With only two months left in our journey, we have made the decision to head back north up the BVI. Although we will miss the Grenadines, we chose to go north to get some boat maintenance done. We also don't know where we will be leaving Windancer at the end of the trip and wanted to explore options in the BVI and perhaps Florida.
In the last week we have travelled back from Dominica to Guadeloupe, two days in Antigua and then to her sister island, Barbuda which is a long, low island about 30 nm north of Antigua.
The island only has 1700 inhabitants and is beautiful with soft whitish, pink beaches. We anchored off Coral Point with 4 other boats. The water was clear, the snorkelling good and the beaches pristine.
On our second night there, after Connor was dinghy fishing and caught a yellow tale snapper, John said it would be very cool to see a shark come eat the snapper we had hooked over the side of the boat. Suddenly I heard a 'phwish' sound and looking over my shoulder, saw a fin. With heart in my throat, i glimpsed again and to my relief realized that a dolphin was swimming beside our boat in 10 ft of water. It hung out a bit and then headed back to sea. A close encounter of the good kind.
The next morning we left at dawn to make the 80 nm to St Martin. Before noon we hooked 5 and brought 4 barracudas on board. They are a pain to catch as we always release them, but you have to be very careful or they can take your finger off. We were skunked the rest of the day, but enjoyed our downwind sail and arrived at 6 pm in Marigot.
Back to the land of French bread and awesome chandleries. We are making our way to Anguilla in the next few days before heading back to the BVI, our home away from home.
Our day started with the scare of the shoes. Then Alexis and Junior showed us the Indian River. Finally we met Kevin who is a lean guy, not tall but not short. He has a bald head and a beard. We had heard a fair bit about him from our friends on Solitaire and all of it positive. He was to take us on an island tour in his minivan. We asked and he answered. That was how the trip was. As we set off on this excursion I asked Kevin to point out every fruit or nut tree he saw. We had not been underway for more than 10 minutes when Kevin pointed out a banana plantation. These trees resemble palm trees but instead of coconuts there are small branches with sprouts and a large, maroon, oval at the end of the branch. When the bananas begin to emerge from the sprouts the farmers place blue plastic bags over the branch to keep bugs and rats out. We were passing this when Kevin stopped suddenly, but not so suddenly as to cause whiplash. He quickly mentioned ripe bananas and hopped out of the car. He made his way deeper into the plantation, staying within view the entire time. He returned with six of the freshest bananas around. The bananas were not too firm and not too soft, not over ripe but not under ripe. I believe one word to define that would be perfect.
We continued on around the northern tip of the island. We were driving when Kevin again stopped. This time he jumped out and ran over to some ladies on the side of the road. He returned with 8 mangos for 2 E.C. dollars (the equivalent of roughly 1 Canadian dollar). I always thought there was one kind of mango. Wrong. There are two that I know of, normal and a green, sweeter one. I have always had my mangos nicely sliced but today it was the opposite. We were to peel the skin off with or teeth and throw it out the window. Then suck all the juice and fruit possible off the pit. MMMMMMM...
We continued on around one of the lushest islands I've ever seen. We stopped again but this time everybody got out. We had reached the cocoa tree that I had been so excited for. The pods were higher up than the tree than I could reach. Dad and Kevin picked three pods and were headed back to the car when I spotted another pod. I began to climb the tree when I saw it! A black centipede! I retreated down the tree at an alarming pace. I called Mom over and with her camera drawn we approached. I never did get that one pod that I spotted.
A few minutes later we entered the Caribe reservation. The Caribe reservation is where the Caribe Indians live. They don't wear loin cloths, paint their faces with battle paint or carry spears or bows and arrows. They live and dress as everyone else does. They still do things traditionally though, such as living or making cassava bread. Cassava bread is made from root of the cassava plant. Cassava bread is a sailors dream, filling, tasty (in my opinion) and never goes bad. We continued on to a "locals" restaurant. It did have a great view but any local who eats there is either very rich or given a better deal than that that was given to us. None of the food Jenny liked, so we got back into the van; Kevin was just finishing off a 'local Dominican cigarette', if you catch my drift.
We asked Kevin to stop at a real local's restaurant, a road-side stand that sells roast chicken, roti, or something a little more island. Our next fruit was the guava. We stopped and my first question was, "Is it wild?" Some plants that are even in the most remote places may be owned by somebody. Kevin and I ventured into the grove of wild trees, using my shirt as a bag. We collected about a dozen and a half. When I dumped them on the seat of the van Mom pointed out ants and backed off, my only comment was "Don't worry, Kevin says they don't bite!"
We turned inland and made our way to Spanny Falls. The roads were narrow and we nearly got into a collision twice. As we rounded one bend Kevin stopped off to the side of the road, a coffee tree. He and I crossed the street and began collecting, after only six or so we scurried away, because coffee trees house biting ants. As we walked to Spanny Falls my concentration went from finding fruit to finding a boa constrictor! We found none and swam in the falls without one spotting. The falls are about 100 feet tall and run off into a pool. We hiked over a ridge and swam in the second of the brother and sister falls.
When we dried off and got in the car I asked what other fruits we would see, his reply, "Now we hunt for a wild apricot tree!" when he found one, we all got out. I spotted a termite nest beside the tree and Jenny almost didn't accompany us. The apricots Kevin picked were the size if a softball and bigger, and those were the small ones. As we drove up the west coast of the island Kevin finally spotted a roadside stand. Jenny got chicken, Dad got dorado and I got a patty made from whole fish as long as your fingernail the width of an eraser shaving. These little fish beach themselves in hundreds once a month. The second stand we stopped at sold whole, roasted plantains, a thing that appears to be a thick banana and contains starch like a potato. While we drove the crew of Windancer except for myself dozed off and left Kevin and I to discuss a wide range of topics from favourite fish to snakes. Some say St. Martin is the culinary capital of the Caribbean, I say it's Dominca!
