03/28/2012, British Virgin Islands
Guadeloupe, Antigua, Barbuda, St Barths, St Martin, Virgin Gorda, I see we have covered a few islands since I last wrote, time for a catch up.
When we were in Isle de Saintes the weather was windy and a bit wet, we had time to look at our schedule, the miles to go, places we wanted to see and the time we had left before flying out of LA on the 14th of May for NZ. We came to the realization that covering the 1500 miles to Florida in time to leave Tuatara was just about impossible as well as stressful, whereas cruising north and enjoying the islands as far as the Virgin Islands then a 500 mile hop down to Trinidad seemed much more inviting. After making the decision we've been able to relax and stop calendar watching but in doing so I have forgotten to keep up the blog!!
We left Isle de Saintes in a brisk 30knots which sent us flying across the small gap to Guadeloupe and as we got in the lee of the big Island we came to a halt on a flat windless sea. The three nights we had on the coast of Guadeloupe were a mix of gusty wind and peaceful calm. Unfortunately the windiest day was at Pigeon Island where there is a Jacques Cousteau Marine park with reputedly excellent diving and snorkeling. With no diving partner handy Alan went snorkeling but the choppy sea and overcast weather meant a not very exciting experience. After clearing out at Deshaies(Deyhay) we had a great sail over to Antigua where we were looking forward to seeing Mike and Carole on Tashi Delik, last seen in Cape Verdes. English harbor and Falmouth Harbour on Antigua are the two of the main centres of yachting in the Caribbean. Antigua race week at the end of April is one of the biggest sailing events in the Caribbean season. We were rather early to see all the race yachts but the two harbours were still full of fabulous vessels of all sizes and propulsion. English harbor is home to the historic Nelsons Dockyard, a tourist destination, a marina with related services, customs offices and when we arrived a hive of activity preparing for the visit from Prince Edward and his wife Sophie. Tashi Delek had prime viewing seats they were in the marina with unimpeded views of the dock where Leander the large motor yacht bringing the Royals was to dock. Being Brits, Mike and Carole were hoping the marina would not move them, with confidence that they would still be there they invited us for breakfast on the Tuesday morning to watch the pomp and ceremony.
Nelsons Dockyard and English Harbour were important servicing areas for the English sailing ship fleet from the early 1700s until the mid 1800s. The English saw the advantage of the harbor as a hurricane hole and a place to hide ships as the entrance is hard to distinguish from seaward. Nelson was Commander there in his late 20s before he returned to England in 1787 and higher things. Nelson did not seem to have a happy time as commander as the locals wanted to keep trading with their American cousins but as Commander he had to stick to the English law and forbid trading with the Rebels, consequently he was not overly popular. It is said he never slept ashore in the official residence because of this but maybe he was just more comfortable in a ships' cabin. When the English Navy decided that they did not need the facilities, the dock yard fell into disrepair but in the 1950s renovations gradually began and now today the area is a charming mix of historical tourism and working marina. I am not sure whether it is always the case but when we were there all the beautiful old style yachts were moored at Nelsons Dockyard and the modern glitzy vessels were over in the more modern surroundings at Falmouth harbor. Nelson's was all varnish, teak decks, wooden spars, sweeping bowsprits and flags dipping off elegant sterns. Falmouth was sleek modern low profile cabins with shiny stainless, large communication domes balancing on 100ft masts, one way glass for anonymity, huge hydraulically lifted chunks of deck and hulls silently opening to reveal an array of toys. Some of these modern vessels wish to be so sleek that their anchors are laid out from underwater trapdoors in the bow.
The place to be in Antigua on a Sunday night is the Jump up at Shirley Heights. Alan and I joined Carole, Mike and their visiting American relatives for the experience. Sunset high above the two harbours accompanied by a steel band, with a plate of fried chicken and salad in hand, magic. A more refined atmosphere than the Gros Islet Jump up at Rodney bay. Both enjoyable in their own ways. After a visit to St Johns on the Monday we checked with Tashi Delik to see if they had been moved, and no our viewing platform was remaining in place for the Royal visit the next morning.
