They’re Dutch, so the “traditional” Christmas dinner looked a little different this year and Jet rounded it all out with their annual quiz, complete with prizes. It was all really great. We like all sorts of Christmases: 2013 had us enjoying a Swedish Christmas, if you recall. In Australia!
We hung out for Boxing Day and then it was time to hit the road again. An overnight run has landed us here in the US Virgin Islands and while we claimed victory over the Christmas Winds, it came back to bite us in the ass quite literally as the wind right on the bum made for quite the rolly ride. I shouldn’t complain, though, as it was a quick and easy passage -we just needed velcro pajamas, is all! One quick day in St. John to get checked in, one day in St. Thomas to hook up a phone, provision and prepare the boat for our first guest…. we’ve had to get our feet under us quickly here. A busy end to a busy year. 2015 has seen us in 25 countries and territories, covering 7900 miles by boat and another 5400 miles on land. On the one hand, it’s hard to believe we were in Africa only a year ago –it seems so far away. On the other, it feels like we just left. Stranger still is that we’re quickly closing in on home.
7 December 2015… Volcanoes and Lawbreakers
Montserrat earns its nickname “The Emerald Isle” both from its lush green landscape and its strong Irish heritage. Town and family names hint at its ancestry; the national dish, goat water, resembles a traditional Irish stew; the crest on the flag bears the figure of Erin (the “female personification of Ireland”) playing a harp; and nowhere else in the world (outside Ireland, of course) is St. Patrick’s Day a national holiday! Shops feature shamrock t-shirts and key chains and apparently some of the locals still speak with a wee Irish lilt (though all we heard was an Afro-Caribbean dialect).
In its heyday, this little island had a lot going for it. It had set itself up as a tourism destination marketing a laid-back, unspoiled Caribbean paradise. In the mid-70s, Sir George Martin (producer for a little band called The Beatles) fell in love with the island and built a recording studio here. Many notable albums were recorded at AIR Studios Montserrat including Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms, the Police’s Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity (including the video for “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”), and Duran Duran’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger. Roll call would also include Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Black Sabbath and Eric Clapton. Just to name a few! The big-name musicians would have made the island’s tourist crowd pretty elite, to say the least.
Then things started going pear-shaped. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo swept through and wiped out 90% of the island’s buildings, effectively erasing the tourism industry as well. AIR Studios closed down after more than a decade of operation. But this wasn’t the worst of the island’s troubles –not by a long shot. It had barely gotten back on its feet when the Soufriere Hills Volcano decided to wake up from a 400-year nap. In 1995, an eruption covered the island’s capital, Plymouth, in ash. It had been evacuated and so no lives were lost but little by little, people crept back to their lands on the south end of the island so that when a second big eruption occurred in 1997, nineteen people were trapped and died. Volcanic activity continued in earnest until 2000 and in that time, two-thirds of the island’s residents left –not out of fear, but for the simple fact that they had no homes or jobs.
The only downside to our Grenadines experience has been the weather. For the last couple of weeks we’ve had some intense squalls roll though and it’s dictated our movements (we didn’t even set foot on the lovely island of Mayreau) but moreover, it’s affected our sleep. Or maybe just mine. The winds show up quite often at bedtime, wouldn’tcha know, and for “what-if” girl that means my head is out the hatch every hour to make sure we haven’t moved. Given the poor holding in almost every anchorage, Fang has had a rough go of it and we did drag here in Bequia our first night, much to our surprise (anchor up, re-anchor in the dark so far away we might as well be out of the country, decide to stay there because the hook is set; people wonder why we’re so far away!). The good news is that, in a country that charges a pretty penny for water, we have it falling from the sky for free. Yay.
Today we leave what I would consider to be the true Caribbean –at least on this Eastern side. We’ll be skipping St. Lucia and Dominica so our next two stops will be French Islands. Small patches of Europe. I gotta say, though, I’m anxious to set foot in a proper grocery store to restock some staples. Peppercorns and maybe a bottle of olive oil that’s less than $12… I think they must be luxury items here, but definitely not for the French!
23 November 2015… Timing Is Everything, Part 1
“Good morning,” says Travis as he wakes me from my off-watch. “Or shall I say ‘Bonjour!’” Yep, we’re back in the French countries and somehow, against all odds, we’ve arrived alive. Impromptu hurricane? Nope. Collision at sea with a whale? Uh-uh. Rudder fell off? Try again. We’re talking something much more serious, folks. Something that has been respected and feared by sailors for centuries. It’s called… “Friday” (*shudder!) and it’s not to be trifled with!
I’ve already touched on sailor superstitions in an earlier chapter but let me go into a little more detail about this whole Friday thing because it’s one of the biggies. It begins and ends with “Never leave port on a Friday” and it might sound like hogwash but it’s played its part in history. In the 19th Century the British Navy decided that is was time to put an end to all this nonsense so they could once and for all start launching ships when they wanted to, without protest from the crew. So they commissioned the HMS Friday: they laid the keel on a Friday, she was launched on a Friday and they sent her off on her maiden voyage on a Friday the 13th… Never to be seen nor heard from again.
Pretty serious stuff, right? But we were completely oblivious. Quite simply, we weren’t ready to leave on Thursday so we enjoyed it and did our checkout to leave Friday late-morning. It was only at about 11pm that I realized the colossal miscalculation in our timing. Were we worried about it? If we’d gotten out of bed that instant and pulled the anchor it would technically not have been Friday yet… Yeaaah, you can imagine our enthusiasm to engage in that kind of folly! And so it was that we were leaving Bequia on a Friday, and a Friday the 13th no less! But it was a lovely passage. We sailed past the densely populated island of Saint Vincent, peering through the binoculars trying to find the old film sets from Pirates of the Caribbean (no joy). Travis caught two tunas with our new favourite bright green lure. Remember that when a lure produces, it earns a name around here and Travis has dubbed him Beam Me Up Snotty 2.0, after our trusty lure by the same name in the Pacific (we decided that it was a bit of a mouthful, though, so it’s just “Snotty” for short). We spied the majestic twin peaks of Saint Lucia, Les Pitons, in the distance before sunset and while it would have been great to sail past them in the daytime, they were also impressive at night with a nearly-full moon and the ambient light of the island. And to top it all off, we were able to sail more than we thought we’d be able to, so the fuel budget -and its CFO- were pretty happy about that, too. All in all, it was a great passage.
[Now that you’re marvelling at our heroism for embarking on such a perilous passage, I’ll inform you that the whole HMS Friday thing is a myth. Utter malarkey. Some versions go so far as to mention a Captain James Friday (now that’s just getting silly!). Travis always says never to let the truth get in the way of a good story, but I have to come clean. Seriously, though, the whole fear of leaving port on a Friday is actually something much more insidious, much more real. A tale of human treachery and selfishness… Friday’s terrifying reputation is nothing more than a yarn spun by crew to benefit their own purposes. If you can keep the ship from setting sail on a Friday, you see, then you can go out drinking; as a consequence, you’ll be too hung over to leave on Saturday. Then of course you can’t leave on Sunday because you’re expected to be in church… And that’s how you gain yourself an additional long weekend with your girlfriend! The story looks a little different in the light of day, doesn’t it?!]
So there we were, safely in Martinique. People have their opinions about the French, there’s no denying it, and especially French sailors and their habits. Some don’t enjoy the French islands so much because they’re more French than Caribbean in flavour and by comparison, the atmosphere might seem aloof (also, there’s almost no English spoken so I imagine they’d find it difficult to get around). Rumour has it that if you’re not French and you don’t speak French, they don’t want you around and if you’re American, don’t even bother flying your flag -it’s nothing but trouble. But as always, we make our own opinions about places and we often find that we feel exactly the opposite from the norm, scratching our heads at their seemingly ridiculous opinions. We have made many French friends and have loved every French country we’ve visited on this trip; we expected that our next two stops would be no different.
We arrived at the dock in Saint-Anne bright and early in the morning to do our check-in and asked two presumably-French gentlemen where we could proceed to do so. Sadly, we were surprised to get a taste of this “aloof” as he directed us to our destination, telling us that checking into French countries was easy –“too easy”. I didn’t know if he was being snarky at me or what, so I just kept smiling and I was glad that I had, for it was only later that we learned of the tragic Paris attacks that had happened just the night before. Not everyone had fared so well on Friday the 13th. When we finally got internet access, I became heartsick as more and more personal stories unravelled: a young man who sacrificed himself for his three friends (only one of whom survived), newlyweds killed, babies left orphaned because mom & dad were out together that evening… It moved me to tears and still does even as I write this. This is normally a PG site but in this instance I have to say FUCK terrorism. Fuck it.
…It’s kind of hard to move on from this topic. I’ll end this post here.
3 December 2015… Timing Is Everything, Part 2
We arrived in Martinique on Travis’ birthday weekend –his second in a French country. No big wine & tapas bash this time, for it would be just the two of us, but we still had a plan. We left friendly Saint-Anne and made our way around to Trois-Ilets where we were to find a charming village, nice restaurants and an interesting museum. This area is a tourist destination so we didn’t think twice about the fact that it was a Sunday –I had even checked opening times on everything we were planning to take in. Welllllll, what a flop! The anchorage was a dismal omen: it was like a graveyard for boats. Some of them were floating turds, others were nice boats left unattended for far too long. Our weathered-but-loved girl looked like a jewel pulling into this place and we set the hook in a skinny corner we barely managed to find. I said a silent prayer as we left her!