On April 23 Connor stated ''I want to catch big tuna'' and that's where it all began. We were sailing down the coast of Guadeloupe doing 9 knots when Connor looked over his shoulder and yelled '' fish on''. He ran down to the starboard stern and tried to reel it in. He could not get it so he called dad. Mom stayed on the bridge trying to slow us down and looked over her shoulder and saw the other line was tight. She ran and told Connor to slow the boat down. The only way we could slow down was if we turned into wind. As we did mom and dad raced to bring in two black fin tunas. After the traditional photos, dad filleted the smaller one (5 pounds, 20 inches). After the first one was done we decided to steak the other one. In order to do that you need to take out the guts, liver, stomach ect. Now that's one way to learn. Then you cut off the head and then slice about 2.5 cm. for each steak. We got about 8 steaks; now that's a nice meal. Also there was a whole bunch of little pieces that dad could not salvage and they became bait for Connor and his dinghy fishing. Connor and I took photos kissing the fish head. Now if you do not call that gross then there is something wrong with your head.
Connor as crew member aboard Vrijgezeilig...
20/04/2009, Carlisle Bay, Antigua, WI
On Saturday, April 18th, Windancer IV and her crew, who included the MacKenzie and Smith families, motored upwind, in light and comfortable conditions, and anchored in CarlisleBay, Captian John's favourite spot in the Leeward Islands. It was to be the Smith's last full day in the tropics, and we decided to make the best of it.
Shortly after arrival, Connor M and John swam to shore, and the rest of the team followed shortly thereafter in the dinghy. The afternoon was spent lounging by Carlisle Bay Resorts amazing freshwater pool. Upon our return to the vessel, Connor took it upon himself to rig the Bosun chair, a devise used to "scale the mast".
Connor M was the first to ascend to the top spreader, some 45+ feet above the surface of the water. While the Smith boys contemplated life high in the sky, Jennifer took the second up the mast. Not to be outdone, Connor S took to the skies, enjoying the ride high above the beautiful anchorage. Devon was hesitant, but in the end, very willing to join the rest of the crew on a ride to view life from above.
As with so many things in life, and amongst friends (and families), peer pressure can get the best of you. In this case it was the kids, who stuck there thumbs under their armpits, and waved their elbows in the air, while making the classic chicken sound - "Cluuuccckk-cluck-cluck-cluck,,,,". Alice was go to go, never to be outdone by her brave sons. And Alice joined the brave group that ventured above the decks of Windancer IV, and enjoyed a rare view of life from a few stories above the surface of the sea.
Shortly after the high-wire event, the crew worked together to cook a final feast worthy of a king, compliments of Smith's. Steak is a rare meal aboard the ship, mainly because we are thousands of miles away from beef country (Alberta or Texas), and generally speaking, a healthy beef cow is a rare sight in the Caribbean - goats and chickens run free in the streets, but beef cows, let's just say the Caribbean imports most of it's meat.
After an amazing dinner, thanks to the entire crew for helping cook, clear and clean, the adults took their positions at the cockpit table to complete a final round of the Euchre Tournament. This night was merely a formality, the guys had already won the tournament, game set and match days before, with stunning play. But the ladies staged a mini-comeback, and being good sports, we decided to let the girls have one final hurrah.
The stage was set, and the girls pulled off a lucky win in the first game. But miracle aren't easy to come by. During the second game (FYI - the girls would have had to wins both games ten to nil to even be considered as the tourney champions, but that was not in the cards) the guys never let up, and with Mike's amazing skill and a few gutsy calls by both Mike and Captain John, victory was in the bag.
One funny aside, to take the edge off the fierce competition. During the game, Devon decided to pee off the side of the boat. FYI, peeing overboard is forbidden aboard Windancer IV, primarily because most casualties at sea are found with their zippers down. But while at anchor, it is a time honoured tradition to relieve ones self over the side of the vessel. Devon wanted to complete his adventure at sea with a wee, but as he passed Alice in the cockpit, and unbeknownst to the rest of the crew, but within earshot of brother Connor S, he told his mom his intentions. "Just don't fall overboard" she replied.
Well, moments later, a quiet "plop" was heard. Had it not been for Alice, the Euchre game would have continued. Alice calls out "Devon, Devon, DDEEVVOONN!". "I'm OK" Devon replies while swimming back to the ladder at the stern of Windancer. "Do you have your glasses" a worried Alice replies. "Ya, Mom, I've got them. " As Devon climbed aboard, dripping, fully clothed, after a late night unscheduled dip in the ocean only to say - "I thought the lifelines (the wires around the boat the keep crew and contents from going overboard) were in place. As it happens they were not, and our friends Devon, God love him, took a tumble off the side. Funniest thing is, and bless his soul, not a peep out of the guy on his way down - not a "Holly F$#&" or a "AHHHHHHH...", just a nearly silent "plop".
We miss the Smith family and wish them well. The trip home had it's moments, but they arrived safely back in Toronto just the same. I want to thank the Smith family, and all our great family and friends that have made this trip truly the trip of a lifetime - best wishes to all.
19/04/2009, Portsmouth, Dominica
Never trust an island that boasts "the friendly island" on its license plate. Instead, meet the people and let them be a testament to the friendliness of their island.
Earlier this week, while on Dominica, we experienced friendliness at its best. We had arrived mid afternoon and hooked up for the evening with our friends Barry and Allison and their children, Kayla and Quinn, from Solitaire. Having already spent a week on the island, they gave us the run down on provisioning, tours and boat boys. As you arrive in Portsmouth, the second largest town on the island, you are greeted by River Guides in small fishing-type boats, who are government sanctioned and do everything from arranging river tours, picking up garbage, and delivering ice and fruit. Upon the recommendation of Solitaire we hooked up with Alexis. Once you have a guide, the other guides leave you alone. There are secondary boat boys who paddle on windsurfers and offer to take your garbage. This is okay in the boat boy system, so on the first evening, we handed all our garbage to one of the windsurfer boat boys.
Well, if you recall from a few blogs ago, we had gone hiking in Guadeloupe and our runners were filthy. What do our dirty shoes have to do with the friendliness of the islands? Whoa, I am getting there. Turns out we had stowed our runners in a garbage bag and pulled the bag out of storage just before the garbage boy arrived on board. See where I am going? With our other two bags, we handed them four very dirty pairs of runners.
