Bahamas and the rest...
25 May 2014
May 3, 2014
Bahamas and the rest
We're sliding along under power on a nearly flat sea off Long Island on our next to last day of our 6-month journey. Somehow procrastination has gotten the best of me and I've lagged in my journal updates. So, before its too late, here's a look at our adventures in the Bahamas and the return trip home!
We arrived from our passage from Puerto Rico to Clarence Town, Long Island in the SE Bahamas and spent only two nights and a day there. While there, though, we got a chance to swim in one of the Bahamas legendary blue holes. Dean's Blue Hole has the distinction of being the world's deepest known seawater blue hole. This is the site where many international freediving competitions take place. We had it all to ourselves late in the afternoon and all went for a dip where the white sand perimeter spills steeply down into the vast crater. This blue hole is quite small in diameter but goes straight down over 600' and is reported to open into a cavern going down over 4000'. None of us found out how deep.
On our way back, we stopped along the side of the road in the settlement of Mangrove Bush where some of the Knowles family, well known for their boatbuilding in this area, along with a group of other locals (some helping but most sitting around chatting and drinking) were working on their Bahamas A class sloop and readying it for the annual regatta being held in Georgetown this year. The Knowles family has been well represented throughout the 60+ year history of the annual regatta, with most of the wins coming under the command of the late Rupert Knowles, known as one of the Bahamas leading Boatbuilders in his time. We were able to meet his son and one of his grandchildren who were finishing up a new boom and had just painted the new enormous mast replacing the one broken in a tangle with another mast in last year's regatta. These sloops carry about 14 crew, used mostly as movable ballast; they sit out on planks extended on the windward side to keep the boat flat. These are full keel boats, wood plank on frame built of mostly locally sourced wood (except the spars - Spruce from the NW US) with huge towering masts and booms that go on forever. They carry an enormous mainsail and a small jib - no spinnakers - it's all mainsail. Unfortunately we were north of Georgetown when the regatta was scheduled and missed out on an exciting event.
Our next stop was Georgetown on Great Exuma. Georgetown is a very popular stop for cruisers and one that seems to catch quite a few who decide there's no reason to venture further. There are numerous anchorages within a few miles of town and endless slices of white sand beach to explore. As a result, there's a cruisers net on the VHF every morning where people keep in touch and keep abreast of when and where the next beach barbecue is happening. We did not spend much time here but met a few kids from some other boats for an afternoon of waterports and playing. We also ran into some friends from Newport, Patti and Roger Martin, who were cruising on their little Presto! A perfect little speedy pocket cruiser they trailered down to Florida and cruised across in. They were shooting off to the Jumentos Cays to do some exploring around those shallow cays where you were very unlikely to see anything resembling a crowd.
Our time in the Bahamas being short, we sped 50 miles north of Georgetown to Staniel Cay in the Exumas. We anchored at a spot called Big Majors, known for its resident pigs who are fond of swimming out to your dinghy begging for food. Apparently this provides no end of amusement to folks so that there's a constant stream of people coming over from Staniel Cay and the surrounding area with people shrieking and laughing as the pigs surround them snorting for food. Inevitably many scraps end up floating out of reach and litter the water as they wash out with the tide. Whoever cares for the pigs till slaughter has obviously got a good thing going.
Around the corner next to Staniel Cay we explored Thunderball Grotto, of the James Bond Thunderball. The grotto is in the middle of a small cay where you swim under the lip of the cave and into this magnificent grotto filled with fish and coral. Here, as at the beach with the pigs, the fish are well accustomed to being fed by humans and school around you inside the grotto. The quality of the coral, quantity of fish and clarity of the water made the snorkeling around the outside of the cay some of the best we've had all season.
From Staniel Cay, there were so many places to explore along each cay going north every few miles but unfortunately they'll have to wait for another trip. From the time we entered Dotham Cut a few miles south of Staniel Cay from Exuma Sound, we were now sailing on the Exuma Bank with the Cays protecting us from the easterly trade wind swell and depths averaging between 10 and 20 feet deep, the water was flat and an unreal variety of blue, and the wind was strong and steady - perfect sailing! Our next stop was Waderick Wells in the Exuma land and sea park. This is where we really experienced the most brilliantly "gin" clear water we have ever seen! I had always heard about how beautiful the water was in the Bahamas and after spending the winter in many different anchorages in the Caribbean with clear blue water and perfect beaches I was expecting just more of the same. I mean, how much more beautiful can beautiful be? More beautiful! Unbelievably better than postcard beautiful. The color contrasts and varied shades of blue to white were beyond description. The snorkeling here was fantastic - absolutely the best we've had this winter. In addition to the water clarity, the abundance of marine life was spectacular. They seemed to know they were in a marine park and that we were not allowed to catch them. Huge spiny lobsters were stuffed into every crevice in the big coral heads, large grouper swam close by, eagle rays, huge parrot fish, queen angel fish and very healthy colorful coral kept us in the water until we were too cold to continue. The cays themselves are very dry and scrubby with mostly thatch palms and other succulent desert type plants growing out of the coral rock and petrified sand dunes. We spent one afternoon hiking around the trail network seeing mostly birds and lizards, the latter of whom had a particular affinity for perching atop the many cairns marking the trails. At the top of Boo Boo hill lies an every growing heap of drift wood name boards and missives from the many yachts that have visited here over the years. The land and sea park request is to take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints but this is one exception. Orly was frustrated by the prohibition of not being able to collect shells and pretty found bits and was happy to leave the park so that she could continue her shell collecting!
