Sunday, April 22, 2018

Antigua, Sint Maarten, BVIs and Beyond…

When you find yourself in Guadeloupe and are heading north, you look at a map and realize there are 2 ways you can go: you can either go to a little more west and visit Montserrat, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Eustatius and Saba, or you can go north to Antigua and Barbuda. We would love to have visited them all, but time was running out, and the anchorages in Monteserrat, St. Kitts & Nevis and St. Eustatius seemed a little less appealing than Antigua, although the islands themselves sounded interesting (Monteserrat in particular, seems to be 2 islands in one, the southern part, barren and desolate, covered in volcanic ash, having had a catastrophic volcanic eruption in 1995 and another as recent as February 2010! And the northern part, green and lush). Antigua is a little more to windward than we’d like, but having read about Nelson’s Dockyard and having received some good reports from our friends on “Moby”, we decided to brave the headwinds and go for Antigua!

It took us a full day of bashing into the wind to get to Antigua, having left Deshaies in Guadeloupe, just before sunrise on April 10th. We had 2 superyachts pass us, just gliding through the water with no problem at all! We would later see one of those boats moored in Nelson’s Dockyard along with many other “big boats”! Antigua is, of course, home to the mega yacht, and Antigua Race Week was coming up at the end of the month.

As we entered English Bay we realized what a find this natural harbor must have been for the Royal Navy at the end of the 17th century! The entrance to this natural, protected harbor could hardly be seen from the ocean, and it was no surprise that the British kept their fleet in here. The first naval defences were built in 1704, and English Harbour became a Royal Navy dockyard in 1730. The dockyard was named Nelson’s Dockyard after the famous British Admiral, Horatio Nelson, of Battle of Trafalgar fame, who commanded the Royal Navy fleet at sea in the Caribbean from 1784 to 1787. After it was abandoned in 1889, the dockyard fell into disrepair.

The dockyard has now been beautifully restored, and the old buildings, originally stores and workshops, now house restaurants, shops, and small inns, as well as a lovely little museum that captured the history of that time, with special emphasis on Admiral Horatio Nelson. Benjamin was in his element, marveling at the model ships and the stories of the battles that took place. He is a bit of a history buff, and loves this stuff!  

Through a room displaying old cannons and artifacts, Ben can be seen reading about the HMS Victory (bottom left).  One of the original shutters from the dockyard buildings with "graffiti" engravings from the 1700's!  Gaby wonders if she could be a ship's figurehead
Some of the beautiful old boats that were at Nelson's Dockyard, presumably for Classic Boat Race Week, that was starting on April 18th.  We were fascinated by the detail on some of these old boats:  look at that intricate rudder!  And on the other scale, a sleek, modern superyacht, also at Nelson's Dockyard
An aerial picture of English Harbour (taken of a picture in the museum, so excuse the quality), but it gives a good overview.  The red "X" shows where we were anchored
Some images of the restored buildings in the dockyard

We also walked over to Fort Berkeley and enjoyed the view out onto the Atlantic. The guard hut and powder storage room from when they were built in the late 1700’s still stand today. The whole area, Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Top:  Fort Berkely seen from the water as we came in:  the guard house on the left, the powder house in the middle; Middle:  The old powder house; we had a very sad moment, when Dave's favourite flip flop broke!!! He bought them in Australia and LOVED them!!  Bottom:  the cannons guarding the entrance to English Harbour from Fort Berkeley
Cool Runnings at anchor in English Harbour, Antigua at sunset
After 2 days in English Harbor, we checked out, and made our way north to Deep Bay. The sail was nice, with the wind behind us, not like our trip over from Guadeloupe! It looked like there were many great anchorages on the whole island, especially on the windward side, that we didn’t get a chance to visit, and it looks like Antigua would definitely have been worthy of a longer stay. As we got closer to Deep Bay, we noticed an AIS signal on our chart plotter, belonging to a boat anchored in Deep Bay. We clicked on it, and immediately recognized the name: ALMA! Jonas (the skipper) on Alma (the boat) is our single-hander friend (meaning he is sailing by himself) from Sweden, who we first met in Durban, and then have met up with along the way, in PE, Cape Town, St. Helena, and most recently, Ascension Island. It is there that we had last seen him, so it was great to catch up and hear about his journey across the Atlantic, which took him close to 30 days! 

Sailing along the coast of Antigua, and anchored in Deep Bay

There is a wreck of a ship called the “Andes” in Deep Bay, that lies in pretty shallow water, that we were able to snorkel on.  Unfortunately the water was a little murky when we snorkeled.  The story goes that the Andes, a three masted iron barque was on its way from Trinidad to Peru in 1905. When it got to Antigua, the crew noticed smoke rising from the hollow masts indicating a fire. They were denied entry into St. John’s as they were considered to be carrying a dangerous cargo, so they anchored in Deep Bay. When they opened the cargo hatches to check on the smoke, the infusion of fresh air caused the smoldering fire to burst into flame. The ship sank in an upright position, and its one mast still sticks out above the water.