When we woke up at 630am the next morning to embark on our river and island tour, we realized that we did not have any shoes. And today, we needed our shoes to hike to the Spanny Falls in the rainforest. So, when Alexis arrived to take us on the River Tour, we shared our dilemma. Without a word, he motored off and 15 minutes later, returned with four pairs of sparkly clean runners. Turned out the garbage collecting boat boy gave them to another woman and she in turned bleached them and put them on her roof to dry. Alexis had seen the shoes on his way to pick us up and simply went to the house, explained the situation and returned with our shoes.
In an almost third world county, I am sure a couple of pairs of Nikes and Reeboks are worth quite a bit. But the people are honest and the return of our shoes came without incident. We went on the River Tour with Alexis and Junior, who is training to be an official River Guide and then followed this up with an all day tour with Kevin who took us around the island sharing the sites and natural fruits of this very tropical, very lush island. And it came as no surprise the next morning that the garbage collecting boat boy came by and politely requested some cash to pay the woman who washed all our shoes. The payment and tip came easily.
No 'friendly island' license plate; just friendly, honest people. Dominica will go down in my mind as one of the friendliest places we have been.
(Stay tuned for "On the Hunt for a Wild Apricot Tree" by Connor and pictures to be posted.)
18/04/2009, Falmouth Harbour, Antigua, WI
Well the week is over and it sailed by too quickly.
The Smith's have sailed in the ocean, caught and ate fresh tuna, swam and snorkelled in many shades of unbelievable blue water, felt sea sick, slept on the trampoline, held live starfish, picked sea shells, ate better meals than I cook at home, drank (must stay hydrated ;o), made new friends (I've always loved the Brits), watched movies, played euchre, read, did homework, jumped off the back of the boat, fallen of the side of the boat (Devon went into the record books for this one which I'm sure will be detailed in a further blog), shopped in stores where a box of cereal is $8 but a 1.7L bottle of rum is $11, was hoisted up the mast, sailed the Windancer IV and pondered why anyone would want a mono haul vs. a catamaran. We have not missed many of the "luxuries" of home (we take too much for granted). I appreciated my hot, navy shower every night.
All the MacKenzie's have been incredible hosts!!!
Captain John, aka Skipper Extraordinaire, Sailing Instructor, Head Chef and Bartender
First Mate Ziggy, aka Co-Captain (in all aspects of life of the boat - wife, mother, teacher, sailor, chef), Fishing Instructor, Literary God and Grammar Nazi
Dinghy Captain Connor, aka Amazing Host to Devon & Connor S happily showing them the "ropes" (but they are called lines on a boat), Crew, Fisherman and Wikipedia on legs
Cruise Director Jenny, aka Head Pastry Chef, Assistant to Ziggy and the Sunshine of the boat
All in all it has been an amazing experience and one the older Smith's are not likely to do again. I sincerely hope the Smith boys will. So with much gratitude and appreciation, we THANK YOU very much for allowing us to be a part of your journey and life! Cheers!!!
17/04/2009, Passage from Jolly Harbour to Carlisle Bay, Antigua
I was very excited that I got to be the Helmsmen ( co-captain) when we left Jolly Harbour today (Saturday) and sailed to Carlisle Bay.
Captain John was my sailing coach. Coming out of the harbour was a little bit tricky because I had to sail between buoys, poles and ships.
In the open water, I put the vessel on auto pilot. I learned to steer 10 degrees to port (turn left) and 10 degrees to starboard (turn towards the right). When I was sailing we saw a quite a few sea turtles but we didn't catch any fish, that was kind of disappointing.
It was cool to be in control. "Coach" John was a great coach and it was an exhilarating experience. I'm so glad the MacKenzie's invited us on their boat. I wish it did not have to end.
A NEW LIFE EXPERIENCE!
Throughout this week we have encountered many new experiences that we will remember for the rest of our lives. Within the first 24 hours, we saw a dog maul and sadly kill a lamb even though John, Connor M, and Devon tried to make a daring rescue attempt. We also jumped off a dinghy going at high speeds and saw Connor fall and hurt his back on a skin board. We went to Nelson's Dockyard and saw all of the Oyster boats preparing for the Regatta. Oyster boats are a very expensive type of sail boat; some would call them the Rolls Royce of sail boats.
Over the next couple days we went to Green Island and St. John, the capital of Antigua, where we snorkelled on a coral reef and saw lots of cool coral and fish. During our time at Green Island we found many conches that are beautiful colours. After we travelled to St. John and ate lunch, John luckily checked the boat and saw the Windancer IV floating away! With the help of Connor they made a dramatic rescue of the boat. We also bought DVD movies and experienced the world's best ice cream. From St. John, we went snorkelling on another coral reef where we saw sting rays, sea turtles, and a school of flying fish. Later that day we went to Jolly Harbour and had a Fish Fri and great fried chicken. The rest of our time at Jolly Harbour was spent swimming in a pool with the perfect temperature and we almost caught a huge tarpon down by the docks!
We are very grateful to have been on a boat with as great of sailors and hosts as the Mackenzie's are.
15/04/2009, Jolly Harbour, Antigua
The Smith Family Blog (sitting in Jolly Harbour, Antigua drinking a Carib, soaking up some rays and wondering "isn't everyone doing this today?)
We have two days left in our trip and are having a fantastic time. The MacKenzie's have been tremendous hosts. There's Captain John (John's quite the skipper, he can park this sucker like nobody's business. Try parallel parking a bus and I think you'll get the idea and I've only heard the word "mutiny" twice, ok three times tops). First Mate Ziggy is John's right hand (wo)man (although at times I have sensed some tension. Once we were coming into harbour with Ziggy at the helm and another boat was crossing in front of us Ziggy asked John what she should do and John replied "Don't hit him". Ziggy punched him (which I thought merited a walking of the plank, at least some time in the brig. She got off scott free. Boy I miss the 1700's). Dinghy Captain Connor, who has been a great host to Devon and Connor as well as a great help to the Captain and First Mate (one thing that hasn't changed is Connor's ability to barrage you with facts and information that he shares with you regardless of their relevance or lack thereof). Lastly, there is the Cruise Director Jenny who is quiet, sweet and cute as a button (yes she seems a little out of place in this bunch). Add to this crew Communications Director Connor Smith (I give him this title as his biggest concern is when we'll be close enough to land for an internet connection so he can e-mail his girlfriend). Special Events Director Devon Smith (when are we going to fish, when are we going to snorkel, when are we going to sail....). Purser Alice Smith (because at least three times a day she says "Has anybody seen my purse"). And last but not least (ok maybe least) Me. I'm going with Beverage Director as it seems my role is to drink as much of John's beer as I can.