From Waderick Wells we stopped at Hawksbill Cay (still in the park) where we picked up one of their moorings in the south mooring field and remained the only boat in sight through the night! A protected anchorage with moorings in a spectacularly beautiful setting during the prime of the Bahamas season and we were all alone. I guess what I've been hearing about the Bahamas is true. Hawksbill is where the photos of the kids jumping off the end of the boom were taken. We did some exploring in the dinghy and snorkeling along with some knee boarding and could have stayed here for days or weeks happily.
It was at this point, however, that a passage plan and weather window started to form for heading north. We moved once more north in the Exumas to Allen Cays for one night and from there sailed across the bank to Royal Island and Spanish Wells where we sat out the next nasty weather cold front. There in Spanish Wells we met some more friendly cruisers. One couple was recently retired and spending their first winter of many to come cruising the Bahamas on their comfortably fit out Catalina 42, and the other was a family with a 10 year old girl cruising indefinitely. They introduced us to Budda's Bus - a local Spanish Wells eatery in someone's back yard where the kitchen operated out of an old school bus painted like the bus of the Merry Pranksters ala Neil Cassidy. Spanish Wells is a small community of neatly kept houses and gardens whose approximately 1500 inhabitants seem to be related to one another in some way or another. They have a peculiar accent that's hard to pin down, but mostly sounds like a lazy way of speaking and slurring their words. We took part in a nightly stroll to a home ice cream stand open from 7:30-10:30 with a choice of two different flavors that change each night.
After the bad weather passed we headed over to the Berry Islands where we spent one last night before topping off our fuel in Great Harbor Cay and heading off through the Northwest Passage towards an intersection with the gulf stream just 20 miles off West Palm Beach where we turned northward bound for Beaufort, NC. We positioned ourselves in the middle of the stream where the greatest effect from the current was to be found and found ourselves traveling at 10-12 knots speed over the ground with our boatspeed through the water closer to 8 knots. Shortly after entering the gulf stream before the wind came up while still motoring we hooked a big Mahi Mahi and, with the handle for the reel broken, fought hard to reel it in using a screw driver as a handle to reel in the line. This does not work well! We finally got him in on the transom and this is where I lost our dinner for the next few days. I should have immediately gaffed him but I grabbed the line and pulled him up on the transom where he thrashed and snapped the line and took off with the wire leader, lure and all! Poof. I was too dejected to fish after that! The following mornings weather report promised reasonably strong adverse North winds so we diverted from our path to Beaufort and instead headed for Charleston, SC. We had been traveling in the Gulf Stream for at least 24 hours and had logged over 230 miles in a 24-hour period - great numbers for MERIDIAN! We pulled into Charleston shortly before midnight and cleared customs back into the US! The north wind blew through overnight and weather was good to continue on the following day so after Mege and the kids shopped for some warm clothes and some fresh provisions from the Whole Foods ashore (back in the land of plenty), we headed out again for another 3-day passage around Cape Hatteras and up into the Chesapeake to Annapolis. This trip was mostly benign conditions with some motoring along with some good sailing but the last night and day of the trip turned a bit nasty. The forecast was for winds to build from the east around 20 knots and the reality was winds from the east at 30+ knots. This came on shortly after dark and stayed with us until our arrival in Annapolis the following evening around 5pm. Unfortunately this was a bit too much for Mege and she stayed curled up with the kiddos down below (who were quite happy and oblivious to the tempest up on deck) and I managed to steer us safely through the maze of huge commercial ships and shallows of Chesapeake Bay through the night until I roused Mege around 6:30 the next morning. I have no ambitions to be a solo sailor. That was enough.
The next afternoon we escaped the flooded streets of Annapolis to spend a night visiting some wonderful cousins of Mege's outside of DC. The following day we did some light touring past the Washington Monument, the reflecting pool and up to the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial before heading back to the boat to prepare for a predawn departure on Friday morning. Our passage since then has been very smooth with some flat motoring out of the Chesapeake dodging tree trunks and tons of floodwater debris up to and through the C&D canal along with a great sail down Delaware Bay. We plan to stop for the night in Block Island around midnight to get some rest before sailing the last 40-mile leg of the journey back into Padanaram on Sunday morning.