We walked over to English harbor, through the gates no security checks on foot traffic just cars. Wandering across the parade ground to Tashi Delik we mingled with military uniforms, TV presenters and last minute tidy uppers. The long dock that 250ft Leander carrying the Royal couple, was to dock on had been built specially by its owner Sir Donald Gosling so that his boat had enough depth to anchor in. Leander is generally chartered out at the amazing sum of about 440,000, not sure if dollars or Pounds(that's a lot whichever), a week plus fuel. However as this is the Queens Jubilee year and as there is now no Royal yacht, Sir Donald has made Leander available this year for Royal use, completely free of charge to the Queen and the British tax payer. Now that's a seriously rich and generous man.
As our gathering of Brits, Americans and Kiwis ate croissants and sipped coffee, the shiny blue Leander docked a 100 metres away and we watched the crew scurry around washing the back deck ready for the Royal feet, the ship was dressed with flags, a few last flicks of the polishing rags just before the Lady Governor of Antigua went on board to welcome Edward and Sophie. I did note Sir Donald on the top deck checking the proceedings. Once the local dignitaries and military personal lined up, the army band and military guard of honour had shuffled their feet into the correct places we knew the show was about to happen. The Royals and their entourage walked down the dock and the Prince gave us a wave. He also gave us a cheery good morning as he walked past Tashi Delik's stern, in fact I am sure Prince Edward would have rather come and joined us in the shade for coffee instead of inspecting the guard in his hot suit. Although we would have had to squash up a bit as the cockpit of a 39ft yacht is slightly smaller than that of luxurious Leander.
We enjoyed a couple more days in Falmouth harbor before we moved north for a night at Jolly harbor on our way to Barbuda. Beautiful Barbuda is 30 miles north of Antigua. A low flat island, for 150 years was leased by the Codrington family for one fat sheep a year. When King William III awarded the lease it was conditional on the family looking after the inhabitants who were mostly slaves. With emancipation in 1834 the slave became tenants of the land they had worked on for years. To this day only Barbudans have the right to work and live on the land. The Codrington family benefited from the sailing ships which came to grief on the Atlantic coast reef, some say lured onto the reef by the family , there are supposedly around 300 wrecks around the coast of Barbuda.
There are only a couple of resorts on the island, the people of Barbuda like the island the way it is .beautiful and unspoilt. We anchored at Low Bay which is an 8 mile long vision of blue azure water and pink sand. The day we arrived there were only 8 boats, so not exactly crowded. One day there was 20, spread along 8 miles we still had plenty of swinging room. We stayed 7 days and every morning I looked out and said, "isn't this glorious" to the frigate birds flying past.
Barbuda has a large lagoon separated from the sea by a narrow strip of beach. The northern entrance lets in the sea water but is too shallow for all but small fishing boats to access. A portion of the extensive area of mangroves in the north is taken over by the largest Frigate bird colony in the western hemisphere. Water taxis run across the lagoon to the main town of Codrington where yachts clear customs and have lunch nothing else to do there, shopping is limited, "supermarket" shelves were reasonably bare and restaurants limited. Be well stocked if going to Barbuda for a few days, was good advice given to us. One day we arranged for JR to take us to visit the Frigates then into town for a couple of hours before returning to our side of the lagoon. JR gave us a potted history of his adopted home, he came from Antigua 23 years ago but can never have the same rights as island born Barbudans. The Frigates are used to visitors and did not stir as he quietly poled the open boat around the mangroves past nests with fluffy white chicks. The breeding season is coming to an end a few hopeful males were still puffing out their red chests. In a month or so the males leave the females to finish raising the chicks and fly off to Galapagos Islands to start another family. We had seen nesting frigates at Chesterfield reef but it was interesting this time to hear all the information JR had to tell us about these large black birds. For example their legs are only about 3 inches long they never walk only land on branches or their nests. They scoop fish out of the water with their long beaks as they never dive in the sea. Frigates do not have the oil glands other sea birds have so cannot dive into the water.
The taxi boat dropped us in town for our visit to customs and immigration to clear out as well as a lunch. We enquired at the Green door Pub about lunch but he directed us to the restaurant recommended by JR. The score of the Australian/West Indies match was passed on to us as we walked past the bank. Everyone in the Caribbean is cricket mad and they know all the happenings of every cricket match happening in the world at any one time, including the dismal NZ scores against the South Africans.