It would be nice to think we're getting special treatment but the truth is I think they treat all of their visitors this well. John and Ziggy put out a pretty nice spread. We've had BB'Q'd fish, chicken with risotto and Caesar salad, bacon and eggs, pancakes etc. Yep the MacKenzies are really "roughin" it at sea.
We have had great weather every day has been around 30 C with sunshine and a fresh breeze coming out of the east that makes it very comfortable. We have seen some beautiful scenery, rays, sea turtles, coral reefs, caught a 4 lb Tuna (which Devon and Connor reeled in and John filleted on the spot and made into the freshest sushi you'll ever see) and sailed at 10 knots in 8 ft + seas (which I'm told is pretty fast). And that was just Monday. The highlight of the trip has to be our nightly euchre games where John and I are absolutely schooling Ziggy and Alice. John is very competitive which I did know but I didn't realize how competitive. The ladies had the temerity one night to actually win a game and the next morning I arose to find Ziggy sleeping on the couch. That may have been one of the times I heard the word mutiny. We've also witnessed the boating phenomena called "dragging". This is where you anchor and are seemingly secure only to find out that sometime later you are moving. One night we anchored and I was awake first. I looked out the window and was pretty sure we had moved. Since we didn't seem to be moving any longer I decided against waking Captain John. He came up a while later looked out the window and went "Oops" (apparently that's a nautical term as I've heard it quite a bit this week). The second time we had anchored at the capital city of St. John to go in for some lunch and shopping. As I waited to pay the bill Captain John went sprinting by me doing his best Jesse Owens impersonation. John had taken a peek to check on the boat to see it floating backwards towards a rock wall. Captain John was able to dinghy out and avert disaster.
We've also had the pleasure of meeting and socializing with some of the friends the MacKenzie's have made on this adventure. It helps you understand why this has been such a "Fantastic Voyage". We are so grateful to have been a small part of it.
Well when I sat down to type I said this would be a one Carib blog and the lack of beer in my bottle tells me that my time is up. We'll see you all back in the real world.
12/04/2009, Falmouth Harbour, Antigua, WI
The Arrival of the Smiths
After almost a week enjoying various anchorages and beauty of Antigua, we welcomed our friends, Mike, Alice, Connor and Devon Smith, from Mississauga. Mike, or as he is known to our Connor, is Coach Mike, Connor's hockey coach for the last few years with the Port Credit Storm.
Before the Smiths arrived, we have played in Jolly Harbour enjoying their pool and the best fried chicken this side of KFC. We rounded the southern side of the island, starting in crystal clear shallow waters laden with turtles making our way into 500 foot depths where we caught two barracudas. After spending two days in Browns Bay and Green Island with our ARC friends aboard Sophistikate and Chilli Oyster, we sailed back into the famous Falmouth Harbour, home of Nelson's Dockyard and English Harbour.
During our return to Falmouth, Jenny caught her FIRST fish, a 33 inch Wahoo. YAHOO!! Marinating in ginger, oil and soy, we are looking to dinner tonight.
Last night we ventured to Shirley Heights, a barbeque and bar atop the hill overlooking both English and Falmouth Harbours. After a few rum punches and jerk chicken, we returned (all 18 of us) in a cab and settled in for an early night. The boys spent their first night sleeping on the trampolines while Jenny slept in the cockpit of Chilli. Lucky for all, no rain.
After some touring Nelson's Dockyard today, we are returning to Green Island to enjoy the snorkeling and swimming.
06/04/2009, Transit from Guadeloupe to Antigua
Life aboard Windancer IV is pretty nice..... OK, it's amazing. Anchorred in a new, perfect, beautiful bay every day, swimming and snorkelling in crystal clean water, and on, and on and on.
Today was my one year anniversary of our life aboard Windancer IV. A year ago today I spent my day starting in a hotel near the Toronto airport, delivering all 9 boxes of personal gear to Air Canada, including a windsurfer, hoping it would all make my three connections, then hailing a taxi, loading onto a ferry to the BVi............
But today, my one year anniversary of living aboard Windancer IV, Connor and Ziggy mentioned, calmly, "We'd like to catch you a huge Dorado for your one year anniverasary".
AND THEY DID.
As we left Grand Terre, the right, smaller wing of the Guadeloupe butterfly wing we marveled at how lush the island was. Banana plantations with blue bags covering the bunches, mango trees laden with fruit, palm trees and green as far as the eye could see. We were on our way to the Carbot Falls and on the way stumbled into the nicest rum distillery.
Driving up a tree shaded road reminiscent of the Napa Valley we came across the Longueteau Rhum distillery, one of the oldest on the island. Family run for over 100 years with the original plantation house up on the hill, we knocked on the door of the storage and shop building. Greeted by the owner, we were told to take ourselves on the tour, as it was Sunday, but that upon our return, he would be happy to answer any questions we had. We took off on foot with Brad, the German shepherd and walked through the sugar cane fields to the thresher building. There are three stages in rum distillation - harvest, crushing and distilling/bottling. Okay, four stages if you count drinking. The machinery looked like it could have been the original tools and reeked of rotting sugar cane heaped outside the building. Next we wandered to the main house where Francois lives with his family. Their home overlooks a small pond and from the porch you can see down to the ocean and over to Iles des Saintes, Marie Galante and, I am guessing, on a clear day all the way to Dominica. The bougainvillea and flowers lined the path as we made our way back to the showroom.
