Flying Across the Seas

17 June 2013 | Portsmouth, Dominica
15 June 2013 | Portsmouth, Dominica
14 June 2013 | Portsmouth, Dominica
11 June 2013 | Iles des Saints, Guadeloupe
07 June 2013 | Deshaies, Guadeloupe
02 June 2013 | St. Barts
01 June 2013 | Ile Fourchue, St. Barts
31 May 2013 | Grand Case, St. Martin
29 May 2013 | St. Martin and Sint Maarten
18 May 2013 | St Thomas, US Virgin Islands
12 May 2013 | Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, USVI
07 May 2013 | Vieques, Culebra, and Culebrita, The Spanish Virgins
20 April 2013 | Salinas, Puerto Rico
13 April 2013 | Salinas, Puerto Rico
12 April 2013 | Isla Caja de Muertos, Puerto Rico
10 April 2013 | Cayos Cana Gorda, Puerto Rico
08 April 2013 | Boquerón, Puerto Rico
07 April 2013 | Mayaguez, Puerto Rico
27 March 2013 | Ocean World, Dominican Republic

Flying Cloud Blog Moves to New Location

02 October 2013
Just a quick note to let you know we have discontinued blogging on this site, SailBlogs, and moved our blog over to Google's BlogSpot.

Typing into your browser will get you to the first post of our new blog.

Typing will get you to the most current blog posting.

Thanks for being a faithful reader and we will see you at BlogSpot!

Fort with a View

17 June 2013 | Portsmouth, Dominica
When people marvel at how green Washington State is, I'd have to remind them that "its because it rains all the time." Dominica is much the same. The mountain peaks were constantly shrouded with sullen rain clouds, ready to rush downslope at a minute's notice to drench cruisers and townspeople alike. After a while you accept the fact that at any minute it could start raining, sometimes torrentially, and then you go about your normal, albeit somewhat wet, life.

One such rainy day we choose to visit Fort Shirley, located on a ridge overlooking Prince Rupert Bay where our boat was anchored. The fort is in Cabrits National Park, which includes a large marine park and wetlands (source of tenacious mosquitos that eventually got the capital of Dominica moved from Portsmouth to Roseau years ago). The park now has a large cruise ship dock, and in season is inundated by thousands of rampaging tourists straight off the boat.

We visited late in the day and virtually had the park to ourselves. For some reason we didn't expect much, we just wanted to get off the boat on a rainy day, but we were very pleasantly surprised. We walked up a long stone road, through the fort's main gates, and around the corner to a beautiful view of the fort with an expanse of green lawn sweeping down the hill. The purpose of the fort and it's long cannons was to protect the British ships anchored in Prince Rupert bay from the marauding French, Spanish, and various privateers. At its peak over 600 men were garrisoned at the fort.

The fort has a unique historical presence for on April 9, 1802 a mutiny of the all black 8th West India Regiment broke out at the fort. As a result of this mutiny, over 10,000 slave soldiers in the British Army were freed. It was the first act of mass emancipation in the British Empire.

We wandered around the various stone buildings, some of which were renovated in 2006 and now used for weddings, receptions and concerts. The view from the Officer's Headquarters and the gun emplacements was beautiful, encompassing the breath of Prince Rupert Bay. There was also a lot of tropical flora on the site, including teak trees and a huge Silk Cotton Tree with branches at 90° angles.

Aware of the lateness of the day, we walked down the stone road to a pathway climbing up an adjacent ridge housing the Captain's House and gun emplacements at the top. The Captains' House was a real treat; a once proud mansion nestled in an overgrown jungle setting now on verge of collapse. If they ever film Conrad's Heart of Darkness, this would make a good location.

The trail climbed up at a very gentle grade (remember they had to haul those large cannons up to the top using mules or horse trains. As it got darker and darker it got spookier and spookier. Every once in a while a lizard would startle us as it scooted through the dry leaves causing quite a racket.

At the top the ridge flattened out and we were treated to an expansive view of Port Rupert Bay and the town of Portsmouth. With darkness rapidly approaching we hurried down the trail hoping they hadn't locked the pier where we tied our boat. Luckily the night watchman was there cooking his dinner on a small gas stove and smiled at us as we walked by.

Up the Indian River

15 June 2013 | Portsmouth, Dominica

After our tour of the rain forest we were ready for more. The next morning, Alexis, our boat-guy, picks us, Field Trip, and Escape Velocity up in his locally made wooden boat and motors over to the entrance of the Indian River. The Indian River tour is described as a "mini Amazon" and it certainly lives up to its reputation. Since outboard motors aren't allowed, he shifts from the back of the boat to the front and begins slowly rowing the heavy boat up river against a gentle current.