OK, so it's been about 3 weeks since I had planned to finish and post this! To pick up where I left off, we had a thrilling sleigh ride from Block Island into Padanaram that Sunday morning, at one point hitting over 16 knots surfing down a wave. We made the 40 miles in 4.5 hours! We were greeted by Max Taylor and friends in a powerboat out by Dumpling Rocks and escorted in to a slip at the yacht club dock on the opposite side from the one we departed from almost exactly 6 months before. Family and friends were there to welcome us home with cheers and screams (of joy by Orly's friends).
I barely had time to catch my breath and unpack before I received a call from our friend Jesse asking me to fly back to Puerto Rico to help him sail his schooner REBECCA OF VINEYARD HAVEN back to Bristol, RI. We had a fast and flawless passage on Rebecca covering about 1460 miles in 7 days 8 hours with a very capable crew of 4.
Finally trying to re-acclimate and reflect on our journey and what it's meant for all of us. Some of our hopes for this experience were to try to slow down time in a way; to soak in time with our kids before they grow into adults in what seems a blink of an eye. Well, time doesn't go slowly no matter what you do! The days still seemed to fly by. However, we were together all the time for six months without the distractions and fast pace of our regular lives ashore. All our responsibilities were right in front of us. The maintenance and upkeep of our home, all 45 feet of it, certainly took some time each day, but it was mostly shared by all of us. School work did not take the kids away from us for a full day 5 days a week, but was incorporated into our everyday routine for anywhere from 2-3 hours, giving us time to explore ashore, play on the beach, swim, snorkel, or simply relax and read or play games. Although we were equipped with an ipad and two laptops on the boat, wifi Internet was limited, and screen time for all of us was very minimal (as you may have noticed from my infrequent postings). As a result, the kids became voracious readers, each reading at least 40 books over the course of our trip. Orly read through several classics and adult books including Jane Eyre, A tree grows in Brooklyn, Bee Season, Cat's Eye, The Book Thief, and commented that some of the titles that were assigned to her from school were paced too fast in comparison to the slower paced subtle plot developments of the above mentioned books. Asa also tore through books like The Hobbit at an astonishing pace. If there were no other take-aways from our trip, we feel this invigorated love of reading was a gift for life. We had plenty of relaxed times onboard playing card games like hearts and rummy as well as playing the one board game we brought, Settlers of Catan. Many times we ended the day all quietly reading in our bunks and started the following day the same way. We met many other cruising families (from France, Canada, Sweden, as well as the US) and the kids found it didn't matter what language was spoken or whether the kids were the same age or whether they were boys or girls - they were kids and someone new to play with and no time was wasted in having fun! Our kids grew in a way that I think would not be possible were we not traveling on a boat. They grew in self-confidence, self-sufficiency, independence and responsibility. Our relationship with our kids became cemented even closer than before. Orly observed early on in our trip that "this is the most time I've seen Dad in my whole life"! This was the main goal for me - to be able to spend uninterrupted time with my children while they are still kids and to be able to change the pace enough to really focus in on our family in a time of life that's so fleeting.
Mege really thrived in the simplicity and structure inherent in living on a boat. The economy and clearly purposeful tasks of day-to-day necessity - keeping our environment clean, keeping everyone fed, keeping us well stocked with fresh provisions. Mege loves a routine and before the broken ribs when I was keeping us well stocked with coconuts, the routine involved fresh coconut water with some passion fruit juiced in to start out breakfast, followed by some fresh fruit and always tea of course; breakfast for the kids followed by schoolwork help, a paddleboard or swim, some quiet midday time for reading and reflection, a late day hike or walk on the beach when the intensity of the sun was not so great - these were the ingredients of a typical enjoyable day. This is what kept us healthy and happy throughout our journey - no trips to the chiropractor! The challenge now is to not slip right back into our old patterns, to enjoy life while still keeping up with all the responsibilities and activities that make life at home so fast paced in comparison. This trip has reinvigorated our spirit of adventure and the possibility of doing something different and hopefully it's instilled that feeling in our children. The kids still seem to be so in the moment and it may take them several years to reflect back and realize how this year has affected them and helped shape who they are. Right now they're doing a great job of reintegrating with their classes at Friends Academy and looking forward to summer just two weeks away! Mege and I, after so many months surrounded by water, are happy digging our hands into the earth and tending our garden back in our home. As much as I love sailing, there's always something wonderfully comforting about the smell of earth and trees and grass.
Much love to all!
Jeff, Mege, Orly and Asa
on our way!!