We had the company of Tony on Tactical Directions and Bruce and Gina of Wyuna while at Barbuda. Both aussies and catamarans not that we hold those things against them especially as their big back decks were ideal for sundowners. The Canadians from the motor vessel Mariner Sojourner joined us on our Frigate bird tour and invited us for drinks aboard. We had been sharing anchorages off and on for weeks but had never met. The men loved the opportunity to look around the Nordhaven, admiring engines, talking about fuel consumption and trim tabs. We agreed Mariner Sojourner was lovely, but we all came back happy with our own boats and the simple systems of sailing boats.
Beautiful Barbuda our top spot so far in the Caribbean, it will take a lot to beat it. We reluctantly up anchored and headed for St Martins the incentive of well stocked marine chandleries and some retail therapy made leaving the blue water and pink sand a little easier.
Sorry about lack of photos. will put some on at next internet stop.
02/23/2012, Iles De Saintes in the Caribbean
Tuatara and crew are slowly wandering our way north, we have put away the Windward island cruising guide and are now thumbing through the Leeward island guide. The sailing is easier as the Leeward Islands curve slightly north west so the NE wind now means slightly eased sheets. The days of banging into a head wind have gone for now. The blustery Christmas winds have eased slightly and 15 to 20 knot trades are more established(except for yesterday a 20 mile trip with around 30knots), the seas in the gaps are still lumpy but manageable. So sailing wise we are enjoying the Caribbean a little more.
As I write this we are in Petite Anse in the Iles de Saintes, the French flag is flying once again EC dollars have been put aside and left over Euros from Martinique retrieved from their hiding place. Changing flags is easy but the money is another story we just get our head around exchange rates then the currency changes plus we have to also know the US dollar rate as lots of things ashore, no matter the country , are quoted in $US. The reason being that the main tourists are from Cruise ships and they deal in US$. For us the ATM spits out Eastern Caribbean dollars or Euros, depending on the country so we are forever saying , "No no what is the price in EC/Euro we don't have dollars, we are not off the ship."
"we are not off the ship, we are off a yacht" are magic words to get rid of a persistent tout, they know we are not prepared to pay the high rates they quote the ship tourists. We have just spent a delightful 10 days in Dominica, the nature island covered in dense rainforests, mountains, waterfalls, hot springs and winding scenic roads. At Roseau we wanted to go and see the Trafalgar falls just about 20 mins out of town, we walked into town noting it was a non cruise ship day so things should be a little cheaper. A taxi driver spotted us as potential customers and said he would take us for a bit of a tour including the Trafalgar falls at the small cost of $150 US. We said ridiculous and walked away to ask about buses at the tourist centre, the lady there was not helpful she just wanted us to take a taxi. Our man was hanging around waiting for us and eventually agreed to a price of 80EC/30US. At the Trafalgar falls we walked the few minutes in off the road to find water gushing down over rocks through the lush green rainforest. The water coming over the rocks is hot, Dominica has a lot of thermal activity. Fred took us down the road a bit further and we had a spa at the nearby sulphur springs. A hot spa on a hot steamy day seemed a bit of a strange thing to do but it was surprisingly enjoyable despite the tropical heat.
Dominica is a beautiful green island full of Eco tourist activities but what we had really come for was Carnival. After Trinidad the Dominican Carnival is supposedly the best in the Caribbean to see. Actually you don't watch a carnival you join in, the people and music surround you so the spectators and the official participants become one big moving, dancing, throbbing mass. Carnival lasted for 2 days in Dominica, but there had been events for weeks leading up to the big party. There were Calypso competitions, Miss Dominica in every form from Ms Plus Size to Miss Teen, Mr Dominica, a children's carnival and these all culminated in a wonderful 2 day party starting at 4am on a Monday morning. The pre carnival events had even reached out to us in the anchorage. Friday and Saturday the music from the street party boomed out over the bay, the problem was that the party started at 2am and on Saturday continued until 10pm at night. Thank goodness Sunday night was quiet, we got a good sleep so we could get up for the 4am start.
