St. Kitts and Sint Maarten
31 January 2019 | Simpson Bay Lagoon, Sint Maarten
Barbara/Sunny with showers
On January 22, we set sail from English Harbour in Antigua and headed for St. Kitts. It’s potentially a long day’s passage, about 60 nautical miles, so we got up at 6 am and prepared to leave at 7:00. We knew that rowboat #6 of the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge was expected to arrive within a few hours of 6 am, so we did have some hope we might get outside the bay and watch them come in. But just at 7:00 am the rowboat came in and crossed the finish line. Flares went off, horns of super yachts sounded and crowds roared their approval. We cheered, waited an appropriate amount of time and then cast our lines off, heading out the harbor mouth.
It was a fairly uneventful passage, with about 15 knots of wind, mostly from behind. We anchored in Ballast Bay, near the south end of St. Kitts. It’s a relatively undeveloped part of the island, with good holding for the anchor and not much in the way of waves or swells, despite plenty of wind through the night. We were later told that this part of the island used to be completely inaccessible except by hiking or boat. There was a high hill (now with a tunnel drilled through) which made road-building impossible. The land was bought up for pennies by various foreign investors, who now are starting to rake in the profits.
At the head of Ballast Bay, in Port Christophe, there is a superyacht marina under construction. A number of monster boats are already there, but the shore facilities have a way to go. We did inquire about whether they would allow us to tie up there, and, yes they would, but the charge would be $150 a night for a boat our size. We’re just as happy anchoring.
We did go in by dinghy and have a look at the boats. A gigantic metal-gray one is named “Odessa” and I imagine that it, and a number of the others, are probably owned by Russian oligarchs. We later learned from “Arnold” (more about him later) that St. Kitts & Nevis (which together form one country) offer citizenship for purchase. It started out at $400,000.00 USD but they’ve now lowered the price to $100,000.00. You’re expected to invest that money into a business or a house on the island. Those giant concrete docks in the Port Christophe marina are for sale – I didn’t find out the price, but I’ll bet it’s at least $100,000.00. That might just get you your new citizenship. If no one else will have you, come to St. Kitts! (Russian oligarchs welcome…)
Our friends, George and Sue on Julia Max, arrived in St. Kitts the day before we did. They had gone up the coast to the capitol, BasseTerre, to check in with customs and immigration and do a bit of shopping, and they invited us to come and join them. So the next morning we upped anchor and moved the few miles north. BasseTerre may be the center of things on St. Kitts, but it has a number of negatives. First, it’s not as well protected as Ballast Bay, so modest swells come in. It’s somewhat disturbing to the activities of daily life on the boat and makes sleeping difficult. We persisted for a couple of nights there, and then returned to Ballast Bay.
Of course, the visit to Basse Terre was mandatory because of the need to check in with customs and immigration. That in itself was quite an adventure. We launched the dinghy and motored in to the small marina. The primary tenants of the marina are various tourist boats. They cater primarily to the tourists who pour off the cruise ships docked next door – thousands of them every day. One of the interesting things we saw in the marina was a set of lobster traps, just submerged and chock full of live lobsters. Presumably these lobsters are destined for high end restaurants and/or cruise ship kitchens. Never mind that they’re all crowded together without food, and perhaps without sufficient oxygen, in a marina with dozens of petroleum burning (and perhaps petroleum leaking) boats. Troubling.
The cruise ship docks have space for two cruise ships, of the sort that carry 5000 passengers each. Every day we were there, two different cruise ships occupied the docks. They come in about 7:00 in the morning and depart again about 5:00 in the afternoon. More cruise ships often anchor just offshore. One day we saw three cruise ships offshore in addition to the two at the docks.
We found the customs office adjacent to the marina. As we entered, a Swiss couple was leaving, and they advised us to “be really nice to her.” We found the customs official behind a closed door in a very air-conditioned office. She did try to smile but was obviously not having a good day. She inserted carbon paper into the necessary forms and Craig sat down to complete them. He was instructed to reverse the carbon to fill out the other side. All in all only about 15 minutes but then she directed us to continue on to the immigration office, outside the marina complex and over toward the cruise ships.
There’s a shopping complex surrounding the exit from the cruise terminal, with hundreds of tourist shops – jewelry, souvenirs, spa services, fast food restaurants, liquor stores and dozens of touts who come up and shove brochures in your hands, wave posters and offer to find taxis, book tours, and give any kind of advice they think you might need. Craig said it reminded him of an adult Disneyland.
Regrettably, the immigration office is in the cruise terminal complex. We had to push our way through the tourist crowds and past the touts and through the security gates to find the office. As it happened, they were just closing up (one person suggested to us that between 11:30 and 1:30 the immigration people all go onto one of the ships and have a sumptuous lunch). In any case, they directed us to come back at 2:30 or 3:00. We went off into the hordes of people and found a Shawarma restaurant which was not bad.
When we came back, it seemed the officer in the immigration office was having a really bad day. She directed Craig to sit down at a computer and fill out a form. She said we should have used that form, and that computer program to check in to every Caribbean island (except the French ones) since our arrival in St. Lucia in December. She said all those islands are doing it wrong to allow any other way of checking in. The authorities want to be able to track us through the islands. She said we ought to go back to those islands and tell them that they were doing it wrong.