26 April 2014 | Charleston, SC
Sorry for the lack of updates. We had a funtastic, if brief, stint in the Bahamas and I will be sure to post a write up of that time as soon as I can.
We just arrived back in the US last night here in Charleston and are planning on heading out again to take advantage of our next good weather window to sail another couple of days and nights up to the Chesapeake. We will see what we do from there but we will most likely sail up to Annapolis and spend a day or so touring around DC with the kids. Next stop may be Manhattan before two more day sails will bring us back home to Padanaram!!
I just uploaded some random pictures from our stay in San Juan and need to organize a selection from an overwhelming amount of photos taken while in the Bahamas to upload. Maybe next stop...
Looking forward to catching up in person with all who have been following our adventures. And even those who haven't!
Jeff, Mege, Orly and Asa
San Juan Puerto Rico and passage to the Bahamas
16 April 2014
April 7, 2014
San Juan, Puerto Rico to the Bahamas
We had a fun couple of days in San Juan and spent all of our leisure time exploring Old San Juan and parts of the fort. The fortress along the ocean coast of old San Juan is enormous stretching for over a mile along the coast with two main fortifications and a huge wall connecting both with an ancient ghetto squeezed along the ocean shore at the base of the wall between the forts. The fort to the east, Castillo San Cristobal began construction in the early 16th century, shortly after Columbus’ first visit in 1492 and the El Morro on the point was started shortly after. Both were under construction for the next 250 years! I was told the ghetto started forming in the 1600s as more people came to find work in the city but had no place to live inside the city walls. The encampment grew to the limits of what the coastline would allow in the shadow of the imposing walls and still stands today in much the same state. This is no gentrified ocean front property. It remains a ghetto and was evident from the sea as we sailed by, noted by the ragged and decaying buildings and squalid looking dwellings. We were warned not to venture there. The kids could have been happy with a full day exploring the fort but unfortunately our time was short. The experience was a bit different from our other experiences with forts throughout the Caribbean in that, being back in US territory, there were guard rails in places, places off limits and rules in general, whereas the rest of the Caribbean forts were just fully open with no limits. On the flip side, we did have the help of an excellent park worker who led us to all the most interesting bits including some deep narrow tunnels that were pitch black except for the light from the iphone.
We spent most of our two days in San Juan getting ready for our passage to the Bahamas, doing boat chores and school work, but we spent our two evenings roaming around old San Juan’s cobblestone streets, architecture, shops and restaurants. The volume of restaurants in old town is amazing! Our first night we strolled around and window shopped at dozens of restaurants before the kids started melting and we went back to one Mege had her eye on. Despite the name, The Parrot Club (which on first impression brought to mind overly sweet tropical drinks and maybe a cheeseburger in paradise image) had a great atmosphere, very good traditional Puerto Rican food with a modern twist and a great trio of musicians who set up during our dinner and with electric bass, keyboards, and hand percussion, served us up a taste of Puerto Rican sounds along with some Cuba a la some Buena Vista Social Club standards. Rumors of the sweet sounds to be found in old San Juan were well founded! The combination of delicious food, an attentive, professional and very personable waiter, and the fantastic music made for an incredibly enjoyable evening. The mofongo, empanadillas, ceviche, and churros… yumm! The next night we dined outside along an alley at a Tapas restaurant. The food was fantastic and the prices were not too bad. We could have been happy spending much more time here.
Unfortunately, the wind and weather were calling us to take advantage of their offerings and make tracks west. So we left mid morning on the 3rd and set out on a beam reach to a waypoint off the south of the Caicos bank. We had a fast first day, covering about 190 miles in 24 hours. Other than a moderate north swell mixing with the ENE wind generated swell creating a bit of a lumpy ride, the conditions were pretty good. After passing west of the Caicos bank on Saturday morning, the conditions served up were the kind that can make you forget all about any hardships of the past. The seas became a regular easy following sea gently nudging us ever forward with the wind perfectly on the starboard quarter, strong and steady around 20 knots, we ghosted along at 8 knots effortlessly. That lasted into the night until the wind came further ESE and we had to wing and wing it with the genoa poled out. Oh yes! Almost forgot to mention the tuna we hooked somewhere off the coast of the DR (Dominican Republic). We fished only during the day, and this one happened to bite in the late afternoon in time for dinner. We managed three meals out of it starting with some raw sushi! I tried to incorporate a little science lesson with the gutting of the fish but tuna tends to bleed excessively and with the rolling downwind at 8 knots, the kids weren’t too interested (Asa was curious but Orly less so). We made landfall late Sunday afternoon in Clarence Town Long Island in the southern Bahamas and anchored in clear water over sand in about 9 feet of water. Still plenty of light for a little snorkeling before dinner and finally a full nights sleep!
Update on the Bahamas to come soon.
Much love to all!
