About this time of year numerous sailing folks begin the journey to the Caribbean for the winter. Some head off the safety of the US coastline for open water to distant shores, while others, like us prepare for the flight to where our boat was left for hurricane season. As the time closes in on our return, we begin the job of procuring supplies and parts that we cannot obtain easily, getting flights and making arrangements for housing until we can get Lost Loon in the condition where we stay aboard. This is not as easy as it may sound. We have made AirBNB reservations and found that the car rental situation is a bit of a problem. We can rent a car near the marina, but it means a $120-150 ride one way via taxi or Uber. If we rent at the airport, we cannot return to alternate location without an additional $200 dollar charge. So, after many phone calls, internet searches, and otherwise hair-brained scenarios, we will rent from the airport for 3 days and then, pick up a car close to the marina for another day, while we return the car to the airport. We hope it works! We also need to obtain a survey and rigging check done for the insurance company by January 1. We found out that the surveyor, does not do a rigging check, so we have to hire another person for that task, and get it done during the busiest time of the year, we are told. Before we left our dear boat, we removed much of our anchor chain due to rust. A task that became a near feat, breaking up yards of rusted-together chain.
Our intention was to pick up our needed 250 ft upon return. Guess what? Yes, chain is a premium, and in Puerto Rico we are looking at 11.5% sales tax! WE even looked into shipping a barrel of chain ot PR, but shipping was going to cost nearly twice the price of the chain! We likely have enough chain to anchor in shallow waters to get us back to the USVI where there is no sales tax, (a full day’s sail realistically), but prices are still twice that of those in the US. Finally, we dropped canvas for repair off in May with the understanding that it would be done by our return. We have received an email that the work has not been started. We are not sure if it will be done. If not, we collect it and take it somehwere else along the way. These are the issues that make leaving a boat so far away, and in foreign ports so difficult. We both realize that our decision to leave the boat in distant waters makes life difficult and so we must go with the flow as they say. We will have a list of duties a mile long to keep us busy for 4 days upon our arrival, but know that the payoff is warm gentle breezes, clear blue water, and bright starlit nights.
“What are your sailing plans this year?” we are asked. Our answer is uncertain. With the advent of Covid many things have changed. For 5 years, we became used to being able to take off from an anchorage and decide on the fly where we were going to end up. It mostly depended on how many days we wanted to be sailing, and what the weather was going to be in that direction. Now in addition to the weather and our preferences, we have to take into account the rigid requirements for entering customs and immigrations at the islands. It looks like most of the islands will require vaccines in order to avoid lengthy quarantines, but they also require testing prior to leaving a port and upon arrival (and sometimes 4 days later!!) We will pick and chose very carefully where we will go, mostly depending on those requirements. We will likely stay in the Virgin Islands until the first of the year, and then go with the flow. We would like to get back to Antigua as well as some of the French islands like St Barths, Guadeloupe and Martinique. If we can make it far enough south to Bequia in St Vincent and Grenadine islands it would be a bonus. We have left Lost Loon in the “hurricane box” during that dreaded season for the last 2 years. We are ready to get her out of there, and back to Grenada for the next summer.
Where have we been since leaving Lake Vermilion and the cooler weather?
We are presently staying in warm Florida… learning to play pickleball better (until we have to relearn it in the Spring) and how to catch bait and fish for snook…reading…writing…enjoying unlimited internet, warm showers… biding our time until we will pack up our parts along with other belongings and leave November 21 for Puerto Rico.
For our friends who left the US last night for Bermuda, Bahamas and Antigua, and for friends who will be leaving in the near future we wish you fair winds and following seas. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers!!
We are practically Martinique citizens now! Just kidding! We have actually been in the country 2 weeks!!
We arrived in St Pierre, one of the oldest french cities on the island on March 28th in the shadow of great Mount Pele.
As the story goes, the governor and a science teacher headed a committee who knew of the impending eruption of this great volcano. It had smoldered for days, giving off ash and gasses frequently. They failed to adequately warn the people fearing a mass exodus from the city and harm to the local income. On Ascension Day May 5th, 1902, the mountain let forth with an eruption that has been likened to an atomic bomb , covering the city and taking the lives of nearly 30,000 local inhabitants. The only survivors were a cobbler and a man in jail who survived because his cell faced the opposite direction of the lava flow. It is said he became a legend and finally joined the circus after his fame waned. Ships anchored in the bay were destroyed as well. People from far off cities climbed hills to see the incredible destruction.