The form asks for what port we left from, what port we arrived at, and where we were going next. But you couldn’t type in “English Harbour, Antigua”, instead it is some obtuse code (which I’ve now forgotten). There’s no cheat sheet to tell you what the codes are; instead you just have to ask the immigration officer.
As we were processing through at the immigration office, they were also issuing visas or permits of some sort to some of the deck hands on the cruise ship. In addition, random tourists came in and asked for stamps in their passports. (It’s a thing…)
We checked out a couple of grocery stores, but by then we were totally exhausted and went back to the boat. We checked in with George and Sue and agreed that the next day we’d go see the fort at Brimstone Hill, do some grocery shopping and then return with our boats to Ballast Bay, where the water was so much more calm.
The next morning, Sue, George and I left the anchorage in their dinghy at 6:30 am. We had been told that the Farmers Market is the best at that hour. As it turns out, despite that advice, there was no farmers market on Thursdays. Instead, small stands were set up on both sides of the road, selling local produce, and in some cases cooked meals. We found what we needed (limes, papayas, watermelon, cucumber, tomatoes) and then went in search of the bakery for baguettes and breakfast pastries. As it turns out, I was planning on celebrating Craig’s birthday that evening (inviting George and Sue), and had planned to make a cake. But here, in the bakery, was an elaborate, colorful baked birthday cake, fairly expensive, but there it was, and I wouldn’t have to turn on the oven in this heat. I bought it, and we made our way back to the dinghy, back to Sequoia, and the cake was still intact.
Later in the morning, we all went into town and found a driver with a large van (“Arnold” – he called himself “the governator”) and asked him to take us to Brimstone Hill Fortess. This hilltop fortification is the largest British fort remaining in the Caribbean. The historic battle there was between the British and the French (of course) and involved a months-long siege where 1000 British soldiers held out against 8000 French. The British finally surrendered, and then they got the fort back a year later as the result of a peace treaty. It’s partially restored with a nice museum showcasing historic artifacts and illustrating the way of life in such a fort in the early 19th century. Arnold drove us up to nearly the very top and then we walked the very strenuous road to the top of the fortress and admired the views in every direction.
That afternoon we moved the boats back to Ballast Bay and George and Sue joined us for a very nice birthday dinner for Craig, followed by a session of a board game based on sailboat racing. It’s a favorite of George and Sue’s, but we’d never heard of it. Great fun.
We arranged with Arnold to pick us up at the Christophe Marina (that superyacht marina in Ballast Bay) for the trip back to Basse Terre to check out of the country with customs and immigration. It was a duplicate effort to the check-in – same forms, same amount of time, same prickly civil servants. After that, Arnold took us to his favorite grocery store, one of his favorite places for lunch, and then for some sight seeing. That’s when we learned about the previous inaccessibility of the southernmost part of St. Kitts, and the opportunities now on offer for citizenship for anyone who can pay. He took us to a view point which was previously the end of the road, and we could see Sequoia and Julia Max in Ballast Bay out in the distance.
St. Kitts is altogether an interesting place. The country, consisting of two islands, is called St. Kitts & Nevis. Nevis was the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton. St. Kitts is the ancestral home of Thomas Jefferson’s family. The scenery is beautiful, and the people are quite interesting. But I don’t think we’ll be buying any citizenship there.
The next day we sailed north to Sint Maarten. It was somewhat of a wild ride, with swells of 6 to 8 feet. We got rather wet and were glad to finally reach our destination. We anchored in Simpson Bay (another rolly anchorage like Basse Terre in St. Kitts), and then waited our turn the next morning to get into Simpson Bay Lagoon. They open a bridge inbound 4 times a day, and you’d better be on time or you won’t get in.
Sint Maarten is home to an even larger collection of superyachts than we saw in English Harbour. We saw one boat that had a 30 foot sailboat on its back deck (the dinghy, perhaps?).
Quite a lot of damage was done here by Hurricane Irma in the sumer of 2017, and they are only just now springing back. There are still ruined hulks of boats in the lagoon, and apparently it’s worse to the north in the French part of this island. We found a little marina with space for us, Lagoon Marina. They’ve only just gotten their electric service installed for visiting boaters, and it is certainly flawed. An outlet that looks like a US 50 amp/120V outlet actually gives you 220 volts. The dockmaster told us “Oh you can have 110 or 220, whichever you want.” Our circuit breaker saved our electrical gear, and after testing with a voltmeter Craig reset the isolation transformer for 220V and everything worked. Woe to other North American boaters who expect that outlet to be 120V!
Sint Maarten is the Dutch half of an island with the French department of St. Martin occupying the other half. You are allowed to travel freely by land between the two parts, but if traveling by boat, you must do the whole check-in check-out business for going back and forth. So far we’ve chosen to stay on the Dutch part. We biked over to the customs office, adjacent to the Simpson Bay Bridge (where we entered) and jumped through all their hoops and paid all their fees. We’ll have to go back again when our next guests (Mike and Kelly) join us and we depart for the next island.
The whole island is billed as being duty free, so there are a lot of businesses here catering to the boating tourist trade – especially the super yacht trade. There are huge chandleries (stores for boat parts and accessories) on both sides of us. The prices are not super high, but they are no bargain, given the amount that has to be paid for shipping. Liquor, however, is super cheap. Too bad we aren’t strenuous drinkers!