Ashore, Trois-Ilets itself was a ghost town. There was traffic on the road, leading to the even-more-touristy area beyond, but every shop and restaurant was closed up. I was glad I’d checked the hours at the museum, particularly since it was a hike out of town! This particular location is the birthplace of the Empress Josephine, wife to Napoleon Bonaparte, and a visit seemed only appropriate since we’ve already been to the “death place” of her husband. From what we’ve read, there are mixed feelings here about this lady. Some say they’re quite proud that she hails from Martinique but then there’s the issue of her beheaded, red-paint-smeared statue in the capital that’s hard to ignore –and it’s been left unrepaired for years. Apparently she pushed her husband to continue slavery in the French West Indies so that her family plantation wouldn’t suffer so one can surmise that she’s not winning any popularity contests with the locals. We didn’t know what to expect at the museum and after the half-hour walk we discovered… that we’d arrived 10 minutes after closing. Hmmm. It might have been nice to know the hours had changed! Peering through the fence, the grounds were much nicer than we expected and we might have missed something truly fascinating here but instead we wandered around the historic mill across the road and then made our way back. In town, we dropped by the church where Josephine had been baptized but gave up on the other nearby attractions and went back to the boat, apologizing to CJ for leaving her alone in a scary cemetery. After only a moment’s deliberation we decided to pull the anchor and head over to the previously-mentioned more-touristy area to try and salvage the evening. The shifter broke as we were pulling the anchor (quick repair), I saw 5.5 feet on the depth sounder as we peeled away (lower tide than we realized) and we had to dodge an outgoing ferry… yeesh, we barely escaped! I took a photo of the village in our rearview mirror and it really is lovely –just bad timing to arrive on a Sunday.
An hour later we were anchored at busier Pointe du Bout and we went ashore looking for pizza, one of T’s basic food groups. We took a table at a pizzeria, feeling like maybe we’d won today after all. After ordering drinks, we perused the menu and then placed our order only to discover that pizza is only available after 7pm. At a “bar/pizzeria/restaurant” –one shouldn’t have to time this! Luckily, Travis isn’t too hard to please and anyway, he had his eye on the ice cream joint for dessert (his #1 food group). Miraculously, it was open. And they had ice cream. He ordered three scoops and slurped it all down, giving himself a real stomach ache. Back at the boat, he wallowed in the cockpit as we admired the sprawling lights of Fort-de-France across the bay. A real bonafide European city here in the Caribbean, it’s the biggest in the French West Indies and quite impressive at night.
Photos: Tobago (laters...)
2 November 2015… The Spice Island
We were delayed leaving Tobago as an impressive storm rolled through with wind gusts of up to 50mph –just the sort of thing I’m glad didn’t happen while Travis was gone! Fang diligently did his job but other boats were dragging. No casualties in our anchorage but island-wide, the high winds relieved some homes of their roofs and felled trees onto the roads. As such, the immigration lady couldn’t make it into work so we couldn’t check out. Mother Nature at it again!
As we set out a few days later for the roughly 16-hour passage, it dawned on us that our longer transits have come to an end; putting on the brakes in Tobago took care of that. For the next little while, day trips will get us from one place to another; an overnight at the most. So our transit to Grenada seemed like a blip but we were rocked by something else entirely unexpected: the number of boats! HOLY COW this place is crowded!! Our jaws dropped as every bay and nook and cranny was a glut of sailboat masts. We radioed ahead to Bill & Judy on Charbonneau (we had made the crossing with them, but they’re faster, of course!) and they told us where they were located and that there was a hole beside them we could anchor in. We shimmied in between them and our neighbour to the right thinking, “Yikes!” but we really weren’t much closer to them than anyone else was. Prickly Bay was a sardine can. It’s beyond us why more people aren’t spending time in Tobago but we’re not complaining either as we really enjoyed the peace there. Shhhh! It’s truly a secret best kept!
Admittedly, things have been a little different without Travis around –how could they not be. We always do well on our own, the both of us, but things like watching a movie by myself felt weird at first. I don’t cook, as I have no desire to go to the trouble just for myself but I won’t complain about the few pounds I’ve lost, either! (When I’m gone, I can tell Travis has eaten out a lot because there are no grocery/doggie poop bags left!) I don’t sleep as well, one ear always open for the wind picking up... Just little things. But fortunately the rest of the two weeks has been fairly uneventful –unless you count the tsunami warning and the approaching hurricane. Ha ha! Well, Kick ‘em Jenny hasn’t been spoken about in a few weeks which doesn’t exactly make it disappear, but it doesn’t seem like much of a threat anymore. As for Hurricane Danny, we didn’t even get a puff of wind down here as he made a turn north and away from us. Tobago doesn’t see much for hurricane action but there’s always the possibility and we keep a sharp eye out –we’ve seen firsthand how unpredictable they can be.
Travis gets home tomorrow and it’ll be Christmas aboard Calico Jack with all he’s lugging back! Among the treasures is a new anchor windlass –more money than we wanted to spend right now, but too good a deal to pass up. He’s wondering how he’s going to get it back here what with the weight of it and I told him to pack it in his carry-on and tote it like it’s as light as a feather to avoid extra baggage charges! We’ll see how he does.
7 October 2015… Food & Beverage Report
Travis’ return from Florida was like Christmas indeed! He had a LOT of hassles getting that anchor windlass home –TSA, Customs, American Airlines and Caribbean Airlines all had different things to say depending on which supervisor he was talking to –even amongst their own divisions. He was shuffled around, lied to and delayed (he missed his connecting flight!) but it’s now firmly installed on the bow and nobody can take it away from us. It came with its own name printed on the side: Sea Tiger. It seems appropriate that Tiger should be hauling up Fang!
Calico Jack wasn’t the only one to get prezzies; I was spoiled rotten. Travis lugged back a multitude of things we’d had delivered to our mailbox plus a new BC to replace my broken one, a belated-birthday tablet (which I now can’t live without, naturally) among many other things. It could have been the 12 Days of Christmas -I’ll spare you, but it all ends with a bottle of Sailor Jerry. Rummy yumminess (and the beginning of Food & Beverage –are you keeping track?)!
I didn’t waste much time taking that BC for a test drive as we both jumped in the water to clean CJ’s bottom as well as the anchor line which had become thick with growth. So much for the clean it had gotten in the Guianas’ rivers! The line was fuzzy green as I worked my way down and the water soon became murky with organic stuff that attracted those “sharks” (good thing we keep our resident remoras well-fed ;) ). When I emerged, my clothes were thick with baby shrimp that had been living in that growth! Tiny (like three-pinheads tiny) little wriggling guys numbering in the thousands were stuck to my shirt and had made their way into some nether regions nobody wants to hear about. I jumped back into the water and shooed them all off. Swim away, little guys, and go get bigger! You’re much too small for the Food & Beverage Report at this time!
9 August 2015… Liming in Charlotteville
Arriving in the Caribbean meant that we had to begin working out the details to get Travis back to the States to renew his captain’s license. It may sound like no big deal but it meant a lot of coordinating class times with where we thought we would be and whether or not leaving me and the boat there would be feasible. Our plan has always been to spend hurricane season in the ABCs and Spanish Waters in Curacao would serve as a great place for a hiatus. But on further investigation we learned that they have recently changed their visa regulations and the rules for leaving your boat there: it has to be in a secured, bonded, government-approved facility. This shouldn’t apply to us as I am to stay onboard but access to information to confirm this was next to impossible. It was South Africa all over again. Would it work better in Aruba? How about Bonaire? Around and around until our heads were about to pop off. Then the tiniest seed began to germinate: what if we blew off the ABCs altogether and stayed here in Tobago or Trinidad or Grenada instead? The idea seemed so unlikely but the more we struggled with trying to make the ABCs work, the more we realized just how easy it is here. Long story short: Calico Jack is still liming here in Charlotteville. “Liming” is local-speak for relaxing or chilling out and what an about-face! We feel like we’ve slammed on the brakes. We’re laughing at how fluid our plans have become over the last few months and we’ve officially decided that we’re going to stop telling people our intentions. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve failed to even leave the bay –twice.
One of these excursions was to be a trip down to Store Bay on the other side of the island. We were told that this was a popular cruising area with free moorings so we went by land instead to investigate whether or not it would be a good place for Calico Jack and me to chill out while Travis is away. Also, dinners were about to get creative if we didn’t get to a well-stocked grocery store soon! Well, what a production. Anywhere we land, one of the main things to conquer is the public bus schedule and Tobago’s has been one of our biggest challenges, even without a language barrier! To make it simple: there pretty much isn’t a public bus service. Apparently a lot of the buses are broken down, the staff goes on strike often and the hours during the summer are suggestions at best. Between the website, the tourist office, the store where we bought our tickets and every local we met, nobody could give us a definitive answer as to when one might be coming our way. It essentially took us two days to get into the city! After the first morning of hanging out for about three hours being eaten alive by bugs, we aborted the project. On day two, we were lucky enough to have a private bus come through so we jumped on that for just a few bucks more. After having run all our errands in town, one would think that getting transport back out from the hub would be easier, right? Wrong. It took us FIVE HOURS to finally flag down a taxi who would take us all the way back out to Charlotteville. We were unwilling to pay the $60 a hire taxi was asking but someone in a private taxi offered us a fare of $25 –maybe he just felt sorry for us standing there with our melting groceries, I dunno, but we were grateful. The too-good-to-be-true price tag along with the hair-raising driving along hairpin-turn roads had us white-knuckled for the hour-long drive but as soon as we rounded the hilltop and the lights of Charlotteville were in view we heaved a sigh of relief. It’s the same feeling we get when we hit Key Largo after a trip to Miami! Getting out of the car was like landing on another planet after the roar of the “city” (such as it is): people were liming streetside and all was quiet except the sound of the waves lapping the nearby shoreline. Good Lord, what a day!! It would have been quicker and easier to go by boat!! And all of this wasn’t a tourist problem, either, for we were standing side by side with locals who were just as desperate as we were to catch a ride home. I don’t know how they do it every day. One trip into the city was argument enough to stay in Charlotteville!
We arrived here in Tobago and wasted no time in jumping into the clean blue water for a swim. We were really, really missing this! Getting back into the hotter temperatures has been great but we find we’re having to acclimatize to the heat again and the muggy, airless Guianas were merciless; the fact that the muddy rivers weren’t really suitable for swimming meant that there was no easy respite. But now that we’re here, we're playing in our big salty pool at least once a day. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: happiness is your swimsuit hanging from the lifelines every day!