We arrive at the dinghy dock and in typical French fashion as the St Pierre church bells are ringing 4 pm. We make our way past Rue de Victor Hugo on to the tourist office where we quickly check into customs on the computer. Our next stop is the ruins of a grand theater which is next to the ruins of a prison.
We can see throughout the city what has been left of the volcanic ruins that have not been rebuilt on.
The village was an elegant city in its day, one of the finest in the West Indies. It was a center of commerce for Rum, sugar, cocoa and spices. We see old structures that line the narrow cobblestone streets and imagine the beautifully dressed townspeople strolling to dinner or the theater.
The bougainvillea hangs from everywhere. The real voices of children calling in their native french language fill the air. For a brief moment we are transported back to French Martinique in the early 1900s.
Our stay here is 2 days because we want to have a meal at Tamaya restaurant, rated one of the best in Martinique! There are 6 tables at this small restaurant, all set with white table clothes. We are the first arrivals of the evening and it’s 7pm ( most French dining establishments don’t open until 6:30 or 7) We are greeted by one of the owners, Peggy, who thankfully speaks English. She takes our order for a bottle of wine. We peruse the menu and see her husband the chef peeking out from the kitchen .
He waves a ‘hello’. We are instructed on the specials and other menu items and she interjects her preferences. After she returns from the kitchen, we hear her story of starting the restaurant, the ups and downs of the business and sailing. She spent many a day in her life on a boat as well. Our dinner is delightful. I have dorade with vegetables and Mike has a delicious veal, all truly French… with Easter chocolate eggs from France as a kind gesture! We stroll through the lamp lit village back to the boat on a full moon night and decide to stay another day and hike.
We make our way in typical Mike and Nancy fashion ( late hot morning) to the statue of Virgin Mary. She overlooks the anchorage and the sailors coming and going. It is a nice street that takes up high above the water and has a great view of the city and Mt Pele
The afternoon is spent making water and looking at the map for the next day’s short motor to Fort de France, the capital of this island.
Upon anchoring and with the engine off we can hear mass being said this Good Friday from the speakers of the Catholic Church that looms over the city. It is enchanting. The bells ring upon conclusion and we remember all the Good Friday masses we have attended, the soberness present in this beautiful bright Caribbean city anchorage.
We get reacquainted with a neighbor boat from Canada we met last year in Guadeloupe and enjoy an evening with them taking sailing and travels. We spend time along the waterfront watching the people and listening to the local music that afternoon.
Saturday morning we attempt to take a bus to the shopping center and get on the 421 instead of the 420 bus. We have been told of a great sports outlet store and enormous grocery here. When it is clear our bus isn’t going the way we intended we ask to get off and have a 3 km walk to our destination. Good thing for phones with GPS that we used to follow the bus route!!!
The shopping was magnificent. We found a real mall with clothing, jewelry and electronics stores. The Hyper U is one of the largest in the Caribbean. And being the day before Easter, it was packed with shoppers!! We like to check out the French wines… they are quiet grand and , well cheap!! The sports outlet store Decathalon we find great deals on some nice performance clothing. Coincidence, but we arrive at the bus stop to return to the boat and unbelievably the gal who spoke English and told us bus 420 was standing there, she laughed heartily when we told her of our mistake!
After being awakened by glorious church bells at sunrise we have coffee and decide to head for another anchorage along the western coast of Martinique. We check out anchorages of Anse Mitan and Anse Noir, and decide on Anse Dufour for an afternoon of snorkeling and hiking in the rain. We are amazed at all the locals on the beach for Pacques( Easter) swimming, barbecuing and dancing even in the rain!!
We chose to move anchor a few Mike’s to Anse Chaudrie. A grassy bay where we must find a spot of sand to successfully set the anchor. The snorkeling here is great, but in getting to the snorkel reef I feel I have observed to many sea snakes below for my liking. That afternoon we meet up again with fellow cruisers on the boat Tasman. They sail our sister ship a Caliber 40 as well. In fact, their boat spent the summer cuddled right next to Lost Loon in Clarkes Court Marina!!
