A little behind again but we've been on the go a lot with frequent, shaky or non-existent internet. I am really surprised at how in the remotest of island chains in other parts there has been better internet coverage than here in the Caribbean. Our Vermont visit in mid January was great and it was so nice to be together for a change. Not only did we celebrate my mom's birthday, but we did an early one for me too! There was a break in the super cold weather while we were there and no major snowstorms either. It worked out really well using Norwegian Air- cheap flights- and we arrived back at the boat empty of cash from the taxi fare but with everything as we left it.
We spent a few more days in St Anne on the south end of Martinique getting ourselves organized and then started moving up the coast northward, stopping at our favorite dive site for one last time. We were pretty excited to use our newly replaced under warranty camera case to make sure it worked. Of course this time there was a ton of current and we had to cut the dive short because of it. We got back to the dinghy gasping and remarked at how ungainly we are with tanks on. The camera case is a go though. So we snorkeled in a couple of spots, then put our tanks back on to clean the bottom of the hull and then when we surfaced, all wrinkly, there was Michael & Robin off Sea Biscuit who we cruised with in Guatemala back in 2008. So nice to see their faces again and reminisce a little bit but it wasn't long enough!
We positioned ourselves in the lovely little town of St Pierre for one last night and then left really early the next morning for Les Saintes in Guadeloupe. This little group of islands has really clear water, dramatic although dry scenery and some nice dive spots. We spent a couple days there hiking around and doing a dive on the base of Pain de Sucre right from the boat. They have moorings there to protect the bottom for the turtles and it is really working. Underneath the moorings is full of grass and there are lots of turtles popping up to get a breath. I love being able to dive right from the boat.
Next was BasseTerre, Guadeloupe's second largest town. We intended to rent a car or scooter here and get up to the Soufriere volcano. But upon walking around ashore on a Sunday when no car rental places were open, we decided it was a dump and we didn't feel like staying even the night so we hauled anchor again and moved up to Pigeon Island, home of the Cousteau Underwater Park. Its too bad because we have such fond memories of seeing that volcano and the waterfalls nearby. It was the one where we peered into a bright yellow roaring vent and thought the fumes were toxic only to find the "warning poisonous gas" sign on the opposite side of the vent! We survived anyway...
We'd come to Pigeon Island years ago and it was here that we decided that if we were going to enjoy anything in the water we would have to learn scuba because there really isn't much of any snorkeling down here, in our opinion. But this time we could dive and it was really great! You could totally tell it was a park because we finally saw some nice big fish, lots of big lobsters, busy octopus and really curious rather than petrified fish. We always had a few hanging out right near us. We had a nice anchorage and could just zip over in the dinghy to a dive mooring and go down. Perfect.
We dragged ourselves away from Pigeon Island to head to the northernmost town of Deshaies because you could see on the GRIB file that there was big wind & waves coming and we wanted to get to Antigua before it arrived. So we had a couple days to hike around and explore, although it was still really windy even then and it was getting a little fatiguing. This is a quintessential French island town with a little church, bright green backdrop of hills and a defined, heavy duty pier to put your dinghy at. Everyone has a baguette tucked under their arm. We have fond memories of this town too and it was good to visit again. The locals could tell we were off for a hike and they would wish us a "bonne marche!"
The sail to Antigua was terrible. We had walls of water coming onto the boat and haven't had this since the passage to New Zealand and we were beating in to big seas and a lot of wind. Our Dutchman mast track that holds the sail cars has deteriorated on this cruise and it is basically unzipping itself from the mast. Especially at the 2nd reef point which we were using that day. Jon already had to reinforce the track in Cape Verde at the first reef point. How many holes do you really want to drill in your mast?? You don't. We counted the hours till the 43 miles was done and arrived with enough sea salt on deck to bottle up a few cases and sell. It took us absolutely FOREVER to get the anchor set and not be on top of another boat. Many tries and many back spasms later, we were hooked and ready for the onslaught of wind.
Antigua has the kind of street food I've been dying for- good ol southern style comfort food! BBQ chicken, ribs, mac & cheese, potato salad, salad, plantains, peas & rice. The kind of grub that puts meat on your bones or elsewhere. We really enjoyed it, a bunch of times! We explored Nelson's Dockyard, which is now a UNESCO site and the area is really lovely. Funny, we were just in Tenerife in the Canary Islands where Lord Nelson lost his arm in battle (they had the cannon there too) and then there we were seeing his name again. This is also the arrival point of the Atlantic Challenge rowing race so all of the race stuff was set up for the last of the fleet that was left to come in. Our friend Oliver whom we met in La Gomera, Canaria had already arrived, celebrated and gone, now the youngest person (age 19) to row across the Atlantic. A national park has preserved old buildings that are in current use as yachtie shops like sailmakers, laundry, customs, a bakery etc and the hillsides have trails to ruins and viewpoints that are really beautiful. And the salt was washed off the boat in the first 25 rain showers. Darn, we never got around to bottling it. It rains numerous times a day and has done this ever since we arrived in the Caribbean.
