Anchorages of the Virgin Islands
09 May 2016
We have had a jolly ol' time in the British and US Virgin Islands and here are some, but not all, of our favourite anchorages there. Easy sailing with the next island barely an hour away. Watch out for the inexperienced charter boat, of which there are plenty in the BVIs. Turtles in every bay, swimming with dolphins that happened to swim into our anchorage, counting 24 species of fish in another anchorage, here is a list of some other aspects of the Virgin Islands that we thought distinguished enough to be awarded a mention.
Best for conch harvesting - inbetween Prickly Pear and Eustatia Island, BVI
Sheltered between the two islands and the reef to the north west of Eustatius island, a peaceful idyllic spot with a view of Richard Branson's Necker island to the north. Conch was plentiful near the beaches of the deserted Prickly Pear where we picked up and learnt how to extract, gut, skin, tenderise and fritter the conch thanks to the Cruisers Handbook of Fishing. It did take us about 4 hours, but we had a great time. We were the only boat there at one point and delighted in chasing the many turtles (they are very fast here), spotting the stingrays and the flamingo living on Prickly Pear. There are also plentiful fish that will happily jump up and eat the discarded guts of conch. A great snorkel over the reef where you can anchor your dinghy in around 3 metres and dinghy over to trespass on Necker island.
Best giant Tarpon and walking trails - Waterlemon Bay, St John, USVI
This calm anchorage is in the national park and as such you cannot anchor but can take a mooring costing $26 if you choose to stay overnight (free if not). This calm anchorage, protected from any swell if you get close to the beach, is an excellent spot for novice snorkellers. There are plentiful harmless (and teethless) giant tarpon's, turtles and various sea life as well as an abundance of coral to the north east, where a Nurse shark can be seen sleeping in the morning. For those that like land, there is also an easy trail up to the old sugar mill ruins where you can get a bite of 'dumb bread' as it comes out of the traditional oven.
Best nightlife - The Bight, Norman Island, BVI
If you are here during Spring Break, be prepared for hoardes of Americans descending on the floating bar, Willy T, from early afternoon until the last man standing and drunken skippers dropping anchor left right and centre, possibly having to re-anchor late at night as their boat has drifted into the Willy T. More frequent than any other bar I've been to ever, body shots on the bar and naked people jumping off the top deck, even if they can't swim. Otherwise a good, relatively quiet sheltered anchorage, room for anchoring and also plenty of buoys. Free wifi at the expensive bar ashore. Great snorkelling over the rocks at the south east of the bay. A dinghy ride to snorkel the caves just outside the bay. But the main reason to visit is for the 'craic' on Willy T, the people, frozen margaritas, buckets of beer and the honey stung fried chicken (delicious).
Best day time drinking anchorage - Hansen Bay, St John, USVI
One of the few places to drop anchor on St John as the majority of the island is within the national park. However, even though this place is not designated national park, it is still home to reefs to the north and south of the beaches, turtles near to shore, the occasional dolphins that if lucky, you can swim with and of course the floating bar, Angel's Rest, run by Puerto Rican Pete, who is actually American, but has visited Puerto Rica a lot. Pete can be found anchored close to shore in his delightful brightly coloured hand built bar from late morning till around 5/6pm (or when Vie kicks him out of the bay). The rest of the time you can also call upon him at his mooring across the way at the less beautiful, but handy stop, Coral Bay. Everything is $5 and you can choose from beer, rum punch, vodka punch, tequila punch or moonshine. A lot less flashy touristy than the Soggy Dollar bar of the BVIs' Josh Van Dyke.
Best handy stop for laundry, wifi-ing, provisioning and general chat with cruisers at happy hour - Fat Hog Bay, Tortola, BVI
What with the Virgin Islands being the most expensive set of islands in the Caribbean, by far (we saw a can of baked beans for $6), provisioning can get quite frustrating when considering that most accessible shops cater to the charter market and only stock short term supplies. That it mind, (unless you want to anchor/moor in the rolly Road Harbour where there is a large supermarket a 5 min walk away) we found that Fat Hog Bay was one of the most convenient since you can pick up a buoy ($30 if you stay the night) and then dinghy straight to the laundry and or straight over to the reasonably large supermarket or straight over to the bar/restaurant (quite nice food), where many cruisers, as opposed to charters, frequent. If you stay the night, depending on which buoy you pick up, you will get access to the marina wifi, showers and book swap.
Best reef - Saltpond bay, St John, USVI
Just behind Boobie island, with some rocks awash at a shallow entrance, lies another idyllic anchorage within the national park with space enough for 6 boats on moorings. A most beautiful reef extends almost the entire perimeter of the bay, with the most densely populated coral near the rocks awash inside the entrance with plentiful tropical fish and the only place we have seen a bright yellow trumpet fish. Crystal clear so you can see the stingrays on the bottom from the boat and calm enough so you can swim right up to the turtles. There is also a sandy beach and, as the name suggests, a salt pond just beyond he beach.
Best cheap local food - Trellis bay, Tortola, BVI
Since food doesn't grow on trees here, your best bet may be Trellis bay where the Roti shack does a good BBQ for $5 every Friday and Saturday (Roti the rest of the week). The locals head down to the Loose Mongoose on a Sunday for music and reasonably priced food. The bay is also conveniently close to the airport for pick up/drop offs. Also home to the infamous new moon parties.
Best wreck - Salt Pond Island, BVI
RMS Rhone in the BVI national park, on a clear day is a great snorkel/dive. You can see the shipwreck in all its glory from bow to stern, propeller as well as the reef that it foundered on. A great stop in your tour of the Channel Islands.