Francois shared some of the secrets of rhum, as it is known here, and treated us to samples of rhum agricole from the young clear drink that Guadeloupians favour fro day to day drinking, but what I thought could be used to remove nail polish or start your dinghy (even John, a true rum connoisseur, found it quite foul). Then we explored Ti Punch (peTIt), an aperitif made with cane, a slice of lime and an ounce or two of rhum. Sipped slowly, it could be the reason why the French have a three-hour lunch break. We sampled rhum vieux, a specialty in France ranging in age from 3 to 13 years before finally settling on a 1995, in honour of Connor's birth year. We also tried some of the punches mixed with fruits - coconut, banana, passion fruit, pineapple, Christmas (orange, Clementine and coffee flavour). According to Francois, a bottle of the punch, although only 12% unleashes the singer and salsa dancer in us all.
The distillery also releases an international brand called Karukera, named after the original name of the Indians when Columbus visited in 1493. With our purchases in hand, we headed back to our little Citroen C3 cabriolet and ventured on to hike the Carbot falls.
04/04/2009, Point de Pitre, Guadeloupe
Whack, whack, whack! This was the first sound, which greeted us as we walked towards the Saturday market in Point de Pitre. Machetes hammered through fish steaks. Scent was our second sense assaulted as we approached the local fish venders. Stand after stand along the water of not just fish, but multitudes of mahi mahi, sacks of snapper, tons of tuna, way too much wahoo, packs of parrot fish, crazy crabs bundled together in vines, bags of ballyhoo, realms of rays and one lonely lobster on steroids. No wonder we can never catch a dorado - they are all in the market at Guadeloupe. Hugh, we are talking 40 pound tunas and 4 ft mahis that Connor and I can only dream of catching. We watched the locals descale the fish, slice off spines and on the big catches, mark inch and a half slices into the fish. Then, taking a mallet they hammered the machete through the girth of 4 foot dorado. A kilo for 8 Euro, what a bargain, and although we (that is Connor and I) have sworn to not buy fish to appease the fishing gods, we just couldn't resist.
To give our noses a rest, we entered the covered vegetable market and haggled for produce and then visited the local ladies bedecked in checkered Guadeloupian headdresses, vibrant lipstick and full skirts falling to the floor as they hawked their spices but refused to pose for pictures. With our bags full and our senses satiated, we returned to Windancer to store our provisions before venturing off to tour the rest of the island.
03/04/2009, Iles des Saintes, Guadeloupe
In our last few days in Iles des Saintes we once again felt the call to explore. While John tackled a heap of paperwork and took advantage of full internet while on board, the kids and I hiked to the local beach one morning and then up to Fort Napoleon the next morning. The visit to the fort meant hiking straight up hill in the searing heat. Once in the fort we wandered the all French museum and visited the iguana congregation in the botanical gardens.
On Thursday, April 2 we were reunited with the crew of Solitaire who had sailed down from Antigua. We showed them the town (okay, that only takes 10 minutes) and enjoyed a tuna dinner on board Windancer. Tuna was courtesy of Solitaire's big catch the previous day. The next morning Barry and John tackled Solitaire's much needed engine maintenance while Alison and I visited the local boulangerie for croissant and café. Later we snorkeled at the mid point in the bay in the clearest of waters where we spied hundreds of sergeant majors and a turtle.
At noon Windancer crew sailed to the mainland of Guadeloupe to take advantage of French shopping hours. With one bite and the fish that got away, we anchored off the marina in Point de Pitre, the capital of Guadeloupe and were happy to wander through the many shops. If you can imagine a lopsided butterfly, then Point de Pitre is the butt of the butterfly in the Guadeloupe islands. Large and commercial, it isn't pretty, but offered us a much needed city for chandleries and provisioning.
We eventually plunked ourselves down at Pizza King and enjoyed the friendly cook and his delicious pizzas in the light of the lanterns (lit after a blackout which it seems is a regular occurrence).
31/03/2009, Iles des Saintes
Nevis isn't quite as grand as her big sister. Whereas St Kitts was lively and filled with shops catering to tourists, Nevis appeared to be suffering in the wake of Hurricane Omar who ravaged the islands last October. Even the luxurious Four Seasons Resort had been destroyed and wasn't slated to reopen until November of 2009.
We anchored off the three mile Pinneys beach amongst dozens of mooring buoys and made our way to shore via dinghy, beaching it outside the famous Sunshine's Bar, home of the Killer Bee rum drink, which we enjoyed after a walk on the beach and through the deserted 4 Seasons. The next day we ventured into Charles Town, the capital of the island and home to most of its 10,000 inhabitants. The stores were tiny with only a handful of touristy items and the grocery stores were poorly stocked and over-priced. Our adventure to the baths and the Nelson Museum were sorely disappointing. The latter was closed and the former, the once famous natural hot springs visited by English dignitaries in the 1800s were now two 8 X 8 ft baths where you could bath but at your own risk. In fact the second pool was almost a swamp.
We left Pinneys for the beaches on the north shore but only after a few hours of sailing and fishing, once again trying to catch our dinner. We spent one night on the north shore, which didn't seem to have much to offer, except a quaint open-air restaurant that looked like it fell off the pages of a Ralph Lauren advertisement.
On the morning of March 25 we set off bright and early for Montserrat. It was on this morning we were treated to the majestic sight of the humpback breaching. (See the blog below and the gallery for photos.) Shortly thereafter we broke our fishing drought by landing a tunny large enough for a John's famous grilled ginger ahi tuna dinner. The winds were off our beam and the seas relatively calm. We averaged 8 knots and arrived in Montserrat around noon after passing the Rock of Redondo, with its own king, but not an inhabitant on the island. Montserrat is home to an active volcano and the locals are very strict as to where you can anchor and keep an Exclusion Zone on the south of the island where the volcano ash fills the air. With little luck anchoring and while watching a small tanker lose engine power and run aground, we made the decision to continue directly to Guadeloupe. With a little help of the engines we completed the 80nm day in record time to arrive in Deshaies, a small town on the northern tip.
