday, May 27, 2006

Les Saintes


The anchorage at Basse Terre, Guadeloupe was really rolly so we decided to press on to Les Saintes. This beautiful group of small islands are off the south end of the Guadeloupe, just to the west of Marie Galante, another lovely smaller island. We arrived with Dreamtime and anchored off Ilet a Cabrit, a small uninhabited island not far from the main village. The next morning we explored the town and it is one of the prettiest we'd seen so far. Scott and I walked over the center of the island to Baie de Pompierre, the beach and park on the other side. This lovely long white beach enclosed a beautiful small harbor with just one boat in it. The entrance looked tricky so we could see why it was alone.On the way back we had a wonderful lunch at a small french restaurant surrounded by pastures. The next day Ed and Linda from Dreamtime and ourselves explored our uninhabited little island. Old Ft. Josephine crowned the hill and the views of the island we fabulous. We landed our dinghy at a small dock with a goat waiting for us (see him below right). I was the first one out; the goat looked at me expectently. I hadn't a clue! He backed up and ran at me - butted me in the stomach. It hurt! I yelled for help and turned to the dinghy - to find the other three people in paroxims of laughter. The goat got in the third butt before help arrived.
We think that he has come to expect food from anyone landing there. Unfortunately we weren't warned. Scott and Ed shooed him off and we climbed to the top of the hill. There was a race going on through the islands and just as we reached the top, they let out their spinakers. What a beautiful sight! Hundreds of colorful sailboats line the beaches in these islands.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Montserrat Blows Up While We Travel to Gualeloupe via Antigua

Saturday, May 20 was an interesting day. We left Nevis after a sudden downpour about 8 AM and motor sailed through the Narrows, between St. Kitts and Nevis. The wind was gusty and unexpectedly from the south as we turned the corner and headed upwind. We were able to keep our main in the center of the boat to stabilize it in the rough seas. Diesel Duck was a half hour behind us and Dreamtime went around the other side of Nevis. September Song and Emmanuel were planning to leave late that afternoon and sail overnight. We were the only one going to Montserrat - the others were heading for Guadeloupe. Scott had called the volcano observatory there on Friday and they'd given him an enthusiastic OK to anchor in the north of the island. Tourism has been a bit difficult for this country since half of it was buried in ash in 1995, including the capital Plymouth.

Following this eruption two thirds of the population left the island. Midway between is the island nation of Redonda, an uninhabited island that nevertheless has a reigning monarch - King Robert (Bob the Bald, this is a great story to look up. The first king, Filipe I, was crowned in 1880.). As we approached this windswept mini peak a call came in over the VHF from a boat six miles ahead of us to another single handed fellow behind him. He was experiencing intense suphuric fumes and falling ash. He had a satellite phone and wanted to call the observatory but didn't have the number. Scott called back and gave it to him and let him know our location if he needed help. We were starting to get a whiff of the fumes ourselves. Minutes later he called back - Montserrat was erupting and the observatory recommended turning around immediately. Since the wind was unexpectedly from the south everything was headed straight towards us.

Scott and I looked at our charts and made a sharp 90 degree turn and headed for Antigua - 32 miles away and not on our original itinerary. As soon as we settled into our new course a squall overtook us and the wind clocked around to the East; again, right on the nose. All visibility was lost and we battened down all the hatches. One consolation - the fumes and ash were now headed away from us. The two single handed men ahead of us and Emmanuel made the same choice but Diesel Duck decided to make continue on around Montserrat but way off and to windward. We talked to Dreamtime and they turned around and went back to Nevis. They don't bash into the wind and waves as well as some of us and they were way behind. It was a wise choice - they had a much better trip the next day and joined us in Antigua. That night September Song sailed by Montserrat, well off, and saw the glow of the lava flowing down to the sea. We found out the next day that 90 million cubic yards of material, the whole new dome, blew off the top.

Antigua is very English and caters to the boating and racing crowd. The three top images are of centuries old English Harbor, Jolly Harbour on the other hand is a very protected recently built
anchorage and huge marina/condo and home development. It looks a bit like Florida with canals and docks at each residence. We anchored off a lovely beach just outside the entrance to the enclosed harbour with only a few other boats. Scott and I took local buses over to Falmouth and English Harbours on the south end of the island where the restored Nelson Docks are a big attraction. This fort and repair works, completed in 1745, are now used by a new breed of yachts. The anchorage is very snug and it's mangrove dense
sections are excellent hurricane holes. The old walls and buildings are still in use and integrated nicely with the more modern sections. Jolly Harbour Marina was a good place to reprovision, do laundry and a few boat repairs. When Dreamtime showed up, we were both invited over to Emmanuel for "sundowners" - a cruising tradition.