We find some great seashore hikes here several hundred feet above the water with great views. We found another spot to snorkel this was for the hot afternoon.
That brings us to our current location at St Anne, Martinique. Currently the Mecca for hundreds of sailboats moving North and some moving South, as we are.
(April 27…thanks for hanging in there with us this summer getting these posted. Hopefully this next Winter we have better access to the WIFI and the posts come in a more timely manner)
This our final island destination on this Winter journey through the Caribbean !
We arrived from Carriacou on a terrific morning sail. We made about 30 miles in under 4.5 hours. That means we were doing some great sailing. We left the anchorage at Tyrrel Bay at 0815 and by 830 had sails up in a sweet 17 knot breeze. With a 1 reef in the sail ( which reduces the sail surface and in higher winds….which we expected….improves comfortable control of the boat) and a full Genoa, the wind lifted us to a record 8.1 knots!! ( ok, I think we hit 8.5 or 9 knots returning from the Bahamas last year as we hit the fast current in the Gulf Stream, but that was then….this is NOW!). That is cause for celebration alone. Caliber is listed by the brokers as a safe and sturdy sailing vessel, not known for speed. But she showed us this day, if given the right winds and sail she can fly!
As we sailed south, before we started southwest to make it around the northern tip of Grenada there, we passed a few small rocky islands then an area with a submerged inactive volcano , known as Kick’em Jenny.
The map has a 5 km radius of exclusion around this volcano in case she were to become active. We were cognizant of the restrictions and sailed outside the radius. One scary thought is that when a volcano is active and submerged, it changes the botany of water and ships sailing or motoring over such an area will sink. Also we found that the ocean floor comes up from 4000 + feet to 350 ft in this area and it causes the waters to be quite confused. With a 18-29 knot wind and a bit of an ocean swell we had a short choppy ride through the ‘ volcano waters’. We imagined that someday there would be a small …or possibly large island here. Well, 3 days later, we are doing our morning chores aboard with the radio on and we hear that according to seismic recordings done in the last week there is evidence of possible volcanic activity and subsequently they strictly enforced the 5 km exclusion zone!!
We approach the lush mountainous island of Grenada and it reminds us of Guadeloupe, typical West Indies. Known as the Spice Island for its nutmeg, cinnamon, and tumeric. We see the steep-to shorelines and deep green color of the inland landscape. We round several bays and find our way to the major port of St George’s. It was here that a lot of the conflict happened during the coup of 1980s. Grenada was a strife ridden island that was at the time inhabited by Cubans who decided to take control of the island. Apparently, the prime minister was assassinated by his cabinet when the government fell into leftist hands. Realizing the possible problem with Cuba having 2 ports at either end of the Caribbean and then one so close to Venezuela ( petroleum rich) waters, we sent troops in to return the nation to Grenadians. We met a fellow on the beach, one afternoon,that told us that US and allied troops went through the country and tried to weed out the Cubans. They were assisted by the Grenadian who exposed their neighbors. Some locals lost their lives when found out, but at the cost of recovering control of their country. He told us of US helicopters that were shot down right in the bay we are now anchored. This was the same guy that came out to tell us the lounge chairs we stopped to sit on would cost us $10 EC ($4.50 US) per day if we wished to stay. Mike stood up (de-occupying his lounge chair) and talked to him about the history of the island.
St George is an old city. There are high cliffs upon which rest a prison and at the other end a hospital. The Carenage is the city that sits right on the waterfront. There is also a part of this port that accepts large cargo ships which bring supplies and food from Venezuela and Europe. There are fishing and transport boats moored up 3 fold waiting to take supplies to the out islands and Carriacou. The buildings are reminiscent of an old European village with old brick and stone fronts. There is a center city full of open markets selling fruits, vegetables, clothing, and other souvenirs.
During the week the city is bustling with traffic, but by Sunday as we made our way through nary a sole could be found. It is a family oriented society and by mid-afternoon they were on the beaches and back at the parks enjoying life.