Best for most amount of turtles spotted in half an hour - Great Lameshur Bay, St John, USVI
I think we spotted 10 huge turtles here all around the boat in the space of about half and hour. There is also excellent snorkelling all down the east side rocks with multiple species of fish, rays and coral.
Best deserted island - Fallen Jerusalem, BVI
Just south of the baths of Virgin Gorda, this place has the towering boulders of the baths with none of the people. Only 2 commercial dive moorings are here but can be taken if they are empty for an hour or so. Completely on our own, we snorkelled the aquarium crystal clear waters from the mooring to the deserted beach, climbing over the boulders and through the rock pools.
Best spotting of tropical birds - Great Tobago, BVI
Not for the faint hearted, rocks and a small deep anchorage with no moorings can stress out your skipper, especially when your anchor chain wraps around a coral head. However, for the keen bird watcher, red billed tropic birds at close range are abundant.
01 May 2016
“Did a car just pull up?” I looked around. The roads were empty, just a couple of bars, their light spilling out onto the beach, illuminating small waves, lapping lacklustre on the white sand. No cars. “We’re right next to the customs office”. I looked around. How many ferry terminals could there be in St John? I doubt the population in Cruz Bay was more than 16 people and perhaps 27 chickens. There was certainly no customs building in sight. “Are you definitely in St John?” Liz said down the line. I thought for a second. Was there a possibility we were in the wrong country? It was plausible; this was the first day of the trip I’d remained sober right through to the evening. But geography was my strong suit. “I’m sure,” I said. She sounded surprised.
Dave was getting anxious. He liked things well-planned, and this was a bad start. He’d gone off looking for Liz and Liam in the bars. Or maybe he was having a surreptitious beer whilst I waited with the bags. He was suffering with the cold-turkey. Not even a beer since San Juan. No wonder he was anxious. We both had the cold sweats. I pulled out a cigarette, lit up and sat on my bag. I was in no rush, I had almost three weeks to spend mincing around these islands, countless bottles of rum to strain through my liver, and soft city hands that needed putting to work.
Dave reappeared. Had he just necked a beer? I didn’t ask. We sat in silence. We were burned out. Our last night in Puerto Rico had sucked it out of us. Literally in Dave’s case.
“There’s two bloody ferry terminals here.” Liz and Liam were walking towards us. No shit, I thought. They looked healthy, brown, glowing. You could see that they didn’t carry the worries of normal nine-to-fivers any more. They’d both put on a little weight since I last saw them four months ago. Life was treating them well.
We took a cab to the bay over the hill and unlocked the dingy from a tree on the beach. “No sand in the boat,”said Liam. I chucked in my ridiculous wheelie suitcase. Why did I have a wheelie case? I’d always hated them. Here it seemed like a remnant of the London city life that I was leaving behind. I washed my feet in the delightfully warm water and hopped aboard. The sound of the out-board spluttering to life shattered the silence of the bay. The shapes of white yachts hung like ghosts in the distance. Anchor lights on. We weaved our way to “Odyssey.” A 38ft yacht Liz and Liam had sailed all the way from Portsmouth.
The boat was small, and build for purpose. It could cross oceans. It wasn’t designed for a land-lubber like me to lounge around drinking Pina Coladas, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. It had an honest charm to it, the odd spot of rust and a bust fridge. Liam, was an Irish merchant ship’s captain. He was used to driving 100 metre tankers round the world, with engines the size of buses. Liz was an accountant back in London. A profession that suited her matter of fact, say what-you-think personality. She didn’t suffer fools lightly. God knows why she invited me and Dave to join her and her boyfriend sailing round the Caribbean. She was asking for trouble. A Welsh, Chinese sky-diver, and now round-the –world sailor, she wasn’t your typical pencil-pusher.
Climbing aboard it wasn’t long before the beers were cracked open. “They won’t stay cold long” said Liam. Dave and I didn’t need an excuse.
The day dawned clear and warm with blue skies and a gentle breeze. This was just what the doctor ordered. We left the bay and motored round the headland, past ridiculous houses, islands of refuge for people with more money than taste. We set sail to the North. Pelicans and brown boobies flew past us, their wings almost touching the water. “Bird! Jack, bird!” Each one was pointed out as though it was the first ever seen by human eyes. I tried to explain what we were looking at. “Bird!” Yep, it was another pelican. “That one’s a boobie”. “Another pelican”. “Boobie.” This was going to get tiresome.
Waterlemon Bay was the first stop. We took a mooring-buoy and settled in. The bottom was 10 metres down, but clear as crystal. The sky was deep-blue. I felt my worries seeping away, slowly but surely, like a slow-puncture. A bucket of snorkelling gear was brought up from below decks. I tried to find a mask that fitted, but in the water they fogged-up and leaked with a vengeance. I put in a bit of fairy liquid, which did the trick for a while as I explored the reefs and sea-grass. Time seemed of no importance. I’d taken off my watch. I’d forgotten what day of the week it was. My phone was off, or had a flat battery and I didn’t care. This was the way to live.
Like a cameo in a play, a turtle appeared out of nowhere. Just a small one, the size of a car-tire. I followed him around. He looked back at me with a beady eye. “Poor bastard” he said, or at least that’s what I imagine he was thinking. “Working your ass off just to tread water”. I touched him on the back. He didn’t seem to care. I dived, hanging beside him in the water. The fan corals were swaying in the current like washing on the line, angel and parrotfish blundered around the reef. Long skinny fish with pointy snouts skimmed under the surface ahead of me, looking back mistrustfully. I was an imposter from another planet amongst these denizens of paradise.My mask was half full of water. One last look at the turtle. I left him to carry on his business. He had things to do. I didn’t.