Not a month ago, Guadeloupe was suffering from violent civil unrest, which resulted in tourists departing, riots, raids and empty shelves and dry gas stations. Today few reminders are evident except some bare shelves in the grocery stores and the occasional graffiti. We were happy to enjoy the French influence (translation: baguettes) once again after the poor food selection in St Kitts and Nevis.
Next we ventured down island to Basse Terre, the largest city on the western island (Guadeloupe is actually two large islands separated by a narrow river and resembles a lop-sided butterfly). Anchoring outside a marina, we stopped in the local chandlery to pick up boat parts and fishing gear (very expensive sport when you lose lures and tangle lines). The next morning we swam in the crystal clear waters off the black sand beach while the kids searched for sea glass, a fancy word for broken bear bottles whose edges have been naturally polished in the waves and rocks off the beach.
On the 28th we left Guadeloupe for the Iles des Saintes, a series of islands south of the mainland. These picturesque islands with red roofs nestled in the rolling hills above small palm tree lined beaches are a sailor's paradise. Our sail was rocky as we encountered large waves off our port bow but we arrived safely albeit salty. In fact all our sailing in Guadeloupe has been an adventure. While sailing down island from Deshais to Basse Terre we were hit by gust after gust between 40-55 kilometres/hour. With just a reefed genoa we cruised down the coast, enjoying the wind, but too fast to fish. Now that is a sailor's dilemma!
25/03/2009, Passage between Nevis and Monserrat
Jenny and the Whale
Why pay 80 euro to go whale watching when you can see it your self. On the twenty-fifth we were sailing from Nevis to Montserrat and about 1 mile away a whale breached out of the water. Connor was the first to see this unbelievable sight though dad yelled WHALE! Mom and I rushed up as quickly as we could to see the whale. The first time we saw it breach and it was so cool. It would come up out of the water 40 feet (up to it's tail). Connor quickly got the camera and handed it to mom so she could get a photo of the whale breaching. When we went down below we started to upload photos mom decided to stay to up stairs and noticed a small boat. We all started to discuss what we thought of the beautiful breach. Connor said that when he first saw the whale he thought it was a speedboat coming out of the water but it never came up. Dad said he had never seen something like it but Connors face was very cool (the look of surprise).When it was all over we also discussed how long the whale was and in the end we all agreed that it was over 50 feet and nearly 60 feet .When the photos were uploaded we saw that they captured some of the whale's beauty. That day I realized how beautiful the breach of a 60 foot humpback whale off of Nevis is.
Connor and the Whale
Some say the most beautiful thing they've seen is the birth of their child, or the face of your spouse, or land after an ocean passage. The most beautiful thing I have ever seen occurred only a few days ago. It occurred on one of my favourite kind of days, a passage. We left Nevis at dawn, our heading, Montserrat. We sailed with 15 to 20 knots (27 to 36 km/h) winds. Fishing and reading mostly occupied us during the passage. Dad and I were discussing the strength of wire leaders on fishing lures when I saw it. It was about ½ a mile to a mile away. I first thought it was a speedboat riding over a wave. The grey boat was flying through the air. My Dad witnessed the look of amazement on my face and turned around to catch the end of the jump. When the laws of gravity caught up with it and it hit the water again there was an explosion of white, frothy spray hanging in the air for moments afterwards. Strangely, the boat disappeared after hitting the water. I thought maybe it had sunk or fell apart from the shock of smashing back against the water at such a velocity. I stared out in a gaze of utter amazement, but Dad screamed, "Whale!" Mom and Jenny leapt from their seats to the port stern. When it breached again we made the positive identification of a massive humpback whale. So much for a speedboat. The humpback jumped 5 or 6 more times, It's entire body except for it's tail clearing the water every time. I ran and got the camera between the second and third jumps. It was a majestic, beautiful, spectacular and baffling to watch this 40- 60 foot whale fly from the water. That was the most beautiful thing I ever saw!
Ziggy and the Whale
I saw true beauty today. It took me almost a year, but today, in a glimpse, I saw beauty. After leaving Nevis, the sister island of St Kitts, in the early morning we made our way to the volcanic island of Montserrat. With three lines set behind us we were in our typical positions. John at the helm on the fly bridge reading in between adjusting sails and lines, Jenny reading in her room and I in the cockpit, facing aft book in my lap, two pairs of glasses on my head - sun and reading - a little reading, glancing at the lines for a sudden tug, peering into the horizon to keep my equilibrium. And Connor flitting between resetting lines, reading, chatting.
As he went up top to ask John for some assistance tying a lure on a line he spied a huge splash off our port stern. In the distance, about a mile away, a humpback whale breached. John shouted, "Whale!" and we all ran on deck. In the next minute or two, this majestic creature shot out of the water three or four times, belly to the sky, with his fins out beside him, crashing back into the water. The spray was massive. We all screamed in joy. My heart leapt and with tears in my eyes, I managed to snap half a dozen pictures.
I had waited almost a year, and in that brief moment, I saw beauty. Throughout the day, I kept thinking that if we all kept our heads down, how many other things do we miss? And even more, there must be miraculous beauty around us every day, but back at home, while driving and chatting on my cell, or rushing to the next meeting how often do I miss beauty. Perhaps not a 60 foot humpback whale breaching off the coast of Nevis in the Caribbean, but simple beauty. I vowed yesterday to keep my eye on the horizon. You never know, in the glimpse of an eye what beauty may surprise you.
A Whale of a Haiku
I saw a humpback
Breach off the Nevis waters
Wow, it was cool, wow.
21/03/2009, St Kitts
After up anchoring from St Maarten very early on Wednesday, March 18 we motored in the lagoon while waiting for the French bridge to open. We sent Connor and Jordan (from Chilli Oyster) for one last visit to our favorite boulangerie for croissants and baguettes and then began our sail down island to the 'islands of the clouds'. Passing St Barths we spied the largest turtle we have ever seen who seemed to wave his flipper at us, momentarily tricking us that we were seeing a shark.
Sailing at an average 8 knots we passed Saba and Statia on our way to St Kitts. We anchored in the harbour outside of the capital city, Basse Terre and christened our new barbeque with steaks. Becky and the kids from Chilli Oyster were on board with us for three days to test 'catamaran vs monohull' sailing and spend some time on the water before their grandmother arrived in St Maarten from England.