Jeff, Mege, Orly and Asa
The Spanish Virgins
31 March 2014 | Fajarda, Puerto Rico
March 31, 2014
Culebra and Vieques – The Spanish Virgins
We’re back onboard MERIDIAN after our fun week at the Bitter End and now into the Spanish Virgins! We spent a couple days getting organized in the BVI making stops in Jost Van Dyke to visit the Bubbly Pools and then around West End and down to Norman Island on Sunday for some snorkeling and to be close to Road Town to do some errands on Monday morning. After finishing up in Road Town we cruised down to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas to clear in to the USVI. Back in US waters again and back where Mege, Orly and Asa started their trip in mid November! After clearing in we moved over to Water Island to meet up with our friends on CATHERINE from Brooklyn, NY. Jarad and Christel are working musicians, gigging as they sail the Virgins and Puerto Rico this winter along with their 12-year old daughter, Arden, and their incredibly social and cute little toddler, Riley. We last spent a fun evening jam session with them on REBECCA OF VINEYARD HAVEN in North Sound. We had a fun reunion with them meeting up on the beach in Druif Bay for Monday night movie night where they set up a projector and screen right on the beach and a crowd of about 100 or so spread out on the sand and in chairs to enjoy a movie under the stars. The next day the kids played on the beach and Arden joined us for the afternoon while her parents and little sister sailed around to Red Hook where they were playing a gig doing some traditional Irish music at a pub/restaurant called Molly Malone’s. We took the bus over there to have dinner and check out their music for the evening, fun to see them in action! Hopefully they will be playing music up north this summer and we will get to see them again.
We left St. Thomas on Wednesday the 26th and had a nice downwind sail to Culebrita, a small islet off the northeast end of Culebra. Arriving around 1100, just a few boats were moored inside the stunning white/pink crescent of super fine sand beach. Apparently this spot can get very busy on the weekends with boats from Puerto Rico. What a sweet spot – perfect beach backed by coconut trees, gin clear water, good snorkeling, and a Jacuzzi, where the ocean swells spill into a tide pool and bubble and swirl. Unfortunately, the blissfulness of the surroundings was crushed for me along with my ribs as I fell (for the first time ever) from a very short coconut tree. Still don’t know exactly how I dropped off the trunk of the tree, but I fell flat on my left side, reinjuring my lower left ribs still tender from their collision with the boat’s lifeline three weeks ago. This time, I’m quite sure I’ve got a fractured rib. Good news is there’s nothing more serious and I just need to take it easy and give it some time to heal up a bit. That means the outboard starting is up to Mege and the kids. I did stop into Culebra’s small hospital to get checked out and left with some Ibuprofen and the knowledge that I didn’t puncture a lung (which I knew) and there was nothing more serious he could detect. Thanks to a call to my trusty friend Pam Spatz, I know what I need to do to make life a bit more comfortable while I heal.
Injuries aside, Culebra was a lot of fun! We rented a burly golf cart and toured around a bit. Flamenco beach on the north coast was a beautiful fine white sand beach with remnants of the US bomb happy days in the form of blown up rusting tanks and signs saying beware of boom-boom. The quaint little town of Dewey had a cool vibe and some killer good tacos at Zaco’s. Very fun to be into the Spanish islands and interesting to see the after effects of the US military occupation of this island and how it’s shaped what the island is now. Because of the danger of unexploded bombs littered throughout the island, there are some areas where heavy equipment is not allowed, keeping development at bay and other areas have been designated as nature preserves further ensuring no development. Just a short distance away – about the distance Martha’s Vineyard is from Padanaram, lies the USVI and all the crowds of cruisers and charter boats, while here in Culebra and Vieques, there’s just a couple boats here and there and we have the place mostly to ourselves with countless beautiful white sand beaches, good snorkeling and diving, great food, and super nice people. I have to mention the wonderful people of Culebra. My first introduction to Culebra was speaking to the customs officials who were extremely easy going, engaging and friendly and very forthcoming with suggestions of where to go and what to see both by land and by boat. The only people we encountered who were less than pleasant were other Americans working here. All the Puerto Ricans we met were super kind and friendly. Before you all book a trip, however, make sure you check your timing. I overheard the golf cart rental guy talking on the phone to some unfortunate tourists who had booked their trip for easter week staying in the villas by Flamenco where he informed them hordes (thousands) of college kids convene over their spring break and camp on the beach turning it into a Ft. Lauderdale like spring break experience – definitely not the time to visit.
Weekends also see a huge influx of tourists on the easy and cheap ferries from Puerto Rico but during the week the island is quiet and peaceful.