Back at the boat Liz had whipped up a meal of rice, spam and cabbage with jerk seasoning. Everything was better with Jerk. “This is incredible” I said. I probably sounded facetious, but I meant it. Swimming makes food taste that much better.
As the sun dipped, and the air got cooler, we put our precious things into a dry bag and went ashore. I left my phone behind, as usual. Who was I going to call? There was a ruined rum distillery in the bay. Dave and I walked down to it, whilst Liz and Liam returned to the boat. The ruined distillery wasn’t in good shape. None of the roofs remained, only the walls, and the copper lined tanks which once held the boiling molasses. They didn’t tend to preserve slave-trade era buildings here, and who could blame them? A mongoose scuttled past, and looked at me with bright pink-eyes. Another import from Africa, brought without volition by the white man. His ancestors had enjoyed an easier ride. Released onto an island with no natural ground-predators; it was a pretty sweet deal for mongooses.
A couple of days passed at Waterlemon Bay. Was it two, or three? I wasn’t counting. We saw turtles each day, and the stars at night. My eyes gradually adjusted to looking at things in the distance, instead of a computer monitor infront of my face. Eyes weren’t designed for screens. My skin browed, my hair got blonder, and my worries faded, like an old colour photograph sitting on a windowsill. If I stayed here long enough, maybe I could be a turtle.
We steadily ate our food stocks, all imported from Godknows where at monstrous prices. A pack of pistachios cost $11. Food became the only real event in the day, and I enjoyed every mouthful with primal relish, like a castaway. Lacking the option to nip down to Sainsbury’s for a meal deal meant that I finished every mouthful, scraping each last grain of rice from the bowl. “Anyone for seconds?” Hell yeah. I ate everything I could get my hands on.
Time to move to the next bay. It was a hard life. Liam took it upon himself to teach us how to sail. He got out a piece of paper and a pencil and drew some diagrams. I nodded sincerely as he explained the art of tacking and gybing. It sounded straightforward enough. “Jack, what do we do now?”. Shit. I’d think and make a guess. “Ease the Genoa, with the blue line, and haul the jib with this green one?” Sometimes I got it right, but it was surprisingly difficult to grasp. Something about the tropical air turned my mind to sponge. I was deep in holiday mode. The most challenging thing I’d done in days was fetching my book from the saloon. Learning how to sail in these conditions was like being hit over the head with a lead pipe whilst taking a nap. Liam was so patient, with his soft Irish accent, I felt bad to be so inept. My soft hands began to blister. I had to start wearing gloves, much to Liz’s amusement. She was a soft-handed accountant not so long ago, but now it seemed ludicrous to her. How I wanted to forget my inexorable return to keyboard tapping as the days drifted by.
We circumnavigated the island at a snails pace. We had nowhere to be, so we took our time. Every day we saw turtles. We swam with huge eagle rays the size of bed-sheets. We shone torches at squid scuttling around the surface at night. Liam pointed out consolations in the sky. Stars that our ancestors would have known by heart, now obscured to most by the light-pollution of a hundred thousand cities.
Liz was in her element. She could snorkel for hours without the slightest sign of tiredness. She’d come in, then disappear into the galley for twenty minutes and return with an incredible meal. I’d bought a book of crosswords with me, which she devoured as ravenously as I ate my jerk curry. She’d call the clues as we lolled about the deck. “38 across.” She’d always say the number, as if it mattered. “Aromatic genus of plant in the olive family.” We were poor to average at best, but it didn’t stop her. Dave pretended to know about music and philosophy, but rarely got a correct answer. My housemate back in Brixton, we met back in first year at university when his hair was shoulder-length and he wore a brown suit, brown beanie and Converse trainers. He was my next-door neighbour at the time. He had a mirror-image coffin-sized room opposite mine in the so-called “new-block” where all the state-school kids had been thrown together to keep them out of the way of the Etonians. We bonded on day one when I heard him playing Pearl Jam across the corridor. Working for a socialist newspaper, he’d taken a two month sabbatical to join Liz and Liam sailing over from Antigua to the Virgin Islands. He’d flow on to Puerto Rico where we’d met up for a week of debauchery. Over the last decade, I could always rely on him to drink with. “Time for a Carib?” He’d pass up four warm beers through the hatch, whilst Liz would ask another crossword question, and Liam would busy himself with a spanner and some electrical tape.
We pulled into Hurricane Hole on the Southern side of the island. A place sheltered from all aspects, and named as such because you could hold up there in a storm and probably not sink. Just as we’d settled in for a quiet evening, what looked like a bungalow chugged into the bay in slow motion. It was a floating bar. The dollars in our wallets had been more-or less untouched since we left Cruz Bay, so we didn’t need any encouragement to ready the dingy. We tied up alongside and hopped aboard. Behind the counter was a man in his fifties, skin thickened by the sun, and sunglasses held on by a lanyard. This was Puerto Rican Pete. We ordered a round of Caribs as he regaled us with tales of his colourful life on the floating-bar that he had built from scratch. He looked like Hunter S. Thompson, and had stories to match. The place was lawless. A few Americans dangled their legs over the side, unaware of the volume of their voices. Like most places we’d been, the patrons were mainly retirees with pensions that would make your eyes water. “Two rum punches. One for my wife and one for my girlfriend.” Another retiree punter. “Make the one for my girlfriend a strong one”. “They’re all strong” replied Pete. “Well, easy on the rum in one of ‘em.’ ” Pete poured two, one with less rum than the usual. He mixed them both in a shaker and put them back on the bar. “Don’t ask me which one’s which.”