Yesterday, while John checked us in, Becky and I wandered the shops of the cruise ship terminal but not until we had secured a tour of the island with Junie for the afternoon. At 2, we all boarded In 2 De Time, a mini bus, and began a 4 hour tour of the island. We left the capital, passing Independence Square, the local jail and headed to the Botanical Islands where amidst lush bushes and enormous mango trees we toured the Batik museum. Leaving with a few souvenirs in hand, we continued to Fort Charles on Brimstone National Park. The fort housed the British army and was an English stronghold for their conquest of the Caribbean for years and has earned itself the nickname, Gibraltar of the West Indies. Roaming the park, although taking shade in the trees were Green Vervet Monkeys, the most populous animal on the island and clearly outnumbering the 37,000 inhabitants.
St Kitts (formally St Christophers) has a rich British heritage after the English defeated the French back in the 1700, but not until after they had joined forces to massacre 2000 Carib Indians in 1628. The two countries shared the island, with the French occupying the northern and southern tips sandwiching England in the centre. St Kitts didn't achieved independence until 1983 and the capital still displays its British roots in its Circus (a la Piccadilli) and architecture of its national museum and numerous churches.
The people are overwhelming friendly and helpful and quick to say hello or point out directions while we wandered the streets and beaches. The northern tip of the island is lush with deep rainforests, with exposed lava beaches on the Atlantic side and more picturesque, palm tree-lined beaches on the western Caribbean side. After a three hour sail to give both team England and Canada a chance to change the score in the International Fishing Derby we anchored in Frigate Bay in crystal clear waters. Shut out in the derby, we enjoyed the waters swimming and diving for sand dollars. Connor evened the derby score when he hooked a small jack while jigging off the dinghy and we all enjoyed a nibble of the appetizer size fish (cooked whole on the grill).
This morning, after a night infused with music from the ALL night beach party, we sailed for a few more hours during which time Jordan caught a small barracuda. Once again, England takes the lead, 4-3.
Once again we are anchored off Basse Terre, enjoying free wi-fi in Ballyhoos, a local bar before parting company with Chilli Oyster. They return via air to St Maarten while we continue our journey southbound to Nevis, the sombrero shaped island topped with clouds.
16/03/2009, St Maarten
Lots of new photos in the photo gallery - check out the First International Fishing Derby, Zipping in St Maarten and Anse de Colombier in St Barths.
13/03/2009, Jimbo's Bar, St Maarten
Before I became a full time sailor, I never fully appreciated some of the day to day land-based mundane activities we complete every day and to which I never gave a second thought. A trip to the grocery store, a hot shower, logging on to email. Just a hop in the car, cruise around the corner with ATM card in hand and eggs, milk and butter would be on the table. Or fish the blackberry out the purse and send a note of what is on your mind. As for showers, well, into the bathroom, instant guaranteed hot water, and fluffy towels await every time.
Now, almost ten full months into our journey, the simplicities seem so far in the past that when given the chance to partake, I almost hesitate. Would I be cheating if I took these short cuts? But are they really short cuts? Is anything really fast in a sailor's life?
Recently friends from Vrejgezeilig, a J109 racing boat in St Maarten for the Heineken Regatta, invited us to use their showers and enjoy the magnificent pool. One glimpse of the two bedroom, 2 bathroom suite overlooking the crystal clear pool and I didn't need any convincing. So, the next day, while they were racing, I made my move for a free, unlimited hot shower. First, we have to get the morning routine out of the way. Run the generator to charge the batteries, turn off the mooring lights, check the water levels, flick on the gas. Get breakfast for the kids and me. Usually this task is well underway with our Captain on board who is early to rise and takes on so much of the sailing life day to day chores, but for the last two weeks, John has been in Toronto for some work. The crew of Windancer are holed up in the St Maarten lagoon, a quagmire of dirty water surrounded by bars and mediocre restaurants, great chandleries and the airport on the Dutch side and chic boutiques and boulangeries on the French side.
Both are a dinghy ride away. Most mornings are dedicated to homework whereby I trade my mom hat for a teacher's hat. While the kids settle into English, math and journals, I putter about, cleaning heads (toilets), putting things away in what seem logical places at the time, only to be challenged by the captain when he cannot find something and I cannot remember where I put it. Some mornings, I can't quite relinquish my mom hat and (un)wisely make the decision that "today, we are going to the pool first and will do homework later". So, off we go to the pool.
First, prep the boat for departure. Gas off, generator off, water pressure off? Hatches closed and locked? Sunscreen on? Hats, glasses, wallets? VHF radio on channel 68? Computer, charger, headset in waterproof bag? Hotel key...hotel key? Where did I put the hotel key? Find the key, gather the garbage and get ready to load it all into the dinghy. Slowly lower the dinghy off her davits, whereby one of us starts the engine before we cast off. Yank the cord, no luck, yank again, or if you are a 13 year old boy, yank numerous times thinking that if I keep trying it will eventually cooperate. Adjust the choke, check we are not sitting on the fuel line, check the fuel in the tank, yank and she starts. All aboard.
We quickly rev the engines to get us on a plane to avoid the inevitable spray we encounter every trip. For the last week, St Maarten has been besieged with northerly winds, which not only make leaving the island for the BVIs a challenge for sailors, but also took its toll on many of the racers in the regatta. Each day, we watched as dismasted yachts puttered through the bridge into the lagoon. Torn sails, broken shrouds, even a few collisions. A sailing yacht without a mast subtly takes on her crew's mood - frustrated, angry, and more often than not, disappointed. The northerly had also whipped up the chop in the lagoon and a dinghy ride to the dock was becoming more of an adventure each time. Dinghying alone was taking your life in your own hands. Holding tightly onto the straps, feet braced against the other pontoon, sitting low, I ventured more than once into the wind, all the way repeating my mantra, "please don't tip, please don't tip, please don't tip".