Charlotteville is a pleasant little fishing village on the northeast corner of the island. It's much smaller than we thought it was going to be but we love the friendly smalltown vibe and the natural setting. It has most essentials we need and it’s easy: free Wifi in the harbour and beach access to cheap fuel, free potable water and a small grocery store & veggie market. When we need regular washing water, we dinghy over to a nearby pristine beach and fill our jugs out of a pipe that's jammed intothe stream! Usually there’s a friendly local or another cruiser there to chat with while the jugs fill. It's definitely the most fun we've had hauling water which is usually quite the chore!
When we landed in Charlotteville it was our intention to stay only a few days before moving on but Heritage Day was coming up and we were urged by every local we met to stay for it, “You’re gonna love it!” We didn’t know exactly what was to be involved but the whole town
was abuzz as they set up stages and sound systems –the sound checks were our underwater symphony as we snorkeled! We decided to stay and check it out. The event started with a locals’ parade and they danced and partied to calypso music all the way down the hill into town, rain be damned! We missed the traditional river-washing demo but it was really cool to watch them press sugar cane the old way. There was traditional food to be sampled and we were looking forward to the crab & dumplings, which didn’t disappoint. And in the evening they had a presentation with dancing and singing, and a play which we understood maybe only half of! The island accents and island humour were lost on us and Travis and I sat there looking at each other and laughing not because we found humour in the play, but because the locals were cracking up and we had no idea why! Pretty funny in its own right. We guiltily snuck out at half-time to beat the crowd -it was kind of wasted on us anyway! Still, we were glad we’d stayed to check out this local event as this sort of thing doesn’t always work out for us schedule-wise.
But the most important thing to happen in those 10 days was the woodwork. It’s been two years since we last refinished our teak because the product went bad in the can and we could find nothing compatible to replace it. Twelve countries later (and looking pretty shabby!) we finally managed to find something in South Africa and we took it for a test drive. Success! It bonded to what we have and still looked great after a couple of months so we were ready to commit –if only the weather would cooperate. Too windy, too cold, too humid, too sandy (!), too rainy… we just couldn’t win. But here, between the rainclouds, we managed to get it done. Because we had to sand it pretty much right down it was a lot of work that took up a whole week and we went through a lot of sandpaper –and a lot of sanders! Two of them fell apart from dry rot and Travis will have to find replacement parts and paper while he’s in the States. Nonetheless, the big and difficult stuff is done and it’s a huge victory. Admittedly, our paint is looking pretty sad these days but the completion of this latest project makes Calico Jack looked loved again and she’s a sexy beast, indeed. Oh, and side benefit: awesome tan for me! It’s like we’ve both been refinished!
So Charlotteville has been pretty good to us and a nice introduction to the Caribbean –nice enough to convince us to blow off the ABCs so that’s saying something! And a nice enough haven for me and CJ to spend two weeks. Travis is all packed and ready to go. Our friend David (from French Guiana) is attending a wedding here this week and is coming a bit early to catch Travis before he leaves so we’ll have good company for a few days, too. Yay.
25 August 2015… Captain Jo and Fang
Some people were under the impression that Calico Jack and I would be staying in a marina while Travis was away. Not so. There are no marinas here in Tobago and when we went to Store Bay to check out the mooring situation, there wasn’t much of a draw: only a few cruising boats in a loud, touristy area. No cruising community. No dock to park the dinghy at, either –it would have to be pulled up on the beach. The proximity to the airport and the moorings were the only benefit to moving down to that end of the island and it’s uncertain as to who even maintains the moorings. It looked like I’d be safer with my good friend Fang on duty in the long run, and in Charlotteville. Here we have a good rapport with the local officials and a long-term cruising community to call on if I were ever to need help.
This whole “Travis leaving” thing is a big deal for more reasons than one. I’ve never been left alone at anchor before and while I’m confident in Fang, if ever the worst should happen and he should fail at his duties I can’t get him up by myself –this was my biggest concern. As I’ve stated previously, our windlass is pretty much useless at this point and so a contingency plan had to be put in place which amounted to
Our decision pretty much made, we had about 10 days to kill and it wasn’t difficult to fill the time. We have made friends with a local couple who use their boat for tourist trips but also for diving on their off-days so Travis was out with them a few times either driving their boat or diving for lobster and fish. He always comes back with dinner and Kester and Verena are good company to boot –we’ve enjoyed more than one happy hour with them! We snorkeled in the bay and walked up to Fort Campbleton which is really just a couple of cannons on the hilltop but the views are spectacular. Along the way, we were picking mangoes right off the road and avocadoes and guavas can be similarly acquired, a good gap-filler when the fresh fruit/veggie market is running low on stock! We joined a dinghy raft-up party to celebrate the blue moon. About a half-dozen of us were tied off together, floating around in the harbour with food and drinks –saves cleanup at someone’s house, clever! It was cloudy, though, so we never actually saw the moon but at least the rain had the decency to stay away until we were wrapping things up.
Another reason this whole thing is weird is because Travis and I literally haven’t been apart a single day in about 3 years! Two and a half of those, we’ve been together pretty much constantly. In talking to another cruiser about it, she likened the situation to an amputation of sorts! But for the first few days I had little opportunity to listen to the crickets. After we dropped Travis off at the airport, David stayed onboard another day before heading off into the city on business. Then it was fun with the neighbour. The same guy we’d had trouble with a few weeks prior. (Sigh!). The Reader’s Digest version of the prior incident is that this idiot doesn’t carry enough anchor chain for deeper waters so he has to bully his way into the shallower spots. He also does not understand the basic math of swing radius nor does he have any regard for the coral he anchors in. Travis lost patience waiting for him to do the right thing (which was to move his boat) and so we moved CJ. Incredibly bad manners on the part of this fool and something we’ve not experienced on our entire trip!! Anyway, after Travis was gone said fool, along with a delegation of two other boats, announced that CJ was drifting again and they were “sick of me” –he was going to call the police (like they would even care!). This was after about two hours of rudely shining his flashlight in my eyeballs every time I went up top –infantile behaviour. Another attempt at explaining swing radius proved fruitless as did my reasoning that I’d had my eye on it all day and I hadn’t budged. Of course, I’m just a stupid girl, what do I know? I appeased him by pulling in some line and telling him I’d dive the anchor in the morning. I stayed up top all night with only two 30-minute naps for sleep to make sure our boats didn’t hit each other before morning.
The next day, David was back for the wedding. I could have done the diving myself but who would believe a dumb girl? I announced that my friend, a commercial diver, would go down to see what was going on. Result: vindication. Fang was rockin’ it. He hadn’t moved an inch, the chain was stretched perfectly across the sandy bottom and with the appropriate amount of rope attached. Their anchor was still behind the “rock” he was so proud of (that is, the coral) but was now also wound around two more coral heads which gave him a swing radius of about 3ft. We were getting closer to one another again because he wasn’t swinging normally with the rest of us. David told him where the problem was and fool says (and this is my favourite part): “Is it rock or coral?” “It’s coral.” “Well, it should just break off when I’m ready to leave then, right?” Sure, moron, it only takes a few hundred years to grow back! No apologies to the environment when he left (driving in circles to get his anchor chain unwrapped!) and none to me, either. What do you expect from someone who’s afraid of the remoras under his boat? “You’re going in the water with all those sharks?! I got bit by one last week!” Remoras have no teeth… These are just the sort of monkeys we were afraid of encountering here in the Caribbean. I hope they are the last.
pulling all the line up on deck and securing a buoy to it should I have to throw it all overboard. That’s when the second anchor would come into play. We also put a buoy on the anchor itself, marking its place so that hopefully nobody would come in and anchor right on top of us (like what happened here earlier), forcing us to move. With that all in place, we also double-checked that I am fluent in all the systems on board including emergency equipment like the gas-powered dewatering pump and even the lift bags (God forbid!). And finally we topped up the water tanks and gas cans for the generator & dinghy and we were good to go. Whew! I had the feeling that this was to be a very empowering experience as I probably rely on Travis for more things than I should. This was going to be great.
After the sleepless night, I declared that I probably wouldn’t be very good company as David’s +1 at the wedding but he convinced me to go and I was so glad he did. It was a small and intimate and amazing affair. The bride and groom are lovely -he French, she Trinidadian- and it was such a great bunch of people. Her family: locals and Floridians (she grew up there). His: cruisers, so I got to meet a bunch of new people from the anchorage. I’d found the French contingent (Charlotteville is known as a preferred harbour of the French)! The champagne and rum punch were flowing and there was a seemingly endless supply of delicious hors-d’oeuvres and fresh seafood coming off the grill. A really fun part of the afternoon was the Poseidon Ceremony where JF dressed up as the God of the Sea with his trident and crown made of tin foil and led Karen & Romain down to the beach. He immersed himself in the sea and was surprised when the bride and groom followed him in –in their full wedding garb, shoes and all! What spirit!! At sunset we wrapped up the drinking & dancing on land and finished up the party on a catamaran in the harbour. How happy I was to be welcomed into their circle of friends and I was informed that I now had a family in the harbour -if I needed anything at all, I had only to ask. It really turned my attitude around. After the previous evening’s events, I felt that Charlotteville was ruined for me and I was ready to have someone help me pull the anchor so I could leave –Store Bay was looking pretty good at that point! But I went from “I effing hate this place!” back to “I LOVE this place” all in one day. Charlotteville still rocks.
Back to loving this place, I take my swim in the big salty pool every day. I even did a grand snorkeling tour one afternoon, stopping by every boat to say hello! Likewise, I’ve had people stop by and check in with me, which is nice. But I can’t say I’ve been lonely or bored. I expected to make good use of this time and I have a list of projects to get done but I’ve been surprised at how much time it takes to look after the boat alone. Keeping the scum off the waterline, dinghy and swim ladder has been a job all its own; water, gas, generator every evening… There’s always something. This Captain business is for the birds, I want my Admiral status back! Well, at least half of it –everything is easier with two. Meanwhile, Travis is up in Fort Lauderdale telling everyone that his wife is down here being captain while he’s up there going to captain school! His visit to Key West was good and he managed to accomplish everything he set out to do while getting in some good visits with friends as well. I had to chuckle that he thought he’d keep his visit low-key, saving the big party for when all three of us pull in next year… His mug was on Facebook within hours. Those of you who are familiar with his love-hate for Fb (he doesn’t even have an account!) will understand the irony!
