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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Down for the Count
06/18/2007, Port Zante Marina

When I woke up this morning Randy asked me to check his temperature. For the first time I can remember he had a high fever, 103 degrees! Before we started cruising I stocked up on many over the counter medicines and one of them was a fever reducer. Although Randy didn't have an appetite I gave him a piece of bread and made him take the medicine (he hates to take medicine). He spent all day sleeping and I felt helpless not being able to make him feel better.

What do you do when your husband is sick? Go shopping! Well not for shoes but to get better medicine and healthy groceries. Cindy, Jill and I went to explore Basseterre and look for a drug store. Monday was very lively in the main circuit. We were stopped by many fruit sellers on the street. We paused at a place that sold unfamiliar fruits where Cindy bought Star Fruit and Sour Apples. We have since come to love Soursop and Sour Oranges (like an orange crossed with a lemon) as well. Nothing better than Soursop juice.

After picking up some medicine at the drug store, which was well stocked, and shopping at the market, I went back to the marina to check up on my sick husband. His favorite meal when he's sick is a Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup, not the most nutritious cuisine. So even though I would have preferred to cook something more nutritious, I made him a nice Grilled Cheese to go with Alias.

(This photo shows the view from the Plantation north to Saint Eustatia)

Saint Kitts
Touring Saint Kitts
06/17/2007, Saint Kitts

We took a tour of Saint Kitts today. The typical way to get a tour of most of the Lesser Antilles is to simply hire a cab and tell him to take you on a tour. Some islands have some quality control in this area and others don't. It's best to talk to anyone you are considering for a tour and ask them a few straight forward questions about the country's history and environment. If you find yourself needing hip boots in response to questions as elementary as, "when did your country gain independence?", you might want to check with the next driver. I find that the older guys usually know a lot more about the history and nature of a place. Never can tell though.

We had two choices for our tour. Alfred, an older gentleman, and Junie, a younger go getter. We were walking to the marina office on our first day in when two cab drivers both started talking to us concurrently. Soliciting our business and arguing with each other in alternating bursts. We ended up using both throughout the week but Junie happened to be on hand this morning.

We started out with a little tour of Basseterre. Like most towns settled by the French, English and Spanish, there are churches marking the center of town. Sometimes Catholic, sometimes Anglican, sometimes otherwise, but always one of the oldest and grandest structures in the area. Basseterre has a little town center that is rumored to be modeled after Piccadilly Circus in London. I didn't really get that but it is a neat area of town.

Saint Kitts is a good sized island and has the shape of an hourglass with the north portion much larger than the southern. The northern part has large volcanic peaks covered in rain forest, lots of sugar cane fields in the lowlands, and small villages dotting the rocky coast line. The southern part has the sandy beaches and is where the tourist resorts are located. Basseterre is the only real city and it sits at the bottom of the leeward side of the northern part of Saint Kitts just above the apex of the hourglass.

We drove up the west coast of the island and through many nice little villages making our first stop at an old sugar mill then on to the botanical gardens. The farther up hill you go the greener everything gets. We had lunch at an old plantation house with sweeping vistas of Saint Eustatius to the north. Many of the plantation houses in the Caribbean have been converted into bead and breakfast places.

I spent a bit of time in a hammock with Roq at the lunch spot. One reason was that they didn't allow dogs in the dinning area, but also because I was starting to feel like I was coming down with something. I hate being sick in a foreign country.

The sugar cane farms that stand in disrepair all over the island have almost all been shut down. This is an unfortunate affair because it used to be Saint Kitts' number one business. The sugar was shipped to various places but principally the UK. As other parts of the world got into the sugar business, Saint Kitts found itself producing the cane at a loss. The government owned all of the fields and over the last two years they shut the entire industry down. Some of the fields have been burned to make way for new crops or other uses for the land. Others fields just grow wild. There is a Sugar Cane train that has turned to tourist duty but it only runs during high season, mostly for the cruise ship folks, at $85 a head.

The colonial powers were good at building churches but also forts. There's a nice one here on Saint Kitts. The fort is high on a rocky bluff and affords spectacular views west and north. You have to pay a few Eastern Caribbean Dollars to get in but like most attractions on Saint Kitts the experience is fairly organic.