Half a dozen beers later, we were on the rum punch too. It was Pete’s own variation on the famous Painkiller, invented in the Virgin Islands. I’ve never liked sweet drinks. Living in Britain it just feels wrong. But in the Caribbean, I could have had a constant, intravenous supply. Liam tipped the remains of the kitty upside down, and a couple of singles fell onto the bar. We were out. Luckily, Dave got us back in action with a handful of twenties. We ordered another round.
By the time we’d finished off all Dave’s money, we were in trouble. There was half a kilometre of water between us and our cabins. Liam readied the dinghy. How we all got in safely, I don’t remember, but we were soon doing uncontrollable doughnuts, laughing like crazies. Somehow we made it back to the boat, and I hopped aboard. Next thing I knew, Liam was butt-naked and in the water, with Dave hanging over the side, his phone in his hand. He was frantically trying to stay above water to get his phone in the rib, but from where he was he couldn't see the futility of the situation. The dingy was 3 inches deep in water inside. With superhuman effort, Dave dropped his phone into the rib. I tried to tell him not to, but it was either that or in the sea. It fell into the puddle in the bottom of with an unceremonious plop. Goodbye phone.
The days drifted by with a pace that crept up on you. Where did the time go? How many crosswords did we not finish? Suddenly, I realised I was finishing my last Carib at a beach bar at Trellis Bay. Who needed a departure lounge, when you could sit on the beach? I waved Liz and Liam goodbye. I was flying the nest. Leaving the cocoon. Plunging into cold water. The real world waited for me on the far-side of the security X-ray machine. I tried to think of something positive…
At least I was going back to Brixton. I could probably buy Carib there.
15 April 2016
12 Dec – 26 Dec
A miserable British winter had well and truly set in but Dave and I were lucky enough to be jetting off to join Liz and Liam on Odyssey in the Caribbean sun, we were feeling pretty smug. A short internal transfer from Antigua to St Lucia and we hopped in a taxi headed for Rodney Bay to be greeted by rum punch in coconuts – classic.
The next morning we got to see the marina in all its glory, it was pretty busy with all the ARC crews and boat boys nipping around selling everything from fruit to laundry services. Liz then decided to check the rigging. This did not go so well and she managed to find some stray wires which turn out to be quite important. Darn it. The next plan was to try and get into another marina (one less busy) with a rigging specialist who could sort us out.
We soon found out how hot it was in marinas (uncomfortably hot is typically how it goes) so we popped out to anchor in the bay before heading off to Martinique (in search of a rigger). As soon as physically possible, Dave got his travel rod out extremely excited to get in action and caught a tiddler within minutes. Fantastic! I thought, dining on fish for the rest of the trip. Once Liz had butchered the tiddler for bait he tried again to see what else he could get. Whatever got the end of the line was big and strong and Dave’s rod snapped within the first hour of use.
We then motored across the channel toward Le Marin in Martinique navigating through what felt like an extremely narrow channel which marooned boats seemingly floating on the water. We arrived in and tried to track down the illusive rigger, Gitan. Gitan was busy, very busy but would call tomorrow to let us know when he could schedule us in so to escape the marina we popped over to anchor in St Anne’s, a lovely little bay with a nice village, beach and numerous turtles. Liam persistently rang Gitan and repeatedly got the ‘I’ll call back tomorrow’ response so we made ourselves at home chilling in the bay.
(Unrelated sun set photo)
Dave did some more fishing, we saw a fair few turtles and drank quite a lot of Caribbean beer. One great thing about Martinique is the French cuisine; pain au chocolats, croissants, baguettes, we ate like French kings. We also experienced some other fantastic food cooked by someone who clearly enjoyed his produce on a grill on the street; Liz got her fix of possibly the best chicken and chips on plastic table and chairs.
After some advice from some other people we were told that we could sail with the rigging as it was (after all Odyssey had crossed the Atlantic and it hadn’t broken yet) so we went for a jolly and I had a glimpse of how hard living on the boat would have been crossing the Atlantic. I decided to make some lunch for the crew and, with a swell of at least 2m, was having some fun in the galley. There were eggs everywhere, they kept jumping out of the pan. Needless to say it left me feeling a little squiffy after being below desk. Hats off to Liz and her nautical spam cooking skills.
Gitan eventually managed to squeeze us in and look at the rigging which meant a couple of nights in the marina. Turns out the boat was a floating electrode which was why the rigging had corroded. Not ideal. He could have a look to try and fix it and it could take a day or a week. Either way it sounded expensive. Liz and Liam decided to take it to the BVI for his cousin to have a look at instead.
Anyway, with that news we headed round the southern tip of Martinique to explore and made our way initially to Petit Anse, a very quaint little village. Not far offshore there was some fantastic snorkelling but not too much in terms of potential Christmas dinner venues. Oh, I forgot to mention, Liz and Liam had taken on the task of finding a venue for Christmas for us and some of the Arc+ friends. Intiial estimates were approx. 25 people. We stayed in Petit Anse overnight but the swell was quite large so we only stayed one night before moving round to Grande Anse.
Grande Anse was literally round the corner and a larger bay with little swell (well, not if you were far enough in). A dingy ride ashore and we soon found a potential candidate for Christmas dinner; it was in the guide book, it was open and they appeared to have space for us. Our trail dinner with Magic was a little disappointing though as dinner for 8 of us took approximately 3 hours. How would they cope with 25 people?