Gaby snorkeling on (through!) the wreck and some of the corals that have grown on it

The following morning, we left the anchorage once again in the early hours of the morning. We had over 80 miles to get to our intended destination: Sint Maarten. If we were not able to make it in time, we were planning to anchor in St. Barts. However, the wind was strong, and we put the spinnaker up, and we flew to Sint Maarten! It was a fast passage, with Cool Runnings surfing down waves at 14 – 15 knots! It was also a little uncomfortable, as the swell came from the side, and the wind angle was a little too close to 120 degrees (for having the spinnaker up), so Dave hand steered most of the way. But at about 4:30pm, we made it to Simpson Bay on the Dutch side of the island. 

Flying the spinnaker on the way to Sint Maarten and congratulating Dave and Cool Runnings on becoming circumnavigators once we'd anchored in Simpson Bay
Dutch Sint Maarten and French St. Martin occupy two halves of the same island, and while Christopher Columbus claimed it for Spain in 1493, they showed little interest in it, and the French settled in the north, while the salt ponds attracted Dutch settlers to the south. A treaty in 1648 divided the island between France and the Netherlands, and this contract of peaceful coexistence is one of the oldest active, undisputed treaties on the planet!

Sint Maarten was also significant to us, as this is where we bought Cool Runnings back in 2013. Dave and I flew here to look at her and finalize the paperwork, and Dave came back 2 months later with his friends Adrian and Garrick (who also sailed across the first part of the Pacific with us), to sail her back to Florida. This meant that this is where Dave and Cool Runings crossed their outgoing wake, and therefore officially became a circumnavigator on Friday, the 13th of April, 2018! Congratulations, Dave and our trusy Cool Runnings…Ben, Gaby and I are not far behind you! We celebrated with dinner at "Lagoonies", where Cool Runnings, (at that time called "Drift Away") had been moored when we first went to see her.

Full circle for Dave:  Lagoonies(top), and toasting to a great accomplishment:  circumnavigating!
Sint Maarten was also badly hit by the 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria, and we took the dinghy into Simpson’s Bay and the damage was still profound. While much has been done to repair the carnage, there were still sunken boats and boats washed up on the shore. It was so sad to see brand new, big boats, both power and sail, that Mother Nature just gobbled up and spat out. We continue to see the damage caused by that 2017 hurricane season in the Caribbean, in the Virgin Islands, and even here in the Turks and Caicos, where I am writing this blog from.  

Super yacht partially sunk, "Dreams" up in smoke, a beautiful Lagoon 52 just completely destroyed and damage to a building
The next morning, Saturday, April 14th, we did it all again, and left before dawn for the British Virgin Islands. The distance was slightly shorter, about 75 miles, and we had similar conditions. We put the spinnaker up, and started flying! The wind was slightly stronger, but the angle was better and we made great progress, doing constant speeds of around 10 knots, surfing up to 16 knots! We had a squally day, and one of those squalls brought us blinding rain and winds of up to 36 knots, 34 sustained! People marvel that we can sail with our spinnaker up in those conditions, but it works well, and it is fast, as long as you keep the boat surfing so as to keep the apparent wind in the sails to a minimum.....Dave always hand steers during these heavy winds so he can keep the boat surfing safely! 

A fast ride to the BVIs

We arrived at the top of the BVIs in the afternoon, and headed past Necker Island (Richard Branson’s private island), the hurricane damage already clearly visible. The islands looked dry and desolate. While some greenery is coming back, you can see the trees have been stripped bare, or completely gone, and the damage to the buildings was devastating. Repairs on Necker Island are coming along nicely, and you could see a backhoe in Branson’s yard, but he has the money to repair, and repair quickly. The Bitter End Yacht club on the other hand, was a different story all together.

First images of the destruction:  Necker Island on the bottom left

We entered the reef between Prickly Pear Island and Virgin Gorda and sailed down towards where the Bitter End Yacht Club used to be. It was so eerie seeing this huge, empty mooring field, devoid of a single boat, when in times past it would have been jam packed. The Bitter End itself is pretty much gone, as is the resort on Saba Rock. It was a sobering moment to realize once again, the force of nature and how insignificant we are in the big scheme of things. We anchored behind Prickly Pear Island with a just a handful of other boats and listened to some goats bleating on the barren island. 