Here’s where I’ll leave you this time. Hope you are enjoying our tales of our various destinations. Best wishes to all!
Craig & Barbara
French and English Islands
21 January 2019 | Nelson's Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua
Barbara/Hot with plenty of showers
We have just finished a delightful 10 days with our friends, Dan & Barb, who joined us in Guadeloupe (where we stayed in several different harbors), and then made the passage to Antigua, where they caught a flight home. We saw many interesting things with them, some expected, and some completely new (and in some cases baffling).
Case in point: we rented a car, to do some sightseeing the first day of the rental and to take Dan & Barb to the airport on the second. The roads in Antigua are astonishingly awful. The Berlitz guidebook warned us of that, and the car rental agent warned us again. There are deep potholes everywhere. There are extra high speed bumps everywhere. Some of the speed bumps are so high it is impossible to cross them without bottoming out on the muffler (next time I think we’d rent a jeep or a truck!). Moreover, like many tropical countries, the lower elevations have deep, deep ditches to catch the tropical deluges, and if your tire leaves the pavement, you’re in the ditch. At intersections of the narrow streets you have to make a very wide turn or you’re in the ditch. And we did that once. The bumper damage cost us $120, which fortunately our credit card company is paying for.
Another problem we ran into was the inability of Google to navigate intelligently. The intersection of the Google incompetence and the awful roads was our trip to the airport to see Dan & Barb off into the teeth of a big snowstorm in New York where they’d change planes for Seattle. (They did make it OK…) Google seemed to be directing us toward the airport, but the roads were getting worse and there was no traffic on them. We began to have a bad feeling about that, but we were pretty much committed. The roads got worse and worse, and then Google said we were there. Indeed, we were at one end of a runway, looking at a high chain link fence with a no-trespassing sign between us and the runway. Definitely not at the terminal. We hauled out our sketchy tourist paper maps and made our way several more miles around the end of the runway, along the coast, through some airport maintenance areas and finally to the terminal. It’s a very fancy airport with facilities that will serve Antigua well for years into the future. The airport road circles around a cricket pitch. The parking lots were nearly vacant and there were only a handful of travelers inside.
After saying goodbye to Dan & Barb, we made our way back to English Harbour assisted only by the tourist map. We had learned our lesson.
As we have made our way north through these Caribbean islands, we notice that they are alternating between French and English. The English islands are typically independent countries, whereas the French islands are departements of France. The infrastructure in the French islands is much better (most noticeably, better roads and sidewalks) and the people seem to have a bit more money and be generally better off. Amazingly the French islands have vastly simplified the bureaucracy (at least as we see it from the customs and immigration standpoint). Checking into a French Island involves 20 minutes at a computer, and a fee of 2 Euros (less than $3). Even the 20 minutes at a computer is only caused by unfamiliarity with a French keyboard. The English speaking islands, by contrast, involve stops at several offices, an hour or more of your time and about $50 in various fees. (We’ve seen a news story about a 71 year old French guy now crossing the Atlantic in a high-tech barrel, driven only by the wind and waves, and not by any effort of his own. He was quoted as saying he’d like to arrive at a French island because the paperwork is easier. He’s certainly right about that!)
Speaking of people crossing the Atlantic in different ways, we are now in English Harbour, Antigua, where the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge participants are arriving. This is a race of four-person high tech rowboats. Two of them row at a time and two sleep. The first night we were here, the third-place finishers arrived at 2 am with lots of cheering, fireworks, air horns and general hullaballoo that went on for at least an hour. Sequoia is tied up next to one of the bars, which promises to be open for every arrival. Yesterday the fourth place finisher arrived in the afternoon and 5th place late in the evening. Lots of noise for each of them, although we were so tired last night (after the airport adventure) that we were oblivious. The 6th place finishers are scheduled to arrive at 6 am tomorrow, which will be shortly before we depart for St. Kitts. So far all the finishers are guys, and in apparent celebration of their arrival they have a tendency to take off all their clothes (except for perhaps their very skimpy Speedos). Several days from now we are told that the Antigua girls team will arrive. The Antiguans we have talked to say that there will be tremendous crowds for those “girls” (in their twenties) and that there will be noise unlike any we’ve heard so far. We’ll be sad to miss that very local event.
We are tied up at Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour in Antigua. It’s unlike anyplace we’ve ever taken our boat before. Historically, this was THE English dockyard in the Caribbean; lots of repair and provisioning facilities, and a center for naval operations. They’ve made the dockyard into a historic park – it’s a UNESCO site, for whatever that’s worth. All of the old buildings have been restored, although most put to new different uses. The “Admiral’s House” is a museum; the “paymaster’s office” is the little bar 20 feet away from the stern of our boat; but the old sail loft is still a sail loft – just that the sails are for pleasure boats, not for naval ships. Instead of English naval ships being tied to the sea walls, it’s sailboats and motor boats. We might be the smallest boat here; most of the boats are mega-yachts, both sailboats and motor boats. They have lots of paid crew who are constantly polishing the boats, procuring supplies, cooking, cleaning, etc. etc. Some of them are charter boats. One boat (perhaps 150 feet long) took a just-turning-50 French Canadian woman out with 11 of her friends for a week-long birthday cruise. Eating at the fine French restaurant tonight we learned that the mega-yacht across the way rents for $800,000 per week!