Day by day the bay got busier with more Arc boats arriving, increasing the number of people for Christmas dinner to high 40s. The restaurant, although frustrated by my awful French, seemed non-plussed by the growing number and just requested menu choices on Xmas eve (luckily for us Rugile from Moonshine could speak fluent French and nailed the order).
To explore the local bays we had a Snorkelling trip round to Anse Noir. Vincent showed off some impressive diving skills and Liz and I were dumbfounded by the largest shoal of fish known to man.
Dave spent a lot of time fishing off the back of the boat for the locals before the locals showed pitty on us and donated us some tuna. He did however manage to bag a porcupine fish which looked a lot like a sea faring ET (and, to be fair, did catch us dinner on a couple of occasions).
Christmas eve arrived and we had spread the word to get to the beach for 5ish with food and drink. We omitted to think about any form of lighting and the local insects which come out on the beach but by that stage we were too drunk to notice, Liam in particular…..Christmas eve after party moved to Odyssey and there was much merriment, extremely strong rum cocktails, fog horns and a spot of skinny dipping.
Christmas day was inevitably a bad one for Liam (who partook in the skinny dipping). Being sick as a dog until 5pm he missed out on the Christmas brunch put on by Moonshine and mostly just rolled around in the cabin trying to feel better. Panos from Cookelu Meu broadcast a fantastic suggestion for a hang over cure: ‘chop up onions really finely, as if you are preparing them for an omelette then, once chopped, put them on your testicals’; a tried and tested formula according to Panos. Maybe it was the thought of doing that that made Liam feel better! The dinner actually ran surprising smoothly, despite it being for a whopping 55 people. The staff set out some booze for DIY cocktails which kept us entertained and then served dinner rather efficiently. It was topped off by our own greek Santa (Panos) doling out presents to anyone brave enough to sit on his lap.
And then, with that, after the boxing day hang over, our stint on Odyssey was nearly over, all that remained was a trip up to Fort De France to put us on a bigger boat on the beginning of our trip back to London (via Dominica). Vincent and Maarje were grabbing a lift too but they were heading to Hawaii so we had little sympathy for them.
Post Odyssey we had a day on Dominica where we explored the Northern tip surrounding Plymouth with a trip up the Indian river and a walk round the Cabrits national park.
Thanks Liz and Liam!!!!
St Kitts & Nevis, Statia and Sint Maarten/St Martin
29 January 2016
St Kitts and Nevis
Kitts and Nevis are an independent federation of islands with previous and still some connection to the UK.
We anchored off Charlestown in Nevis, checked in and wandered about. To be honest there wasn't much to find, but there was a nice Caribbean vibe about the place.
Some wonderful snorkelling on the four seasons hotel breakwaters, some dinghying and some drinking 'Killer Bees' in Sunshines Bar on Pinney's beach and we headed north after a couple days.
We nosed into another anchorage to the north, but no room, so we head for 'Shitten' Bay in St Kitts. More nice snorkelling here and we head for yet another hiding hole for the night. Looked like there was a shack bar on the beach which turned out to be a very expensive, pretentious, neuvo shack. Weird!!!
We arrive in the capital Basseterre to find a cruise ship Disney land with passengers seemingly afraid to leave the pastel flavoured compound. We on the other hand, had Kentucky Fried Chicken!! Yum yum!!
Kitts and Nevis was something of a disappointment even with the most polite school children in the Caribbean. So we head for St Eustatius, Statia to its friends.
Statia ( St Eustatius)
I've been looking forward to Statia for a while. Just because it's small and historic. The first country to recognise the USA and once a huge trading post, something to do with the duty free status. Even in the 1700's, nothing seems to change haha!!
We arrive fairly early after a pleasant sail from our anchorage under the guns of Fort Brimstone in St Kitts. A formidable bastion built in three hill tops to help the British keep their Caribbean jewel.
Customs are easy and pleasant, call back for immigration as there is no one around. I'm liking this place already. So we head to the village to explore and have beers and lunch overlooking the fort in Orangestad the small capital. We can hear the local politicians shouting it out in the meeting hall beside the pub.
The anchorage turns out to be rolly, so we put another anchor out to keep the bow into the swell and suddenly the anchorage is pleasant again, so we stay longer.
The easiest rent a car in the world from Patrick. Two hours and all roads are covered, so we do the shopping and drop the car off with the harbour master. Bizarre!
It turns out the Caribbean LOVES kareoke and we end up at another Friday night event in town. Not great though, so we head home early for an early start for sailing to St Maarten.
I'm just about to start the engine when I notice that the water is much clearer than previously and suggest we test snorkel before leaving. It proves a good decision once again and we all have a wonderful snorkel along the shore front, turtles, barracuda, a sting ray, numerous fish and coral and ruins of the old sea front two. Brilliant. Afterwards we are all wrecked, so head for the village. However, with four pubs before the steps up to town we get distracted and eventually end up in a small hotel where Sophia the bar tender tells us all about the island and its daily life and we have a couple beers with Kurt the air ambulance pilot. So a great Sunday session was had. Bed before 9pm and up early for the next leg to Dutch Sint Maarten.
Sorry to leave Statia behind and realising that we like the small islands. Though it may have lost its original flavour, lots of American oil workers in the huge storage terminal and Dominican immigrants who work in the hospitality industry. There are also quite a few Chinese running shops and bars and restaurants. I guess this is what gives this little place a very cosmopolitan feeling.