We arrived about 1 week prior to taking the boat out of the water. It is here that Lost Loon will wait, out of hurricane waters for us to return in November for another season. We decided that it was time to tarry as we began the process of readying the boat for haul-out. We spent most mornings cleaning and re-organizing supplies, deciding what things we would want to take back to the States and what things could remain safe for our 6 month hiatus. We would make a trip to shore to find our way to the marina where we would leave the boat. One morning we made our way to the dinghy dock, stopped at the chandlery and off across the island for Clarkes Court Marina. We figured we had about a 4 mile walk. We had great marine maps, but to find an accurate land map was nearly impossible. We did make our way to Lost Loon’s previous home at Spice Island Marina, and were lucky to get a shuttle ride to Clarkes. It was a sweltering day by the time we arrived. We were greeted by some great staff and showed around so we knew where we were headed on our approach. As luck would have it we were able to catch a bus ride most of the way back to where we left the dinghy that morning.
WE would spend the next week and a half getting the boat ready for the BIG HAUL..cleaning and forever organizing.
Next up….decomissioning the boat for the Summer…and things I miss…a new family member (!)..summer projects.
Thanks for stopping and reading. Please find the comment section …leave your thoughts Love hearing from everyone!
The squall has passed ahead of us as we motor into Portsmouth, the most northerly anchorage of Prince Rupert Bay of Dominica and the waters are now flat and calm as we enter. The island, being of volcanic origin, has green mountains and valleys that reach down to white sand beaches or rocky cliffs. The bay is nearly 4 miles wide and the anchorage we see is enormous. There are sailboats and catamarans peppered along the northern part of the bay.
It was a last minute decision for us to arrive here this week (mid March). Meeting up with John Kretschmer on Quetzal and his crew in Il des Saintes 3 days previous, we had a great reunion with our sailing mentor and he invited us to head south for a few days to Dominica. Since we did not have definite plans that week, (as we were headed back to the US for a brief trip the next week) we decided it would be fun and agreed to accompany them.
Quetzal sailing to Dominica
After obtaining our customs papers in Guadeloupe we headed out of the southern islands for Dominica. We had intended to find a good wind (promised by PredictWind and the GRIB download) and enjoy a 3-hour afternoon sail. We did. We had a great 15 knot ESE wind putting us on a great line for Dominica. The water depths between many of these volcanic island plunge and there are quite often weed–lines that make good fishing. What would be the harm in putting out the fishing rod for a few hours on a beautiful Caribbean afternoon??… we were caught off guard as the reel sent off it high pitched whirring and we had a FISH ON!!
We had full sails up and the first task would be to furl in the genoa to slow our speed to retrieve the fish. Our speed dropped to nearly 3.5 knots and we initiated the autopilot to keep on our rhumb line. Mike cranked on the fishing rod as an efficient deep-sea fisherman would. I monitored our progress and watched out for other boats, and retrieved the gaff and other “fish-landing” equipment. The usual conversation ensued as the fish came closer…”aw it’s a barracuda’, “no, its not, it’s a skip jack”…” a mahi”…then wait …“its, big its…a wahoo!”. We had hooked into a 5 ft wahoo and desperately wanted to land it into the boat. The 6 ft long gaff was the key. We were 30 minutes from anchoring in Dominica and Mike quickly filleted the fish as we discussed how we would manage to eat all the fish during our trip.
We are initially greeted about a mile out by one of the “boat boys” asking if we need help. We had been instructed by our friend on Quetzal, who has been here many times in the past, to ask for his friend Edison. We did get a look of consternation initially when we said we were going to work with him, but he let us pass without incident. The “boat boys” as they are known are a consortium who provide assistance to cruisers as part of their job. They travel through the anchorage assisting with mooring or anchoring, retrieving water, fuel, or even specialty foods if necessary and providing security. There was a time where individuals trafficking drugs were bothersome to cruisers but this group organized into a peaceful trade group called PAYS (Portsmouth Association for Yacht Security) to fight this. Yes we are still approached by individuals on paddleboards selling mangoes, but they are harmless. Edison would help us obtain a secure mooring for $10 /night and pick us up to get checked into customs and immigration the following morning.
The next morning he arrived at the back of Lost Loon to pick us up for the ride to Customs. This just made the whole process seem easier as the police and customs dock was nearly a mile from the anchorage and signage was somewhat lacking. With papers in order, fees paid, our passports stamped and we had clearance. We were thankful that this island would allow us to check in and out on the same visit, thus eliminating that task before leaving in 3 days. He had also arranged a tour to part of the inland rainforest.