.We had a pleasant brisk sail down to Guadeloupe - averaging seven knots over most of the fifty miles. After losing our wind in the lee of the island we had some difficult moments with the engine, but Scott resolved them. The harbor and fishing village at Deshaies is very charming with red roofed homes, restaurants and a lovely church steeple framing the semi circle beach and of course above, the steep mountains. That's the town, in these shots starting with the view coming in from the sea. French bread and brie was a revelation for us - this is our first French island!

These are the tallest in the islands in the Caribbean outside of the Dominican Republic and at over 7000 feet taller than anything on the U.S. East Coast. We so enjoyed walking around the small very French town and had an early morning breakfast at the cafe of excellent French coffee, croissants and pan de chocolats. Restaurants lined the beach at the head of the harbor. Diesel Duck was there waiting for us with a lovely dinner that night (that's them with Scott above). After two nights of peace we headed south again, anchoring not far away at the Cousteau Underwater Park Reserve at Pigeon Island.This was marvelous snorkeling and we went back for a second half day after Dreamtime joined us. This was the first time we'd seen such a dramatic drop off from the reef. We were enjoying the coral and fish and then suddenly ahead the color of the water changed dramatically and we looked straight down into the "abyss".
Scuba divers, many with instructors, were at various points down on the wall. Curtains of bubbles, many shaped like frisbees rose up as they passed us. It was magnificent. Scott so wants to learn to dive and although I'm reluctant, perhaps I'll try it too. On the way back in our dinghies a downpour overtook us that was so heavy we couldn't see ahead. Benno and Marlene put on their snorkeling gear and standing up holding on to the bow
bridle they made a very funny but efficient sight. That night we had a wonderful potluck supper on our boat.

The next morning we motored down to Basse Terre at the south end of the island and anchored outside the Marina Riviere Sens entrance. The marina appeared heavily damaged by a hurricane - we visited customs to clear out of the country and then walked downtown to look around. We had hoped to rent a mini van and do some sight seeing around the island but nothing was open on the weekend.
The marketplace was bustling with activity and I took lots of pictures (pictures here show the array of bottles, seafood selection and one of many vegetable/fruit vendors) while Scott tested many flavors of fruit infused rum. We bought a five fruit rum combination, lots of tomatoes, bananas, eggplant, christophenes, zucchinis and seasoning peppers (small red and green mild peppers).

Friday, May 19, 2006


Our sail to Nevis was postponed suddenly when we heard "Diesel Duck" on the VHF talking to "Dreamtime". They had left St. Bart's at midnight and were coming through the Narrows, south of St. Kitts. After checking in with customs
at Basseterre they had decided to join "Dreamtime" (that's Linda and Ed on the right) at Ballast Bay. These two boats have been traveling on and off with us since Georgetown in the Bahamas. We quickly changed our heading and anchored there as well. A lovely, completely undeveloped part of the island, it was very protected from the wind and seas. We swam, snorkeled and then the other two boats joined us for a pot luck dinner - salmon cakes with rum punches, penne and sausages, Yorkshire puddings, tossed salad and brownies - YUM! It was a fun evening.

Next morning early we pulled the anchor and motored over to the northwest end of Nevis. The Gallipot restaurant in Tamarind Bay has free moorings and it's a lovely spot off a small beach with the Volcano rising over it.
After connecting with "Vagamundo" on the VHF, we dinghied over to Oualie Beach and rented bikes for the day. "September Song" and "Vagamundo" have their own bikes and had already explored the island. We all cycled down to Charleston and did some shopping and sightseeing, had some ice cream and then pedaled back. It was a lot of work and very sunny but beautiful. We were more than ready for lunch when we returned at close to 2 PM. The restaurant at Oualie Beach is terrific and the water felt great afterwards. They let us use the chaise lounges and the fresh water showers as well - heaven! The next morning we rented a car and drove all around the island. The west side is very undeveloped and we hiked all over a lovely set of ruins at Coconut Walk Estate. The machinery is still intact. It would look like the people had just walked away for a moment except for the rust. We then visited the Traditional Nevisian Village -
a recreated set of homes from various periods in Nevis history and did the nature walk at Golden Rock Plantation Inn. Many of the old estate homes have been converted into Inns and/or restaurants. We looked at two before choosing the Montpelier Plantation Inn for lunch. Doesn't that meal look fabulous! The old stone buildings and ruins have been incorporated into the new sections and all scattered through the lovely gardens.