Of course all of these luxurious boats have every convenience and comfort aboard. Our shower is a little bit cramped, so we have been taking showers in the shore facilities. I don’t know whether it’s historical authenticity or punishment for us "tiny" boats, but the water is stone cold, even though they charge $2.
I’ll back up a little bit and tell you about other islands we’ve seen recently. When I last wrote, we were in Dominica, a quite poor English-speaking island that was devastated by Hurricane Maria a year and a half ago. The next islands to the north are Les Isles Saintes – French and part of the departement of Guadeloupe. Approaching the anchorage there we had to run the gauntlet of a group of kite-surfers and wind-surfers. They love to pass right in front of us in what is obviously a game of “chicken”. They don’t realize (or don’t care) that if they fell while passing right in front of us, we would be unable to turn quickly enough to avoid them. The best we can do is continue on a predictable path while they play with us. I’m happy to report we haven’t hit one yet.
Les Saintes is a beautiful group of islands, full of day-trip tourists who come over by ferry from Guadeloupe. Two cruise ships stopped in the rather small harbor while we were there. The very picturesque streets are full of souvenir shops and expensive sea-view restaurants. The contrast with Dominica could not be greater. We stayed on a mooring buoy for three nights, going ashore for customs, groceries, laundry and one dinner in a restaurant.
From Les Saintes we went to Pointe a Pitre, the biggest city in Guadeloupe. Dan & Barb found us there the day after we arrived. We went to the big Slavery Museum the first day, which was astonishing and horrifying. Although the focus is on the Caribbean, there were also portions devoted to slavery in the United States, and modern slavery which takes the form of human trafficking. We learned that although the Guadeloupe slaves were freed at the time of the French Revolution (1789), Napoleon decreed 13 years later that they be re-enslaved. Not surprisingly there was a slave rebellion.
As we left the museum, we were accosted by “Edy” (“one d only”) a gentleman of 75, who told us that he was a descendant of the Carib Indians. He wanted us to know about St. Georges, the 18th century son of a French planter and a slave woman, who went to France and became known as a swordsman, musician and composer, and who rubbed elbows with Mozart. Edy was ready to talk to us for hours, but we finally made our escape. (I did check on Wikipedia, and there really was such a person, who left a substantial body of musical compositions, some of which are being performed today.)
The next day we made a road trip to Deshaies, a town along the northwest coast of Guadeloupe, where we met up with George and Sue Stonecliffe. They had just arrived on their boat, and we made plans to meet up in the next day or so. We ate lunch together in a restaurant which was the set for the bar in early episodes of Death in Paradise, a British semi-humorous cop show we’ve enjoyed in the past. It was really quite something for us to see the sets and the scenery from one of our favorite shows. The restaurant had lots of photos from the first or second season of the series. We also saw the beach where Detective Inspector Poole had his beach house (although apparently they remove the house when not actively filming.) It’s amazing how different it actually looks – most notably, it rains a lot, but in the TV series the sun is always shining.
From Pointe a Pitre we sailed to Basse-Terre, where we met George & Sue, then Pigeon Islet (a Cousteau diving and snorkeling refuge) and finally Deshaies again (but this time by sea). While in Deshaies we visited a fantastic botanical garden, and had a nice restaurant meal with the six of us (C&B, Dan & Barb, George and Sue). The botanical garden is extremely well maintained, and it has a vast array of tropical plants. Many were in bloom, but this is obviously not the primary flowering season. Another visual treat was the view from the restaurant we chose. The deck hangs out over the beach, and just beyond is the quite-full harbor. Each boat (or nearly every boat) has an anchor light at the top of the mast, and they wave gently back and forth in the dark night as the slight waves move the boats.
The passage from Deshaies to English Harbour (where we are now) involved another crossing between Caribbean Islands. There tends to be an enhanced wind between the islands, where waves can pile up and things can get pretty exciting. Fortunately this was not one of those times, and we had an easy passage. When we arrived at English Harbour, we did a stern-to med-moor maneuver, with our anchor out in front of us, and then backing up to the wall, adjusting lines so that we’re close enough to step off the boat, but not so close that we bump. It was the first time for us using that method, and we were mostly successful (just a few bumps in the night).
So I think that brings us up to date. Tomorrow we leave for St. Kitts and more new adventures.
Best wishes to all our friends and family,
Craig & Barbara Johnston
St. Lucia, Martinique and Dominica
04 January 2019 | Portsmouth, Dominica
Barbara/Windy, sunny and rainy, in quick succession
Wow, I looked at our last blog posting and it was the day before Christmas! The time seems to have flown by. We are now in Dominica, the island that was directly in the path of Hurricane Maria last year. These people are such survivors; there is construction going on everywhere, but still plenty of evidence of what happened. But let me backtrack and tell you about some of the places we’ve been and some of things we’ve done since we last wrote.