We wrapped up the day with a drive down the rugged windward coast and a little trip around the touristy south node of the island. We had enjoyed good food and seen a great many interesting sights covering most of Saint Kitts. The tour cost $150 (US) for the 5 of us, plus food and park fees.

Saint Kitts
Cruising the Marina
06/16/2007, Saint Kitts

Day two in Saint Kitts and we had lots of work to do. Our first task was to wait for Captain Fantastic to move his 70 foot charter cat out of our slip (really a concrete wall with cleats, do I sound bitter?). This happened fairly early and we moved the boat over quickly so that we could get on with clearing in.

Clearing in took another trip to the cruise ship dock (pictured) to talk with Ozzy again. This time he had the correct forms. I don't know if he had slept though. He offered to take Cindy and I (the designated clear in committee for this port) up to the airport for immigration. Great! He also took us on a tour along the way. I particularly remember him showing us Irish Town and telling that it was rather dangerous with nothing but rum halls, drugs and bad guys. Then he started honking his horn and waving. He exclaimed, "that's my cousin, he got shot in the head but he's strong like an ox." Then after a reflective pause, "don't talk to him...".

Immigration at the airport was, well, immigration at an airport. Pretty predictable. Ozzy dropped us right back at the marina and went on about his day. Not too many places where the customs officials drive you to immigration and give you a complementary tour. Great people in my book. I must say that while Saint Kitts has not grabbed me so far (give it a chance I know), the people have been pretty great.

When we returned the KFII and SOAS crews were looking for a down day. So we all just hung out, played risk and planned our tour of the island for tomorrow.

Saint Kitts
To Statia and on to Saint Kitts
06/15/2007, Saint Kitts and Nevis

We got up early to get the boat ready so that we could clear out when the Saint Barts office opened at 7:30. We had been keeping close tabs on the weather as we always do but with extra trepidation now. It is two weeks into the official Hurricane season and two weeks until our insurance requires us to be south of 12 degrees north for named storm coverage. 12 north is 350 miles from here.

After clearing out, Swingin' on a Star headed into the Caribbean Sea making way for Saint Eustatius, also known as Statia. We were going on cruising guide information only. I was interested because it sounded remote like Saba, but it was more on the way. Both Statia and Saba are supposed to have wonderful diving so I was looking forward to getting in a dive or two as well.

The wind was up around 15-20 and we were on a shallow broad reach. The seas were up a bit, but on the quarter, so not so bad. Kelp Fiction was already cleared out so we had to play catch up. We could barely see them on the horizon as they heckled us on the VHF. Once we found the groove Swingin' on a Star stepped up to about 9 knots and we started to reel them in.

At noon the two boats rounded the north side of Statia together. Statia is a big rock, ex-volcano, with a big oil operation and typically several tankers filling up the bunker. This happens via off shore lines to huge moorings (don't hit one of these!). We were watching the tankers on our AIS as we approached.

We tried to avoid the restricted zones around the tankers as best as possible while still sailing in the fluky winds wrapping around the cape with gusts up to 30 knots. As we closed on the main anchorage and only port (pictured) there was a group sigh.

Not the highly protected beautiful scenery of the Bahamas. I'm sure that it would have been fun to explore for a day but the anchorage was not as advertised and the little breakwater was packed with commercial boats. Any of the questionable moorings we took (assuming you'd rather not anchor in 50 feet of water) would be pretty rolly.

This is anathema to the Kelp Fiction crew. I've know folks who like flat anchorages but Fred will sail for a month rather than stop somewhere that rolls a bit. Fred motored by as we were surveying the bleak coastline, quacked some colorful language over the winds howl and headed south. Saint Christopher here we come.

By one o clock we were heading down across the channel to Saint Christopher, Saint Kitts for short. It was a close hauled sail and decidedly less fun than the nice reach to Statia. Once we came along the north western tip of Saint Kitts the wind did its standard gust like crazy while backing trick, then flat died. We motorsailed in the gusty lee of Saint Kitts down to Basseterre, the capital.