After leaving Culebra, we spent a couple days down in Vieques including one night anchored outside one of the famous bioluminescent bays. We were the only boat anchored outside the entrance to the inner bay tucked behind a small reef with a stern anchor set out to keep us facing into the gentle swell. After dinner we set out in the dinghy equipped with the two dinghy paddles and the SUP paddle so that we didn’t spoil the bay with our outboard. Though we were the only boat anchored out, we found out we weren’t the only ones paddling around to check out the bioluminescence – there were a dozen or so kayakers paddling around with a guide. We couldn’t see them but we could hear them. The paddles glowed and sparkled in the calm water like the stars overhead!
We left Vieques today and sailed up to the Northeast coast of Puerto Rico to a spot outside the town of Fajarda. After listening to the latest weather info this morning, we changed our initial plan of cruising down the south coast of Puerto Rico and have shifted gears with plans to head to San Juan on the north coast tomorrow and get ready for the passage to the Bahamas, leaving San Juan on Thursday morning with the expected arrival in the Bahamas on Sunday.
Mege and the kids are doing a great job supporting me in my limited state. Maybe this is a good thing! I’m feeling much better today and am doing my best to take it easy. Hopefully the weather gods will be nice to us and we’ll have an easy broad reach passage to the Bahamas. We’ve just been getting accustomed to having use of the iphone again while in US waters but will have to do without again for a few weeks while in the Bahamas until we make landfall back in the States. Keep in touch and we’ll see you all soon!
Much love to all!
Jeff, Mege, Orly and Asa
The Bitter End
27 March 2014 | Virgin Gorda
March 21, 2014
The Bitter End
We spent one week as guests at the Bitter End and delightfully exhausted ourselves! The kids got a hold of the activity schedule on our first day and both devised their schedule for the week – kid’s sail every morning from 9-11 along with the afternoon kids camp almost every afternoon from 2-4, and movies at the sand palace (outdoor theater) every night at 7:30. Orly took a resort course for scuba diving and she and I went on 3 dive trips! Both Orly and Asa took windsurfing lessons and did a great job practicing their skills the rest of the week working on jibes. Asa took an Opti lesson and spent a bunch of time sailing around North Sound on his own in the Opti. Both kids took out a Bug (see photos) on Saturday and for the Sunday morning regatta and despite some in boat sibling disagreements, had a blast. The watersports staff immediately drew the kids in and in turn they were excited and motivated to get out on the water! These are the same kids who resisted sailing school back home and after forced sessions for a couple summers, flat out refused last summer! We spent a good portion of every day out on the water in some form of small craft – kayaks, stand up paddle boards, lasers, picos, 420s, windsurfers, Rhodes 19s, and especially the Hobie Getaways (a slightly larger Hobie cat with a jib). The Hobie Getaway was a blast to sail and the kids and Mege had fun playing in the trapeze, though the conditions were just below the strength where we’d be flying a hull all the time. Mege and I took part in the Sunday morning and afternoon regattas and won all the races but the very last one where the J24 squeezed us out of the passing lane at the pin end of the finish. The regattas were mixed classes with a Bug (the kids), lasers, 420s, a R19, J24, Hobie Waves and Hobie Getaways and until the last couple of races (out of 4) in the morning and the afternoon races, the starts were not staggered for handicapping. The course was also a triangle with two reaching legs and the Hobie just screams on a reach. Not the most serious racing but lots of fun.
Mege and I started most mornings with a sunrise hike through the trails (joined by Asa for at least one morning!) followed by some fresh coconut water to start our breakfast. A couple of mornings we had a luxurious breakfast down at the clubhouse along the beachfront with a huge breakfast buffet including the omelet man, good coffee and mimosas and a small sampling of world news printed up for the guests. For us, this was the first time we took any interest in what was happening in the rest of the world. For the most part, we’ve remained blissfully ignorant of what’s happening back home and around the globe, except of course for the regular reminders from friends and family back home of the state of the weather this winter!
There were a couple different regattas happening the week of our stay. One was a Swan rally and we were able to catch up with briefly with Ben Sperry who was racing on AFFINITY, a Swan 48 that spends a most of its time sailing out of Marion in the summers. Another local acquaintance, Ryan Walsh, had just left after racing the Heineken regatta in St. Martin on AFFINITY. The other big event was the Superyacht regatta. I think this was the fourth year of this event, which is a feeder into the longer running St.Barth’s Bucket Superyacht Regatta. The new Yacht Club Cosa Smerelda across from the Bitter End filled up with about 20 Superyachts and we were able to see some of their practice days just outside of North Sound from Tuesday thru Thursday. On Monday afternoon Mege and the kids and I got a tour around the 180’ MARIE – a Hoek design built at Vitters in Holland a few years ago. The captain of MARIE did the last delivery south with me on SPRAY 13 years ago. There was the possibility that I might have gone out on Wednesday for one of their practice days, but it slipped away - too much fun to be had at the resort anyway.