With Chris, Sean & Mark -some of our besties!
Photo courtesy of Chris Holtsclaw
I love the spirit of this photo! This was just after the Poseidon Ceremony and Romain stepped into the outside shower for a freshwater rinse. Karen's expression says she's having nothing to do with this! It might have been in response to, "You're next!"
Photo courtesy of Karen & Romain
We said “goodbye for now” to Charlotteville and headed down to the other end of the island at Store Bay. Only 4 hours away, it feels like another world! Crown Point is the tourist haven of Tobago and only a short taxi haul to the capital of Scarborough so it feels like the big city. We also had the misfortune of arriving on a long weekend and the place was overrun, even on the water. Jet skis use the moored boats as their slalom course, getting so close that we were leery about swimming and we even put up our sunshades –not for sun protection, but just in case they sprayed water down our hatches!! Some of these pilots were just kids, too. We saw one tiny girl of maybe 9 screaming along at full tilt with three passengers smaller than her. Only one was wearing a life jacket. Maybe with a bigger family you can spare a kid or two, or maybe their parents just don’t really like them, who knows… Besides the jet skis, the tourist cattle boats number in the dozens as they haul the
masses out, music thumping, to view the reef through their glass bottoms. On one occasion, we stuck our heads out just in time to see one of them adrift in the mooring field, narrowly missing the catamaran beside us! We weren’t sure we were going to get out of here alive!
The purpose of coming to this end of the island was to help with David’s rally party but it ended up not happening (they had one party in Trini instead). No matter, though, as we had guests flying in anyway (it’s only a 15-minute walk to the airport) and we made use of the time to provision in the interim. Taxis & buses into the city aren’t the nightmare they are to/from Charlotteville so visits to the public market were easy. On one occasion, we bought a chunk of pig out of the trunk of a car. That’s right. It was cold and it smelled good.
Store Bay is much quieter on the weekdays but we were still itching to get away from the “big city”. However, another week was wrapped up in chores including ordering parts and replacing our starting battery. On the bright side, though, we finally found our outlet for fantastic Tobagonian street food! A while back, a friend emailed and said we just HAD to try a “shark & bake” while in Tobago. Apparently it’s the best sandwich on Planet Earth and found only here (they don’t even have it in Trinidad). Given that we travel by our bellies, it was immediately put on the list but as it turns out, it’s not all that easy to find. We found BBQ pork & bake and at least discovered that “bake” is the same thing as a johnnycake. It tastes like an unsweetened leavened donut. Cayman friends: remember the basket of small fried breads that arrived with your meal at The Edge (the old one)? Oh yeah, they were good! Well these are bigger and cut in half to make the bread for your sandwich. The BBQ pork was good, but we needed to find the shark. And when we finally did… it was underwhelming. Greasy and cold like it had been sitting there all day (because it probably had). Then we stumbled across Jackie’s place quite by accident. It’s called Gourmet Doubles which caught our attention because this is another quintessential street food we’d been looking for. She was out of the doubles so we opted for the shark & bake instead. Oh. My. God. Now we see how it is supposed to be! It was all freshly prepared as we waited -even the bake!- and she dolled it up with a variety of homemade sauces. Just the one fed two of us and it felt so good in my belly, as opposed to the last one which made me feel sick! The next day we went back for doubles which were also awesome (chickpea curry on fried bread) and some little fried dough balls you dip in savoury sauce. Jackie’s food is happiness! Make sure you seek her out if you’re ever here -highly recommended.
We were finally able to leave the big city and we made our way up the coast to the village of Castara. We were the only cruising boat there anchored among the fishing boats -just our speed!- and we ended up loving Castara as much as we love Charlotteville. Halfway into the beach for the first time, our noses were met with a tantalizing smell which turned out to be BBQ chicken on the half-barrel, right off the beach. Trapped! One portion with sides fed the both of us and we hadn’t had BBQ chicken like that in some time. The village itself is utterly charming, chock full of island character. Little stores and restaurants line the small main street (we explored it in all of 15 minutes!) and there are a handful on the beach as well. Liming is a way of life here and the biggest party we saw/heard all week wasn’t at a bar or nightclub, it was at the fisherman’s co-op. “Big Friday night party?” we asked. “Nah, just another night,” we were told.
The snorkeling was surprisingly good in Castara and Kester & Travis even managed to sneak in a night dive. Kester & Verena live near here so we got to see a lot of them. We invited them out to Calico Jack for dinner & an eclipse -a belated birthday celebration for Kester.
We had to tear ourselves out of Castara. Next up was Englishman’s Bay, purported to be the prettiest bay in Tobago. It was lovely indeed, with only one small restaurant set up on an otherwise naked beach fringed with palm trees. We had the bay all to ourselves again and enjoyed the most beautiful sunset. The next day was very rolly (from an earthquake in neighbouring Barbados, we found out) and we wished we’d gone ashore the day before as the surf was impressive! So we splashed the kayak and decided to go for it –at least we wouldn’t bash up our equipment! Sussing out the calmest spot on the beach, we landed without event. The roti here smelled great but it just so happens that the best roti ever is found in Charlotteville so we decided to wait. Instead, we had some homemade mango ice cream -again out of the back of a car. We’ve also sampled pumpkin & coconut and breadfruit ice cream here in Tobago. Must get to soursop before we leave! Getting back off the beach was a bit more of a challenge but with careful timing, we managed to succeed without looking foolish (been there, done that!).
Now five weeks later we’re back in Charlotteville. Most of the boats we knew are still parked here but what isn’t here is Jabba’s roti stand!! So tragic -that curried spiced mango & chicken concoction was something we’d been talking about for days! Weeks!! I guess Jabba’s restaurant was set up on government land and after fighting it for 5 years, he finally lost. They tore the whole thing down in about an hour, with armed law enforcement officers standing by. Pretty crazy, but I guess he’d been holding up development for years.
So with our visas about to expire, we’re busy wrapping things up here and that includes some visits with our friend, Miss Roxanne. She was the very first person we met here, that smiling face that greeted us so many weeks ago at Customs & Immigration (the reception here in Tobago by all the officials has been truly fantastic). She works in tourism and has been so helpful and friendly. Being a small town, we see her often and she invited us to her house last weekend. Well, little did we know how easy it is to get lost in a small town and we climbed just about every hill there is to be found here! We arrived late, but with a bag full of mangoes we’d collected (so not a total waste of time) and Miss Roxanne and daughter Saveeta sent us off with avocados from their tree, as well. Locals don’t pay for these things, and we’re starting to feel like one! We were pleased to have Miss Roxanne and Saveeta out to the boat last night, too -they were thrilled with a little sunset cruise- and they’d like to have us back out to their place to show me how to cook roti of my own! You all know how I love to take a cooking class wherever I can and Miss Roxanne used to own her own restaurant here in town so she knows her stuff. However, the weather looks good to leave tomorrow so I’ll likely miss out. We’ll see what happens.
If you recall, we were only supposed to stay in Tobago for a week and now we’re seeing the end of twelve! We wondered if there would be enough to occupy us for such an extended period of time but putting on the brakes here ended up being easier than we anticipated. Where we thought we might become restless and antsy, we’re now finding ourselves rushing to get things wrapped up! Tobago -and Charlotteville in particular- will undoubtedly be one of the jewels of the Caribbean portion of our trip.
We ate surf & turf and drank wine; we camped out on the bow and watched the moon go from white to red to white again. So peaceful in the tranquil bay. These are the days when you feel truly rich! The following day they took us out to their home and we got to play with their dog and gaggle of cats & kittens and just chill out. (Three of their kittens were unnamed; they are now Calico Jack, Anne Bonny and Mary Reid!) We hiked to a nearby waterfall in the rainforest and swam out underneath it to let the water clobber the tension out of our backs –so refreshing. Nature’s massage! It was a nice, relaxed day followed by pasta dinner at their house. Kester & Verena have been good friends to us while we’ve been here. Someone approached me once and asked, “You’re Kester’s friend, aren’t you?” Awww, I felt like we’d been adopted (*warm fuzzies).
“Who are Mike & Amy?” you’re asking. We met them on a hiking trail in New Zealand last year and became fast friends. When we gave them an open invitation to visit Calico Jack, they warned us that they are just the sort of people to show up! She works for an airline so travelling is easy for them -we knew we hadn’t seen the last of them! They flew in for only 4 days but we made the most of it. Super-easy guests, they didn’t really want to do anything but hang out with us on the boat so we just chilled out and ate and drank. We floated around in the big salty pool with our noodles and took turns in the hammock, indulging in rum punches with whatever juices we had on hand (usually a tasty concoction including mango and guava) and grilling up fish we’d caught and frozen in anticipation of their arrival. We even did a 2-tank dive and came back with one large spiny lobster and a spanish lobster to share. It’s pretty cool catching your own dinner! It was a great dive, too, with plenty of unspoiled soft corals. Good times, and Mike & Amy’s visit got us away from chores and into the sun. They were gone all too soon.
He took a leg out and hacked away at it with a machete and a saw, delivering us four pounds of meat. We felt like we were running away with contraband, like we’d just purchased something from that guy in the long trench coat lined with fancy watches. “Pssst! Hey kid! Wanna buy a chunk of pig leg?” Other treasures from the market included massive chunks of pumpkin, christophenes (chayote squash) and huge eggplants that made a curry as colourful as Christmas. We adopted a spearmint plant named Spike and I’ve since sprouted his cilantro buddy, Droopy. I’ve had more than enough opportunity to revisit my love for callaloo (dasheen bush) with which I used to make pepperpot in Cayman –a callaloo stew with sweet potatoes and salt pork, yum! And we’ve also become addicted to callaloo as a side dish with coconut & okra and it’ll certainly be another one of those things we wax nostalgic about when we get home! Oh –and we’re coming into breadfruit season. It’s time to get busy with that!