We were soon off in a large van with our new friends from Quetzal. We travelled higher and higher into the mountains winding along the palm tree and multicolored bougainvillea lined roads seeing one magnificent lookout after the next with views of the ocean below.
Waters were turquoise blue even from this vantage. Our first stop was a waterfall hike. Our guide spent time showing us different plants along the way that his ancestors and now his family use for different ailments. There are leaves that form an emulsification and it is used for soap, there is a plant to cure what I believe by the description is prostatitis, another for nausea and vomiting, and several others for nervousness (anxiety?). As we ventured further on the walk into the forest, we passed thick green leafy and mossy walls that were literally raining with clear fresh water.
We finally arrived at our destination and took a swim in a freshwater pool just at the base of the waterfall. Once we had our fill of cool fresh water and memorable photographs were taken, we left for our next stop at the island’s own chocolate factory.
We were introduced to the owner who is of Dutch descent. His father had started using the cocoa plant and it “nuts” to make chocolate here in the 40’s! The owner and our personal guide took us through the whole process. Above the separation system takes dried cacoa and grinds it up into nibs. (This actually reminded me of a Destination Imagination project I supervised when the kids were in middle school!)
We tasted the different chocolate combinations he produced and supported his efforts by purchasing our favorites as well. He has homesteaded here in the mountains and has built beautiful gardens. We were lucky to take a tour seeing all the colorful plants in the pinks, oranges, whites and incredible scents of his labor.
We were returned to our anchorage mid-afternoon and deposited along the beach road by a different route, seeing more of the cosmopolitan part of the island. It was bustling like any American city, children coming and going on school buses, but unlike our country we passed several family food stands. We tasted something like a vegetable pasty as we made one stop. We were escorted back to our boats by Edison who had been waiting for our return.
The Quetzal crew left that afternoon for their overnight sail to St. Lucia and we stayed to relax in the harbor.
The following day we were using the internet at a local beach bar and met another couple on a beautiful Amel sailboat. They told us of their travels from Europe and through the Caribbean. They showed us their boat that took them on their journey. Through our discussions that day we gained insights into future travels through the islands.
We also shared a great hike at Fort Shirley at Cabrits National Park (right in our harbor) at the entrance to Portsmouth. The famous ” Battle of the Saints,” between the British and the French could be observed from this site on 12th April 1782. We arrived at a huge dinghy dock at the fort and found our way through the near-abandoned cruise ship customs facility to the National Park entrance.
We paid our fees and took a self-guided tour. We saw remnants of a self-sufficient military installation from years gone by, cannons still standing. We hiked to a great overlook out to the western ocean.
Leaving many parts of the island yet to see, we departed after 3 days for an afternoon sail back to Guadeloupe.
Martinique is to come with more down-island travels!
(OK….so I am finally posting this…as we are leaving Lost Loon in Grenada 😦 tomorrow morning at 0600…but there are more blogs to come …with stops in Martinique, Dominica, Tobago Cays…..and Grenada! Thanks for being patient!!!)
The island of 2. This island takes on 2 characters… one of lowlands and one of mountainous volcanoes. We approached the west end of mountainous volcanoes. Our fist stop was in DeShaies (days-hay) to check into customs. However still a French holding it is under different control and immigration laws. We still found the easy computer check-in, but this time at the local t-shirt shop. Since our goal was to make another 10 miles by the end of the day we picked up a couple of croissants, a fresh baguette and were off for Riveria Sens in the southwest.
Upon return to the vessel, which we had anchored on 35 ft of water, temporarily we found that after our scope had straightened out (that is the full length of chain we put out) we were within INCHES (or centimeters if your French) of the boat behind us. OOPS! As we landed the dinghy I jumped off, started the engine and put her in gear to avoid any potential interference. It was like a ballet. (ha ha) As Mike got aboard with dinghy safely secure, I flew to the bow to begin retrieving the anchor. It came up easily and we were off. In Mike’s words…”no harm, no foul” thank goodness! We were off for the southwest of Guadeloupe, another lesson learned.
