03/20/2007, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
St. Croix was under Danish control for a long time and that is reflected in the very fine architecture, especially in Christiansted, an example of which is pictured above. Like most of the Caribbean islands, St. Croix was governed by different European countries during colonial times. The British are blamed for the fact that everyone drives on the left even though this is a US territory now -- hence the title "Life in the Left Lane" which is a phrase I saw several times on T-shirts and other souvenirs.
st. Croix is a more or less off the beaten path and that is part of its charm. We came from St. Maarten with Take Time, another Krogen Whaleback, and met a third Krogen, Browlee, which had come from St. Thomas. In addition we discovered a fourth Krogen staying at a marina in Christiansted, making a total of four Krogens together at one time -- an unusually large crowd of Krogens! It gave Paul a great opportunity to commenersate with fellow Krogen owners about maintenance and engine issues.
Buck Island is a national park about two miles north of St. Croix. We anchored here for a couple of days and greatly enjoyed the wonderful snorkeling on the surrounding reef and walking on some trails on land. Since this is a small island, it has been possible to erradicate non-native species of both plants and animals and Buck Island is slowly returning to its original flora and fauna. Unfortunately, the reef, which is really nice, was badly damaged in a storm several years ago, and even our dedicated park service can't do anything about most storm damage.
Point Udall on the very Eastern end of St. Croix has the distinction of being the most easterly point of the whole United States. It's a very pretty drive out there and a monument was erected in 2000. Otherwise, there isn't much at Point Udall except a lovely view.
Christiansted is the capital of St. Croix and the site of much lovely Danish architecture as well as a very nice harbor. Although St. Croix is very definitely a Caribbean island, there are many signs of the mainland U.S. also. This is the only island where anyone at a marina has told us we couldn't go into a certain area because of insurance regulations. This happened when Paul wanted to look at a boat that was on the hard (i.e., stored on land). We also found a K-Mart and other U.S. chain stores. On the positive side, the park areas on St. Croix are well maintained with marked trails and good signs. Unfortunately, the usual situation on most Caribbean islands is that parks and trails are not very well maintanied and taking a guide on hikes is often necessary.
In a exception to most Caribbean islands, the US Virgins don't pay much attention to visiting yachts. We checked in with customs, but were just given a reference number because we didn't owe any duty. Most Caribbean countries give you a formal clearance form both when you check in and when you check out, which you then show to the officials at the next country. Not having a form from St. Croix caused us some trouble when we tried to clear into St. Martin and we will ask for one next time.
Botanical Garden and Whim Plantation are both located in former plantations. In the case of the Botanical Garden the gardens of the former estate have been enlarged around stabilized ruins giving a unique result. The site also includes an orchid house and Oriental garden area. Whim Plantation has more intact buildings including the overseer's unusually shaped house, kitchens, stables and the windmill and other equipment associated with processing sugar cane.
03/03/2007, St. Maarten/ St. Martin
Luxury in the marina Visit grandkids and home Two groups of Special guests Luxury in the marina We left Dream Weaver safely tied up at Island Water World while we visited friends and family in the states. As usual marina life seems luxurious when compared with being anchored. There is ample water for LONG showers and laundry as well as not having to worry about the batteries running out of charge. Also, we can walk ahsore without needing to first get our butts wet in the dinghy. All in all being at a marina is a break that I enjoy, although I am not sure I would want to stay in a marina permanently because there is usually more commotion at a marina (e.g., lights at night, noise from other boat traffic). This marina is out of the way at one end of Simpson Lagoon in St. Maarten and more peaceful than most. I especially enjoyed being a short dinghy ride from a great French Bakery where we could get fantastic coffee and croisants.
Our trip to the states was terrific. In addition to nice long visits with our grandkids (and their parents, or course), we saw friends and made our first trip to the Miami Boat Show. The Miami Boat Show is HUGE and very impressive. I can say this having attended any number of boats shows which I thought were large at the time, especially the ones in Annapolis and Newport. However, the Miami show is three or four times larger than either of those. We attended for two full days and did not see everything; but we had spent enough money and needed to get back to the boat because two groups of friends were coming to visit us in St. Maarten.
Amazing AnguillaOur first group of guests, Chadi and Chris, from Maryland were excited about scuba diving in Anguilla, an island none of us had ever visited even though it is only a few miles north of St. Maarten. Anguilla is a haven if you are interested in spectacular beaches, peaceful anchorages and good diving and snorkeling. Our guests flew into St. Maarten and we spent a day getting their scuba tanks and looking around St. Maarten. On the way to Grand Case, an anchorage on the north side of St. Maarten, we caught a wonderful Mahi Mahi. Chadi loves to fish and I was glad we were successful, especially since she made a terrific fish chowder from the bones, etc. we enjoyed the weekly Tuesday night street fair in Grand Case and left on Wednesday for Anguilla. Anguilla is a small island with few people; indeed, most of the land and shore are disignated marine parks. Getting the necessary permits was a bother, but worth the trouble because we could then anchor in these pristine areas and enjoy all they had to offer. Surprisingly, we went to a marvelous restaurant on the beach; at least, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of our meals because this is such a small island. Our friends' visit ended all too soon and we want them to plan two weeks next time.