Along the way he starts telling us some of his childhood experiences growing up and playing along the river and in the highlands of Dominica. The chocolate-colored river slowly meanders through a lush tropical forest of overhanging canopy of branches and flowers, making it dark and cathedral-like. Long vines dangle and reach down to brush us as we float by and birds flit through the air as they call out. Prehistoric old trees with massive root systems line the shore like sentinels guarding a parade route.

Alexis points out hundreds of land crabs in all sizes scurrying in and out of their holes on the mud banks. The locals come at night and hunt the crabs, the largest of which are several pounds. Land crabs have one huge claw in front and you don't want to get grabbed by one, you could easily lose a finger.

Pirates of the Caribbean II (they haven't released the actual title of the movie yet) was recently filmed on the river and several of the sets remain. We passed a sinister looking cabin that is the home of one of the characters in the movie, waiting for Johnny Depp to pop out from behind a door. We continue slowly up the river marveling at the serenity and beauty of the scene.

Eventually we stop at another set called the "Ticking Croc Tavern" where we hop out and explore the area in detail. Alexis finds a land crab and shows us the difference between the females and the males with the large pinchers and gives Michael and "up close and personal" view of the creature. The tavern set is very realistic and everyone has fun wandering around exploring the grounds.

A series of trails lead off from the Tavern through lush jungle with many exotic plants and flowers, including the bright red ginger plant. Alexis finds some long grass strands and starts making the kids & ladies some grass birds by cutting and meticulously folding the strands. He impresses us as he finds some beautiful ginger and bird of paradise flowers to attach to the birds. Once back on the boat I place the flower & bird on our table as a centerpiece so we can continue to enjoy the creative little souvenir of our river trip.

Hiking Through the Fruit Bowl

14 June 2013 | Portsmouth, Dominica

We departed Iles des Saints at around 7:00 am on June 13th for the 22-mile sail to Portsmouth, Dominica. We had considered sailing higher (further east) to get a better angle on the wind, but Field Trip had left at 5:00 am and radioed back that conditions were great for sailing, so we headed out Passe des Dames just to the right of Grand Ilet, which put us more on a rumb line with Portsmouth. With coral reefs on each side we carefully threaded our way through the narrow pass and out into the open ocean. We had 20- to 22-knots of easterly to southeasterly wind on a loose close reach with 4 - 5 ft. seas, which meant good sailing.

As we approached Dominica (pronounced do-min-EEK-ah) we could see the mass of clouds pouring over the mountaintops and down to the ocean (it rains 300+ inches a year). Naturally, just as we got close to Prince Rupert Bay the squalls hit us and we sailed in near zero visibility into the harbor. We anchored between Field Trip and Escape Velocity on the far north corner of the large bay and breathed a sigh of relief to be out of the rain.

Dominica and other Windward Islands have a tradition of boat boys. These are local guys, from 14 all the way up 45-years-old, who come out in their boats, sailboats, dugouts, and offer their services. We had heard horror stories of boats being overwhelmed with boat boys competing for the business. So with this predisposition, we were somewhat chagrined when no boat boys came out to us. Turns out Dominica, in response to negative comments from cruisers, had restructured their boat boy system and now have a association, called P.A.Y.S (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services) that regulates the boat boys, certifies the guides, and provides security at the north end of the bay. It's a great idea

We got directions to Customs from Escape Velocityand began the 2-mile trip south along the bay to an industrial area where Customs was located. As is our custom, we simply began asking people where Customs was and eventually honed in on its somewhat hidden location. One guy even said "Ask for Mr. Daniels in Customs and tell him Edward has his lunch outside," so that was our introduction to Customs. The procedure was fairly quick and the payment minimal, so we headed back up the bay to the Fisherman's Dock and explored the small waterfront town in between rain showers that seem to be the norm on this island. The rain squalls only last 10 to 30 minutes so most people simply duck into a storefront until it's over.

Dominica is probably one of the poorest of the Caribbean islands and the downtown area was a far cry from St. Barts or even Iles des Saints, but the people were honest and friendly and made us feel welcome. The grocery stores were mostly small but with neatly arranged shelves displaying limited goods. We had hoped to find 85 feet of 10mm roller furling line but the huge marine store we were expecting turned out to be a one room affair with very limited supplies. We settled for some spark plugs for the Yamaha outboard.