We sailed down the coast within a mile or 2, resting from our night passage, fishing and enjoying the scenery. We passed Pigeon Island, which is a noted Jacques Cousteau preserved marine land, making note to return when we had more time.
We made arrival at Riveria Sens along the coast for anchoring in the late afternoon. We swam to refresh our energy and made way to shore for a walk. We found this location to be an amazing fitness area.
It was like being transported into an Olympic Village. (no, I have never been to one, but I imagine fit muscular people who are seriously working on running, swimming, biking, and power walking) These were people of all types and sizes intent on getting exercise. We watched as the swimmers donned mask fins and snorkel to head out for 1-2 mile swim, bikers decked out in the latest Nike, Adidias and other top of the line clothing for their group rides, and then runners in THE best and brightest running shoes available to man (or woman). We exchanged “bonjours” and by the end of our afternoon walk “bonsoirs” to each one. Our walk was finished by sunset in the west looking over the calm waters of the Caribbean.
The next leg of our journey took us the following day to Il des Saintes, or “the Saintes” . This is a collection of small islands to the south of mainland Guadeloupe.
Considered a vacation spot for mainland Guadeloupians it is truly a gem. The little village has an Caribbean feel with a French accent. The restaurants were excellent. We found we could cover most of the island by foot, careful to plan the time of day as midday it is sweltering! (mistake made day 2 when we made the 1 hr 20 minute hike to LeChameaux (the camel). A mountain on the island that has an old French look out fort. It has an elevation of 309 meters with steep switch backs on a nicely paved road. We met goats foraging for food and even named one “Bob Marley”. WE met folks of all shapes and sizes going up and down this challenging walk. We did this hike 3 times during our stay in these islands. The last venture to this beautiful look out was a challenging hike through the woods on a marked trail. It took us less time, because it was more verticle. The last few steps to the top we were literally balancing on a few outcropped rocks. Yours truly is a bit wary of heights and as I looked at the very teeny sailboats anchored below, my brain told my nerves to begin quivering. A brief moment of “what the heck am I doing here” and we were again looking at an unbelievable 360 view. My brain then questioned…..Do I really want to return the same way? Of course…why would I take the 1 hour and 20 minutes down when we could be at the bottom swimming in 30 minutes.
Our hikes took us to several beaches on the island, mostly uninhabited during the week. On weekends we were there a few more people showed up, but they generally stayed at the resorts or in the village. It was here we found some terrific fois gras, baguettes and brie cheese. (The reason for the repeated hikes, yoga on the boat and swimming….we had calories to burn!!)
A little about baguettes. These are the traditional recipe from France. They are the long and narrow, crusty breads that come in their fresh paper bags. The people that are French living on these islands insist upon it!. The locals as well as the cruisers come to town early in the morning when the boulangeries open for the freshest of the bunch. Everyone has a baguette, and more than one! Some have several sticking out of the top of backpacks, grocery bags, and bike baskets. If one is lucky and times it right in the afternoon, some of the local grocers get a small supply of fresh baguettes to sell, and upon re-opening in the afternoon between 2 and 3 people are waiting to pick up their afternoon baguette!!
Back on mainland, Guadeloupe, with our friends Ric and Mimi from the states, we rented a car and took a tour of some of the island. Our first day too us to some rainforest waterfalls. Driving up the canyons the greenery became thicker and thicker. The tall bamboo towered into the forest canopy and the vines hung from everything as the road winded up into the mountainous region. We had our choice of walks and chose an easy hike to a beautiful clear running stream with small waterfall drops along its way. We passed a group heading down that took us to a warm volcanic pool where we took a brief rest.