Sensational St. BartsOnly a day after Chadi and Chris left, Val and Jeff, long time friends from Tennessee arrived. Luckily, our good friends on S/V Eira were in St. Maarten which meant that my two friends named Val could finally meet each other (one is our sailing companion on Eira and the other is our visitor from Tennessee). They were especially interested in comparing notes about what they had been told about the "other Val". We had enjoyed the weekly Tuesday night street fair in Grand Case so much that we deicded to take our second group of visitors the next week. unfortunately, it was a rainy afternoon and most of the vendors stayed away. No matter, we still managed to find some good food and have a fine time. Also, our guests went snorkeling for the first time and I think they are now ready for more. The next day we headed for Anse de Colombier in St. Barts which is about 15 miles south of St. Maarten. Anse de Colombier is also a marine park and a spectacular anchorage. It is a short dinghy ride into town from Anse de Colombier and we were able to have a decadent lunch at Eden's Rock, surely one of the prettiest places I have ever been. Back in St. Maarten, we went to the street market in Marigot which is on the French side. It's a large, busy market and plenty of souvenirs were bought for the unfortunates back home who had not been able to visit. Again, we had to say goodbye much too soon to our good friends.
After several weeks of travel and guests, it was a little strange to be just the two of us again. It had been so nice to have lot of friends and family around; one of the disadvantages of cruising is that friends often come and go which can lead to one of the advantages which is meeting up with old friends in new places and making new friends. Still I usually miss people when they move on, either returning home to work and school or cruising on to another place.
02/21/2007, Grand Anse, St. Martin
We moved to the lovely anchorage at Grand Anse on the French side of St. Martin and joined good friends from several other boats for dinner at one of the open air eateries on the beach. The good food was topped off with even better company. It was only later that I realized this dinner was both a reunion and a good by. It was a reunion because we had often sailed with Eira, Delilah, and Amanzi since leaving the Bahamas over a year earlier. In fact all three boats were with Paul and myself on our first night crossing, an event which is still vivid in my memory. We had a delightful evening "catching up" with everyone's recent activities; however, things took a nostalgic turn when I realized that Eira, Delilah, and Amanzi were all planning to head north when they left St. Martin and go back home -- to the states in the case of Eira and Delilah and to Canada in the case of Amanzi. Dream Weaver was the only boat in this group planning to travel south again. And I was sad to realize that we wouldn't be spending any more time with these good friends, at least for the near future.
In my mind at least, this pleasant evening marks the beginning of phase three of our Caribbean cruising experience. Phase one lasted from Jan to July, 2006 when we traveled as "newbies" from Florida to Trinidad where we left Dream Weaver for the 2006 hurricane season. Phase two began when we headed north from Trinidad in Nov 2006 for more travels in the Caribbean. Elsewhere in this blog I have described our "Winter in Wonderland" because it was such a marvelous time -- our comfort level much increased being cruisers with considerably more experience. Now we were preparing to continue cruising while some of our fellow travelers were going back to land and different lives. Instead of discussing where to snorkel or where we could find fresh produce, the conversation turned to plans for returning to work, buying houses, etc. Of course, there was the usual talk of boat maintenance, but much of the conversation had a different focus and I realized our friends were moving to a differen phase also. We expect to continue cruising and be around other good friends; but this group will always have a special place because they shared the beginning with us.
01/07/2007, English Harbor, Antigua
English Harbor was the main base for the English during Colonial times and Nelson's Dockyard has been beautifully restored. Walking around, it is easy to imagine sailers busy loading/unloading cargo or outfitting ships for the voyage back to England. Although the buildings now house official offices, shops, restaurants, etc., there are signs explaining what would have been happening 250 years ago. The historical area includes a fort and 12 - 15 large buildings, and it is now very nicely landscaped and maintained. I am sure in Admiral Nelson's time the area was far from pristine (and probably smelled awful too). Today we get to enjoy the best of both -- all the history without the mess!
To make the visit perfect we even caught a nice Mahi Mahi on the trip from Guadeloupe, which made Paul's day. Unfortunately, we didn't have any friends to share it with. The "Fishing God" often plays that trick on us -- letting us catch a nice fish when we don't have any fellow travelers to share with. It's not all bad, however, because that means more for us.
Because weather held us up in Guadeloupe for several days, we were only able to stay two nights before heading to St. Maarten where we were scheduled to leave the boat in order to visit family back in the states. However, returning to Antigua it at the top of our list when we start south again.