Put Statia on your list.
Sint Maarten/Saint Martin
We sail from Statia wondering what the cosmopolitan St Maarten will bring. All the Statian locals warned us that it's dangerous and to watch our stuff. It alerts us, but we remind ourselves that Statia is a place where locksmiths soon go out of business and car doors don't need keys.
We pass beautiful Saba, reluctantly passing by as the weather means a questionable landing from the dinghy and we are running out of time. St. Bart's appears on the horizon, soon followed by St. Maarten ahead. More
yachts appear and more
super yachts dot the horizon. We decide to avoid the cruise ships Disney land of the capital Philipsburg and head for the yachtie Disney land of Simson Baai.
We anchor and check in as usual and head for the nearest Happy Hour. Beers served by Keith from Armagh, it's a small world!!
The Dutch St Maarten turns out to be an American holiday destination and to be honest we spent too much time there. But we got the laundry, chandlery and McDonalds fix satisfied.
BUT, The best bit about Sint Maarten is the runway. You can have beers and lunch immediately under the approach to the main airport and have a swim at the same time, my neck was strained at every plane landing, performing a critique in my head in each approach and secretly wishing I was flying the approach myself!! Maybe some day.
The planes scream overhead and the tourists snap and crackle with their iPhones. But better yet the brave and stupid fence surf when a 747 is powering up to take off. Yikes.
We head to the French side the next day and have a great reach followed by a good tack up the Anguillan Channel to Marigot on the French side.
As expected, with all things French, this proves nicer, cooler and (very surprisingly) more friendly than the Dutch side. Less Riviera, glitz and glamour and more baguette, coffee, bierre and chillaxing.
We don't stay long though, the beaches of Anguilla are calling, so we take fuel and water and run down wind for Anguilla after yet another Karaoke night in Marigot, this time possibly the best, but sadly our passenger Dave didn't partake.
Antigua and Monserrat
28 January 2016
Liam writing again after a blog sabbatical.
I have been to Antigua before, to English Harbour in fact, on a replica of Captain Cooks ship, Endeavour. That was Christmas 2004 and there were high jinks, cold drinks and sore heads galore!! This time a little more sedate, or so I expected.
Liz's friend Dave has joined us, he arrived looking relieved to escape the London winter weather though the pale white skin stood him out for a day or two before catching up with a quick burn!!
Next day we lazily took a cab up to Shirley Heights for the big event of the week. The Sunday Party!!! This was a pretty epic steel drum, rum punch, cold beer and cheesy crooner band event with a most spectacular view over Antigua and on to Guadeloupe and Montserrat.
However, I delved into what strength and optimism I had for the day and we set sail to explore Antigua. Made it three miles and anchored! Oops.
Actually, don't be too disgusted at out short voyaging, we found a most lovely bay, with crystal clear water, turtles, fish and good shelter. Even free wifi from a hotel. Carlisle Bay, just west of Falmouth Harbour is a must stop anchorage. No need to dive on the anchor as it was plainly visible from the deck.
A soothing night here and as the cock crows (literally) we head off to the west again. A great sail as far as Deep Bay where we see looking forward to snorkelling on the wreck of a sailing ship. Alas, the swell was creating too much turbulence and the water was too cloudy. Though it was the first time that the water has been truly turquoise Caribbean style, no good for snorkelling though.
We decide to head for Jolly Harbour for the night. And guess who we find, 'Trick' with Joan and Mila.
Who is following who??
So we know the routine here, Joan will insist he is having a detox day, I'll twist his arm and we will both have sore heads in the morning.
Dinner and drinks are on 'Trick' and Dave seems to be getting into the swing of this cruising lark, even driving the dinghy. Happy hour in the bar and cheap rum in the supermarket. Lovely.
Next morning....... Where to next, actually we head back to Carlisle Bay, find even better snorkelling, more turtles, Joan and Mila for dinner and planning or run to Montserrat for the next day.
Our peaceful anchorage got a little crowded that night with no fewer then five super yachts dropping the hook, including the 11th largest in the world, Rising Sun. Lit up like a Christmas tree of course. We invited the owner for mince and rice, but he never turned up!!
Sailing to Montserrat from Antigua proves to be a dead run down wind. Being lazy and not wanting to rig the pole I decide to broad reach to the southern part of Montserrat and gybe to make the northern headland.
My laziness proves fruitful. Liz catches a Mahi Mahi for dinner, her eyes lighting up at the though of fresh fish for dinner!!
The view of the island and the volcano from the eastern side is breathtaking. We pick out remains of buildings and a village, some areas remaining intact but completely marooned by the volcanic flow. A new village on the north east coast gives us our first taste of what to expect on this magical island.
We anchor in Little Bay, it is little, with little shelter, jump in the dinghy to check-in before customs are closed and head for a beer in the pub next door. 'Trick' arrived ahead of us but opted for a quiet night.
In the pub the three of us get in tow with two local MP's, a radio DJ, a few police and a few more. A really warm welcome, the best yet. They were so proud of their island, were telling us of the difficulties caused by the volcano and the evacuations to UK and other islands. We leave the bar feeling very happy with ourselves and already getting into the groove of this unique place.
Next morning the rather unique Joe Phillips takes us on a tour of the island. He explains how the current town is all new, shows pictures of how the place used to look and how a lack of planning was caused by the expectation of the evacuation from Plymouth, the old capital, being temporary.