As you’ll recall, we arrived in St. Lucia on December 17 after crossing the Atlantic Ocean. My last blog post will have given you some initial impressions. A major project when we arrive in a new place is always acquiring or recharging a SIM card so we have cell phone connectivity and access to more data speed than our meager T-mobile international plan allows. In St. Lucia this involved a trip to a shopping center about a kilometer away from the marina, where there was reportedly a Digicel office. We made the trip on our folding bikes, although the roads aren’t in very good condition, and full of heavy traffic and crazy drivers. Craig has more courage than I do, so he rode on the road while I tried to find what passed for a sidewalk or a parallel street. Many level changes, gravel, paving, stairs, more gravel, potholes, you get the idea.
We did find the Digicel store, and after making it through a transaction that must have lasted 45 minutes, we were finally connected for St. Lucia. And purportedly for Dominica. But not for any of those French-speaking islands!
As new arrivals in the tropics, we were beset with heat fatigue. We tried to get as much done as we could early in the day, because we simply petered out by midday. So the day before Christmas, needing a few more supplies for Christmas dinner, I walked to that shopping center again, at 8 am, rather than trying the bike. I was able to get back to the boat, by means of a taxi, by 10 am, before being completely exhausted by heat.
We invited new friends David and Gretchen to join us for Christmas dinner. They are the owners of another Outbound, Calllisto (Sequoia is an Outbound). The company owner, Phil Lambert, had alerted all the Outbounds in the Caribbean that we had arrived, and we have indeed had contact with a couple of different boats. David and Gretchen proved to be delightful folks and they had all sorts of good advice for us about our upcoming destinations.
I cooked a pumpkin pie – from scratch from a St. Lucia pumpkin – for the Christmas dinner. The pie turned out great, if a bit lopsided. I also cobbled together a stuffed rolled turkey breast from some sliced turkey I’ve had in the freezer since France. Since the oven thermostat is an exercise in extreme approximation, the roast turned out a bit dry, but very tasty.
Being in St. Lucia for Christmas was somewhat weird. It’s been years and years since we have been away from home at Christmas time. We missed the family, but managed to have a Skype call with Ian, David and Tara. Christmas carols (mostly the tacky commercial ones) waft across the water from various boats. One evening there was a live steel band playing Christmas carols. There are big painted wooden candy canes erected all around the marina. Many boats are decked out in Christmas lights.
The boat next to us in the marina was a big fancy sportfishing boat – about 65 feet – named Freyja. Living aboard were two young men who were the paid crew. They had an inflatable Santa and an inflatable shark which they hauled up in the Christmas spirit. Followed by plenty of Christmas spirits and loud parties. Every few days they would go out looking for good fishing spots so that they could take the owner there, if and when he ever showed up. (We never saw him). Each time they returned they’d put out the Santa and the shark again, with a new arrangement of Christmas lights.
The day before we left St. Lucia I realized that Caroline and Richard, of Midnight Breeze were in the marina. We had met them in Pasito Blanco, in the Canaries, before we crossed the Atlantic. We spent a bit of time with them, regretting that we’d all been there for a week, without knowing the other was also there.
The next morning, we crossed the channel to Martinique, a distance of about 25 miles. Conditions were somewhat rough between the islands, and a deck leak we hadn’t seen since the return passage from Hawaii, 6 years ago, reappeared. Unfortunately, it dumped a few quarts of salt water onto our berth during the course of the passage. After our return from Hawaii, we had put a lot of effort into trying to locate the source of that leak and/or prevent its recurrence. But all the hoses and buckets of water in the world cannot duplicate the effect of big waves crashing on top of the foredeck. Leaks can start in one place and travel many feet between deck layers before they enter the cabin. So the problem is not solved, and for the remainder of this trip, we’ll be protecting the mattress with plentiful tarps.
The same wind that had caused rough conditions in the channel were still going strong when we reached the southern end of Martinique. We had hoped to get into the “Le Marin” marina, but they said on the radio that they had no place for us. So we chose instead to anchor in the Ste. Anne anchorage, where about 300 boats had arrived before us. Conditions were pretty crowded, but we did find a place to anchor after a couple of tries.
In the morning we launched the dinghy and went ashore to find the customs office. It turns out that in Martinique, the whole process is computerized. There is a computer in the back of a “snack” restaurant, where you input your information, print out a sheet, and then get it signed by the “officer” who is also the cook, bartender and server for the restaurant and doing a brisk business. He gets a fee of 5 euros for taking a quick look at our passport and boat papers and signing off on the entry document. This is such an improvement on other countries where you spend hours filling out multiple forms by hand, perhaps at several different offices that are located at some distance from each other.
Ste. Anne is a charming little town with a good cross section of French tourists and locals frequenting the various businesses. Shortly after we finished lunch at the “Snack” restaurant and picked up some groceries, there was a tropical downpour which left us running for cover. It didn’t last long, and we were able to get to the dinghy and back to the boat without further incident, although with rather wet shoes and clothing. (Not to worry, everything dries quickly…) Squalls came and went the rest of the day, and there were a few gorgeous rainbows (see photo at the top of this post).
The next day we were able to move into the Le Marin marina without too much drama. They are quite obviously at the limit of their ability to accommodate all the boats that want to come there. It was a bit difficult to decipher where they wanted us and when, even once we did get radio communications established. We edged between a boat full of Italians and one full of Spaniards, across the dock from a Norwegian boat and an American one. On the same dock were vast numbers of charter boats being cleaned between guests and loaded with fresh food. Everything is very French. All the charter boat guests were French, and most of the boat owners also appeared to be French. French restaurants ashore and a French boulangerie/patisserie (Yum, fresh croissants and baguettes every morning!)