(Christmas in a pot!)
p.s. Fun fact: Today is October 7th and on this day way back in 2003, I moved to Key West. A dozen years aboard Calico Jack! We have asked the question that has become tradition every year… and have determined that we’re not sick of each other yet. Nor are we sick of Calico Jack :) .
(The anchorage at Prickly Bay. In the back corner to the left, that blur of white is a couple hundred more boats in dry dock at Spice Island Marina.)
The extensive cruising community here makes for a plethora of amenities, and a completely different vibe. There are SO many organized things to do it can be overwhelming listening to it all on the radio every morning. Yoga & Tai Chi classes; domino, card & chess tournaments; tours, parties, food nights, cooking classes.... yadda, yadda yadda. A lot of stuff to do! I imagine that many cruisers look forward to the sense of community here and in fact I heard one returning cruiser say they were glad to be "home". They had no imminent plans to leave. At the same time, a woman I became friends with back in Tobago had complained about the pressure there was to attend all these things. "Sometimes I just want to do my own thing, but if I don't attend Burger Night, well now I'm unsociable!" She blamed this headache on the French. Did I mention she’s French? So funny.
We didn’t do much in terms of organized social stuff save one cooking class and a historical tour with a small group that included only our closest neighbours. It was nice having someone else drive as the roads are hilly and twisty and our driver ever-so-calmly commented on one oncoming vehicle, “He drivin’ like he deh only one on deh road.” I had to giggle at the Grenadian version of road rage. Ever see that Malibu Rum commercial? “It’s total gridlock, mon!” with one donkey blocking the dirt road... Ha! Anyway, we visited waterfalls and the nutmeg processing station and a rum distillery which was, yes, historical. In operation since 1785, it’s the oldest distillery in the Caribbean and they still make their rum the old way with a stream-fed waterwheel to crush the sugarcane and steam pots manned by men, not machines. It was interesting being led through the process and I discovered that rum is actually quite gross right up until the end step –though it would take a lot to turn us off rum! And when I told her we have an international collection of rums that we plan to arrive home with she said, “Oh, it’s too bad we don’t have any right now.” I thought she was joking, but nay. Once bottled, it flies off the local shelves within two weeks! Needless to say, there’s no exporting it, and certainly no aged version of it. Too bad.
But the primary focus of the tour was the people and government and most interesting were more recent events that culminated in the US “invasion” of the island in 1983. Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, his wife, and some of his supporters had been executed by political rivals and the island thrown into chaos. The governments of neighbouring islands put out a request for intervention and President Ronald Regan answered within 6 days with 12,000 US marines. Order was restored, a new democratic government put into place and the majority of troops had withdrawn within 6 weeks. This is what is known. But our guide was actually there in the thick of it when all this played out, working in the local military under important officials, and his candour about what happened really happened was fascinating. This was rare insider information and who better to ask about local sentiment towards the American intervention? Regan’s premise for answering the call was the safety of the American students at the medical university here but there’s no ignoring the gain in political control when Russia was in the middle of building the airport at the time, big enough to land any military plane. Many people continue to call it the “American Invasion”, even though the help was requested, so we were curious about how the locals felt about the whole thing.
This photo pretty much says it all.
One guy on our tour recounted the story of how he had met a local man on a bench outside a supermarket. Upon learning that he’s American, the local went inside, dragged his wife out of the checkout line and presented our friend saying, “Here’s one of the brave Americans who saved us.” Steve was quick to say that he, in fact, had nothing to do with it! But he did note that it was in stark contrast to the reception he got upon returning from Vietnam. Spat upon by his own people in his own country...
Travis flew back down to French Guiana for a week to help our friend finish putting in his moorings and the time to myself was fairly uneventful save one brief squall that was no match for Fang (though the proximity of the boats demanded vigilance just the same). I actually spent most of my time dealing with a cold/flu that just wouldn’t go away. It threw a wrench in my plans but I managed to get a lot of work done on the website anyway -in between naps! And the kindness of my neighbours got me through with periodic check-ins to make sure I was alive as well as a couple of deliveries of foodstuffs that made my day. Such nice people :) .
Once Travis was back, it was time to put some miles under the keel –it is our hope that we can get a jump on this massive fleet of boats about to head north. The reason it’s so crowded in Grenada is that insurance companies demand you keep your boat below a certain latitude for hurricane season. For most, this time-out ends November 31st. Some of us, however, are not hampered by the pesky rules of insurance companies! We can head out anytime we deem it safe and we’re hoping to enjoy some relatively peaceful anchorages over the next few countries. But we have to get going. Now.
We first made our way around the corner to the capital of St. George’s. Why take the bus to go shopping when you can bring your house? Anyway, there’s no good reason not to anchor in front of this beautiful city. It is graced with the Carenage -a deep natural harbour- and colourful colonial buildings, old forts and churches rise up its steep hillsides.
As we made our way up the coast, we stopped at the Underwater Sculpture Park at Moliniere Bay where about a dozen sculptures of varying themes are sitting on the bottom in 1-8 metres of water: a guy on a bicycle, a man on a typewriter at a desk, “still life” with fruit on a table, Christ of the Deep, mermaids, tiki heads… The most striking pieces had 28 life-sized humans holding hands in a circle. There were two of these, one down for much longer than the other judging by the difference in the coral growth on them. It was so cool swimming around to find these pieces and then watch them come into view. Like a spooky treasure hunt, especially with the coral taking over some of the faces of the human figures –creepy!
A trip to the market proved fruitful (pun intended!). Mangoes are going out of season so it was a splurge to pick up three Ceylon beauties but Travis hadn’t yet tried them and they are a-mazing! We also scored some breadfruit and, despite myself, I was finally roped into buying a spice necklace. Grenada is dubbed the Spice Island (though Zanzibar probably has true dibs on this!) and is a major exporter of nutmeg in particular. This necklace is a gimmick for tourists but I just couldn’t resist (anyway, I bargained him down to about half price!). It represents all the goodies produced here: cocoa bean, turmeric, ginger, cloves and nutmeg with the mace still intact. It makes the boat smell fantastic!
Carriacou is a sister island to Grenada and its Tyrrel Bay is a big cruiser destination -another one of those places where people come to park for extended periods of time. No kidding: the anchorage was packed. But we had a lovely lunch, walked the street (yes, singular!) of the bay, and did some shopping for this year’s jack-o’-lantern candidate. We weren’t even hoping for a pumpkin -they’re impossible to find whole- but a pineapple would serve again this year. Or a calabash would have been cool because if it’s properly dried, it would keep! Oh dear… Travis would have killed me. He’s a good man for putting up with me during Christmas but asking him to accept a grinning calabash head as new crew might be a bit much! We managed to find a large grapefruit and Travis decided to challenge himself with a coconut -he about burned up our dremel tool carving it. Nonetheless, Jack O’ Fruit and Coco Jacko made fine Halloween companions.
We could appreciate the charm of Tyrrel Bay but it was just so crowded and moreover, the holding was poor which made for sleepless nights. We called it quits and headed over to the capital of Hillsborough and what a difference! Only one other cruising boat in a wide open bay and the town itself had so much more to offer not only in services, but in charm and character. Again, we had no idea why more people weren’t there, but who’s complaining? We enjoyed the town and its people, and some fast(ish) internet for the first time in ages (because nobody else was on it!).
Grenada was a priority on my list of stops in the Caribbean and I was hoping to spend more time here. However, the weather and the crowds behind us demand we push on. I suppose we need to leave something for next time! Until we meet again…
Photos: Grenada (soon come...)
13 November 2015… Sleepless in SVG
It was a grueling transit from Grenada to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. All 6 miles of it. Haaaa haaaaaahhh! I just can’t get used to how close together these islands are. From the northern tip of the big island in Grenada, I could see our next 4 stops with the naked eye, two of them in another country! An hour and a half to the next country, an hour to the next island, 30 minutes to the next anchorage… I’m hoping we’re not going to get used to this -I don’t want a proper passage to seem like a big job when the time comes. In overhearing the conversations of other cruisers, we keep having to remind ourselves that we’re the weirdoes in this part of the world, among those who consider an overnight passage “pretty long”. It’s a completely different mentality and we keep our mouths shut for fear of sounding like jerks. After all, each to their own: not everyone need subscribe to the lunacy that keeps one offshore for weeks at a time!
Since leaving Prickly Bay two weeks ago we’ve been keeping a steady pace of a new anchorage almost every day. The contents of our pantry reflect this: mangoes from St. George’s, pineapple from Tyrrel Bay, callaloo from Hillsborough, tomatoes from Clifton, lobster from the underwater grocery store in Chatham Bay… And the freezer is filling up with fish again which makes Travis a happy camper and me too: cero mackerel is among the best I’ve ever tasted! But also a funny confession: we still have foodstuffs on board that have been ALL the way around the world. I swear, this salad dressing WILL be gone by the time we hit Key West! It’s a good thing we’re not squeamish about pesky expiration dates.
Two days later and we found ourselves in the delicious Tobago Cays. It’s a marine park just inside a horseshoe-shaped reef, punctuated by 5 small palm-fringed islands. Anchored in about 10ft, our companions were not starfish this time, but lovely cowfish and they weren’t shy –they swam right up to greet the camera! Also beneath us were sea turtles and stingrays. Not bad. A snorkel to the reef and we encountered tons more fish, squid out in broad daylight, the biggest Spanish lobster Travis has ever seen (and they’re cheeky when they know they’re protected!), sharks and an assortment of soft and hard corals. Kayaking over the inner reef line, we checked out Petit Tabac Island and strolled along its sandy shores which we had all to ourselves. The Tobago Cays were like a vacation for us and we did everything you guys think we do every day, complete with fancy cocktails (but sans umbrellas, because we don’t have any). Remember: cruising is a VOcation, not a VAcation!
(These kite surfers were a far cry from the scourge of jetskis we had back in Tobago. It's impressive to watch them zip through the anchorage, their perfectly-controlled kites bobbing up and down between our masts. Imagine the skill and level of fitness required.)