It was also very fun to catch up with our old friends, Gordo and Nathalie. When Mege was a teenager working at the Bitter End in the late 80s, Gordo and Nathalie were running the watersports program. I met Gordo in the late 90s at the Bitter End while we were running boats. Since then Gordo and Nathalie spent about 3 years managing Necker Island for Richard Branson, then managed the villa rentals on Mustique before moving back to the Bitter End where Gordo is now the Managing Director for the resort. Their “little girl” we remember from our last stint down here in the late 90s is now a graduate of Bard College, a musician and living in Boston. Their son Anthony is the same age as Orly, both were polite but quiet and shy around each other – 12 year olds!
Being at the resort during the prime spring break week, we met several other families and the kids had fun meeting and playing with other kids. There were a few families from Massachusetts – Marshfield, Cohasset, and the Cape. We also met a nice family from Brooklyn who spend summers on Nantucket and have a small hotel in Nosara, Costa Rica. Though their kids were much younger than ours, Mege and I had fun getting to know them and look forward to catching up back in the northeast.
With all this activity and socializing, the one thing we missed out on was more time relaxing and reading from the beautiful spot we had on our porch at our room. We had a spectacular spot in the highest and furthest out beachfront unit towards the north with a view overlooking Eustacia Sound and Necker Island passage right above the kitesurfing area. We had a cozy hammock and a couple cushioned lounge chairs perfect for napping in the soft trade winds of the afternoon. I can’t say enough about The Bitter End and what a fantastic family vacation resort it is. For families that are into water sports, this is it! The kids had such a feeling of independence here – they pretty much could go off on their own in the morning and meet up with us at the end of the day. It’s small enough so that the staff gets to know the kids very quickly and you get to know the other families right away so that it’s very safe feeling. The watersports staff really impressed us with their professionalism and talent for engaging the kids and adults alike and I knew that when Asa or Orly were out on their own on one of the boats, there was always a staff member looking out for them making sure they were safe.
I’m so glad we had the chance to spend a week here as a family with the kids at this age. I’m not sure if we’ll ever have the chance again, however, I could see how there’s a whole other world for the families with teenagers who vacation here. The watersports options open up even more and the social scene for the teenagers…. Oh, boy!
More to come soon on the continuation of our boating journey. We’re back where we started and on our homeward journey!
Much love to all!
Jeff, Mege, Orly and Asa
10 March 2014
March 9, 2014
Antigua and Barbuda
It would be 13 years come this April since Mege and I last departed Antigua on SPRAY heading north for New England. Mege flew home with a new life growing in her belly and I sailed the boat back to Newport, finding out about my new impending fatherhood during our layover in Bermuda! Now at last, we have returned to the island we spent so much of our time during those winters running boats in the Caribbean. Some things, of course, have changed but much remains the same here. There are some who have passed away, taken by cancer, including our favorite varnisher and friend Obadiah. We were both very sad to hear that Obadiah had died last year. Of all the people I was looking forward to seeing during our visit here, he was at the top of the list. Obadiah was a Rasta with seven children, soft spoken and extremely kind hearted. He and his sidekick Simon, or Ras Heart, as he was known locally, were our varnish duo who helped us keep the intense Caribbean sun from ravaging the abundance of varnished teak on deck. Shortly before our departure in late April of 2001, he and his family hosted a beach barbeque over in Freemans Bay, English Harbor for us and our friends Robert and Gina on WINDCREST.
As I said, some things have changed and some remain the same. One thing that falls in both categories is that English Harbour and especially Falmouth Harbour remain the focal point for the superyacht base in the Caribbean. The difference is that the boats continue to get bigger and there are much more of them! 13 years ago, a 70' boat was still big, but definitely among the smaller professionally crewed yachts in the harbor with a bunch of 90-100 footers and several 150+ foot sailing yachts and a few 250+ foot motor yachts. Now the 90 footers are among the smaller yachts with the 150 footers more common and the gigantic 200' sailing yachts taking up most of the dock space at the yacht club and marina in Falmouth Harbour. The top .01% definitely has not diminished over the last decade and a half!
We arrived the day before the start of the RORC Caribbean 600 - a race around 11 Caribbean islands for 600 miles with a lot of reaching and some serious upwind legs as well. Initially I thought an ocean race around the Caribbean would be pretty light weight with the warm temps, consistently good breeze and predictable patterns, however, upon closer inspection, this race gives all sorts of challenges both tactical and physical to make it one of the most popular in its class. There were plenty of serious race boats in the 60-boat fleet and also a mix of a few classics (Dorade and Mariella) and a couple superyachts (Adela and Athos). Unfortunately we missed watching the start from atop the cliffs at Shirley Heights but we were able to watch the first three boats finish (in just over 2 days!), all three within a time frame of just a few minutes from each other!