The Bitter End Yacht Club:  a terrible sight for anyone to see; heartbreaking for those who knew what it was like before.  The sign "Out of Order" on the mooring buoy says it all.  The Bitter End is "Closed for Renovations".  7 months after the storms, it still looks like a war zone

We joined the few boats anchored off the desolate Prickly Pear Island, but Gaby, our water baby, decided to swim off the back of the boat and wash all the sadness away.  As the sun set, a boat came by with a little girl sitting in the sail bag:  that is the cruising life!
The following morning, we made our way down along Virgin Gorda to “The Baths”, and although the islands may be damaged, the sailing is still spectacular, and we could see why it is such a popular sailing destination. We saw very few boats, and when we got to the Baths, there were only 2 other boats there. The Baths is a collection of huge granite boulders that seem to have been haphazardly tossed there, forming sheltered pool (“baths”) along the beach. It reminded us a lot of the Seychelles, particularly La Digue, where we saw similar huge granite boulders. There is a trail you can walk along, going over and through the rocks until you get to a beautiful sheltered bay called Devil’s Bay. Those of you who have been to the BVIs know all about it. It is usually crowded, but we did the walk by ourselves, only encountering a couple of groups of people on our way back from Devil’s Bay.

Cool Runnings anchored off The Baths in Virgin Gorda, BVI.  The photo on the bottom left shows the size of the rocks, when compared to the little people in the corner of the picture!
After enjoying the morning at the Baths, we continued our sail through the BVI, and checked in on Foxy’s and the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost van Dyke Island, both iconic BVI watering holes. Both have been repaired and both are open and operating again, but we could see no resemblance to the bay we remember anchoring in when we went to Foxy’s all those years ago when we chartered our first cat with Adrian and Garrick and their significant others. While much is being done to rebuild, you can still see debris strewn up on the hills behind the houses, bars and hotels, and the beautiful, thick, green vegetation is gone. But it will come back, as will the buildings and as will the boats.

We anchored that night off St. Thomas, and left very early the next morning, Monday, April 16th, on our first “passage” since our Atlantic crossing. We had 400 miles to go to get to the Turks and Caicos, and it would take us 4 days and 3 nights. The first day was magic, spinnaker up, 15 – 20 knots, doing good speeds and making good time. While we have flown the spinnaker at night on previous passages, we were a little nervous about the squalls we’d experienced just a few days before (remember the 36 knots!), so caution prevailed, and we took the spinnaker down and put up the mainsail and the jib. It was probably the wrong decision as the wind died and switched to almost directly behind us. Had we had our spinnaker up, we could have continued making decent speeds and possibly saved us an extra night at sea, but as it turned out, we battled along with 4 – 5 knots, the jib being almost useless as it was blanketed by the mainsail, and we slowly lost all the ground we’d gained during the day. The following day the spinnaker came back up, and although the wind was light, we had a decent sail that day, that night and the following day. By the third evening, we were coming up on Grand Turk, and while we’d originally planned to check in at South Caicos, we decided to go slowly through the night, and get to the entrance of the Caicos Bank by first light. We would then have the day to cross the bank, and reach Providenciales, the largest of the Turks and Caicos islands, by afternoon. We sailed on a sliver of a jib, and bobbed along at about 3 knots all night, making it to the entrance at about 7:00am. I believe this is the first time in the 2 years of cruising, that Dave purposely slowed down!!

This satellite image from our tracker showing the Turks and Caicos islands, and the shallow Caicos bank

The Caicos Bank is an area of about 40 miles of shallow water, between 8 – 20 feet deep, with a sandy, limestone bottom, strewn with coral heads, stretching out south from the Caicos Islands. We could only navigate this by day. The water color is like none we have ever seen before (except for Dave, who had sailed across the bank when bringing Cool Runnings home!). It is spectacular, with turquoise water as far as the eye can see. 

Sailing the Caicos Bank:  the water is just spectacular!

We had decided to follow Dave’s tracks and went to South Side Marina for a short “technical stop” as well as a Turks and Caicos sight-seeing stop. Dave had stopped here in 2013 when bringing the boat back.  Being in a marina allowed us (or should I say Dave!) to fit the 2 parts we had picked up in Martinique, as well as allowing us to do laundry (all sheets and towels…something which takes about 5 loads in our small machine, but was able to be done in one in the big marina machine!), and a last shop at the big IGA Supermarket. We also filled up with diesel and had our 3 LPG gas bottles refilled, so we are ready for the Bahamas! All of this should last us until we get home.

This is how you do it, baby!

We had a lovely dinner at an outdoor restaurant, Las Brisas, overlooking Chalk Sound, and we toured the island in our rental car, “Jo Jo”. We continued to marvel at the water color…it even reflects in the clouds, making the puffy white clouds have a beautiful, turquoise tinge. Even here, though, the destruction from the hurricanes can be seen, with the majority of the damage seeming to be to roofs that have either been partly or completely ripped off. 

Dinner at Las Brisas; our faithful rental, Jo Jo; Dave and I at Chalk Sound; a view of the Caicos Bank from the south side; Cool Runnings at South Side Marina; and that blue, blue water!

