Saturday, 19 July 2014
Saturday, 21 June 2014
From Smoldering Volcanoes to Green Guadeloupe
We left Montserrat and continued on our journey southeast, we ticked off another 43 miles, still on the wind but the sea state was ok and the sheets were finally eased – well for a few minutes here and there!
Our first stop in the French Islands was the horseshoe shaped anchorage of Deshaies at the top of Guadeloupe. It was a lovely spot, the anchorage was calm and comfortable and the French village ashore was very cute (somehow forgot to take photos!!)
We had heard that check in formalities in the French Islands are quite unique and we confirmed this when we located the customs computer tucked away at the back of the brightly painted Pelican Boutique and Gift Shop, I got to do some window shopping while skipper swore at the computer with the French keyboard. All was completed in due course, 4 Euros was paid, our arrival papers were printed off and we had legally arrived, not a uniformed government official in sight, no passports viewed or stamped, what a novelty –
Yummy Croissants and Baguettes
We spent a couple of nights here, the surrounding area was lush and green but we didn't do any exploring inland. The village was lovely, but it is surely a land of contrasts with old French architecture, cafes lining the streets with blackboards advertising the plat du jour priced in euros, interspersed with the colourful local fruit, vegetable and fish markets and neighbouring boulangeries. French speaking Caribbean folk were laden with freshly baked baguettes hot out of the oven in one arm and tropical fruits in the other, a colourful scene indeed. The French and the English fought over the Caribbean islands for centuries, and Guadeloupe is one that remains French. Deshaies was great introduction to this Franco Carib blend.
We moved on down the coast in company with Truant III and Americans Little Wing, plans were to stop at the outlying Pigeon Islands for a snorkel in the Jacques Cousteau Marine Park and then anchor for the night in the nearby bay on the mainland. But the plans didn’t include the wind to come in from the southwest when we are in the middle of the trade wind belt where the winds consistently howl through at over 20 knots from the east, so onto Plan B. Well we didn’t really have a Plan B, but did find better shelter further down the coast at Anse a la Barque, a small indent that the three of us squeezed into along with several local fishing boats, it was ok for the night.
Moving onto Les Saintes
We continued down the remainder of the coast and across to Les Saintes, the winds were gusty off the high Guadeloupe peaks then swirled all around as they raced down through the valleys – a challenging sail. We crossed the short channel at the bottom of the mainland and dropped anchor in the beautiful bay at Pain de Sucre next to our English friends Mark and Sue on Macushla, great to catch up with them again.
We spent a few nights in this delightful quiet anchorage, the long walk around to the picturesque village of Bourge des Saintes was a serious hill session and provided much needed exercise but with treats of decent coffee, French pastries and steaming hot baguettes waiting at the other end, well how could we resist.
It was an area you could spent some time exploring but June was upon us and the hurricane season had officially started., we needed to keep ticking off the miles south.
Saturday, 31 May 2014
A Touch of Colonial Caribbean
St Kitts and Nevis are the oldest British colonies in the Caribbean. The Brits arrived there in 1623 closely followed by the French. They briefly worked together to massacre the local Caribs, 2000 in one day were rounded up and slaughtered. A score even the Spanish would have been proud of. Then the British gained complete control as a result of defeating the French in Europe.
After a reasonably comfortable night anchored in the commercial port area at Basseterre, St Kitts we dinghied ashore to check into this 2 island country of St Kitts & Nevis. Formalities were easy enough, and we were free to explore this small town in no time at all.
First we had to weave our way through the toy town cruise ship shopping area, they don’t get many ships here though, so the stores were not as exclusive as further north.
Then we hit the “real” Basseterre, old wooden colonial buildings lined the streets, most in urgent need of repair, many about to crumble, the occasional one restored to its former glory – all making a very interesting blend.
We circumnavigated Independence Square, a park in desperate need of lawn mowing and weeding which was once the site of slave auctions. It was fringed by more buildings that would have looked very handsome in their day but that was decades ago. The town felt safe and was reasonably clean but it felt like tropical decay had set in, it seemed there was no enthusiasm, skills or money to give it the boost it needed.