As with all things Caribbean the start time was island time, so we could have stayed in bed a little longer but it was fun walking around the streets seeing people dressed up ready for the party to start. We met up with Lofty a London based Dominican home for Carnival and he wandered the streets with us as well as insisting that pre breakfast rums were all part of the Carnival experience. Lofty had been swimming around our boat every morning so we had a local guide. We met lots of his local friends and many from abroad who had also returned for a family visit at Carnival time. Carnival is about fun, loud music, dancing and partying but is also about competition between bands, groups of people who choose a theme and a song. On the first day they parade around the streets in team tshirts bopping along to their music which is booming out of massive speakers on their following truck behind the music truck is the drinks truck which dispenses the sponsors product mainly Kubuli the local beer plus lots of rum and a little water. The team tshirts had been adapted by the ladies to suit their own style, slashes, sleeves cut off, sides and hems trimmed and tied , except for the wording many did not come close to resembling the original product. My whole body vibrated with the pumping music as the parade stalled while the huge music trucks slowed to negotiate corners, deep drains and crowds in the narrow streets of Roseau. The parade went around and around the circuit gathering more and more people each time. Eventually things slowed a bit by 8 am so we took a break and went home for a sleep.
There was more parading in the middle of the day but we went back late afternoon for the evening to see the early morning revelers start all over again. By the time we had watched the parade gyrate past on its third circuit, we were ready for a sit down so we retired to the nearby Ruins Rock café an oasis of relative quiet, a few metres further from the parade we could now just about hear ourselves talk. As the sun disappeared and the street lights came on the parade had grown into a mass of people moving together as one, when the maneuvering trucks stalled the mass still swayed together stopped but not stopping.
Day two, Tuesday, was a more respectable start 10 am. This last parade was more structured the bands were dressed in their themed costumes. Every Miss Dominica, winners and fellow contestants came out in their finery. THE Miss Dominica, beautiful in shimmering rainforest green, had a personal attendant to wipe her brow and give her water. Little girls and boys shimmered in sparkling costumes accompanied by a bevy of water bottle carrying parents. This was a more formal parade after all the bands were being judged so not just any one could join off the street, but it didn't stop the band members stopping and chatting with friends and wandering back to their accompanying drinks truck for a top up. The music trucks were still vibratingly loud, the steel band truck bounced and the stilt walkers danced around the streets. The bands were made up of old and young and the underlying theme of some was the controversial topic of Chinese investment in Dominica. No matter the theme the costumes were spectacular, colourful and well planned. Planning for next year starts straight after Carnival. The winning band, the Thunderbirds had 150 people in it including some of the visiting Chinese workers.
When the parade came around the second time mayhem was starting to take over, obviously the judging had finished. Parents had squeezed into their childrens costumes, the many Miss Dominicas were resting their high heeled feet, Mr Dominica in his African inspired zebra costume had found a lovely young lady to dance along with and the music still boomed out. Once again the Ruins Rock café came to our rescue and provided a welcoming resting place and a cold beer. The Carnival kept going and going, but for us it was over. We had eaten bbq chicken and plantain for two days, our bodies had vibrated with the music and we'd had early morning and late evening rum, it was time to go back to Tuatara for a swim and a rest. We just don't have the stamina of the people of Dominica. The whole population of Dominica is less than 100,000 and its one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean but boy do they know how to party.
The next day Roseau was back to normal, streets clean and swarming with touts selling tours of the island to the cruise ship crowds, the souvenir sellers had reclaimed the waterfront , the custom officer was back in his office. After 6 days the locals were beginning to recognize us it was time to leave. We got our cruising permit and motor sailed the 17 miles north to Prince Rupert Bay where we wanted to see more of the Eco side of Dominica.
The boat boys motor out to meet the yachts as they arrive in Prince Rupert and can arrange a mooring or show you where to anchor as well as suggesting tours they can arrange. The most popular being the boat trip up the Indian river into the rain forest and past another Pirate of the Caribbean film location. After some negotiation 9 yachties were rowed up the river deep into the mangroves, the boa constrictors were elsewhere thank goodness, I did spot a humming bird, a heron and an iguana. The next day we all got together again plus another 4 yachties and toured the northern half of Dominica. More rainforest, fantastic views of the Atlantic coast, the Emerald pool and water fall then back north along the west coast.