Our plan is leave here either today or Monday, and head toward the Bahamas. We are so close now, to our long awaited reunion with “Moby” whom we last saw in Capetown in December 2017! Loic’s 50th birthday is on April 28th, and Ben’s 14th birthday is on April 29th, so we’ve long been planning a joint birthday celebration. Hang on, Moby, we’re on our way! We are also looking forward to meeting s/v SandStar, a Lagoon 500 from our hometown, with 3 kids aboard, and a reunion with s/v Pandion, a Lagoon 440 who we met in the Dry Tortugas at the very start of our circumnavigation back in 2016.....both boats are within a few hundred miles of our current position in the Turks & Caicos, so we will meet everyone in the Bahamas in the coming days...we can't wait!!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Heading North: St. Lucia, Martinique and Guadeloupe

We keep heading in a Northerly direction. That is our only goal right now! After leaving Granny and Kayla in Bequia, (and checking out on Easter Sunday, and paying the overtime fees…😡!!!), we left Bequia at about 7:30am. We had a long day of sailing ahead of us, our goal was to get to Martinique, or at least to the top of St. Lucia. We decided to play it by ear.

Our route north through the Windward Islands from St. Vincent and the Grenadines to Guadeloupe
The hop from Bequia to St. Vincent is not a big one, and in no time at all, we were sailing on the leeward side of St. Vincent, sheltered by the big island, in calm, flat seas. St. Vincent is beautiful, with big, green mountains, but we kept sailing, having read too many stories of crime against cruisers on the island, and we also wanted to make as much distance as possible north.

Sailing past St. Vincent in clam, flat water.  The island is mountainous and green

We’d also read that the passage from St. Vincent to St. Lucia, about 30 miles, could be a tough one, but we had one of the best sails yet, and in no time at all, we saw the famous “Pitons” on the horizon. The “Pitons” are 2 mountain peaks rising out of the sea at the southerly end of St. Lucia, and the anchorage at their base is supposed to be lovely. However, having had a nice, early start, we wanted to keep going, so we admired them from a distance and kept on sailing. Like St. Vincent, St. Lucia is green and mountainous, and it looked gorgeous. By the end of the day, however, we decided to anchor in Rodney Bay, at the northern end of St. Lucia, for the night, so we could have a rest, and decided to tackle the crossing to Martinique the following morning.

The Pitons were visible from at least 10 miles away, a distinct outline on the horizon.  Ben and Gaby enjoy a rare treat:  lollipops that Granny brought with her when visiting!  Dave and I enjoy the scenery and one more shot of the Pitons

On Tuesday, April 3rd, we awoke early as we do most mornings, and pulled up anchor. We had about 20 miles of open sea to cross before we could tuck into an anchorage in Martinique. We’ve discovered this sailing of the Caribbean is one of calm, sometimes windless sailing (or motoring) in the lee of the island, and then “hold on to your horses!” sailing as you have to cross the open stretches between the islands! This was no different, and a day after we arrived in Martinique, we heard the French Coast Guard broadcasting a “man over board” message after the sinking of a sailing vessel on the stretch of sea between St. Lucia and Martinique that we had just sailed!

We had a mission in Martinique: we had to pick up some spare parts that had been so kindly sent to us by David Farrington of Lagoon. During our Atlantic crossing, we had lost the protective cockpit drain cover that prevents waves splashing up into the cockpit drain, and the engine room air intake cover, due to rough seas. David (Farrington) had arranged to ship the parts to the Lagoon dealer in Martinique…thank you again, David…you and Lagoon have been absolutely amazing!!!

Back in France!  Dave hoists the French courtesy flag and as we entered, we had a taste of the old and the new:  a French navy vessel and a tall ship with all sails hoisted
We anchored in the very busy Le Marin anchorage, outside of the marina and mooring field. As we were setting the anchor, and testing that it was holding, “Shuti” came sailing past! They had dropped off their previous guests and picked up the next one, and were heading to another anchorage in Martinique. We said we’d hope to meet them there the following day, if all our chores went well in Le Marin. News that another boat, “Toomai” was there, spurred us on to get out of Le Marin! “Toomai” was the first boat we met with kids on board: Antoine (now 16) and Paul (now 11). We met them in Panama, and then saw them again in the Marquesas. Since then, we have missed each other, sometimes by days, as we have both sailed around the world!!! So, with this goal in mind, we quickly went ashore and tracked down the spare parts, which were ready and waiting for us! We also found a big grocery store, and did some provisioning, but we didn’t need all the much (just some beer and a few fresh goodies!).

Back in France:  fresh baguettes again!
The next morning, we headed over to the fuel dock, figuring that here was as good a place as any to fill up with fuel, and so with fuel tanks topped up, water tanks full and galley provisions replenished, we were ready to head out to join Shuti and Toomai! We found them anchored in “Grande Anse D’Arlet”, about 15 miles away. On the way, we sailed past Diamond Rock, which, in 1804, was commissioned as a ship by the British Navy! During this time, the British had naval supremacy in the Caribbean, but ships were always scarce. Someone noticed Diamond Rock, and said that if the British had a spare ship, it would be a great place to put it! So the British commissioned the rock, putting cannons and a full crew of men on the snake infested pinnacle, and for 18 months, HMS Diamond Rock was a nasty surprise for any unsuspecting French or other enemy ship coming into Martinique!