The biggest and northernmost island in the Grenadines is Bequia and it comes highly recommended –we first heard of it in the Pacific two and a half years ago. It didn’t disappoint. Clean and friendly, lovely restaurants and shops line the shoreside walkway and somehow it’s managed to maintain its laid-back, smalltown charm despite the number of people that roll through here. We even had a cruise ship disgorge its masses one day and still it didn’t seem overrun. There’s a lot of local flavour but it also has an international element as many of the businesses are run by expats –tourists and yachties who just can’t bear to leave!
While tourism is clearly the big industry here these days, it has a rich seafaring history and it’s not entirely dead. Whaling is still legal here. I know this is a touchy subject and we love our marine mammals as much (or probably more) than the next guy but rest assured that it is highly regulated. The season lasts only 4 months, just as it has for centuries, and the International Whaling Commission allows a quota of 3 whales per year to be caught in the traditional manner. The local government has reduced that number to 2, one full grown cow and one calf, and they bring in much-needed income for the locals as well as providing meat. No matter how you feel about it, you have to respect how it’s done. They use two 26’ long wooden boats -no engines allowed, only sailing and rowing, and yet they can still reach up to 15 knots of speed! The whale is harpooned and towed back to shore with its mouth sewn shut so that it doesn’t take on water and sink; once at the processing station, every bit of the whale is used with nothing wasted. Joseph Ollivierre was one of the first whalers on Bequia and he started a business with Bill Wallace in the late 1800s –a man who learned the trade in New Bedford, Mass., where Travis is from! Our guidebook says that his grandson, Athenal Ollivierre, is still alive and has been whaling for 60 of his 77 years. That book is 10 years old so we don’t know what his status is but his nephew, Bentley, is the new harpooner and he bears a very big responsibility to maintain this long tradition. We found the whole thing very interesting and there’s a whaling museum over in Friendship Bay but unfortunately it’s closed at the moment. Our rush to beat the crowds has put us ahead of “season” so they’re not open yet. Hmph.
With whaling comes the traditional seaman’s craft of scrimshaw. “Scrimshaw” literally means “wasting time” and there was a lot of time to fill out there on the water, or waiting in harbour. The art involves the razor-thin etching of nautical designs on whale bone or tooth: ships, whales, or even scenes of their sweethearts watching for them from the widow’s walk of their homes (many of these pieces were intended as gifts for their ladies). It’s painstaking, beautiful work and one of the best, Sam McDowell, used to maintain a summer home here in
Bequia (another sailor who couldn’t leave!). We were hoping to meet with him, or at least visit his studio, but it’s not open yet for seasonand because Sam is getting up in age, he’s not travelling much anymore. We were pretty disappointed as we had yet another connection here: Travis’ dad was one of the top 10 scrimshanders in the country when he passed away 30 years ago. He would have been a contemporary of Sam’s, who possibly would have even heard of him! We have a few pieces aboard we were prepared to show him, on real whale tooth (these days, when they can’t find pre-embargo or fossilized ivory, they’re using other hard materials such as cow’s bone, deer antler or even oak or micarta plastic). As a consolation prize, we meandered over to the bookstore that is supposed to have some of Sam’s work on display but we discovered that it’s “in storage”. ?? Whale bone is ever-present, though, as we see it adorning homes and businesses. The Whaleboner Inn has a bar with an entryway arch of two jawbones, seats of whale vertebrae and another jawbone, the biggest ever caught in Bequia, is worked into the wood of the bar itself.
Hundreds of wooden vessels have been built on this island over the years and some of them are still in service. While traditional shipbuilding is now a thing of the past, there’s a remnant art form that remains: model sailboats, and Bequia is famous for them. They’re all painstakingly carved from a single block of wood and the detail is amazing: hair-thin lines rig delicate sails, individual strips of wood are glued together for cabin tops and decking, clear plastic is inserted for windows & portholes and wooden men stand watch in the crow’s nests. The workmanship is exquisite and it is such a surprise and delight to see, once again, that these art forms are still alive and thriving. Oh! And you can custom order a replica of your own boat -if you have about $1000 to spare, that is. I don’t think we were his ideal clientele! But he had a beautiful replica of a motoryacht, complete with helipad, ready to ship.
The Grenadines make for some fantastic cruising. We’re back to gin-clear waters and the myriad islands each have their own flavour, from the rough to the rustic to the rock star (some of these are exclusive enough to cater to the likes of Mick Jagger and David Bowie). We checked in at Union Island but instead of anchoring at Clifton, we took the advice of friends and dropped the hook at Ashton. We hoofed it to Customs & Immigration in Clifton and while the town itself was nice, we were much happier for our secluded anchorage around the other side. In 7ft of crystal clear water, the sand beneath us was littered with starfish, all in different patterns and shades of brown & orange. We snorkelled until we were prunes, snapping photos and collecting sand dollars of which there seemed to be a million (maybe a few less, now!). A mere 30 minutes away is Chatham Bay, a deeper anchorage with corals to snorkel –and lobsters! Travis caught a huge granddaddy for us plus a couple more to supplement the neighbour’s dinner.
Given the beauty and proximity of these islands, it’s charter boat heaven and we saw both the good and bad of it. Bad: idiot anchoring (three tries at it, incidentally) a mere boat length away from us in poor weather conditions (“Umm, hi! Can I pass you a cup of tea?”). Good: If this is awesome for us, can you imagine what it’s like for them to come down here for two weeks, escaping winter hell elsewhere, to swim in these waters? To watch these sunsets? To have local guys come aboard and clean a whole fish right before your eyes? Or present you with fresh lobster for dinner? Aboard your own boat-for-the week? What a thrill for them!
But it’s unusual for us to be in the company of these paid boats rather than cruising boats –they’re a different breed of boat & people and again, something for us to get used to. Poor Calico Jack’s ego is taking a bit of a beating, too, as most of these boats –primarily catamarans- are HUGE! Looking at the anchorage from shore or over our shoulder from the kayak, little CJ practically disappears. Yeah, but she’s been around the planet, baby! Can’t take that away from her!!
("Dude, knock it off!
(We don't often find a conch shell with someone inside.)
(Wallilabou Bay, Saint Vincent. One of the locations where the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise did its filming.)
p.s. Timing was good for one lucky duck this week. Travis spotted a boat adrift in the anchorage just as it was heading for the rocks. Our dinghy wasn’t ready to roll so Wes picked us up and we reached it just as it kissed the cliff face. As we were pulling it off, another dinghy came by to assist and together we secured it to a mooring. Come to find out that it had drifted clear through the anchorage and nobody had seen it! This local charter boat got off with only a couple of scratches below the waterline and some superficial scuffs to buff out.
TowBoat Calico Jack & Co. saves the day!
Further up the west coast is Le Carbet and we anchored just off a beachside “rhum bar”. This area was more our speed: quiet, beautifully clear water for swimming, and well… rum. There wasn’t much of a town but the nearby distillery made for an interesting stop where we toured the facility and sampled the wares. Thankfully, everyone was open, nobody was out of rum and it was served to you upon request. Bliss.
(At Niesson rum distillery...
-"How long do you think it would take us to drink that much rum?"
-"Depends on how many friends we had... and with that much rum, you KNOW we'd have plenty of friends!")
The last port of call in Martinique is Saint-Pierre, the island’s old capital. At the beginning of the 20th Century it was a thriving, prosperous city of 30,000 with all modern conveniences and a harbour that was packed with ships. They called it the Paris of the West Indies. Then in May 1902, nearby Mount Pelée exploded and destroyed everything and everyone in less than ten minutes as volcanic ash, gas and lava raced down the mountainside, overwhelming the city. The museum tells us that this matter would have been moving at 250mph and at a temperature of 3600F, it essentially vapourized everything in its path. It’s a sad story, really, as the volcano had been giving warning signs for weeks and yet only 1,000 people took the hint, mainly children sent away by their parents to live with relatives in other parts of the island. So desperate was the government to allay fears about the imminent danger, the governor himself moved his own family to the city just the day before the eruption. There was only one survivor: a resident of the local prison who was locked up in solitary confinement.
They started resettling Saint-Pierre just two years later but the population is now only around 5,000. The town has a unique character as some of the ruins have been incorporated into the new buildings while other sites have been left alone and they stand in various states of destruction -some still have walls, others are rubble while others still are little more than just the foundation.
(Only the fancy staircase hints at the theatre’s former grandeur.)
Of even more interest to us was what was going on in the harbour: there were boats in port that fateful day and there are twelve wrecks to dive. They’ve been down there 113 years! Most of them were too deep for us on our small tanks but we still managed to check out two sites. The first was mostly sandy mounds but you could still make out the hulls and there was one prominent anchor proudly standing in the middle of it all. The weather wasn’t looking good for our second dive the following day but we gave it a shot anyway. Since it was so deep and the sunlight wasn’t great I didn’t bother taking the camera. What a dumb move! With water so clear you don’t need a sunny day to take in the distinctive hulls but what was more amazing were the brightly coloured corals that call them home. The huge tube coral was particularly striking, so big it looked fake. Soooo sorry I don’t have photos!
Another distillery tour wrapped up Martinique and it was an overnight run past Dominica to reach Guadeloupe. We wanted to visit Marie-Galante first, an island to the east, as not many people make the stop and it’s supposed to have an old-fashioned, rural character. It was work to get there as we beat the crap out of ourselves against the wind for the last few hours and when we finally arrived at our destination we found… another ghost town. Was our timing off again? I always try to keep track of local holidays (pains in the butt!) and I wondered if I’d missed one but in asking a local shop lady about it she smiled and shook her head “no”. It seemed we’re not the first visitors to be surprised by the community’s quiet nature! That night we scanned the shore through binoculars for any sign of life, thinking it might amp up in the evening, but not so. Kind of a bummer of a stop, but we found it quite funny all the same!