The weather forecast was for developing strong winds so we decided as beautiful as Dominica is we needed to move on up to Iles des Saintes. The Saintes are a small group of islands 20 miles north of Prince Rupert bay and just south of butterfly shaped Guadeloupe. The 30 knot wind had already developed but we reefed down and had a quick sail. We are now tucked into Petite Anse, it's a bit breezy , still it's a nice bay for a quiet Sunday, time to get out the Leeward Islands Cruising Guide and see what is ahead of us.
02/04/2012, St Lucia
We are still here in the Caribbean even though the wind is trying its best to pluck us out of most anchorages and send us flying westward. The Tuatara crew are feeling a little underwhelmed with the Caribbean at present, mainly due to the weather. Yes I know, Geoff and Trudi, you and many others told us, "there is always wind in the Caribbean". The NE trades supposedly blow 15 to 20 knots day in day out. I am sure that this year the weather gods had a meeting and decided that's a bit boring and predictable so lets up the tempo a bit. 30 to 35knots sounds a bit more exciting and even tho it's the dry season some rain laden squalls will add to the fun. At this time of year winds called the Christmas winds can blow strongly for days but the locals say these winds now are stronger than usual even for the Christmas winds. The choppy water doesn't make swimming as enjoyable as it could be, leaving the boat for shore excursions means shutting all the hatches...in case it rains ... and coming back to a hot stuffy boat. Time away from the boat is not always relaxing, everytime the wind rattles through the breadfruit trees and makes the coconut palms bend we always hope the anchor is holding Tuatara safe. We should know not to worry by now as our trusty Manson Supreme anchor, kiwi made of course, has very rarely let us down. But not all boats hang nicely on their anchor as Tuatara does.
After we left Carriacou Island we stayed at Mayreau Is and Tobago Cays. The crystal blue water ruffled by the wind didn't deter numerous turtles popping their heads up to check on the above water yachties before ducking down to eyeball the snorkelers. After a couple of rolly windy nights at Tobago Cays we punched our way north, 15 miles in strong head winds and uncomfortable seas to Admiralty Bay on Bequia Island(Beck-way) where we joined two other kiwi boats, Balvenie and Bandit and at last met Andrew and Claire on the Aussie yacht Eye Candy. We had been talking to Andrew for so long on the Magellan Net we felt we had knew him. A couple of days later Irene and Chris on Cutty Hunk sailed into the bay, the kiwis now starting to out number our Australian and American friends. We helped Rob and Dee of Ventana celebrate the completion of their 10 year circumnavigation. They gave us some tips on the Caribbean but did agree things had changed in ten years, mainly the cost of everything, cost is probably the wrong word more like the expense of everything. I continually wonder how the locals can afford to eat, basics such as tomatoes, lettuce and mango we are paying per pound what we would pay in Europe per kilo. Laundry is another issue for a washing machine -less yacht. My wrists start complaining at the sight of a full laundry bag so every now and then I close my eyes to the cost and gladly welcome the chance to easily turn a bag of tangled dirty clothes into fresh smelling smoothly folded ready to use linen.
The Caribbean is not all high costs and windy anchorages, we have managed to find many enjoyable Caribbean experiences. At Bequia we spent an evening listening to a 16 piece steel band. The band had come over from nearby St Vincent or as the locals call it ..the mainland... to open the Bequia music festival. The band played non stop for about 3 hours, the energy and enthusiasm of the young men and woman never faltered. The band was still playing when we all decided at about midnight to go back to our boats as one of our boat neighbours had just got the message they were dragging. One of the big gusts flying across the bay during the evening had caused our neighbour to slide backwards. The crew got back just in time to stop the boat impaling itself on the cargo ship anchored immediately behind us.
After 10 days in Bequia we said good bye to the other Kiwi yachts and headed north to Walliabou bay on St Vincent. The others are heading south to Trinidad and then west. Cuttyhunk is heading back to NZ the others we may see again next year. As we put our mainsail up in the bay a white sheet of rain headed our way and for 5 minutes or so we couldn't see a metre in front of us. After the rain, the wind died a little so we continued hoisting the main and headed north. This was just a short 5 mile hop between islands and when we got in the lee of the mainland the short motor up to Wallilabou bay was accomplished on an almost flat sea. Once again we had to negotiate with the boat boys this time about their costs for taking our line ashore. The bay is deep so yachts anchor or pick up a mooring then tie back to a coconut tree ashore. Med Mooring...Caribbean style.