We found a spot for morning lattes, and didn’t quite get what we wanted but it was espresso coffee on a crumbling Caribbean Island so there were no complaints. We carried on along the waterfront, past a few outdoor food stalls and that was Basseterre. On the way back to the dinghy we sniffed out an excellent roti stand for lunch, they were so big we had the remaining chicken curry for dinner, yummy.
More Developers Dreams
We moved about 4 miles south in the afternoon down to a much more comfortable and scenic anchorage at White House Bay. Now this was an interesting place, ashore was a small pebbly beach and busy construction site. Developers have bought a huge area on the south of St Kitts encompassing Christophe Harbour a large inland lagoon area. They are cutting through the isthmus to dredge access into the lagoon and plan to build a large marina, shopping village and community of houses here. But will that bring the boats, and will the houses sell??
Meanwhile in our little bay, which would be at least a half hour walk from where the marina was planned, the first venture was nearly complete. They have done a great job of this small bar /restaurant and built it from recycled corrugated iron sheeting. It already has that well aged, authentic, dare I say rusty look about it and its due to open 01 June. They have done a lovely job, there is a solid timber dock built, coconut palms have been planted and sway in the breeze but who will be their customers?
We made use of their dock and took the bikes ashore and cycled down to the southern beach of Cockershell Bay. A pleasant enough spot with a grand vista over neighbouring Nevis, a small sandy beach and shacky beach bar with espresso machine, bliss!, oh and the ever watchful resident monkey. But there was no accommodation down here, all clientele must come by car, boat or us hardy few on bikes.
We took a detour on our way back and found one of the best beaches we had seen in a long while, a small crescent shape with dramatic volcanic cliffs at one end and large boulders the other, clean soft golden sand glistened in the sun and gentle waves lapped on the shore.
Amazingly we were the only ones there, so we left the bikes and went for a therapeutic walk along the shoreline, just wonderful.
Now onto Nevis
It was only a few miles over to Nevis so we left in company with Truant 3 mid afternoon and headed across. We passed on the first two anchorages and kept making our way along the coast until we came to the mooring field just north of Charlestown, Nevis’ small main town. It was flat enough (trying desperately to avoid rolly ones), close to town and Nevis’ volcanic peak made a spectacular backdrop. Our new home for a few nights.
Into the Steamy Jungle
Nevis is a very lush and green island, all the slopes fall away from the central volcanic peak which remained shrouded in cloud for most of our stay, they don’t call this a tropical rain forest for nothing! One day we took a local bus (minivan) to one of the small boutique hotels set high in the jungle.
The Rockland Hotel is housed in old sugar cane plantation stone buildings, it is beautifully restored and the surrounding gardens and view out over the windy Atlantic ocean were stunning. We treated ourselves to a light lunch on the shady patio then moved into exercise mode before we needed a siesta!
We did “The Source” hike up into the jungle, dense vegetation shaded the path and kept it almost cool enough. The hike follows the water pipeline put in by the early settlers to control the water flow from natural pools high up the volcanic down to the town, and just goes up, up and up some more!
Over the next couple of days we managed walks along the sandy beach, supped the local cocktail a “Killer Bee” at the nearby Sunshine Bar with fellow cruisers while watching the sun dip over the horizon, found a sports bar for skipper to watch the Football Champions League Final in Portugal and even fitted in a local game of Twenty 20 Cricket where we sat with our Canadian friends and did our very best to explain the rules of Cricket – not an easy task!!!
Friday, 30 May 2014
Another Bash to Windward!
When will it end? We keep looking at the charts convincing ourselves that our season long bash to windward must finally be over. But no, it seems to continue, we desperately wait for the day we will ease sheets, even just an inch would give us hope!
In company with Truant III we sailed 40 miles to cover the 32 mile trip from Charlestown on St Kitts down to Little Harbour at the top of Montserrat, another trip hard on the wind. We tried to do it in one tack but kept getting pushed westward, the winds were steady in the high teens but the sea state was hideous as the mighty Atlantic butts up with the Caribbean Sea - and we doubled as a submarine for long into the trip south east, another major dousing of salt. On the up side the anchorage was calm enough, we had been warned it could be very rolly so as least something was on our side.