HMS Diamond Rock:  not really much to look at!
Anchored in Grande Anse D’Arlet, we had a great reunion with both Shuti and Toomai, but especially Toomai, whom we had not seen in over 2 years!! The kids had so much fun reconnecting, that we decided to stay an extra day, so they could spend the day together. After a morning of laughter and card games, they disappeared to the beach after lunch, and we didn’t see them again, until sunset, when they returned sunburned and tired, and Fabienne and Kristophe, the parents came over for drinks and dinner, and we had a lovely evening reminiscing and catching up on their travels, and they on ours. It was a sad farewell that Thursday, April 5th, when we said goodbye, not knowing when we would see them again, but glad that we finally were able to see our first boat friends again…at the beginning of our journey and now at the end!

With Fabienne, Kristophe, Antoine and Paul 
The next day saw us heading up the coast of Martinique, another 15 miles or so, to the town of St. Pierre. This was a lovely stop, with the town having an amazing history, which those of you on Instagram may already have learned about from Benjamin and Gaby’s posts. St. Pierre lies at the foot of the volcano Mt. Pelée. At the turn of the century, St. Pierre was known as “Petite Paris”; it was the commercial, social and cultural center of Martinique, with a population of around 30,000. Despite some warnings in April of 1902, when the volcano started rumbling, and after 2 eruptions on May 2nd and May 5th, that actually resulted in some deaths, very few people left St. Pierre, choosing to believe that they were safe. This was partly due to wealthy plantation owners who did not want to endure the economic consequences of an evacuation, convincing the mayor, and the city folk that it was safe, and due to the mayor, who was up for re-election, choosing to believe the plantation owners, and not wanting to make the wrong call, which could have cost him his election. However, on the morning of May 8th, 1902, the side of the volcano facing St. Pierre glowed red, and erupted, releasing more energy than an atomic bomb, completely destroying the entire city of St. Pierre, and 30,000 of its inhabitants with it. Only 2 people survived: a cobbler and a prisoner, Cyparis, who was imprisoned for murder in a stone cell.

St. Pierre at the foot of Mt. Pelée
The town was eventually rebuilt and many of the buildings have been built onto old structures, but many ruins remain. We spent an afternoon walking around the town, feeling like we were in Europe, and marveling at the old ruins and imagining what it must have been like before nature unleashed her wrath upon it.

A view of the main street that runs along the waterfront

Some images of St. Pierre
The cell in which Cyparis was imprisoned at the time of the eruption, the cell that saved his life!  More ruins along a cobbled street and a view of the anchorage from the hill.  Old cannons overlook the bay and more ruins are seen below.  Cool Runnings is the 4th boat from the right

The ruins of St. Pierre:  On the left are the theater ruins, on the right in the middle is a statue, depicting the suffering of the people of St Pierre, that was done by a student of the famous sculptor Rodin.  
Sunset in St. Pierre; the town from the water, the beaches here are black from the volcanic sand
Next on our northern agenda was Guadeloupe, also belonging to the French. In between Martinique and Guadeloupe lies the island of Dominica. Not wishing to check out of Martinique, check into Dominica, check out of Dominica and then back into France in Guadeloupe, we decided to skip Dominica and head straight for a small archipelago of islands to the south of Guadeloupe called The Saintes. Unfortunately Dominica was badly hit by one of the big hurricanes of 2017, and we could see the state of the trees as we sailed past. Dominica is known for its inland beauty; rivers and rainforests, but we could see the hills that had been stripped bare, with trees just sticking out like matchsticks. Shuti had visited Dominica in 2016 and were there again now, and they said they could definitely see the difference. The people are still shell-shocked, but are doing their best to rebuild.

Interesting rock formation as we sail into the Saintes
It was a long day, close to 80 miles. We were up at 4:30am and we were on our way around 5:00am, leaving St. Pierre asleep behind us. We enjoyed the now familiar romp between the islands, where the winds and seas come sweeping through from the Atlantic, with nothing to stop them, and then calm as the islands provide shelter from those same constant trade winds. About 12 hours later, we arrived in the Saintes, and found a spot to anchor off the small (and only) town of Bourg des Saintes on the island of Terre d’en Haut. There were lots of boats here, many on mooring buoys, and a few anchored, but we had expected this, as Moby had given us a “heads up” that it was crowded, but worth the visit.