Wallilabou bay is where 3 of the Pirates of the Carribbean movies were filmed ....well parts of them. The local restaurant has the movies playing and lots of memorabilia scattered around. Many photos of Johnny Depp around but sadly he was not there in person. When cruise ships are in Kingstown, the capital of St Vincent, the Anchorage restaurant and wharf is buzzing with people, cameras clicking the location scenery. Other days it is quiet just a few yachties wandering around possibly avoiding the boatboys in the bay selling anything from jewellery and coconuts to boat cleaning services.
"I have many pretty necklaces"
"No I really don't want any thanks"
"I have coconuts and mango"
"Sorry we have just come from Bequia and have plenty of fruit and veg"
I then think we have exhausted his meagre variety of wares, when he looks down and offers to clean our dirty hull. That's when I opt out of the bargaining and say, "you ask my husband".
We eventually bought guavas and a coconut from a man on the beach who had 5 children. I love guavas so with the combination of guavas and 5 children I was a push over and probably paid him too much. Guavas, passionfruit and mango for breakfast ......lovely.
Millions of cruise ship passengers visit the Caribbean every year, go on package tours, laze on golden beaches and buy a t shirt or two. One of the real Caribbean experiences they miss is a ride between towns in the local mini buses. This is an experience that combines sightseeing and the heart in mouth adrenalin rush of a carnival roller coaster ride. Then there is the squash factor. We have taken bus rides on most of the main islands so far, every driver is not satisfied until 20 backsides large and small are squeezed into the 10 seater van. Too many big people and the boy who collects the money and orchestrates the seating plan has to stand crouched over the passengers with his toes hanging onto the backdoor step. One malfunction of the door and he would be flung out to disappear down the hillside never to be seen again.
The ride from Wallilabou to Kingstown on St Vincent was to date our most, squashed, scenic and "thrilling". We got on at the local stop, the start of the run so the van was virtually empty. The bus boy gradually spotted more and more people to pick up. There are designated bus stops but all bus boys seem to have a built in potential passenger radar spotter. We've been on vans that will reverse way down a road to pick up a passenger spotted by the bus boy. The potential fellow squashie does not run to the bus as we would, they know he will pick them up so why hurry. In the meantime we are wondering where is this person going to perch. No problem , plenty of room, the bus boy has inserted a small cushion in the tiny gap between the bench seat and the fold down seat we all suck in a bit more and another $4 is handed to the driver. Both our St Vincent rides seemed to be full of very large people, maybe St Vincentians are naturally larger than other islands. There were 3 rather large momma's, bopping away to the music, in the back seat. No real room for another bottom but we know from experience there are to be at least 4 in the back seat no matter what. Next stop a very slight young lady got on, her eyes widened with horror as she contemplated the ladies she had to sit with. With some giggling the bopping ladies wriggled over and the young girl wedged herself between two of them. I doubt very much if her bottom touched the seat she just balanced herself on their thighs all the way into town.
For the trip to Kingstown I sat by the window so had a good scenic view of the coast. I also caught the occasional sweet flavor of marijuana which floats on the wind in St Vincent. As we swung around the outside corners the view down below luckily took my attention away from the view ahead which at times didn't include a road surface until seemingly at the last minute the van slid around the corner to attack the next bit of narrow road. On the way home as the corners came rushing towards us, I thought if we go over the edge I won't have to worry about my injuries as the lady next to me, would suffocate me with her ample curves. Sailing across oceans seems far safer than travelling in a Caribbean mini bus, luckily for us on the most part both activities are thoroughly enjoyable.
The heat of bodies lulled me to sleep and I woke up nearly back at Wallilabou and school was out. We stopped by primary school and a couple of the ladies yelled out the window. Playing kids looked up and two little girls skipped out to the road side to be collected by the bus boy and delivered safely across the road to their mothers still in the bus. A cute 5 year old plonked herself down between her mother and I, told the little boy in front of her he was ugly, smoothed her neat blue and white uniform out and smiled sweetly for a photo. These Caribbean ladies learn about style and confidence at a young age!