As a result of our timing with the race, we were able to see our good friend, Steve Tofield, from Maine, who was racing aboard the 180' schooner Adela. We also were able to spend some time with some newly made friends, Jason and Rosy White and their little baby Griffin who crew a Maine built boat called Sonny. We had heard of Jason, Rosy and Griffin through mutual friends near Barney's Joy in Dartmouth, but didn't meet them until just after Mege and the kids arrived when we were in Nanny Cay, Tortola. Unfortunately our arrival to Antigua came on the same day some other Dartmouth friends, T and Ellen, flew out after visiting with the Whites for a week. Even though our stay was relatively brief we managed to share some quality time over dinner, a game of Catan, fun at the beach, some scuba diving (for me and Jason) and a very informative debrief on cruising the Bahamas.
We were initially anchored in Freeman's Bay, English Harbour but ended up moving to a stern to spot at the Dockyard for three days. We were rudely awoken one morning in the anchorage when another boat's stern anchor dragged and they bumped into the edge of our transom necessitating some minor paint repairs. Unfortunate as this was, it gave the kids some independence to come and go from the boat at will. The entirety of Nelsen's Dockyard is a museum, with most buildings from the original naval dockyard restored and intact. The yachts are all moored stern to the dock with their anchors set outward so that the yachts sit in a semicircle around the perimeter. Besides checking out all the boats up close and exploring the grounds, the kids spent a considerable amount of time in the dockyard museum building, which had all kinds of artifacts, pictures and explanations of the make up and workings of the naval dockyard during Admiral Nelsen's time. Orly also spent some time each day sitting at the café just behind the boat using the Internet to communicate with her teachers and her friends while having an ice cream and listening to the West Indian ladies chitchat behind the counter.
We stayed for exactly one week in English Harbour and then cruised up the windward coast a short way to Nonsuch Bay and anchored behind the reef off Green Island right across from the exclusive Mill Reef Club. We spent two days here swimming, snorkeling and exploring before heading off to Barbuda to the north. We had a great beam reach sail up to Barbuda with one night anchored at Coco Point in front of the abandoned K-club resort (where we collected an ample supply of coconuts) and a second night up in Low Bay along an amazing 11-mile stretch of beach where you could anchor almost anywhere along the beach in 10-12' over a sandy bottom. We spent an afternoon with a guide exploring the nesting Frigate Bird colony in the lagoon amongst the mangroves and though it was well past the prime of mating season, we were able to still see plenty of male birds with their bright red pouches inflated, doing their best to attract a mate. We also were able to witness some mothers feeding their young. The mother, or in some cases the father, stores the food deep down in its throat and when they return to the nest, they sit and do a sort of waddle with their heads up to gather the food and then open their mouths very wide and the babies stick their entire head inside the throat of the parent and feed! This is no small baby, either - the birds are quite large. The adults have a wingspan of 6 feet and can fly at speeds up to 50 miles per hour. They are called frigate birds after the British man'o war ships because, like our seagulls, they are very aggressive birds and will snatch food out of other birds beaks.
Barbuda reminded us a lot of Anegada, absolutely stunning white/pink sand beaches as far as you can see, but not much going on ashore. The main town of Codrington is quite small and where the majority of the population (about 2000) live. Their main livelihood is fishing and lobster (they used to export sand until they mined their vast dunes down to nothing). The island was leased from England to the Codrington family back in the plantation days. The Codringtons owned a vast plantation on Antigua and used the island of Barbuda to raise food and livestock to supply the plantation. Now, none of the land is privately held on the island, but is all leased. The island is about half the size of Antigua with a tiny population so there is plenty of land to go around. We didn't have enough time here to really get a feel for the Barbudian people, but our impression was that they were quite independent and seem to resist any move to develop the island and give in to the easy road of catering to tourists - no cruise ships come in here. Reefs surround the island and even the anchorages are littered with coral heads. Navigation around Barbuda is probably the most difficult in all the Windward and Leeward islands.
We left Barbuda early Friday morning for the downwind sail to St. Barth's and spent all day Saturday visiting our favorite spots including some significant wave time at Gouveneur beach. After a relaxing Sunday morning in Columbier, we're off to St. Martin to get supplies and provisions in the large chandleries and Grand Marché, enough to last us through the Virgins and beyond. We will be handing the boat over to the Taylors on Friday the 14th of March and getting back aboard on the 21st. We will be staying at the Bitter End Yacht Club for our week off the boat and all are looking forward to taking full advantage of the extensive watersports toys! Mege used to work on the watersports staff as a teenager. Her superior who ran watersports back then is now the managing director of the resort. Hopefully, it being spring break time, Orly and Asa will have lots of kids to play with! That's it for now!!
Much love to all!
Jeff, Mege, Orly and Asa