Our second visit to Guadeloupe was even better than our first because some special relatives came for the Christmas holidays. So instead of going home for the holidays, our visitors brought home to us. My brother and sister in law, Kurt and Jane, arrived with their daughter, Julia. In addition they bravely brought two of Julia's friends, Karen and Liz. The girls were delightful company and we all had a great visit complete with only a moderate amount of sunburn. We met our guests at the marina in the capital city of Point a Pitre and spent the first night getting everyone's stuff on the boat and learning about using the head, etc. The time was even more festive because our good friends on Eira (Menno, Val, Daniel, John, and Daisy) were at the marina hosting Menno's mother from Holland. After getting organized, we spent a few days at three great anchorages -- each one with its own special attractions.
Ilet du Gosier is about three miles east of Point a Pitre on the southern coast of Guadeloupe. The anchorage is behind a reef that connects the mainland and the small island of Gosier. There is a very nice beach on both sides and the reef keeps the waters calm. It is a delightful place anytime, but especially nice on Christmas Eve. As usual in the French islands, the bagettes and other pastries are cheap, delicious and easy to get. For the first day or so we kept running out of bagettes, so we finally settled on buying five every morning and our guests were able to enjoy them all day.
Isles des Saintes is a group of small islands about 15 miles south of Guadeloupe. There is a small town, Bourg des Saintes, and an interesting fort on the largest of these islands. There are several places to anchor, all of them close to good shorkeling and beaches. As a place to spend time in a cruising boat the Saintes are just about perfect with plenty of places for a walk on the beach or swim as well as a town with interesting shops and the best ice cream in the Caribbean. The only problem was that we didn't have time to stay longer.
Ilet a Cochons was the final stop for our guests. Located a couple of miles west of Pointe a Pitre, it is convenient to town while being wonderfully secluded. The small island was great for beach combing, but a little rocky for swimming. An expedition led by Paul through the underbrush even discovered a small fort on top of a hill. Our guests left us all too soon on December 30, needing to get back to Connecticut for work and school. They insured a return invitation by hauling all the dirty linens and towels to the laundry -- a very thoughtful gesture!
New Year's EvePaul and I stayed here for a few days, spending New Year's Eve with our good friends on Eira. This anchorage is on the edge of the very large harbor at Point a Pitre and we were treated to the most spectacular fire works show I have ever seen. All around us different towns, hotels and other groups were shooting fireworks, one group starting as another finished. The whole thing lasted an hour at least, and we saw it all from the comfort of our upper deck! The next morning I noticed several small rafts drifting around in the harbor. Most were one to two feet square and had various things attached to them, like flowers, pieces of fruit, ribbons, and other decorations. I have never seen anything like it and I never did find out the significance of these small rafts drifting around on New Year's Day.
Trip through Riviere SaleeOur last adventure in Guadeloupe was through Riviere Salee, river through the mangrove swamp which connects the two "wings" which make up Guadeloupe's butterfly shape. This looks very easy on the chart until you realize that the two bridges that need to open in order for our boat to pass only do so at 5:00 AM! Since dawn isn't until about 6:30, this meant we would be navigating a fairly narrow place in the dark, including allowing for a cross current under a bridge which was only 6-8 feet wider than our boat. Another difficulty is the bugs, which are ferocious in the mangrove swamp! Both the spectacular anchorage on the north end of the river and the time saved by not going around the "butterfly wing" make a trip through Riviere Salee worth dealing with the difficulties.
11/26/2006, St. Anne, Martinique
Anchored here at St. Anne, we had a front row seat to the races of traditional Martinique boats called "Yolos". As you can see from the picture, they are very colorful. In some races the boats were using two sails as in this picture and in others only one. Evidently, each boat needs a team of about 10 people complete with matching T-shirts and business sponsers. We even saw teams doing warm-up exercises on the beech prior to the start of the races. Other teams were observed hanging out at the beer tent. Not sure which group was more successful. The boats are VERY tippy, and often the whole team, except the helmsman, would be hanging over the side on the outrigger; and yes, a few boats went over.
Martinique is a delightful place. Although we were aware that this island is a department of France, I was a little surprised at the degree of French influence. Of course, French is spoken locally as well as the island Creole, a mixture of French, Spanish, Amerindian, English, etc. It's not always easy to tell the difference when local people are speaking to each other except the Creole has occasional English, Spanish, German, etc. words in addition to mostly French. In addition to the French language, there is an abundant supply of great French wine reasonably priced, plentiful baggettes, and wonderful food. Paul always includes the prevalence of topless sunbathing in his list, but it's not so important on my list.
A returning traveler shared his cold with us, and we lost a few days on the beach. After we quit sniffling, we left St. Anne and also anchored in Les Trois Ilets and Anse Matin (both inlets in the very large Baie de Fort de France). Our last stop in Martinique was St. Pierre on the western coast. St. Pierre suffered an eruption of the nearby Pele Volcano in the early part of this century which killed almost 30,000 people. Although the town has been rebuilt, there are still interesting ruins especially the coliseum which reminded me a lot of the smaller ones I saw in Italy. St. Pierre is a great stop for cruisers because it has a good anchorage and easy access to shore; but it is not a place that has a lot of tourists usually. So a visitor can get a flavor of life in a traditional Martinique town complete with the local market, a favorite of mine.