Our friends Mette and Ottar, of the boat Tiril, were on the other side of the marina, and we were able to make contact with them quickly. We had met them in Pasito Blanco in the Canaries, and we knew they were going to be staying in Martinique for at least of a month. (Mette, unlike the rest of us, is still working – she does translation for the Norwegian government, one of many professions that can actually be done long-distance while you’re cruising.) We were able to have a nice dinner with Mette and Ottar at a dockside French restaurant one evening.
The next day we were back to the search for good cell phone and data coverage, since our T-mobile plan seemed to be providing nothing at all. The St. Lucia SIM card of course did nothing. This time, we were able to buy a card with an ongoing contract that promises to provide coverage in most Caribbean countries, all the way to Panama! What a relief it will be to be able to arrive at the next island and not have to worry about cell coverage. This same plan provides coverage throughout Europe. If only we’d done the trip the other direction, think how many cell phone stores we could have skipped! (FYI, it is from Digicel and for 40 Euros a month allows a healthy 30 GB of data.)
It was alternately (or simultaneously) hot and rainy in Le Marin, but we did manage to explore around the marina a bit. The area definitely seems more prosperous than St. Lucia, with clean streets and good infrastructure. There is quite a bit of street art, and many interesting buildings.
Our next stop was St. Pierre at the north end of Martinique. Looming over St. Pierre is the cloud-capped Mount Pele, a recently active volcano. In 1902, after sputtering for a few weeks, the volcano let loose with a superheated flow of volcanic gas which killed nearly 30,000 people who then lived in St. Pierre. The town has been rebuilt, but there are ruins everywhere. Anchoring is prohibited in a major part of the harbor where there are sunken ships that anchored during the eruption and burned to the waterline.
It was New Years Day, but the “8 à Huit” store was open. We were able to get some fruit, meat, cheese and various other necessaries before they closed at noon. Then we went for lunch at a small, very French restaurant, Le Tamaya. We were the only guests, so able to have an interesting conversation with the proprietors. The restaurant was named after one of the ships that went down in the harbor in 1902, and there were nautical artifacts on the walls. The food was excellent, too!
From St. Pierre we crossed the channel to Dominica, continuing to Prince Rupert Bay and Portsmouth at the north end of the island. Dominica is a much more impoverished island than Martinique, from all appearances. Martinique is part of France, and is heavily supported by the French government. Dominica is an independent country, although part of the British Commonwealth.
There is no marina in Dominica, but a local association (“Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services” or PAYS) has installed a large number of mooring buoys and offers a variety of services to incoming boaters. Already we’ve gotten water taxi services to the Customs office and today we were rowed up the Indian River through a tropical mangrove swamp. Also in the boat with us was an extended family from the Czech Republic. The grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins were just visitors, but George and his family are heading north, planning on doing the Northwest Passage this summer, and perhaps we’ll see them in the fall in the Pacific Northwest.
Jerome, of PAYS, rowed us up the river to a semi-civilized outpost with tropical gardens. He showed the children a large seed which when cracked open yields an orange paste which can be used as body paint or to make meat look better than it really is. Among the sights seen along the river were crabs, fish, birds, iguana and a location where parts of Pirates of the Caribbean, Part 2 was filmed. The cabin was created to be the home of a witch… It has since been wrecked by Hurricane Maria, and the wreckage is hardly distinguishable from the jungle.
Yesterday after we visited the customs office, we walked through the town of Portsmouth. Many houses are still standing roofless, open and abandoned due to the effects of hurricane Maria, and many unusable business premises have been turned into makeshift housing. Everywhere there are piles of lumber and rebar, and the sound of hammers and drills can often be heard. We passed wrecked boats on the beach and construction equipment that is no longer usable.
When we were in St. Lucia, we were approached by an American woman, Sheron Wahl, who was soliciting funds for a Dominica recovery effort entitled “SOS Dominica - Feed My Sheep”. She was accompanied by Martin Carriere, who, it turns out, is a member of PAYS here. We elected not to contribute to the Feed My Sheep effort, in part because it has a religious basis we don’t favor, but also because Sheron had made no effort to obtain US tax-exempt status, and thus there was no real expectation of any oversight. Instead we have made a substantial contribution to the Dominica recovery effort through “Global Giving”, a highly rated American charity.
We have one more day in Dominica before we move on to Les Saintes and Guadeloupe. Tomorrow we hope to take in the Farmer’s market, and perhaps do a bit more land-based exploration.
We wish a Happy New Year to all our friends and family.
Craig & Barbara
Completion of our Atlantic Passage
23 December 2018 | Rodney Bay, St. Lucia
Barbara/Hot and humid
We made it! We are now in St. Lucia, catching our breaths after making the transition from an ocean-going environment to the hot, humid, friendly place that will be our home for Christmas.
I managed to post two blog updates during the passage, although it was never easy. Just using the computer, with the boat moving around so much, was a challenge. The mouse had a tendency to roll right down the nav station desk, into the tray behind, sometimes triggering unwanted effects in the computer. I didn’t want to write about things that went wrong (not wanting to alarm family members at home), and most of the time the most momentous thing happening was starting a new book on the Kindle.