Now Les Saintes are another story entirely! This cluster of islands sits just south of the big island and they are a delight. The streets of the main town are lined with shops and cafes and art galleries and even the private homes ooze charm and character –we were moored off a house that’s shaped like a boat! There were hills to climb and forts to explore so we marched all over the island, getting some much-needed exercise as we had a big fat Thanksgiving dinner to wear off! Left to our own devices we usually let Thanksgiving slide by but this year we got an invite over to Wes & Karen’s, new friends we made back in Martinique. Stuffed! Good food & good company. The only fly in the ointment at Les Saintes: their mandatory mooring buoys. Whoever designed them has no regard for anyone’s hull. They’re triangular in shape with a big metal ring sticking out the top and when the wind is slack, it bashes into the side of the boat with a vengeance. It’s a good thing we’re not terribly proud of our paint job these days (even so, we wrapped towels around the stupid thing to minimize the damage) but it also made for poor sleeps. We had to crash in our own guestroom to get away from the racket and we could still hear it!
Up the coast on Guadeloupe’s main island is Malendure Beach which in itself isn’t much -just a few beachside restaurants and trinket shops- but it is the jumping off point to visit the Pigeon Islands. About 30 years ago, Jacques Cousteau declared this area one of the world’s top dive sites and it’s now a marine reserve bearing his name. We were pretty excited about this stop. I mean, Jacques has seen some pretty great underwater stuff, right? His endorsement was good enough for us! We tried to get information about a nearby wreck we could dive but the employees at the dive shops weren’t really all that cooperative, even when we inquired about diving with them! So we decided to check out the reefs by snorkel and assess if it was worth going back for a dive. Well, our timing was certainly off on the weather. While the previous few days had been calm and lovely, it was now blowing about 25knots, not great for snorkeling, but we were undeterred and we kayaked out to the islands, checking out several of the sites. I think things have changed since ol’ Jacques put his stamp of approval on this place –there was little more than rubble out there! Yet these dive companies were still dropping people in the water to see it and charging them a pretty penny no doubt. Travis said they ought to have been ashamed! We managed to find one area that wasn’t completely dead but it was a small reward for having to bash our way back against the wind –I put on my mask because I was sick of getting waves in the face! As well, I got a nasty little case of sea lice or something which took the better part of a week to run its course. All around, this marine park was not the experience we had been looking forward to.
Our last stop in Guadeloupe was Deshaies and we pulled in on a Sunday –again. Still, we splashed the dinghy and optimistically rushed ashore to find a grocery store before it closed and, miraculously, we were successful. A few little provisions and we had the means to host Wes & Karen for happy hour. Otherwise, though, frustrations were starting to rack up. Everything was breaking: Yertle (our outboard) has had us paddling through the anchorage a couple of times, Otto (the autopilot) is acting up and the pressure switch is blown on our water pump. We should be happy that we can get the water out of the tanks at all but dishes and showers have become team efforts as someone needs to stand and man the switch at the main panel. “On… off. Ok, on again…” Tedious. But probably the most annoying thing has been the lack of internet access despite our best efforts. Travis needed to get his information in to the coast guard for his license renewal and it had to be submitted at just the right time (in just the right format, in just the right size!). The service we’d paid for in the anchorage wasn’t working, THE internet café had closed down just two days before (yes, literally two -we even saw the fool thing open!) and Wi-Fi was down at a few of the restaurants who were advertising it. Finally, we decided to just bite the bullet and go to the place with the strongest connection –the expensive restaurant. We walked in needing 3 things: food, drink and Wi-Fi. Kitchen not open until 7pm, Wi-Fi down, but they would serve you an overpriced drink! WHY IS THIS SO HARD?? We were even starting to feel like Guadeloupe had been kind of a bust, with half our stops being disappointments.
Then, just like that, it all turned around. At the height of our despair we stumbled across the cutest, friendliest and most affordable little sandwich place. Service was fast for two hungry monsters and it was delicious. We managed to find a water source and filled up out tanks for free (without getting yelled at like last time!). Back at the boat we went for a snorkel, snagging a lobster (“Look honey, our mooring comes with a free dinner!”) and Wes came by and told us his internet was working just fine, “Here’s the password.” We made some new friends and some old ones cruised in, the result being pizza night for 10 the night before we left. Attitude adjustment.
Now it was a matter of getting the timing right for Montserrat…
Our tour took us from green to grey. We drove first through fragrant forest past little communities on winding, roller-coaster mountain roads. We cruised by the access road to the former AIR Studios but we would have passed it unknowingly on our own for it is completely grown in. Our guide told us a story about the first time Paul McCartney came to the island, accompanied by his bodyguard. One day was enough to convince him that this friendly little rock in the Caribbean held no threat to him so he sent his guy off to enjoy the island -in his limo. Tooling around in this fancy car, the residents were interested to know who was behind the tinted windows and when Mr. Bodyguard emerged, the people were all, “Who’s THIS guy?!” Funny! On subsequent visits, Sir Mr. McCartney came on his own.
As we progressed further south, the landscape became a mix of green and grey as the trees are reclaiming old washed-out buildings long abandoned. We crossed the Belham River which is a river no more: it’s hard-packed with volcanic mud so in heavy rainfalls, one must beware as it turns into a mudflow. But today is was dry and as we crossed it via a 2-rut track, we were told that underneath us somewhere, about 12 metres deep, lies the old bridge that still hasn’t been found. Once they uncover the bridge, the golf course shouldn’t be too far behind… And they may just find them yet. The only activity in the exclusion zone -daytime only- is the excavation of sand for export. It makes excellent cement.
Ash and mud continued to cover the southern portion of the island for several years including the capital, the airport and the shipping terminal all of which have been lost. Soufriere Hills has been relatively quiet since the last big eruption in 2010 but the exclusion zone remains and access is largely prohibited. Even approaching it by boat, we’re required to stay at least 2km offshore and there’s a number to call and check on the current situation before entering the vicinity. Nobody wants their sails turned into Swiss cheese!
The northern part of the island has been virtually unaffected by all this and they’re developing a new port and capital at Little Bay which is the only port of call. Progress is slow -there’s not much there- and we didn’t know what to expect but everything turned out to be easy peasy. We thought getting to the areas of interest was going to be difficult and expensive but we had a driver booked in short order and two other cruisers to help share the expense, to boot.
(The restricted areas take up about two-thirds of the island and vary according to the liveliness of the volcano. V, W & E are pretty much always off limits. C & F are daytime access only and A & B are closely watched when the volcano is active -they're the only two zones that are populated.)
The next morning we thought we’d go anchor in less-conspicuous White House Bay on St. Kitts (illegal action #3). We were easily a mile away when the radio came to life: “Calico Jack, Calico Jack, this is Kind of Blue.” Like I said, she's distinctive! Our friends Dick & Anita were waiting for us when we arrived and we joined them for a walk ashore (#4) and drinks later on their boat (#5). That evening we went through the painful process of deciding what to do next. Our friends had informed us that checking in at St. Kitts would be a hassle among the cruise ships and commercial boats. And, it was going to be expensive. We weren’t really feeling it so we woke at sun-up and did a sneaky run out of the country. And that’s the story how we were illegal in only our second country on the planet. I’d tell you where we were headed, but we changed our minds so many times -even in transit!- that the destination was even a bit of a surprise to us.
Plymouth itself is off limits unless you want to spring for an expensive police escort but the nearby suburb of Richmond Hill is in the Daytime Entry Zone and it provides a great view of the lunar landscape that once was the capital. The city is a complete dust-covered grey and some of the buildings remain in one area while another has been completely washed away in that volcanic mud river. Richmond Hill itself was once an affluent neighbourhood, and home to the posh Montserrat Springs Hotel where we got to poke around for a bit. The rooms and hallways are covered in dust and mud and while much of the guts of the place have been removed, it’s still eerie to see a vacant front desk, an empty dining hall and a swimming pool now sprouting grass and trees as nature takes it back. In Plymouth, apparently it looks like people just locked up and left for the day: merchandise still on store shelves, etc. Spooky.
The volcano continues to be closely monitored at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory and its belching and wheezing has been well-documented to the point where they are the first to have caught a lot of volcanic events on film. We visited the observatory and had the opportunity to view some amazing footage.
Our island tour all wrapped up in a day, we now wondered what to do with ourselves! Sure, it would be nice to slow our roll and chill out for the weekend. And we were free to do so as we had already won our race with the Christmas Winds: strong winds that kick in from the NE sometime around mid-December, making it unpleasant/impossible to make any headway north. This phenomenon has been our whole reason for the beeline up the island chain but Montserrat is a milestone because from hereon in, we have options to bear off to NW if we need to. The race is over. Still, we decided to keep moving as we’d get stalled out with weather sooner or later so best take the windows where we can.
The only problem was timing. Again. It was a weekend and while we had no problems in Montserrat (if you stay less than 72 hours, you needn’t bother checking out), it would land us in St. Kitts & Nevis on a Saturday. What to do? Let me say here that this beeline from island to island has had its price. It’s been tiring, it’s starting to become a bit of a blur, things are breaking, but the most annoying thing is that we seem to have lost the ability to make decisions about things both big and small. It’s driving us crazy! “You decide.” “No YOU decide.” Arghh!! Since the weather was good, Mother Nature was making the decision for us and we pulled the anchor and figured we’d deal with what may on the other end.
Arriving in Nevis, we were pretty sure we couldn’t check in on a Saturday and that meant sitting on a designated mooring ball for the weekend, unable to go ashore. Upon arrival, we found that said mooring ball was in the middle of the commercial ships, which wasn’t particularly appealing, so we took a chance at picking up a regular mooring among the other cruising boats. It’s a big mooring field, about 80 buoys, so we figured we’d just blend in with everyone else and we wouldn’t be noticed until Monday. Blend –ha! There were only about a half-dozen boats there and let me tell you that Calico Jack sticks out! She is unique in even a crowded anchorage because of her colour, her classic look and her custom features -we’ve learned this- and we were starting to think this wasn’t a good idea. Still, we did want to go ashore for a famous Killer Bee rum punch at the Sunshine Bar, and maybe we felt it was a little less illegal to do so if we took our kayak ashore under cover of darkness instead of splashing the dinghy! Awkward: arriving during someone’s staff Christmas party. Awesome: being told they were open to the public anyway -and our money was no good! We actually would have stayed for a couple more but didn’t want to take advantage. We paddled back home like thieves in the night.