The picturesque town of Bourge des Saintes
The town of Bourg des Saintes is picturesque with all the buildings having distinctive red roofs. The Saintes have been French since shortly after they were colonized, and there is a very strong link with France, and especially with Brittany (where, by the way, our friends on “Moby” are from!). Since there was never any agriculture on these dry islands, there were never any slaves, so the population is overwhelmingly French, and not Caribbean. In fact, as we stepped onto the dinghy dock, and walked into the little town, we were immediately transported to a small fishing village somewhere in France! Baguettes and pastries were displayed in the little cafés and you were greeted with “Bonjour!” wherever you went!

We walked the steep road up to Fort Napoleon, sitting on top of the hill overlooking all the islands of Isle de Saintes, and as far as the main island of Guadeloupe. The fort, originally named Fort Louis, was built in 1782, but was destroyed by the British in 1809. It was rebuilt in 1867 and named after Napoleon III. However, after that time, it never saw use in battle, and was used instead as a penitentiary. As we walked up the hill, and saw the outside walls, we all (rather arrogantly) thought the same thing: “another common-garden fort”! How many forts have we seen on our travels?! But this one turned out to be worth the walk up the hill! It has been beautifully restored, and we happily paid our €17 entrance fee to walk around and admire it, and enjoy the museum and exhibitions that we found inside. There were beautiful models of old ships and depictions of the battles they fought in these waters.  We thought of the old fort in Grenada, Fort George, also built in the late 1700’s, that is just decaying, seemingly forgotten on top of the hill, and compared it to this beautiful old fort, so carefully looked after and able to be appreciated by so many visitors.

Fort Napoleon

More images of Fort Napoleon
On our walk back down the hill and through the town, we admired the typical Saintes architecture, with the houses having the gingerbread lattice work trim and distinct shutters on the windows.

Saintes architecture
We also saw “Shuti” arrive, and called to them from halfway up the hill, but they did not hear us! Instead, after we had bought our baguettes for lunch, we quickly stopped by on the dinghy and said “bonjour”! After lunch, the Shuti boys, Yoav, Eyal and Dror came to play, a bittersweet playdate, as this was to be the last. We knew were leaving the next day, and Shuti’s agenda, is keeping them in the Guadeloupe area a little longer as they drop off their friend and pick up Momi's father over the next couple of days. By the time they make it up to Antigua and the British Virgin Islands, we will already be in the Bahamas, so we will likely not see them again (in the near future). We will, undoubtedly see them again sometime, as this is a special friendship, formed over thousands of miles of ocean, with shared experiences that forged a unique and special bond. We shared a lovely evening with them aboard Shuti, with a bottle of Caribbean rum punch helping us to say farewell, but not goodbye!

Top: The kids have a last playdate:  Gaby teaches them a card trick!  And a last shot that evening after drinks
And so, with two sad farewells behind us, we keep heading north, in our effort to catch up with our other special friends on “Moby”, so we can see them one more time before they head across the Atlantic back to France, and as all our adventures slowly start coming to an end. We sailed from the Saintes on Monday, April 9th to the top of Guadeloupe and anchored in Deshaies, where we checked out with the Gendamerie. We love the French islands: paperwork is kept to a minimum (you enter your own information into a computer and it prints a one page clearance document), and it is free. Services are great and people are friendly. What more could you ask for?! Next stop: Antigua!

Gaby blows the conch as the sun sets at our anchorage in Deshais, Martinique
PS:  Since these are posted in quick succession, if you have not seen the post on St. Vincent and the Grenadines, click on "Older Posts" below!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Sailing in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Previously on We had checked out of Grenada, getting ready to head to our next island destination, but before checking into St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we spent a night anchored off the small island of Petite St. Vincent, just a few miles from Union Island, where we needed to check in. However, all that is on the island is a private resort, and it seems acceptable that you can stop here without checking in, because if you check in first, you’d have to back-track to Petite St. Vincent, which no-one really wants to do! We were joined here by “Shuti” the following morning. Our reunion was not long, because we headed off to Union to officially check in, and “Shuti” stayed another 2 nights. We knew we would catch up with them in the Tobago Cays, so we waved “so long” and motored the 4 miles over to Union Island.

Union Island is easily recognisable with its distinctive peak called "The Pinnacle" (far right)
Clifton, the capital of Union Island, was pretty, but the harbor was a nightmare to anchor in. Mooring buoys have been placed in all the best anchoring spots, and the price to use them is steep: 60 EC Dollars (Eastern Caribbean Dollars, a fixed rate of 2.67 to the US dollar). After our previous experience with mooring buoys, we wanted to steer clear of any mooring buoys, but there was precious little space left in which to drop an anchor! We have encountered the mooring buoys all over now, and the disappointment with them is that they have been placed purely as a money making racket. The only legitimate use for mooring buoys (in our opinion) are if it is too deep to anchor, or if there is coral that needs to be protected from anchors, in which case we are always happy to pay for a mooring. Here, the water is clear and about 5 – 10 feet deep in sand…perfect anchoring, and there is no need for mooring buoys. Their holding is also questionable, as you don’t know who is maintaining them, and to leave our expensive home tied to a ball without knowing what’s underneath is too much of a risk to say the least!