We all managed to cope with the watch schedule, for which each of us had an assigned three hours during the night. My particular night watch was from 4 am to 7 am. Usually when I took over from Tom at 4 am, Venus (“the morning star”) had already risen in the sky, and after about an hour the light would start to fill in along the horizon, often with a lovely sunrise to follow. The first few days we had to bundle up a bit at night, but by the end of the voyage it was shorts and light shirt for everyone, 24 hours a day.
Our crew for this crossing was Tom Foor, a music friend of Barbara’s. Tom has made a number of crossings, so has good sailing experience, and he’s also easy to get along with. Tom is married to Yvonne, a violinist and close friend of Barbara’s from high school. After a number of years of no contact, Barbara and Yvonne reconnected at a chamber music workshop in Sacramento. We got to know Tom (also an excellent violinist), and the sailing connection was made. Sequoia is quite different from the previous ocean-going boats of Tom’s experience, so there were quite a lot of new procedures and methods to learn. Tom did great, and we were very glad to have him along.
During the last part of the voyage we had stronger winds, up to about 30 knots, ranging from dead astern to 30 degrees off the starboard quarter. Between sailing downwind, often in lighter airs, and some issues with slop in the gooseneck fitting we used the staysail and genoa jibs only. Each of those sails can be easily adjusted in size, so we were always able to have the right combination of sails for whatever wind was blowing. In 30 knots of wind we were seeing seas of about 3 meters (9 feet) so the boat’s motion got pretty exciting. Cooking in the galley became ever more difficult, and I was glad to have saved some of my frozen passage dinners for the end of the trip (defrost, heat, serve – no rolling vegetables to contend with!)
The last day of the passage we began to see squalls and a bit of rain. Apparently squalls in this area of the world are an island thing – the volcanic peaks of these Caribbean islands have a definite effect on the weather. St. Lucia appeared on the horizon, and we set to work re-inflating our fenders and getting ready to dock in Rodney Bay. Craig phoned to see if there was space and was told that “all space” was reserved for ARC boats. (The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, constituting about 200 boats was paralleling our course across the Atlantic in about the same time frame.) Fortunately it turns out that’s just what the person in the office is told to say to everyone, and in actual fact there were plenty of berths available.
We had a choice to tie to a 120V or 240V dock. First time we’ve ever been given that choice! We ended up on a 120 dock, which meant that the first job upon arrival was to change the wiring in the boat’s transformer, which had been set to 240V for European marinas. Before the passage Craig had decided to install a switch between the two settings, so that the changeover would no longer involve a long crawl into a remote compartment and physically, with a screwdriver, changing how the wires are connected. Craig found a marine electric supply store right across the street, acquired the necessary bits and pieces and embarked on a long difficult project. (It was supposed to take ½ hour). But we now have the switch, so this should never come up again!
Every day here we are visited by local “freelancers” who would like to sell us fruit, offer their washing and waxing services, or guide us to nearby sights. One particularly insistent fellow, named “Vision” was working on an adjacent boat. He sang at the top of his lungs as he worked and was always cheerful but insistent. We finally agreed that he would take us on Saturday morning to the farmers market in Castries (the Capitol of St. Lucia, about 20 miles down the road). We agreed to meet at 6:30 am, although it was actually about 7 am by the time we got started. Vision drives like a crazy man, but it appears so does everyone else. He found a place to park near the market, between a huge pile of filled garbage bags and a heap of coconut husks. We waded in to the mass of humanity and found most everything we needed. The people-watching was fascinating, and we found that they were watching us as well.
The people who live in St. Lucia are 80% African, descended from slaves. The tourists are 98% Caucasian. This makes us feel a little as though we have been transported into some kind of apartheid society, and we’re more than a little bit uncomfortable. There are guards at the entrance to the docks, and the entry code seems to be: if you’re white, you can come in without question; if you’re African you can’t come in unless we know you. We’re glad to see local folk in some of the restaurants we visit, but it doesn’t happen often. The free lancers and vendors are extraordinarily and genuinely friendly. I suppose their attitude may be due to their complete dependence on the tourist trade and a need to “make nice” but it seems more genuine than that.
It may be just the two of us celebrating Christmas together this year, but we have hopes of finding some other folks without visiting relatives who want to share a glass of cheer with us. The Outbound sailing community (Sequoia is an Outbound 44) is on alert that we’re here, and we do expect at least one other Outbound to be in the area starting tomorrow (Christmas Eve).
We think of friends and family often, particularly during this holiday season. We wish you all the happiness of the season, with extra fervent wishes for peace in this difficult time of strife in the world.
Craig & Barbara
Rodney Bay Marina, St. Lucia
On passage to St. Lucia
12 December 2018 | 791 nautical miles east of St. Lucia
Today we completed the first two weeks of our passage from The Canaries to The Caribbean. 5 or 6 more days to go. Unlike the first part of our passage, we now have plenty of wind; at times too much! There are no long distance swells here, so when the wind increases here, so do the swells. The most we've seen is about 25 knots of wind; that creates seas of 6 to 7 feet. The weather report says that in a couple of days the wind will increase to 30, with corresponding seas of about 9 feet. That's something we can easily manage, but the lively seas make cooking very interesting. There's usually a lot of swearing (coming from me) as vegetables roll around, and dishes and bottles fall out of cabinets. So far I haven't lost a dinner onto the floor, but knock on wood!