Joe takes us to his abandoned village, abandoned churches and schools and an apartment complex over looking the obliterated capital town of Plymouth below. It is really a sobering sight and one that shows in all our faces. To see a community ripped apart by nature so recently, some villages just disappeared, while buildings still poke out of the dust in Plymouth. Luckily not many people were killed and myself and Liz were remembering the pictures and descriptions of what happened in St Pierre Martinique in 1902, two survivors from 30,000 inhabitants.
We drive 20 ft over the now covered golf course with the roof of the club house peeping out of the sand and so back to the harbour.
However, the people of Montserrat are extraordinary, they are mining the volcanic sand for construction, the volcano is now an asset that will attract tourists, there is an amazing range and scale of small businesses and enterprises for such a small yet so very vibrant community.
And did I tell you that Montserrat is an Irish island??? And it is he only other country in the world that celebrates St Patricks day as its national holiday!! The Irish landed in the 1600's fleeing Olivet Cromwell who was ravaging Ireland at the time. They farmed the land, though unfortunately founded salve plantations too. But the island, now mainly of African descent are very proud of the connection. The st Patrick's festival lasts a whole week, with parades, music and entertainment to shame any town in Ireland. The population her is only about 50000. We have something to learn from them.
Our visit is topped off with attending 'Montserrat Idol', the trials!! Dave Tigar did a number in karaoke and had an application form pressed on him. It was a great night and we are still talking and laughing about it. What a wonderful bunch of people there, loving singing, living the music and living the fun.
We sailed off with mixed emotions from Montserrat, knowing we will return as we drank the spring water from the side of the road that ensures we will return one day!!
It is an island of contrasts, to the north a vibrant community making the island better for themselves and visitors and proud of it. To the south the most spectacular scenery of destruction and desolation.
This was no doubt the friendliest island we have visited yet, everyone waved or said hello and we felt very safe and at home there.
You must visit Montserrat!!! At least Google it and educate yourself.
As we sailed north towards Nevis and St Kitts, I was feeling the effects of the hospitality but poor Dave was positively overwhelmed by it and was dying in his cabin!!
Windward Caribbean islands
09 January 2016
Woken by a rooster crowing, the sounds of waves lapping on a beach and the intermittent whirring of the wind turbine. We've been cruising the Caribbean for a month now and still quite a few islands to visit.
Martinique for Christmas
By the time Fay and Dave arrived in St Lucia, it had been non stop party with ARC boats arriving in and catching up with rally friends. Unfortunately, the morning after their arrival we found a broken strand in each of our aft shrouds following a rig inspection. This was the end of our St Lucian island tour as we motored to Martinique to find a rigger to fix it.
We ended up hanging around between Le Marin and St Anne on the south coast of Martinique for a few days as we wait for the rigger. In the mean time we explore the white sandy beaches, the quaint town of St Anne with it's French boulangeries, markets and bus shelter come delicious poulet frites eatery and guy on the side of the road selling mango, passion and guava sorbet out of a cool box.
We eventually get our shrouds replaced, discover that we have a slight leak in our coolant elbow, tape it up and keep sailing. Around the coast, past diamond rock, a magnificent rock rising out of the sea, covered in trees, caves, birds and wildlife. Sailing around to Petit Anse D'arlet, we discover that the Christmas festival is on today so after a couple of beers in the bar come shop come rent a car place, we have our poulet frites from the street vendor and enjoy the show.
The next morning, after a visit from Sea Quark, we move to the adjacent anchorage to the north, Grand Anse D'arlet where we are greeted by a turtle coming up for air. On shore we scout around for a restaurant that will be open for Christmas Day and book in for what we envisage as a nice intimate dinner with a few friends and maybe 4/5 boats in a beautiful setting, long sandy beach, a few shack bars on the water front and not much else.
We spend a few days here with the turtles inbetween going up to Anse Noir for a snorkel, and attempting to get a hire car from the rental place. Turns out 'Hire a Car' meant hire 'the' car and we end up trying to find transportation for two hours before giving up and going to the bar. Not as great fishing here as in St Anne and Dave ends up with the fishing line caught around the wind turbine. Luckily the local fishermen end up giving us some of their haul.
We end up having a once in a lifetime Christmas with everyone. 15 boats and 56 people turn up to our intimate gathering. We celebrate Christmas Eve with a BBQ on the beach followed by drinks on Odyssey. Christmas Day is spent brunching on Moonshine and then a Christmas three course dinner of Lobster, secret Santa given out by Santa followed by hot whiskeys on Odyssey. Boxing day curry aboard Magic where we watch our first film in months.
27th December - Grand Anse D'Arlet, Martinique
We say goodbyes to most people in the anchorage. A nice farewell as everyone honks their horns. Up to Fort De France as it's time to drop off Fay and Dave who are catching a ferry to Dominica. We also drop off Maartje and Vince who are catching a plane to Hawaii for their next adventure.
We then find ourselves on our own again but not for long as we end up in a marina with Cookelu Meu and Trick, with Vitamina around the corner.
A productive couple of days in Fort De France as we managed to rent those elusive hire cars and take a day visiting the sights of the island. Lars' dad fixes our fridge, we detangle the fishing line from the wind turbine, we do a few odd jobs and in the process break the grey water tank.
In convoy, Trick and us are heading to St Pierre, although they overtake us sharpish. We pass Chimo motoring south and shout hi. Cookelu Meu are in St Pierre when we arrive although they are heading up to Les Saintes that night.
St Pierre, a lovely little town, destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1902, killing some 30,000 people, but leaving two survivors. A bustling market to stock up on fruit and veg, a laundry, lots of ruins, little bars and a handy check out facility in the tourist office for us to clear out of Martinique.