Once dressed and refreshed we decided to tackle the Premier falls. The signs said “difficile, 1 h 20 min” It was nearly noon and we felt we had plenty of time to get up and back before nightfall. We retraced our steps back to the main trail and headed vertical. We started over some crude wooden steps, then mostly rock and thick gnarly roots. As we continued it became increasingly wet, to the point that we were stepping over small little puddles and large mud slicks. There was a long stretch of relatively horizontal travel on a very nice boardwalk, however covered in chicken wire to prevent slippage. As the first hour continued we began to need hand holds on trees and roots to make a step. The air was thankfully cool, as we were getting a great workout. Walking along the trail we would get a glimpse of the mountain and seaside several miles away, and the contrast of the deep green against the turquoise blue was spectacular. We could hear the soft creaking of the little tree frogs and birds we could hear but not see. The last 15 minutes of the trail was challenging. We would take a 3 foot step up , then down 2-3 paces, then up again. By this time our feet were quite covered in mud and any clear pool of water we would try to rinse off. We were met by only 2 other parties who told us in French “C’est magnificent” and give us a thumbs-up! We got closer and could hear the rush of water. As the trail narrowed a bit it then led to a clearing alongside the mountain, and we were greeted by a nearly 1500 ft waterfall, that cascaded off the rock face off the volcanic mountain. We did not get close enough for a feel of the water, that was another 30 minute hike, but enjoyed the view from far atop a lot of the mountain canopy. What an amazing place. How incredible we thought to be able to go from our usual sea level viewpoint to above the clouds. We rested and took our obligatory “selfies” and realized we couldn’t tarry long as it was already 3:15 pm and we needed to get out of this forest by dark. We followed the same challenging path down, but this time really feeling it more in the legs as we made the vertical trek downward.
Needless to say, the following day we decided to stay at sea level and investigate some of the south coast beaches. We stopped at a roadside market and had a bite to eat. When I mean roadside, I mean 5 ft from the road where cars, buses and trucks passed on their daily routes. The rotisserie chicken was delicious and the cold beers just perfect after an afternoon on the water.
We sailed along the west coast of Guadeloupe to an anchorage near the dedicated Cousteau Underwater Park near Pigeon Island for snorkeling, beach-going and some more terrific French cuisine. The preserved park , however a bit stirred up was a beautiful snorkel. We found huge corals and fans, skates, grouper, lobster hiding in the crevices and schools of angelfish. Here we were treated to a most wonderful dinner at La Touna, a small French restaurant along the waterfront. What is most interesting was that there were top-rated restaurants at each anchorage. We were not disappointed by any meal we had in these French islands. Mike and I would return one last time to Il des Saintes for a few days before our brief trip back to the US.
We eventually left the boat in a marina near Basse-Terre on the west coast for a week to attend the wedding (described in the previous blog). Upon our return we leave Guadeloupe for Martinique!
After a wonderful night in Governors Harbor on the south side of St Barthelemy, the following morning we woke to a crystal sunrise and the now common sound of distant roosters making themselves known to the world… it was just as gorgeous. With calm clear waters we both took time to have coffee and took turns on the paddleboard, exploring the shoreline. The wave crashed gently on the beautiful white sand beach, and we could hear the bray of goats on the mountainside. We spent a couple of early morning hours here before heading out to the city and port of Gustavia to check into Customs and Immigration.
St Barths has been fought over by the British, French and Spanish through the years. It was even held by the Swedes in exchange for port rights in the 1800’s. They sold the land back to the French in 1878 , and it has remained in their hold since.
The entrance showed us the headlands of the bay which were dotted with multitudes of red roofed homes and buildings. ( we joked the entire time here about whether this was code or if it was just the trend) . The bougainvillea was draped from every overhang in a multitude of hues…..reds, violets and whites. The Yacht mooring and anchorage was full of sailboats and mega-yachts from all over the world, lined up along the docks in Med-mooring fashion. (this is different to the traditional bow-in mooring, the sterns are moored to the dock and there is usually an anchor or mooring ball from the bow forward ). We made our way to check in with customs and immigration and found that the French have THE best system for this. (however they dont use a QWERTY keyboard and the M and A are severly displaced for us used to an English keyboard, this makes for a few typos in the process) It is a sort of do-it –yourself check –in. With our cruising papers, boat documentation and passport numbers we enter all our information then print it out for the immigration staff to review. Viola! We’re in!
We made our way through this very chic town with its Cartier, Dior, Ralph Lauren, etc high-end retailers to a few smaller shops and grocery. It was here we found fresh, hot and crunchy French baguettes, delicious croissants, cheap French wines of excellent quality, pate, and the best Brie cheese! (it became our staple for the weeks we were in these French islands)
Back on Scooters!