The next day Escape Velocity had arranged with a boat boy named Alexis for a inland tour for our group, but when the car arrived we realized we couldn't get eight people in and had to wait for a larger van. Our tour guide was Winston, and although his English was challenged and it was hard to hear him in the back of the van, he turned out to be a very knowledgeable guide once we got out of the van and started exploring.

A New York Times article described inland Dominica as "like walking through a fruit salad" and that was certainly a well-penned description of the island. Since Dominica is still undeveloped, the interior is mostly unchanged from when Columbus visited. Winston turned off the highway and began the long, arduous climb up into the Syndicate Rain Forest towards Milton Falls.

It seems that every five minutes Winston would stop the car and point out a banana grove (with the banana bunch covered with blue plastic bags to protect then on their journey to England), avocado trees, mangoes, breadfruit, star fruit, bay leaf, cashews, ginger, nutmeg, mace, limes, passion fruit, pineapples, cacao, coconuts, coffee bushes, and so on. At one point he reached out and grabbed some lemon grass, which any Thai food aficionada will readily recognize by the smell. As Alexis later commented, "no one ever goes hungry in Dominica, you just need to walk out your door to the nearest tree."

Winston had Jack reach up and pull a pod off a tree. He then opened it to explain this was the cacao plant. He had us taste some of the slippery covering over the cacao beans, which was very sweet. The beans are later roasted and milled to make chocolate. We also saw a broken down mill from when they used to make rum from the sugar cane up in the hills. It seems the topography of Dominica was so rough that it wasn't conducive to crops like sugar cane that could be easily farmed, resulting in today's patchwork of small shareholder-type plots on the hillsides and mountain slopes.

We then began a two-mile hike up a gentle trail, stopping along the way for more plant identification. One plant he said they ground up when he was a little boy to make paste (glue) for school projects. He showed us the pod from the banana tree that contains "the little babies" that spread out to make new banana trees.

We forded several streams and made our way up to 80-ft. high Milton Falls. I volunteered to "test the waters" but Winston cautioned me to not get under the direct force of the falls. I totally understand what he meant as the sheer force of the water hit me as I got closer to the falls. It was like being in a washing machine on wash cycle. Eventually everyone else made their way into the cool water for a refreshing dip on a hot day. On the way out I noticed a huge sign that prohibited people from going into the pool since it provided the water supply for the town.

We next drove to another area for a nature hike through a forest of huge trees, most of the names of which I've forgotten. The most striking trees were the towering Banyan trees with the intricate root structures that looked like something out of a "Lord of the Rings" movie.

We returned to the car and drove down the rather steep hill to Morne Diablotin National Park where we hike along the mile-long loop of the Syndicate Trail, hoping for a chance to see some very rare indigenous parrots. The National Park is a 8,500-acre preserve created in 2000 to safeguard the parrots' forest habitat and protect this watershed that services the main town of Roseau.

Walking along an easy trail in the cool forest air Winston points out many trees using their local Dominican names, all of which are hard to remember. One interesting tree was the gommier or gum tree. The local Carib Indians would hollow out the tree using an intricate process involving heated stones to make sea-going canoes. We also saw the chataigner tree with its large, buttress-like roots and a fruit similar to chestnuts.

Further down the trail we came to a viewing area that looked over a chasm towards a far hillside covered with trees. Just as we arrived Winston pointed out a flash of color that descended from high in a tree to a lower level. We'll never know, but it could have been one of the rare Amazon parrot species found nowhere else in the world called the imperial and locally known as the sisserou. The other parrot in this habitat is the red-necked Amazon parrot or jaco, which while not endangered is still a vulnerable species.

Two to three hours in a small van on back roads is no picnic, but we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the forests and trails of Dominica. Definitely worth a longer visit on our return trip this fall.

Iles des Saints

11 June 2013 | Iles des Saints, Guadeloupe
We left Pigeon Islands for the 23-mile sail down to Iles des Saints, a small group of islands lying off the southeast coast of Guadeloupe. Our friends on SeaShell had raved about these islands so we wanted to check them out for ourselves.

It was an interesting sail, to say the least. The weather was very squally when we left Pigeon Island and it went downhill from there. As we approached the south end of Guadeloupe all hell broke loose as a 30+ knot squall came over the mountain top and nailed us. We were already under a reefed main, reefed genoa, and staysail. We struggled to get the genoa in since we had previously (three times) broken the furling line and it was now too short to reach the winch. After a heroic struggle I pulled enough in to get the line on one of the big winches (it shouldn't be that hard to bring in a reefed genoa). Meryl was yelling at me (it was real noisy with the wind) that the loose 5/8" genoa sheets were flailing around (this is typically how dodger windows get broken) and I was trying to winch it in as fast as possible. Once we got it in things calmed down a little and we decided we'd try the technique of heaving-to where you tack the boat but leave the staysail cleated on the other side. We ended up in more of a "forereaching" mode where we were going forward, but very slowly, and the boat became very manageable. We'll need to try heaving-to without the main sail and see how the boat responds.