A couple of days ago, Craig caught a nice dorado, about 15 pounds. (Known as mahi-mahi in the Pacific). We've had a couple of meals out of it, and the rest is in the freezer. It's always a fire drill when there's a fish on the line: sails have to come down, we have to get the boat turned around and chasing the fish, so it doesn't pull out all the line on the reel. Then getting the fish onto the boat is sometimes a real acrobatic exercise. Craig cleans the fish and cuts filets, then I vacuum seal it and get it into the freezer. We have our routines down, but usually only catch one fish per passage. Otherwise there's no way to preserve it -- the freezer isn't big enough for two fish. In fact, I usually carry a small carton of ice cream, and we know it will likely have to be evicted when we catch a fish -- so catching a fish is always an occasion for an ice cream treat.
In previous passages we've always been able to send email via the ham radio service called "Winlink". Unfortunately there don't seem to be sending/receiving stations anywhere convenient to the Atlantic Ocean. In the first part of the trip we were able to use a station in Portugal (even though that was 2000 miles away), but now there seems to be nobody. So we're using the satellite phone -- something that has a fairly high price, but is reliable.
We're looking forward to our arrival in St. Lucia, where we'll be celebrating Christmas. We're not sure what kinds of activities happen there, but I'm sure there will be something. In the Canaries, I bought a little pop-up Christmas tree at Ikea and a short string of lights. Always a new adventure.
I'll no doubt be in touch soon after our arrival. In the meantime, we hope everyone is enjoying a happy holiday season. Best wishes to all! Craig, Barbara & Tom S/V Sequoia
On passage from from the Canaries to the Caribbean
04 December 2018 | In the middle of the ocean
It's day 4 of our anticipated 20 day passage to St. Lucia in the Caribbean -- thus we figure, we're one fifth of the way - Hurray! However, since this blog is being posted by a radio link to email to Sailblogs, it doesn't have a photo. Maybe when we reach St. Lucia I'll be able to add one. [update Dec. 23, photo added...]
The last couple of days before our departure from Santa Cruz de Tenerife were primarily occupied with acquisition of food for the passage. In theory, what you buy in a farmer's market has never been refrigerated, and thus works better for long term storage in a crate (with no refrigeration). When we had visited the week before, we learned that Tuesday was the day they received their deliveries, "unrefrigerated." So Tom (our friend/crew) and I went to the Santa Cruz market this Tuesday with two big crates and bought everything on my list. Maybe too much. Now, on day 4, an awful lot of it is turning ripe. That's partly because the "never refrigerated" thing proved not to be true in some cases. And partly because as the weather gets hotter (we ARE heading for the tropics), things ripen faster. This morning I discovered that the second of our two "green" papayas was getting moldy. I quickly diced it up into moldy hunks (to throw overboard) and good-looking hunks (to refrigerate). I passed the bowl of not-so-good papaya out to Craig to throw overboard, and he and Tom thought some of it looked perfectly good. "pass us up a couple of spoons". They did find some good bits, but had to admit that some of it did taste moldy.
I'm the main cook, and it's been long enough since our last ocean crossing that I had forgotten the difficulties. So many ingredients are round, and you can't simply set them down on the counter. Better to cut them in half first, and there's still no guarantee they're not going to go shooting off into the sink or onto the floor. When you open a cupboard, it's almost guaranteed all the contents have shifted since you last had it open. Moreover,you'll be lucky if something doesn't coming flying out because it's been leaning up against the cupboard door. I did cook 5 dinners in advance, and put them in the freezer, so when things (or I) get really crazy, there's a defrost-heat-serve option.
For the first three days we headed south toward the Cape Verde Islands. The first day there was hardly any wind, so we motored. We realized that if we continued to motor, we'd have to stop in the Cape Verdes for fuel, as we certainly don't carry enough to cross an ocean. Fortunately, the wind came up the next day, and we've been sailing since and don't plan to stop at the Cape Verdes. We hired a weather router to advise us before and during our voyage. The advice was to sail from Tenerife (28 degrees latitude) nearly south to 19 degrees latitude, and then make a turn west toward the Caribbean. Craig describes this as a banana shaped route. You sail south until you hit the trade winds, then you turn west. Another reason for not making a more direct route is that there is predicted to be an area of dead air (no wind), and this route would skirt around that. We're hoping to get an update from the weather router tonight, because we've just turned right, toward the Caribbean.
All is well aboard the boat. Craig, Tom and I are getting along well, swapping stories and talking about (and occasionally listening to) music. We used "Otto" (the autopilot steering) for awhile and now we've switched to "Jeeves" (the Monitor wind vane steering). The advantage of Jeeves is that he takes no electricity, operating solely off the power of the wind and the ocean. We have solar panels and a wind generator, so theoretically we can generate most of our necessary power. But not if we're using Otto.
So that's all from here. Greetings to all, and hope you're enjoying the holiday season!
Craig, Barbara & Tom S/V Sequoia