We didn't really see any nice anchorages on the way down and the cursing guide was not very optimistic either. Basseterre was kinda bleak but it did have a big industrial looking cruise ship dock and a small marina. The town itself is large and has some really nice areas. There are also some not so nice areas. Stay out of New Town and Irish Town.

I don't really like marinas, unless they are un-marinas like Saint Barts. The whole fun of being out and about on a boat in beautiful far flung places just doesn't come through when you are in a marina. Good for working on the boat and loading/unloading guest but not for me in general. This marina looked like the only shelter here however and it was getting on towards four in the afternoon.

We were a little bit ahead of KFII so we hailed them and all agreed to park for the night. It was pretty windy as Hideko and I maneuvered on to the fuel dock to fill up. Hideko is getting great at handling the lines and her throwing arm is impressive. She used to chuck the lines two feet out right into the water while we were still 10 feet off the dock. Now she waits until we're on and hands them over, or in this case as the bow was blowing off, does a clean 7 foot side arm toss right into the dock hands chest.

Kelp Fiction came in and we helped them on to the dock. Everything here is stern to with mooring balls for the bow line. It is nice to be a cat because the mono hulls have to go two to a slip, your neighbor may not tie up as nicely as you do. Unfortunately a fairly rude day charter skipper took my spot as we were getting ready to move. The dock master was fairly upset but the guy just parked and left. We ended up on the fuel dock for the night.

Everyone was tired from a long day but the dock master insisted we go to clear in. It was six PM and I was a little skeptical. Cindy and I did as we were told however and went over to the cruise ship dock. Surprisingly customs and the harbor master were both in. The customs officer was a character. He was fun and informative to talk to but I think a little sleep deprived. He works 48 hours on and 72 off. In the end he didn't have the right forms. So back tomorrow. We stopped at the harbor master and checked in with them for about $20 EC. It is 2.67 eastern Caribbean dollars to the US dollar so that's pretty cheap. All of the former British colonies use the EC. The French folks are pretty much Euro these days. Everyone takes US, though they may work you over a little with the exchange rate.

After wrapping up with the harbor folks we headed back to the marina. The security at the marina is great. Concrete walls and wire fences with full time guards. Not all that pretty but you certainly feel safe. The cruise ship pavilions packed with duty free stores and the Caribbean's 4,367th watch, jewelry, booze and perfume stores are somewhere between done and half way done. There's a lot of construction on the warf.

No problem for me, I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

Saint Kitts
Touring Saint Barts
06/14/2007, Saint Barts

Fred, Cindy, Jill, Hideko and I rented a car today and circumnavigated Saint Barts. As you drive up the hill toward the air port your get to an area with nice shopping some resorts on the coast (sushi on the beach anyone?) and some great eateries.

As you continue on north you get into a more sparse setting with a lot of natural beauty. Many parts of Saint Barts are still not accessible by road. Anse De Colombier is one of those places and looks like a great anchorage largely for that reason.

The Atlantic side of Saint Barts has beautiful beaches and lots of rough rocky coastline as well. We stopped at two beaches and both were fantastic. My personal favorite was Anse de Grande Saline. As the name implies there is a large salt pond inland of the beach where you park the car. It is stinky. Once you get to the beach though all ill aromas are forgotten. This has to be one of the top ten beaches in the Carib. We spent a good part of the day swimming and playing in the waves. The sand is perfect and the bottom is pure sand so you don't have to worry about slicing your feet up or squashing marine life.

A great day only slightly overshadowed by the fact that tomorrow we would sail away.

When we returned to the boat we noticed that the quay was getting packed. There were four or five mega yachts in residence now. The harbor staff work in the office right where we're tied up and it is funny to hear their shtick. "You can tie up along side for now but we may have you come stern to if more boats arrive." They told us that every day we were there. They did ask Kelp Fiction to move onto the moorings in the parking lot 100 feet away this morning so that a boat could come in to get water but other than that things are pretty slow off season.

It must be amazing at Christmas time when the place is packed with 120 footers stern to one after another and the outer harbor has boats anchored half way to Saint Martin. I think I'll watch the video.

Saint Barts
Chillin' in Saint Barts
06/13/2007, Gustavia

You know that excitement you get when you score the best parking spot at the office? Well that's how we felt. There was no better place to put your boat in the whole island. I was very happy.