The people of St. Kitts and Nevis are so nice. Everyone greets you and wants to help. They are interested in chatting and no one has a ulterior motive. This is a prosperous island and the gaily colored homes
everywhere are very comfortable looking. We explored many of the small roads, often only with room for one car (you sometimes have to back up or pull over on the grass). We don't mind driving on the left but you do need to pay attention all the time. Next we visited an art gallery in Charleston for some gifts and then headed for a beach bar for a beer and a swim. Doesn't this table below and the sofas on either side look comfortable for a drink? Afterwards we shopped for some gifts and groceries and headed back to the boat.
It was a lovely day.

Today, after returning the car and checking out from customs, we have a long list of chores to do. Mine involve cleaning, updating the inventorys, email and cooking. Scott is rebuilding the stern toilet. Yes I got the better deal! He also worked with two other boats on the VHF special "buddy" frequencies. We'll of course get in some swimming and snorkeling too! Tomorrow morning, around 5:00 AM we heading south again. Depending on the conditions we may either go directly to Guadeloupe or stop for an overnight at Montserrat. Scott will check with Montserrat Volcano Observatory today on the situation. There is both a land and maritime exclusion zone around the island the borders of which change depending on the Soufriere Volcano activity.
We have heard of a number of boats that have been covered with ash even miles off the island so we don't want to take a chance. Still we'd love to have a chance to stop there. The northern half is still green and has been protected from the eruptions by the Center Hills mountain range. Two waves of Irish settlers colonized this island in 1630s and 1649 - it's called the Emerald Isle, like Ireland. The view from the inhabited section to the smoking and devastating volcano is memorable we've been told. The old capital Plymouth still has the spire of one church sticking up from the ashes. In 1995 11,000 people lived there, now only 4,500.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

St. Kitts to Nevis

Our next destinations, St. Kitts and Nevis, are an independent state with a British tradition and 50,000 inhabitants (Saba has 1500 and Statia 2700 in contrast). The anchorage at St. Kitts was too open to the waves so we stayed in the marina there for three nights. This was a nice change and we enjoyed plugging in and using our air conditioning.
We've anchored all but a few days since our return March 1. That night three boats came over for drinks in our cockpit; two that we've been traveling with off and on; Dreamtime and September Song (they have a 15 month old son, Matis) and a couple we just met, Gretchen and Frank on Infinity. The next day was Mother's Day and it was so wonderful to talk to all four of our children! Luckily our "international" cell phone was working for a change!

St. Kitts has a steep central mountain range rising 3750 feet high but the land, covered with sugar cane plantations, now mostly charming Inns, slopes up gradually from the sea. We rented a car on Monday and drove all around this lovely island - on the left side of the road. Rows of gnarly trees line many of them, leaning away from the sea winds. Two pictures illustrate this, better seen by double clicking on the photos. Brimstone Hill Fortress, a World Heritage Site, is a enormous series of fortifications built on a old volcanic eruption which rises straight out of the sea. This reminded me of the Tolkien's City of Gondor - a series of walled terraced fortifications with the road twisting up and through deep arched gates. One thousand British soldiers held out for some months against eight thousand French there, surrendering eventually with full honors. The fort is being painstakingly restored and is already in great shape. While we were there a tropical downpour occurred cooling everything off nicely.
We also visited two lovely old plantation locations. The first Romney Manor was once the home of Jefferson's great grandfather and although the old manor house has burned down, it is now home to Caribelle Batiks and their charming workshops are scattered in the beautifully landscaped gardens where we saw some of the monkeys which populate this island. The second, Rawlins Plantation Inn, appears like magic after a long narrow card track between fields of sugar cane in a wonderful oasis of lawn, trees and flowers. We had a West Indian buffet lunch sitting on their veranda with a view of the sea and in the distance, Statia.
As each diner completed their luncheon, the birds moved in for the last dregs of the drinks! After that we met the present descendant of the past owners, Philip Walwyn, a renowned yachtsmen who is building a First Rule Twelve Metre - a class of boat used for the America's Cup from 1958 to 1987. It is the only one to be built since 1917 and gorgeous. .His wife, Kate Spencer, is a wonderful artist and her studio and shop is in their home. The boat is being built out in the yard. We really enjoyed her work and bought a signed numbered print of hers.