(Dolphin escort out of St. Kitt's -they don't seem to care that we're breaking the rules.)
right direction so we wouldn’t have to go UP that steep, rough incline (didn’t have to – I found us another way out!). But a scooter is always fun and buzzing through the landscape was interesting because it’s scrubbier than the rainforest we’ve been enjoying. We stopped at a bonafide pirate’s shop, sampled some boutique rums, and caught an airplane coming in for a landing on the postage stamp-sized strip. It swoops over a hill called La Tourmente as it makes its approach -that would have your stomach in your mouth!
19 December 2015… Breakfast in France, Dinner in the Netherlands
We actually weren’t planning on St. Barth. It’s out of our price range right now but at the last minute we decided that the wind was good for it and it proved to be a very convenient stopover, achievable in one day instead of having to time a daylight arrival at points beyond. We just vowed to be very, very careful with the budget!
The anchorage was a mix of boats both big and small, some obviously on the budget we are (or less), but the best available spot happened to be beside a massive blue megayacht. In fact, he had heaps of room around him and we figured maybe others were leery about being next to this bad boy. We have Fang, though, and so cheeky little Calico Jack nestled into her spot beside big brother. Being the special girl she is, she holds her own even if it’s not the kind of company she’s used to keeping!
We quite unexpectedly loved St. Barth! It felt like Christmas there for so many reasons, even if we were a little ahead of the season. The town was festive with lights and decorations. We even got wished Happy Hanukkah by one friendly guy and when we responded in kind, he asked if we “happened to be Jewish”. “No, but Happy Hanukkah to you!” He invited us to a party on the pier where apparently we had missed the big show but there was still loud music and people dancing & partying. And it was Christmas for Calico Jack, too, because as a duty-free port, a trip to the marine store was a delight. We had fun buying the weirdest things that are maybe only appreciated by the likes of us! Like the replacement water pump switch, so one doesn’t have to manually turn it on and off while the other is showering or doing dishes. A light for above the stove so I don’t have to cook with a headlamp anymore –Merry Christmas to me! And Travis even installed it for me next-day! A new dive mask for Travis, a micro SD card for my tablet… And if that wasn’t joyous enough, booze is incredibly cheap here and we stocked up the cabinet for the season, including a few specialty items we otherwise wouldn’t have splurged on. We lounged in the cockpit, relishing the day’s purchases, and laughed at a theoretical staff Christmas Party for the Calico Jack Crew: gifts for the engineer, the cook, the captain, the seamstress, the plumber, the electrician, the housekeeper, the shore excursion coordinator… What a shindig!
We continued our pub crawl at the neighbouring Driftwood Bar. The bar itself is a boat so it had a lot of character and the live music and the company was enough to make us stay for a couple of cold ones. Then we discovered via email from our friends on Kind of Blue that there was a cruisers’ Christmas party at the yacht club so we surprised them by showing up. Good fun, good company among several cruisers we know and a dinner on the Dutch side! It was a fun day!
When it came time to decide where to spend Christmas, the popular vote was to move on. While our time in St. Martin passed without event it’s one of those places in the Caribbean that I talked about some time ago in regards to theft. We’ve been lucky with that so far, but we also take precautions by removing and locking the outboard to the back rail and hauling the dinghy aboard every night. And Little Sparky is worse for wear for it, too -shimmying him across the non-skid twice a day has done him no favours! But still, it’s for the best. There was a dinghy stolen in Bequia the night before we left and we were starting to hear tales of break-ins and dinghy thefts here in St. Martin, as well. In fact, one woman in St. Barth gave us warnings about this area and while we don’t believe every horror story we hear, I could see through binoculars that there was hardly any traffic on the streets in the evening, and not a single pedestrian. It speaks volumes when the locals aren’t even out! We’ve made sure we’re always home in the evenings in these countries, anyway, for it makes the boat less of a target; but we decided we wanted to be somewhere safe and fun for Christmas. Anyway, it was time to get out of these French countries. The cheap brie, pate and baguette were starting to make us thick around the middle!
30 December 2015… Another Year Over
From St. Martin it’s only a few hours north to Anguilla and we had barely set the hook when the Christmas Winds kicked in –we'd made it! Bahaha!!! Blow all you want now, for it’s all West for us from here, baby!!!
So the anchorage was crazy-windy but the island itself is lovely and the people so very friendly. In my mind, it’s the English equivalent to St. Barth: beautiful, expensive, safe. The world over, everyone has beaches to brag about, rating them among the best on the planet, and so does Anguilla but it actually earns the distinction! Its stretches of sand are long, broad and oh-so powdery with no pesky rocks to hurt your tender toes as you wade into the water. And while we only played on the one beach at Road Bay, I can say with confidence that this holds true for at least most of the rest of island’s beaches because cruise ships dumped their hordes and trucked them to other locales to hang out for the day… We didn’t get it. Our little bay offered beach bars and restaurants just like the others and in fact, Sandy Ground is touted to be Party Central for the island! Still, the lemmings all boarded the buses for points beyond while we stayed behind and hung out at Dad’s and Elvis’ and got to know the locals (Elvis’ Beach Bar is at the corner of “beach” and Lonely Road, heh heh!).
So we stayed on the bus and headed out to the west end instead where we would still find no Dutch, but something fun: The Sunset Bar. While fantastic sunsets are no doubt a big attraction here, more people come for the rush of standing right under the flight path of the planes landing at the international airport. Indeed, right across the street is the end of the landing strip itself and the fence is littered with signs warning of the potential dangers of even being in this area. What fun as planes came in every 10 minutes or so, whooshing overhead. The big ones were outstanding as they seemed to be so close and others really were close –they’re supposed to have limits on how low they can go, however…! People were cheering and applauding all the more! But the warning signs on the fences are really there for the takeoffs. As the jets roar to life for departure, people cling to the fence (though they’re not supposed to!) to get that blast of air which subsequently blows away hats, beach towels, and small children across the road. It sounds stupid, but it was a lot of fun to watch!
We really enjoyed our time in St. Barth, albeit briefly (only 4 days); but we were ready to leave the rolly anchorage for smoother waters. It was a daytrip over to St. Martin/Sint Maarten and we dropped the hook in front of the French capital of Marigot. What a pleasure to be able to leave something on the counter without fear of it going flying! A nice, smooth anchorage and we spent a week there -sitting still was nice for a change! We got a lot of errands done like filling propane, doing laundry and provisioning that we’d not done for some time. Everybody always complains about how expensive the French islands are but we always feel like we get a lot for our money and with the great selection, it’s possible to pick and choose your items. Some things are expensive, others are crazy-cheap and it all evens out if you make it so.
As for touristy things, there wasn’t all that much to do but Marigot has a lively waterfront market all week. The museum was closed but we hiked up to Fort Napoleon for views over the both the French and Dutch sides and the massive lagoon in between. Our big outing was the day we checked out the Dutch side. Fortified with café au lait and quiche for breakfast, we caught the bus into downtown Phillipsburg and well, we weren’t even impressed enough to get off the bus! While it was definitely different from the French side, it was virtually characterless -we could have been anywhere, really. There wasn’t a Dutch sign to be seen or a Dutch accent to be heard. Everything was in English and we even heard a woman speaking Spanish as she disembarked. (Although, to be fair, English is widely spoken on the French side as well, and also in St. Barth -as opposed to Guadeloupe and Martinique where it would be difficult to get around in English). We’d heard that Sint Maarten had sold its soul to mass tourism and mega-casinos and it turned out to be true.
Apart from being the duty-free paradise, the island is a playground for the mega-rich but we did splurge on a nice crêpe lunch because we hadn’t yet -believe it or not, for all the French countries we’ve been through! There are a lot of things to check out on foot so we did a walking tour that included forts and churches and stunning views over the red roofs and the harbour of Gustavia. We stopped for a cold one at Le Select and its adjacent Cheeseburger in Paradise Café where people argue about what came first: the chicken or the egg (though on his website, Jimmy says he wrote the song about a place in Tortola). The following day we rented a scooter to explore the rest of the island. There are more scooters and quads here than cars and some of these roads are steep or goat paths -or both!- so we were very glad we’d taken the recommended 125cc wheels! One road was so bad that I was really hoping we were going in the
And every day as we came and went, we dinghied past the megayachts on the wall lined up like dominoes. For others, I imagine these would be the object of envy but for us very few of them are appealing. They have no character. Furthermore, we observe the staff polishing and scrubbing what doesn’t really need polishing and scrubbing on a daily basis. And lumping trash bags ashore. The crews all look identical in their little uniforms and we kind of feel sorry for them. Maybe they relish the fact that they get to travel on these fancy monstrosities but all we see are the peons confined to the boat while the owners are out playing. Maybe I have it all wrong, but we’re really glad we’re doing this on our own terms, albeit much, MUCH more modestly. We’re rich enough, thank you!
The reason we only saw the one beach is because there was no bus service and car rental prices were over the top. Scooters are usually a cheaper option but there were none to be found and while we’re into walking (a lot!) the distances between locations were so vast that seeing much on foot was unrealistic (oh, to be in the Pacific where it was virtually impossible to walk without being offered a ride!). And so we were confined to our little corner of the island. The land excursions coordinator was a bit put out for she had a lineup of places to investigate but the whole point of being in Anguilla for the holidays wasn’t really to tour around anyway. It was to chill out and enjoy. The lights and decorations went up and we were were lucky enough to have a few little shops within walking distance where we managed to find the cranberry sauce and canned pumpkin I’d been scouring the aisles for in the last four countries -we were beginning to think that we were going to have to give the pumpkin martinis a miss this year! I even managed to muster up makeshift ingredients for hot apple cider, our annual tradition. We enjoyed Christmas Eve and Day with friends Dick & Anita (S/V Kind of Blue) and her sister, Jet, who was visiting.