With three of us aboard, the trip is less risky, but bumpy and wet all the same. Jenny sits forward and her entire body flies into the air as we navigate through the dozens of yachts at anchor in the lagoon. Connor at the helm expertly navigates to avoid boats, other dinghies, buoys and weave through the chop created by other boats. Sometimes silent in my own thoughts, sometimes giving directions, always reminding him to slow in the No Wake Zones, we cruise to Simpsons Marina, one of the largest marinas in the lagoon. We dinghy to the dock, jostle our way through the many other dinghies tied up. Slowing the engine, Jenny leans in and pushes the others to the sides clearing a path for us to nudge the dock. Kill the engine, we lock her to the tree, hand our garbage, shower bag and computer bag up onto the dock, put our flip flops back on and begin our land adventure.
First, to the local garbage. Then, if there were no hotel beckoning us, we borrow the marina key and shower in the marina showers. Typically clean and offering hot water, I wonder if I will ever shower again without my flip flops on? But today, we are on the way to the Pelican hotel. Hoisting our shower bag over a shoulder, we trek the 10 minutes along the dusty, curbless street to the hotel. As we approach, shoulders back, hair straightened as we assume our "we actually are staying in this hotel" look. Just look like you know where you are going and keep trekking past security. Up the two flights of stairs to the room. Ah the key works.
Into the shower one by one. Hot, nonstop running water, NO flip flops. Aaah, is it possible to run a hotel shower dry? Worth a try. I spy a blow dryer and give my hair a quick dry. Off to the pool. What? A shower first then to the pool. Well, when the water is running and seems endless, a girl can shower twice can't she?
After a few hours, we return to Jimbo's Bar in Simpsons Marina for happy hour watered down margharitas and free wi-fi. More on that later.
As I return to the boat with the sun twinkling off the water and view the boats in the lagoon, the heat on my shoulders, I once again fall in love with the pace of our new lives. What else was there to do? No work, no urgent emails, no meetings. Maybe a two hour trip to the showers is really the simpler route? Perhaps not the short cut, but do you need short cuts when time is no longer relevant. I recently read that a beautiful journey is one that is guiltless and filled with fun in the moment. Knowing what I now know, I would trade the effortless technologies and simplicities of modern day land-locked life for my guiltless sailing short cuts any day.
Signing off now, as I have to upload this onto the blog. Just a mere dinghy ride away. Back in a few hours. Zig
05/03/2009, St Maarten
On our trip we have met some amazing people, people who changed our trip and our lives for the better and we will always keep in touch with. One of these people was Maris Lyons. We met Maris in the very beginning of our trip, in the Azores. She was crewing with an old friend of her Dad's. I first met Maris on our bus trip in San Miguel when I began racing to and from the bus with a stranger. This stranger was Maris. We hosted a dock party and we began talking to her. We explained about our trip our plans not to go to Italy in order to spend more time in Spain and France. Maris urged us to come to Italy, she and her partner Michel lived by the Cinque Terre and she said she would show us around. Maris also told us that Michel was a dentist, we jokingly asked if he would do our teeth and Maris seriously replied yes. Our friendship grew and we kept in touch. When we arrived in Lavanga, Maris rode her bike to the marina and greeted us. We discussed when to do the Cinque Terre and Maris invited us to her home for dinner. She brought Dad to her house to use the Internet because we were having WIFI troubles in Italy. We walked the Cinque Terre, had our teeth done ate at their house. Both Maris and Michel are sailors and race on their J109. We gave Maris a Windancer IV crew hat as a representation that she was invited to crew with us on our transatlantic voyage. She accepted and became almost family.
So when I walked into Jimbos in St Maarten, the local sailor bar with the famous happy hour and saw the Vrigezeilig shirt and heard her English accent it was a happy time. We met their crew and they invited me to practice with them for the upcoming Heineken Regatta. In St Maarten 'regatta' is synonymous for both sailing race and major party. So when I arrived at the marina at 8:30 to go sail I was informed of a change in the itinerary. Some of the crewmembers were out late and were not awake until after the 9:00 bridge. We left at 10:30 instead and caught the 11:00 bridge. We made it out of the lagoon and the wind was blowing 20 knots and above. With the wind that strong, we were heeled over farther than Windancer could without any sails up. With a Kevlar main sail and jib we were heeled far enough over that there were 4 of us leaning over the edge to balance out the boat. We were flying along with Colin, Maris's dad, at the helm, Stuart on the main sheet, Maris and Dan on Genoa, Mikey on the mast, Jeff in charge of the fore deck and Michelle in charge of how the boat ran. He would yell in both Dutch and English about sail trim, the boomvang, and other things. We tacked up wind, almost to Philipsburg and ran down wind the whole way back. Overall it was amazing to sail on a race boat, and learn the techniques and procedures that make a J109 a fierce competitor. Go Team Vrigezeileg!
03/03/2009, Mississauga, Canada
Our puppy, now a young seven years old, is pictured with friends Kristen, Marley, Rebecca Olivet. Gryffen looked better than ever, having just completed a complete doggy physical last month and was given a clean bill of health! She only gained only one pound!
02/03/2009, Marigot Bay, St Martin, FWI
Today the crew of Windancer IV returned to St Martin and after clearing in to customs and immigration, an ongoing process when travelling between island countries in the Caribbean, we manouvered the vessel delicately through the bridge on the french side of the island.
We anchored in the our "regular" spot in Simpson Lagoon, 1/2 way between Jimbo's Bar and Grill (offering great happy hour and a neat pool for the kids) and the patiserries in Marigot. Ziggy will spend the 1st week of March anchored safely in the lagoon while John returns to Toronto to attend business in Toronto.
The kids and Zig should also be able to catch up with the adult crew of Chilli Oyster. Dave and Becky are enjoying a couple of weeks alone while jordan and Indy visit their dad back in the US.
01/03/2009, Passage between St Barts and St Martin
This one was not served for lunch, but Dave from Chilli Oyster caught a nice Spanish Mackerel that serced as a great dinner - sushi and all.
Then Connor hauled in a Cero the became lunch this afternoon!
Hats off to the fishing derby winners - Chilli Oyster!!!!!
28/02/2009, Gustavia Harbour, St. Barts, FWI
Incredible scuba diving experience off Gustavia Harbour in St Barts