You would never know there had been a hurricane near Antigua. A local told me they mainly got rain. And the people who live on Barbuda are returning now and rebuilding. Everything was spic & span and the local people were so friendly and conversational. All the ladies had their food stands and were hustling to get the food onto plates or in to takeaway containers. I liked all the pastel colors of the houses and the easy to read English signs but when a local talked to us we could still barely understand a word they said until they turn off the Caribbean accent. One sign we passed on the bus said "Jakes Auto Care and Beauty Supplies"- well, whatever it takes to earn a buck! And when you're riding the bus and want it to stop you just call out "Bus Stop!" We both really enjoyed our time there and are so glad we stopped.
After a week in Antigua, the wind finally settled and we did an overnight to St Martin. The main purpose was to catch up with Mike & Karen off Chapter Two, whom we last saw in Malaysia. We had a so-so overnight with frequent rain showers and wind squalls. It seems the weather is so unsettled this season. We pulled into the inner lagoon by going through the bridge and anchored right next to Mike & Karen in calm waters so there was no trouble getting sleep that night after some happy hour beers. The amount of devastation to St Martin is more than I have ever seen. There are sunken or landbound boats everywhere and workers were doing all they could to patch up, refloat and then tie up the boats to make progress toward clearing the harbor. Ashore, nearly every building and every car is damaged and there are junked cars on many of the streets. There is a lot of bustle for reconstruction but it feels so overwhelming. There are lots of cruisers there though and it seems like you could get any boat article you need in their many chandleries. The hillsides are greening up but it was actually a bit disturbing seeing all the wreckage.
There was yet another period of high winds brewing (really getting sick of these!) and despite the fact that we had planned to stay in St Martin for more than one night, we felt like we had to leave or else we'd be there for over a week like we were in Antigua. So we got together with Mike & Karen again for lunch and then set out that evening for another overnight and had a lovely sail to St John. Its so nice that mentally we're pretty much ready at a moments notice to set off and we can just leave and make some miles overnight. We've gotten pretty good at going around on little sleep!
More than half of St John is US National Park and the park staff worked super hard at getting all the trails open, beaches cleaned up, the harbors swept for debris and the moorings checked and repaired. It is up & running and we're really glad to be here- no crowds! They aren't charging for moorings and we can move around from one beautiful bay to another with only a few boats.
When we got here we hiked over to Coral Bay where friends Dave, Kim & Zac live so that we could say hello. We last saw them in Malaysia too. Kim just opened up a new restaurant named Pickles and we had a great lunch and a catch-up. Its always nice to see familiar faces in a new place.
We've been really enjoying the park. The snorkeling so far is just OK but the water colors are really beautiful and there is a lot of life around. We did a scuba dive today of Booby Rock and saw some nice stands of pillar coral and lots of soft gorgonians swaying in the swell which we haven't seen for a few years now. You've got to feel for all living things after all that has happened. It seems like everything has been through so much. Coral Bay really took a beating but apparently it is much better than it first was. They are rebuilding and cleaning up and have gotten loads of support from private individuals like Kenny Chesney and more from corporations and the federal government. You can see in the picture how beautiful the area is but upon closer inspection all the white dots on the shoreline are wrecked boats... You can tell St John is very loved. The trees have funny shapes as they lost most of their branches and are now putting out leaves all over their trunks and whatever is left. Many were knocked over and the bright green understory is taking off. The birds seem happy and things are blooming. We've seen lots of deer munching on things in the woods too, so they made it. Man-made things didn't fare as well and there are some amazing angles of houses left standing but many more blown to bits and all that remains is a bunch of garbage. We walked over to the northern part of the island yesterday to Cinnamon Bay and the campground there is gone, along with most of the palms. But new ones are replanted from coconuts and taking hold. The water is clear and beautiful and there are a few people on the beach. The park has interesting, signed paths among old sugarcane factory ruins and over the tops of the tallest peaks on the island. Its hard to believe that in 1733, the whole island was covered in sugarcane & cotton. Turns out this land was purchased by Rockefeller interests in 1956 and given to the Federal government for designation as a park. We plan to spend a few more days here enjoying this place.
We've spent a fair amount of time deliberating and researching our next magic carpet- the overland RV plan! We've just purchased a 1988 Mercedes 1120 fire truck from Norway and are having it shipped to the USA for import and conversion to an expedition RV. To keep it affordable we will be doing most of it ourselves and it will be pretty time consuming I think as we don't want to drag out the build. Jon is absorbed with organizing the conversion and lining up the equipment. It feels like the next logical step as we want to keep exploring and this world ready vehicle with a home on the back will give us a whole new vantage point. A lot of the onboard systems are the same as the boat but there are also a lot of new things so we'll still have some learning to do and we're really excited about that aspect. We will chronicle the build in case anyone wants to follow in our footsteps!
For now, we are going to work our way to the Bahamas, probably via St Thomas, Culebra and the Turks if we can swing it. Both of us are really looking forward to that crystal clear water and the wildness of the Bahamas. Then on to Florida, and then NC where we plan to let Evergreen rest & dry out for the summer. We need to pull the mast and basically do a mini-refit after all the miles. We plan to be in Vermont for the summer. Then we'll be back aboard in the Fall and probably headed south like snowbirds, looking for warm weather to finish out the RV build. There are so many logistics to moving both boat and truck back & forth up the coast that it hurts our heads but it will all fall into place, it always does. In the meantime, we are looking forward to seeing our loved ones this year while working toward our next adventure.