After the necessary and with the car, easier, tasks of laundry and shopping, we drove down the lovely but almost deserted south end of the island. Newly constructed roads over the hillsides indicate that next time we visit this island, new homes will have sprouted up. We returned the car this morning, checked out with customs and now we're off to Nevis.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Hiking Saba and then on to St. Eustatius or Statia

The next morning, still at Saba, we arranged for taxi driver Eddie to pick us up at 8:30 AM at the dinghy landing. We started the hike up the old volcano, Scenery Mt., at 9:30 and visited all three viewing spots at the top and in the crater. The clouds parted long enough at each one - great luck. The flowers and vegetation were worth the trip alone. Some sections required ropes to help you climb up! In the pictures here you can see how spectacular the scenery is! Happily the dense vegetation and the clouds which hang over the summit most of the time kept the temperature down and our walk was very pleasantly cool. Pictures here show the trail with Scott and I, plus the views down to a boat traveling by and to Bottom,
one of the small villages on the island. Later we visited the charming museum detailing their history. Men on this island have sailed all over the world and many rose to captain their own ships. The women then and now made lace! Their beautiful lace pieces are famous and they're still tatting on today.

Our next island, Statia, was very attractive but not in the same league. It's a quiet rather sweet place and the walk up the volcano, called The Quill, was nice but very hot. It is drier and has less variety in it's vegetation until you get in the volcano itself and there are only a few distant views. This island has a big history however During the mid to late 1700s Statia was the
trade capital of the Indies. From one to two hundred sailing ships lay at anchor off the shore where a sea wall protected a long street of shops and warehouses. All this is gone now, destroyed by war and hurricanes. The beautifully paved roads leading down to the shore are still in perfect shape however and many of the walls higher up in the now existing town center. The snorkeling over the old sea wall, now under water, was excellent. The moorings at the town are rather open and we had lots of swells. This sets the boat rocking - an uncomfortable feeling. We set a stern anchor to face us into them and that really helped.
Several years ago rogue waves from a storm way across the Atlantic came suddenly in the middle of the night here and several boats out on these very moorings were thrown up onto the rocks in just minutes - a scary thought! We try not to dwell on stories like these and those of pirate incidents. The chances of this happening to us are about the same as an uncoming car on the highway crossing the medium strip and hitting you head on. What's the sense of worrying about that? Besides, see that rainbow over the island below - always a good sign!

Both these islands are Dutch and pictures of the royal family decorate many homes. They are part of the Netherlands Antilles, part of a commenwealth group with Holland, Curacao, Bonaire and Saba. Recent votes were held in all of these countries and Statia, Saba and Bonaire decided to become part of Holland. Curacao voted to become independent like Aruba. Recently they've been reconsidering that opinion and may have another vote.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


It was somewhat rolly on our mooring off Saba but not too bad. We got there late the first day and planed to check in with customs at the little harbor the next morning. We first tried to land our dinghy at Ladder Bay Beach, but couldn't see how steep it was, and when we landed, the waves crashed over the transom and swamped the boat.

Luckily Scott managed to push it beyond the waves and hold it there chest deep in water while I spent a half hour pumping the water out. Our outboard was OK thank goodness.
We were exhausted so we snorkeled around Wells Bay to recover and cool off - beautiful with caves and tunnels. - and after lunch went back to the harbor.

The road from there was hand-built and only finished in 1958 - like all the roads on Saba, it is very steep and narrow. People stopped and picked us up several times on our journey up through the small charming towns of Bottom and Windwardside. Two were medical students at the International School of Medicine, rated, we were told, fourth out of the 32 Medical schools in the Caribbean.
Imagine! We then walked all the way back to the landing, around 3 miles, mostly straight down, as it was late in the afternoon and there were very few cars. Our legs were protesting! The homes are almost all white with red roofs and with either green or soft red shutters and somewhat Victorian in style. We stopped at a small museum to pick up a trail map. We hoped to hike up to the top of the volcano and into the crater. The volunteer there suggested we have her husband, a cab driver, pick us up in the morning and take us to the trailhead, an excellent plan. More about the hike on our next posting!