The Clifton fruit and vegetable market has the typical Caribbean style colored stalls.  

We spent the shortest amount of time possible in Clifton, checked into SVG (St. Vincent and the Grenadines), and then headed over to Palm Island, where we spent a rather rolly night at anchor. The following day, we moved to Frigate Bay, where we spent a few days, waiting for Granny’s plane to arrive. It was a lovely anchorage, protected and calm, and we spent our days watching kite surfers whizz up and down! The kids did lots of school, so they could take some time off while our guests were with us. Soon it was time to head back to Clifton, so we could walk to the airport and collect Rosemary and Kayla from the airport. We stood on the side of the runway and waited for their small propeller plane to land. We were so awed by the small runway and how quickly the plane touched down and turned around, we forgot to video their dramatic arrival!

Arrival, Island Style!  Dave and his mom, Rosemary (Granny) walk back along the airport road to the boat
With our guests now safely on board, we did a short stock up of fresh fruits and veggies from the vendors at the Clifton market the following morning, and then headed north. The distances are so short, that it took us about an hour to head to the island of Mayreau, and into the popular anchorage of Salt Whistle Bay.

Our niece, Ben and Gaby's cousin, Kayla, on the paddle board in Salt Whistle Bay
It is a beautiful bay, but very crowded with charter boats. We were extremely lucky in that, when we arrived, 2 big boats were just leaving, which opened up a coveted spot in the corner of the bay. We got a good hold on the anchor and settled in for a few days. We amused ourselves by watching the anchorage filling up with more and more boats. Just when we thought they couldn’t possibly pack in another boat, another one came and found a spot. Here too, in crystal clear water with good holding, they had laid mooring buoys, which you could have the pleasure of using for 60EC a night!

Packed with boats!
There are a few vendors selling T-shirts and jewelry on the beach, and a few rustic beach bars and restaurants. The prices were outrageous. Where in Grenada we had paid 25EC for a full meal at the Little Dipper in Grenada, here a comparable meal was 60EC and up!

Vendors selling T-shirts and sarongs on the beach

Gaby in her natural habitat:  thrilled to be climbing palm trees again!
After 2 nights in Salt Whistle Bay, we headed around the corner and over to the famous Tobago Cays.  We had found our turquoise water at last!!  The Tobago Cays are a group of small, deserted islands protected from the sea by a big reef called Horseshoe Reef. The water is shallow and crystal clear in the sand behind the reef, providing a good, safe anchorage, and turtles swim around eating the sea grass at the bottom. Here too, there were many boats, but the anchorage area is bigger, so it was easier to find a spot. We spotted “Shuti” and dropped anchor next to them.

Stunning Tobago Cays
We spent a week here, swimming, snorkeling and meeting Shuti for sundowners on the small beaches in the late afternoon/evening. It was a lovely playground for the kids, and for us, it felt like a holiday, not having to move, not having to check the weather and just enjoying “chilling out” for a while! We were lucky enough to snorkel with turtles a couple of times during our stay there!

One of my favorite shots:  Gaby checking out this friendly fellow!

Enjoying Turtle Time!

And, because you can't swim with turtles all day, every day...  Yoav from Shuti, joins Kayla, Gaby, Granny and Ben for a game of Risk!
One of the days we took Cool Runnings over to an island called “Petite Tabac”, on the outside of the big Horseshoe Reef. We enjoyed a day there, exploring the little island and snorkeling on the reef, but after lunch, we pulled up anchor and came back to the main anchorage for the night. We decided that it would not be safe to stay there, as the small island is surrounded by reef, and if anything were to go wrong, we’d be on the reef within seconds.
Petite Tabac
Fun times at Petite Tabac

Shuti left to go back to Union Island to pick up guests of their own, and we spent one more night in the Tobago Cays without them. We moved to a different part of the reef, just for a change of scenery. Dave and I went for a long swim and snorkeled on the outside of the reef, where it drops away dramatically into the depths of the ocean. It was very pretty, but after we spotted a shark checking us out, and with the tide starting to go out as well, I decided it was time to go back into the safety of the inside of the reef!!