First Ravaged by Hurricanes
We have a 1994 Lonely Planet Guide to the Eastern Caribbean on board which has provided us with some rather interesting and entertaining reading when we compare it to the latest edition. But no other island has changed as much in the intervening years as Montserrat.
In 1994 they had almost recovered from Hurricane Hugo which made a direct hit on the island in 1989, 11 people died and 90% of the population were left homeless. Villages had been rebuilt and settled, plants and crops were growing again, life was returning to normal.
And Then The Volcano Blew
The course of this little sleepy Caribbean islands history changed forever in July 1995 when the Soufriere Hills Volcano came back to life after 400 years dormancy. Over the following years the volcano blew several times, resulting in 19 deaths, and nearly half the island was evacuated, much of it buried, including the picturesque and historical capital of Plymouth.
To this day a large part of the island remains uninhabitable, the northern part – untouched by the eruptions – is fertile and lush and all the Montserratians now live in this area. The volcano continues to smoke and rumble.
A Countryside Buried
We did a day tour with Joe Phillips, a very well informed guide. As there are still large exclusion zones we didn’t get too close to the hot spots, probably for the best or I might not be here to write this!! We stopped at a site where pipes have been drilled over 3 kilometers into the earths core, they are acting as pressure relief values and are letting off plenty of steam to try and stabilize the volatile inner core
We visited the partly buried remains of one of the pre eruption hotels, set high above Plymouth it once afforded a wonderful view up to the volcano, across the township and down to the ocean. It sat safely high above the flow of ash down the mountainside but still is deeply buried in ash cloud fall out. These days the view is haunting, a scary reminder of the fury of Mother Nature when she feels the need to blow her top and let off some steam!
Below shows the view from the hotel pool area, pre and post eruption. The pre eruption photo on the left was on our guides iPad so there is glare on it, but it gives an indication on how the countryside has been changed. The one of the right is almost from the same spot, use the swimming pool ladder as a reference point – the pool is full of ash with weeds now growing in it. The huge flow that buried Plymouth shows quite clearly in the background behind the pool, there are abandoned houses close by, then just ash.
Saturday, 24 May 2014
11 – 20 May 2014: St Thomas, USVI to Basseterre, St Kitts – 17 17N 62 42W
After the festivities of the Carnival ended the anchorage at Charlotte Amalie emptied out rapidly, yachts headed north for the American Summer Season, many started heading south to Grenada and Trinidad for the Hurricane Season and the rest of us just stayed – we were waiting.
Our watermaker drive assembly arrived and skipper installed it. Although the watermaker was now functioning properly the quality of our water was not as good as it should be so we decided to replace the membranes. We had asked the local dealer if they had our membranes in stock when we ordered the drive assembly and they had said yes so we hadn’t ordered them in case we didn’t need them (at $1000NZ we hoped we wouldn’t need them). So along we went to purchase two and whoops, no they only have one in stock but they had ordered more and should have them in a day or two.
We decided to wait, we wanted to get the watermaker sorted and we had more jobs to keep us busy, so wait we did. Meanwhile Rob and Sarah were still waiting for their ship to arrive to take Serafina deck cargo back to the UK (see footnote below) so we kept each other amused as best we could!
Our days were busy, the ever present “to do list” finally had a few items ticked off – all the shrouds/chain plates and some stanchions were rebedded at deck level (a time consuming and fiddly job done every few years to keep the water above deck and out of our lockers!). Our gear cable was removed and checked for signs of wear – we hadn’t taken it out before and getting to grips with just how it went back together kept us both entertained or was that baffled for some time.
Meanwhile the watermaker membranes had been placed on backorder, not what we wanted to hear but there was a Tropical Wave weather system heading our way so we weren’t going anywhere anyway. The weather was ghastly for 4 days, it rained and rained – who needs a watermaker anyway!! The sewing machine was set up and whirred away for days. Badly needed new covers for our outdoor chairs were made, cockpit cushions and squabs were refilled for more comfort, broken zippers on our dodger windows were replaced, a host of little jobs I had been putting off all got completed.
