CURRENT LOCATION: On a mooring ball near the reef in Ensenada Dakity
18 17.591' N, 065 16.791' W
Much of my free time recently has been spent starting the daunting process of conducting research and organizing information for our continued journey down island. After much discussion, Sheryl and I have decided to leave Culebra in mid-December (as soon as my algebra teaching obligation at Abbie's School draws to a close).
Our three best sources of information for continued cruising are guides, charts, and the experiences of those we have met who have recently been to these places by boat. We are always in the process of collecting the latter, so our increased intensity of late has been focused on the guides and charts. Some guides are better than others. Our guides for the Virgin Islands are fairly abysmal and making any decisions about where to visit in those islands has, consequently, been painful. Meanwhile, the guides for the Leeward Islands paint a picture that makes you want to pull up the anchor and sail away today.
Of course, every destination has advantages and disadvantages. The Virgins are reputed for the generally good sailing conditions and myriad anchorages sprinkled liberally among their islands. However, it is by far the most crowded of the sailing areas (especially in the early winter timeframe when we would be passing through). In addition, the charter boats which populate these anchorages are often looking for something quite different from their short sailing holiday than a full-time cruiser does. Add to that crowding the ubiquitous and expensive mooring balls, and the luster of the Virgins rapidly begins to dim in our eyes.
Further on, St. Martin beacons. Before Sheryl and I met, I visited St. Martin on vacation and truly loved it. Of course, a land-based vacation is a far different experience than a cruising destination. Nevertheless, I look forward to sharing some of the many beautiful beaches (which are still vivid in my mind's eye) with my lovely wife. I imagine, though, that we will not spend as much time sampling the fine restaurants the island has to offer as I did on my last visit there.
Although Saint Martin and Sint Maarten is an island which is divided between French and Dutch possession, the European flavor of these influences is somewhat lost in the overwhelming focus on tourism. Our guidebook labels the island, "...the Caribbean's number one shopping mall." Although there are certain provisioning advantages to this destination (and I am certain that we will not be able to help ourselves from feeling like we, too, are on holiday) one of our goals for our trip down island is to visit some destinations which have more of a European feel to them.
In this regard, Gustavia on St. Barts and Bourg des Saintes on Guadeloupe have been recommended as places which capture a certain French ambiance embodied in beautiful seaports. Saba and Statia provide a representation of Dutch influence where expect to find, "picturesque gingerbread houses, cobblestone streets, and small stone churches." We are particularly intrigued with Saba after reading that, "Saba looks like a fairy tale picture of a forbidden land." The island is only 5 square miles and reaches a peak of 3000 feet above sea level.
As fate would have it, a swimmer approached Prudence late yesterday afternoon to say hello. It was Susan, a cruiser we met here in Culebra early this summer. She and Hale had departed on Cayuga to spend the summer down in the area of Curacao and Bonaire. They just recently completed a 4-day sail from Los Roques, Venezuela back to Culebra. While treading water, Susan told us of their experience in Saba, and starred it as a truly must see destination. Upon returning to her boat, she sent an e-mail with their photo album which chronicles their brief time in Saba. We are sold.
Of course, every destination has its drawbacks. Saba does not have an all-weather anchorage; therefore, any visit we make there will be dictated by the weather conditions. Hence, the reason that Cayuga did not stay longer. Also, Saba's position would require loosing a bit of easting if we visit after St. Martin and St. Barts. And you all know how important every mile of eastward progress is to us here in the tradewind belt. Perhaps we will zigzag in such a manner to visit Saba first, followed by St. Martin? Sometimes it is hard to tell what we will decide until we are out there on the water and the winds tell us which heading we can make.
St. Kitts and Nevis were formerly British islands, but are now a fully-independent twin-island state. Basseterre, in St. Kitts, maintains a distinctly British feel, from The Circus (a square modeled after Piccadilly in London) to street names like Liverpool and Princes. We generally don't go in for touristy things; however, I find myself intrigued by the St. Kitts Scenic Railway, originally built for collecting sugar cane, which circles the island. If the prices are not too steep, we can board a touring train and take a 3-hour ride on this 30-mile loop which circles the island. Perhaps they will even serve CSR, a spirit derived from sugar cane which is a product unique to St. Kitts.
Further down island, Dominica has been recommended to us by several cruisers. The attraction here is exploration of the interior. As our guidebook indicates, "It should be noted that many of Dominica's hikes should only be undertaken by those who are reasonably agile and fit." This is the whole reason why we decided to take this leave of absence from our working lives prior to our retirement years. From waterfalls to volcanoes, botanical gardens to hot water springs, it looks like there are plenty of exploration destinations to keep Team Prudence occupied for some time there.
And, that represents only cursory research into what we may wish to experience from a trip through the Leeward Islands. Although it is far beyond us at this point to prescribe an exact sailing route, the next 500 nautical miles could look something like this...
Of course, the path above is speculative, at best. Even more tentative are our plans beyond that. Will we continue on into the Windward Islands or turn back to the north? The big driver will be, "Where do we want to be when hurricane season 2009 begins?" Right now, being tucked in somewhere along the Chesapeake Bay is not outside the realm of consideration. Only time will tell.