We headed into shore (it was a leeward shore so it was safe since the wind was blowing us away from the land) and hid under the lee for a while until the squall passed through. There was a 40 ft. catamaran sailing alongside us who went out, then came back in, then went out again with us as we rounded the southern point, but went back in after about 10 minutes of being bashed in the waves. Since it was such a short passage across to Iles des Saints (pronounced "ill day saants") we decided to continue on.

With the reefed main and staysail the boat was close hauled into 6 -7 foot waves but was handling OK. Our only concern was a large freighter we had picked up on our AIS navigation system. It was very tough to pick him up on radar because of the heavy rain squalls that degrade the radar image. He was about four miles away but doing about 14 knots straight towards us. The name on the AIS was MEC Stavanger and I hailed him on VHF channel 16. I told him our boat name and position and asked if he could see us on radar. I got back a faint response with a heavy foreign accent that was almost unintelligible. Tried a few more times with no luck. Well, we could see him visually so we decided he probably would change course as he got closer.

As we were discussing our options about Stavanger a heavy squall came up behind him and engulfed us in 30+ winds and visibility of about 40 ft. I went down below to check the computer and saw that we were definitely on a collision course with the time of contact in about 4 minutes. Got on the radio again and repeated "Stavanger, please alter course to past astern of sailboat." Got the same unintelligible response so we began to take evasive action, except at 6 knots of speed there's much we can do to get out of the way of a ship going 14 knots.

Just then the squall cleared enough that we could see him steering astern of us. I'm not sure he ever saw us since all of a sudden there was a fast 50 ft. catamaran ferry just below us paralleling our course and doing about 20 knots. I think Stavanger probably saw the ferry coming and altered course for him. Oh well, another boring day on the water.

Approaching Iles des Saints we came under the protection of the mountainous islands and things calmed down a little. Dodged around a couple of reefs and entered a picturesque little harbor with about 40 sailboats at anchor or on mooring balls. We decided we'd had enough excitement for the day and simply tied up to a mooring ball. These balls were very well designed and had a 2-ft. stainless steel pole with a large ring at the top to run your line through. Great design that made tying up to the ball very easy and safe. Why can't everyone design mooring balls like these?

Iles des Saints certainly lived up to its reputation. There are three islands in the group, Terre De Haut, Terre De Bas, and Marie Gallant. We were staying at Terre De Haut, which had more services, shops, etc. for cruisers.

We cleared French Customs on the computer at a little cybercafé (love the laid back approach to Customs that French has in the islands). I even filled the forms out in record time now that I understand the system a little better. Meryl dropped off our laundry at the café where they did two loads for $21, not bad considering there are no self-service laundromats in many of the islands.

We walked the length of the small seaside village several times, stopping at many small boutiques and restaurants. Found one café that served probably the best French ham and cheese on a baguette I've had outside of Paris.

Meryl found an open air market and reveled in the large variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. This island caters to tourists from Europe who fly into Guadeloupe and take fast ferries across from the mainland. Since it was offseason things were somewhat slow and quiet.

The next day Field Trip arrived and in the afternoon the girls went in shopping and Mark, Elizabeth (the human fish) and I took Mark's Brownies SNUBA rig out to a reef in the middle of the harbor. The SNUBA rig is essentially a small gas-powered compressor that sits on an inner tube that is towed by the divers. Sixty-foot-long air hoses with regulators are provided for up to four divers. It gives you great freedom since you don't have to wear all the cumbersome SCUBA equipment.

Seven-year-old Elizabeth is a natural in the water. Mark held on to her weight belt as we descended and she was completely at ease in the 20 ft. depths. She has perfected the ability to talk underwater and at one point I heard a "Walter" scream and looked over as she pointed out the first moray eel I've seen in the Caribbean. It was wonderful to be back underwater again. I've always had a hard time clearing my ears but going slower with the SNUBA gear seemed to help a lot. Saw lots of colorful reef fish, basket corals, bottles of wine encrusted with coral, and other underwater life. One that intrigued me looked like slivery pearls about the side of a quarter. Mark thinks they may be eggs of some type. Will have to look it up in our fish books.