The Waiting Is Over
Eventually the weather settled and the sun came out again. Our watermaker membranes arrived, Serafinas ship did not. Skipper worked hard on refitting the watermaker, we flicked the switch and now have a fully functional, much quieter watermaker making perfect water again – job done. Meanwhile Sarah had been very busy emptying lockers onboard Serafina and a huge food hamper came our way. It was just like Christmas, all sorts of goodies now fill Balvenies food locker, lot of treats in store for us, thanks again Rob and Sarah for all the bits and pieces that now have Balvenie as their new home.
We had our final farewell dinner ashore in Charlotte Amalie (we had already had 4 farewells but we just kept coming back to each other!), Serafina still didn’t have a firm arrival date for their ship and we needed to get moving. This time it truly was goodbye.
Time To Knock Some Miles Off
We left the US Virgin Islands the next day and sailed, (to windward of course) back to Peter Island in the British Virgin Islands and just stayed a night in the pretty, quiet and flat anchorage of Great Harbour.
We had a weather window to move southeast 130 miles to St Kitts, the best opportunity we could see for the foreseeable future. There was so much more we wanted to see and do in the BVIs but we need to start moving south also. Hopefully we will return early next season to enjoy more cruising in these lovely sheltered waters. Meanwhile we set sail southeast in light winds, hard on the wind all the way. It was a slow overnight trip but we eventually dropped anchor late afternoon in the commercial port area of Basseterre, St Kitts. It was a rolly unappealing anchorage but the town anchorage was far more rolly and a reasonable nights sleep was much needed. So we cracked open the rum bottle, had an early dinner and rocked n rolled ourselves off to sleep
Welcome Back To The Eastern Caribbean
Serafina is For Sale
Serafina is a Najad 46, Centre Cockpit Sloop, owned by Rob and Sarah since new in 2007. They have kept her in immaculate condition and maintained her to the highest standards – she is, quite simply, a beautiful boat, inside and out. She comes complete with an army of extras which has her totally set up for coastal and offshore cruising. They have cruised the Med, crossed the Atlantic, sailed the Caribbean and journeyed up the American coast in her. Like Balvenie she is a serious offshore bluewater cruiser.
If you have dreams of selling up and sailing off over the horizon and just can’t wait till Balvenie becomes available then Serafina could be the boat for you. She is being shipped (one day!!!) to Southampton, and will be lying in Lymington on the English south coast awaiting her new owners. Check out Serafinas website for more details. www.rhbell.com/Najad-460-for-sale-blue-water-yacht.html
Thursday, 22 May 2014
1 – 10 May 2014: Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas – 18 20N 64 55W
Time To Hit The Streets
We so rarely return to previous anchorages that when we do we seem to enjoy them even more. Knowing where to anchor and take the dinghy, where the supermarket and laundry are, are generally new experiences for us so familiarity is always a treat.
We were back in St Thomas for a few reasons, a major one was to try and have the drive assembly on our water maker repaired. Unfortunately the cheap option of repairing was not possible so we had to order a new one to come from the States.
But we had picked a good time to be here waiting, we had our British friends Rob and Sarah on Serafina anchored close by to play with and it was Carnival Week with outdoor parties, festivities and parades happening daily. Lots of other yachts were coming and going, we got a chance to meet Keith and Pam off New Zealand yacht Savarna where we had a lovely evening onboard feasting on a rather decedent selection of potluck deserts and watching the fireworks display.
We used our waiting time well, getting small jobs done onboard that we normally would have left for the down season but we spent hours ashore too, watching the parades. One day we saw about 100 floats go by with youngsters in all manner of costumes parading along, some singing and dancing, a few beauty queens were all dressed up and just waving at the crowds as they drove by in someone's convertible, but for us our favourites were the steel bands, they were magnificent.
The parties went long into the night, certainly not a quiet time at anchor but we tried our best to stay in the spirit of things, Carnival comes but once a year and that was why we were here!
The Grand Finale
On the last day it was the adults parade, it didn’t flow nearly as well as the youngsters had, so we spent our time walking up and down rather than waiting for the floats to come to us. The weather was very hot and sticky and there was minimal shade. The costumes were excellent, feathers and frills with skimpy tops and bottoms was the attire of choice, I’ll let the photos explain a little better!!
Lets not forget the spectators, rather an interesting assortment ….
And Then ….. The Carnival Was Over