There was a park running along the quay to the left with beautiful grass and lots of trees. A dog friendly cafe sat close by on the waterfront with fresh croissants and excellent coffee. Roq was very happy.

There were gourmet shops, restaurants and even a warehouse type food store. Hideko was very happy.

Saint Barts is not cheap but it is a beautiful place. We looked at some of the houses for sale just for fun. I can tell you for certain that this place is over bought. The investment era is over, prices are in the lifestyle only zone.

They have an airport but it is situated so that planes have to nearly take the roofs off of cars on the road at the top of the hill as they dive bomb their way down the hill side to land and stop before they bob into the lagoon at the end of the short run way.

Kelp Fiction had a rolly night in the bay and moved into the harbor today. We all went out to a great cafe for a nice dinner of steak frites. We were supposed to leave today but the two crews were unanimous in the decision to stay a few days.

Saint Barts
Sailing to Saint Barts
06/12/2007, Saint Barts

We got up at 7 to get the boat ready. It was such a beautiful anchorage we hated to leave but by 9 Kelp Fiction was coming around Saint Martin and it was time to head out. Cindy had done an amazing job sewing up the bimini, it looked like new. When we inquired Fred said that they didn't go ashore for dinner. Sure Fred.

We had a nice couple/three hour sail over to Gustavia in Saint Barts. I always like to anchor in the more remote spots but between the 5 of us we decided to move straight into Gustavia as we needed to get south. We passed the island Ill Fourchue and Anse De Colombier (a bay on the northwest side of Saint Barts) and both looked lovely.

As we came into Gustavia Bay we noticed a whole much of kids racing small sailboats. Some of them were real hams and spent more time entertaining us than sailing. We also saw a turtle swimming around the anchorage which is always a good sign.

The anchorage in the fairly open bay outside of Gustavia is pretty crowded. A lot of the boats look like they are rooted for the summer. After surveying the place we decided that the north side of the bay looked least crowded and swelly. Traveling with friends on a mono gets you a lot more tuned into the swell in a place.

As we drove through the north side of the anchorage I noticed that the place was pretty tightly packed with mooring balls. I didn't really know what the mooring ball rules were here as the cruising guide didn't say much about it. I noticed an odd hole in the middle of the mooring field. After a quick pass Hideko and I decided to try to fit in.

We anchored and set on a short scope. Even snugged up we were probably liable to get a bit close to some of the other boats if the wind shifted greatly. No predicted but you never know. I jumped in to look at things underwater.

Ah ha! No wonder there was a hole in this exact spot. Right off our bow was a beautiful, perfect mooring. It had a cracked ball full of water sitting on the bottom but otherwise idyllic. I hauled the mooring up and Hideko tied us off. Now we were really set! It would have been a hassle to bring the anchor up at this point so we just left it down as it would be inoperative for our stay.

Fred, Cindy and Jill came along right about then. I love watching Fred motor through an anchorage. The people who owned Kelp Fiction prior to Fred and Cindy we named the "Aets". The Aets made a whole in the top of the Amel dodger to allow the helmsman to stand up and see out. Fred refers to this addition as the Aets Hole. Watching him cruise by with his head sticking out of it always makes me smile. Fred anchored on the north side but a ways out.

As Kelp Fiction got settled Hideko and I hopped in the dinghy and headed in to town to clear in. The inner Gustavia harbor is immaculate. It is by far the cleanest port I have found in the Caribbean. There are large walls set up for stern to docking all around the harbor and the center is full of tightly spaced moorings that boats tie up to bow and stern. The effect is something like a parking lot at a shopping mall, but more, say, nautical. Cute little shops and bistros line the quay and the hills above. It is picturesque to say the least.

We cleared in and the staff were very professional and courteous. When I asked if we could come into the harbor they said sure and told us to tie up along side right up front. Wow. During high season there would be a row of 150 footers waiting to go stern to in that much space. As much as I hated to give up our nifty re-floated mooring spot we couldn't pass the offer up. We zipped back to the big boat and moved into Saint Barts.

Saint Barts

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