On the last day we went out to dinner at a small seaside café with Field Trip. I gave in and ordered veal with a wine/mushroom sauce under the conclusion that there are no bad French restaurants. I was right. We even had some ice cream (glaces) for dessert, a real treat when you are cruising. We decided Iles des Saints was definitely in our top 5 list and would garner a longer visit next season.

SNUBA at Jacques’ Place

07 June 2013 | Deshaies, Guadeloupe

As we slowly work our way down the Caribbean Island chain we want to stop at each and every island, but we're fighting the clock with hurricane season rapidly approaching so we cherry pick those islands we've heard good things about. According to our guidebook, Guadeloupe is a cruiser favorite: "the one destination that delivers the quintessential image of the Caribbean; awesome beaches, tropical rainforest, active volcano, great hiking, creole cuisine, friendly, colorful locals, rum distilleries, abundant tropical produce, etc."

That works for us, so we departed from Nevis early in the morning with a nice steady 20-knot easterly. We were averaging 6 - 7 knots and enjoying a close reach when we got a call from Mark on Field Trip warning us of strong winds that were funneling around the southern tip of the island. We shortened sail and soon found ourselves in 25-knot gusts and 6 - 7 ft. waves as we passed the point. The boat handled well with the reefed genoa as we headed towards the lee of the volcanic island of Montserrat.

The volcano violently erupted in 1995 and pyroclastic flow buried the town of Plymouth, resulting in thousands of people being relocated off the island. There have been subsequent eruptions in the years since. Because the underwater topography has been altered by the eruptions, there is in two-mile exclusion zone around the south end of the island that we skirted as we sailed past.

We soon lost all wind in the lee of Montserrat and ended up motor sailing the rest of the leg as the wind was once again on the nose. Approaching Guadeloupe was a treat with the towering mountain peaks shrouded in clouds and a vibrant green carpet of jungle flowing down to the white sand beaches, a very typical description of all the Windward and Leeward Islands. We arrived in Deshaies (pronounced "day-hay") around 4:30 p.m. and anchored between Field Trip and Escape Velocity with just enough time to enjoy the picturesque harbor as the sun began to set.

The next morning we went into town to wander around and buy a few food items. Deshaies was a step up from your typical Caribbean seaside town, somewhat run down with small grocery stores, a few patisseries, a couple general merchandise stores, and not much effort to take advantage of the incredible waterfront location. As usual we visited the grocery store to get some fresh vegetables and other items, but we will have to save a more thorough exploration of the town for our next visit.

The next day (June 7) we headed down the coast a short distance to Pigeon Island, location of the Jacque Cousteau National Marine Park, where we could do some snorkeling and scuba diving. We anchored in a small cover just inshore from Pigeon Island as it was a little too rough to anchor out at the island. Mark from Field Trip brought his SNUBA rig and invited us over to Pigeon Island to go diving. The islands are about 2 miles offshore and given the strong 20-knot winds, it was quite a wet dingy ride. Once we got tied up to a dive buoy in a small cove in the lee of the island, we got the SNUBA rig set up and Mark and Walter dove along the northern tip of the island where a wall descended down to about 100 ft. Mark and Walter cruised the wall at between 20 and 50 ft., marveling at the incredible sea life. With SNUBA you tow your air compressor in a floating inner tube behind you and as a result you tend to cruise along slower allowing you to see more marine life. Walter saw two huge lobsters and a large poisonous lionfish, both firsts for him. There were also a number of big basket corals with many small colorful wrasses and other tiny reef fish darting in and out of their protective cover.

Meryl snorkeled with Sara and her two kids, Elizabeth (the human fish) and Michael, and saw lots of fish and beautiful soft corals. The dingy ride back was even more exciting then the one over since we were now motoring into the 20-knot winds and our little 10 ft. dingy was bouncing up and down like a rodeo bull rider.

By the time we got back we were both wiped out and took such a long nap that it nearly went into bedtime for us. Oh the joys of being in your mid-60s. We did get to enjoy a phenomenal sunset, one of the rewards of the cruising lifestyle where everyday you live on waterfront property with a view.

Vessel Name: Flying Cloud
Vessel Make/Model: Taswell 44 (1999)
Hailing Port: Seattle, WA USA
Crew: Walter & Meryl Conner
Walter & Meryl met at the University of Washington while both were ski instructors at Snoqualmie Pass near Seattle, WA. Having grown up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, they shared a love of adventure sports, including skiing, mountain climbing, SCUBA diving, bicycling, and of course, sailing. [...]

Flying Cloud Crew

Who: Walter & Meryl Conner
Port: Seattle, WA USA