Snorkeling on the reef
Early on Sunday morning, Dave called me up onto the helm station and said, “I think there’s a cat (catamaran) on the reef”! We looked over to Petite Tabac, where we had been only two days before, and saw a boat at a very odd angle to the wind. A monohull was also anchored there, and they were facing into the wind, confirming our suspicion that the cat was on the reef. After looking through the binoculars, Dave said, “we should go and see if we can help them. If it was me, I would want someone to come and help us”. We got our spare anchor with 300ft of rode (rope), extra mooring lines, mask and fins, and topped up the dinghy gas/petrol tank. We decided that Ben and Gaby would go with Dave, and I would stay on Cool Runnings to monitor the radio. About 2 ½ hours later, Dave and the kids returned, having successfully helped get the boat off the reef! Dave said the damage was relatively minor, and most of it was on the keels. The boat was a new Lagoon 420, and luckily Lagoons are built to take the weight of the boat on their keels. Luckily Dave not only knew the boat and Lagoons, but he also knew our dinghy would be powerful enough to be able to push and pull if needed, as we have used it before as a “tug boat” on Cool Runnings in strong wind. In addition having been there a few days prior, Dave knew where the holding was good to put our spare anchor, and help winch the boat off the reef. The folks on the Lagoon were of course very grateful for his and the kids help, and called us later on VHF to say they had safely made it to Union island and to again say thanks!

The Lagoon 420 on the reef, just after the grounding
After this exciting morning, we still decided to leave as planned, and headed out in the afternoon towards the island of Canouan, which was just an overnight stop before heading to Mustique the following day. In a very short time, the scenery changed from shallow turquoise water and white sand, to deep bays and mountains. The sail the next day to Mustique was a little rough, as we had to point more to windward than we would like, and we had about 13 miles of “open water”, that is, the passage between the islands, where you don’t have the protection of the island to shield you. But it didn’t last too long, and soon we were in Britannia Bay, tied to a mooring buoy.

Boats on moorings in Britannia Bay, Mustique.  Cool Runnings is 3rd from left at the back
Mustique is a private island and use of mooring buoys is mandatory. However, the buoys looked very strong and well-maintained, so we didn’t mind paying the somewhat high fee for their use. (The cost is 200EC (about $75) for 3 nights). Mustique is very pretty, and largely undeveloped. The water around Mustique is a conservation area, and we also found that on land, they were very environmentally conscious, which was a wonderful surprise. They desalinate water and much of the power comes from solar power, pretty much the same as Cool Runnings!! The tiny little town is pretty, and the island has about 90 homes on it, many of them owned by the rich and famous. In fact, when we went for a walk, we tried to get to the library (we’d read the internet was good!!), but we were prevented from going there, as the road was blocked off “for about 2 weeks” we were told, so we figured someone famous was on the island, and didn’t want to be disturbed!! (A few days later, we actually saw Mick Jagger on neighboring Bequia, and we were told he often came to Bequia, as he had a house “next door” on Mustique).

Beautiful, colorful Mustique:  Bougainvilla in all colors, tortoises roaming around freely, Stanley's vegetable stand where we stocked up on tomatoes and cucumber, and Granny, Kayla, Gaby, Ben and Dave enjoying an ice cream!

We spent 3 days in Mustique, making full use of our payment for the mooring buoys (it’s 200EC, whether you stay for one night, two or three). On one day, there was a little craft market, with artists coming from St. Vincent to display their goods. Like everything else on the island, it was all too expensive for yachties such as us, but it was nice to just walk around and look. In fact, we bought our most expensive sausages in our lives in Mustique…12 Johnsonville Brats and 1 can of creamed sweetcorn cost us 80EC, about $36!!!

When it was time to head on, we sailed over to Bequia, a very pleasant sail, stopping at a small island called Petite Nevis for the day, before heading over to Friendship Bay, on the southeast coast of Bequia for the night. On Friday, 30th March, we took a slow sail along the coast to the other side to Bequia, to the main anchorage of Admiralty Bay, and the town of Port Elizabeth. It was very crowded in Admiralty Bay, and quite rolly, with large swells rolling into the bay. On a catamaran, we were somewhat more stable than monohulls, who were rocking quite badly from side to side! There were major parties happening on shore, and every night we had to go to sleep with the extremely loud reggae music rocking us to sleep! We also walked around the small town (where we saw Mick Jagger!), and on Easter Sunday, we went ashore and Granny treated us to lunch at the Gingerbread Hotel, where we sat under a tree, next to the water and enjoyed our Easter Lunch! (toasted sandwiches for Granny and Gaby, Rotis for Dave, Ben and myself and a burger and fries for Kayla).

Gaby made our Easter decorations.  The bunny even managed to hide a few eggs and the kids found them on Easter morning!  On the dock outside the Gingerbread after our lunch
Before we knew it, it was time for Granny and Kayla to head back home. Early on Monday morning, April 2nd, Dave, Ben and Gaby took them to shore and they waited at the Gingerbread hotel for a taxi to take them to the airport, where they would hop on another small propeller plane that would take them to Barbados, and then American Airlines would take them back to Miami and ultimately Tampa. Two weeks had flown by in a blur, but this time, when we said goodbye, we were able to say “see you soon!” We have about 10 weeks left before we will be back home, and just like Granny and Kayla’s 2 weeks flew by, our 2 years have flown by equally fast!

Sunset in Bequia