We spend New Year's Eve aboard Trick, drinking the random mix of beer they have left at the bottom of their fridge and come out at midnight to hear the church bells although something of an anti-climax in the bay as the fireworks seem to be on the other side of the mountain.
Everything from flat calm to 25 knots of wind as we leave Martinique behind. Back into the Atlantic swell, squalls that bring rain and gusts of 30 knots. We eventually reach the lush mountains of Dominica, hoist a new flag and take off the life jackets as we enter the calmer waters.
Trick have gone ahead and have arranged our mooring for us. As we approach Roseau, we are approached by a guy from Sea Cat, one of the boat boys, who is smoking, drinking and driving the outboard all at the same time, and why not for New Year's Day. He helps is onto our mooring and I go for a snorkel by the big rock. That night we entertain Trick on Odyssey and drink their Spanish Vermouth.
An early start the next morning to get to Portsmouth by lunchtime. We sail past the towns of Roger, Massacre and Mahaut. I spot a possibly dead lion fish bobbing on the surface of the water. We reach Prince Rupert Bay by 1pm and are helped onto our mooring by Uncle Sam.
Uncle Sam takes Trick and us over to customs, which, it being a bank holiday, is the out of hours officers lodgings, an Arsenal fan who is watching the Watford v Manchester City game whilst doing our paper work as Joan and I sit on his armchairs.
After checking in, Uncle Sam takes the six of us on a tour of the Indian river. Once past the industrial looking river, the outboard is lifted up and the wooden oars come out as he rows us through the rainforest, explaining the flora and fauna. We get to see the witches hut from Pirates of the Caribbean, various birds, fish, crabs and other wildlife in amongst the thick jungle. A must see.
On return to the boat, we see that Cookelu Meu have taken up a mooring and head over for a beer before we set off in the dinghy for the Purple Turtle Beach club for more beer, grilled mahi mahi and wifi. There is a BBQ and party happening near the dinghy dock but we are all too shattered and head to bed.
After waving goodbye to Cookelu Meu again, we sail north back into French territory. Fluky winds and then all of a sudden we are back into the Atlantic swell and are hit by a squall giving us 35 knots and the Iles Des Saintes descend into cloud.
Around 20 miles later, the sea calms down as we approach the south east corner of Grand Îlet and with it the familiar lobster pots dotted around in our way. We sail all the way around Point Du Boisjoli at the tip of the island of Terre D'en Haut when we encounter an American yacht motoring right into our path so the engine comes on for some avoidance manoeuvres.
We pick up a mooring off the town of Bourg Des Saintes behind Trick who have us on for lunch, after which we leave them for their siesta while we go for a snorkel over the nearby wreck of a ferry in crystal clear water surrounded by fish.
An explore to shore for an ice cream and a stroll. The only way to get around on the small island's 'roads' are by motorbike or golf cart. Dinner back on the boat consisting of everything that is about to go off or is already gone off according to the label and then back into town for a promenade and beers with Trick. Everyone on the island has their doors wide open and no windows but wooden shutters.
In the morning, we go to check into France again in an Internet cafe come hostel and then stroll up to Napoleon fort. There are wild chickens and goats everywhere and we are passed by people on their scooters up the hill. In the afternoon we team up with Trick again and dinghy around the corner of Pain À Sucre and have a good snorkel over the rocks there. Great snorkelling although still not as good as Martinique's Anse D'Arlet, but we see a variety of brightly coloured fish, trumpet fish, a Lion fish, eels and a lobster.
A wet dinghy ride back against the wind so we have Trick aboard Odyssey to warm up with some hot Irish Whiskey. We then bid them farewell for now as they head up to Point À Pitre, Guadeloupe to drop off their guests as we stay on in Les Saintes.
The next day Liam and I rent electric bikes to explore the island of Terre D'en Haut on land. We make it to every accessible beach possible, up and down hills on broken roads, dirt tracks, around a mini airport runway, to secluded beaches with no one around, great scenery. We have done the island by 2pm so leave the bikes outside the rental shack (since the rental guy has gone on his siesta).
We cool ourselves down jumping off the boat and then having a cold can of beer with our feet in the water and then notice that Sea Quark are also in the anchorage. We share a drink with them, swap them a couple of crime fiction novels in exchange for some of their freshly caught tuna before motoring across to Îlet Cabrit, an uninhabited island, for the night.
Wednesday 6th January - Basse Terre, Guadeloupe
Woken at 5:45 by a rooster, I'm up and watching Pelicans diving at the water for their breakfast.
A great sail to Basse Terre, Guadeloupe, past the capital in the south and into anchor opposite Pigeon island. Another good snorkelling spot with turtles and fish and a spotting of a big Marlin before I return back to the boat.
A slow sail from Pigeon island to Deshaies the next morning. A nice town reminding me of a French ski resort town except 30 degrees hotter with dive shops instead of ski hire, a boulangerie and an extremely expensive Spar supermarket.
Another easy checking out of France on the computer in a souvenir shop before leaving tomorrow morning to Antigua.
Saturday 9th January - English Harbour, Antigua
A great sail, some 45 miles north to Antigua. A nice 15 knots the whole way, calm swell and no squalls. We anchor in Freemans Bay, after four attempts at dropping the anchor and end up behind Why Knot, another ARC boat. We're now preparing the boat for Dave to arrive. A beautiful dockyard full of super yachts. Downside, we've come back into checking in hell as you visit customs and then immigration, back to customs and then the port authority. Still can't complain as we wake up to the sight of sandy beaches and palm trees everyday.