We had not ventured out on the many rental offerings for scooters at several islands since the crazy ride in Luperon, but St Barthelemy looked like the perfect location. We had made plans with our sailing friends on Desderata to tour the island the day before. With numerous beaches, few trucks and cars, and excellent highway system we decided to make a day of it.
We left Gustavia on a 125 cc scooter after the early morning rain showers had moved off to the west. It was now sunny and hot. We had plans to see each of the beautiful beaches of the island. Our first stop would be the lovely Baie de St Jean (not “saint jeen” but “sah jah”)and the little town of l’Orient (loree-ahn) with its quaint shops in severe contrast to those in Gustavia. This was on the north part of the island and from a perch we could walk to about 100 ft overlooking the beach we could see the light blue waters and coral structure below. It was 10 AM and the beach goers were on the move. There is a very expensive resort here, where we watched assistants preparing beach beds (seriously a full size mattress with an adjustable back!) for their patrons, serving champagne and water in ice buckets! We moved on further heading south with beautiful seaside stops along the way. We made our lunch stop at a small beach place where the burgers were great and the “mahi” tartare awesome. Accompanied by a great glass of white wine and a cool walk in the sand and we were in heaven.
We still had a few miles to put on before sunset and were off for the South side of the island. Here we got to see Governors Harbor from a different perspective…it was just as amazing. More from the perspective of sailing down the winding road to the beach with spectacular overlooks to the waters below. We did swim to cool off and enjoy a walk on the soft sand beach.
We had a few more beaches to “run “ by and continued back to Gustavia and then to the north to Colombier, a small secluded inlet on the North side. We watched some experienced pilots make a landing at one of the shortest runways in mountainous areas we had seen. It was a great day of seeing some spectacular landscape.
We returned the scooters and made a hike to one of the overlooks in Gustavia that was once an ancient military instillation. We watched the sunset from here, above the city and imagined many hundreds of years ago, the government (French, British….whoever was in charge at the time) taking watch for pirates or other invaders, ready to fire the cannons at will.
We had to continue making headway sailing south, as we had friends arriving in Guadeloupe within the next week. Our plans were to head off past St Kitts and Nevis to Guadeloupe the next day. We woke to clear skies and a light breeze that promised to fill in by later in the day. Our next leg would now be over 50 miles which would require another overnight passage. Since we were quite used to this by now, we actually looked forward to open ocean sailing. It is generally easier than sailing between islands amongst the fishing pots, fishermen, and charter yachts.
We said our “goodbyes” for the last time to friends on Desderata (who were headed north back to the Virgins to meet with family) realizing that we had spent the most part of the last 2 months with them “on the go”. We would hope to see them back in the states when they returned in the summer at some point. With our exit papers in hand, most of the water tanks filled, and plenty of brie, sausassion, and baguette, Lost Loon headed out by mid afternoon for Guadeloupe.
The evening was gorgeous as we watched the island of St Barthelemy fade into the sunset and the shadow of St Kitts and Nevis take form in the foreground. We took our typical 3-4 hours passage shifts and watched the ships passing in the night (literally). To keep awake this night I was able to listen to local Monserrat radio where they were having the Lesser Antilles high school debate finals. They debated the importance of continued tourism and international commerce (as we sail right by), as well as the importance of maintaining literacy amongst the population. The night passed quickly as we did make a few sail plan changes due to weather along the islands. By morning light, as usual, we were comforted to see the distant shores of Guadeloupe. A contrast from the arid island of St Barts and the flatlands of St Maarten , this was green, lush and mountainous.
Next up we are a month in Guadeloupe and loving this French island and all that it has to offer!
A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. John Shedd.
We needed to move the boat out of the water and to a place where we can get bottom work done. (In boating terms..). We had made a decision after the Bahamas trip that we would need to get the boat out of the water for cleaning and painting. Now there are several schools of thought on storing a boat in the water vs. out of the water. There is a definite advantage in keeping a new bottom paint away from the critters that chose to make their residence within the fertile growth that occurs on a boat that sits inactive at the dock. These sea creatures can eat away at the bottom paint over time.(This is actually what marine paints are formulated to defeat this growth. From the origin of sailing and boating, mariners have tried to discourage the barnacles, and aquatic growth by adding all kinds of coatings to the hull of said boats. Before “we” were environmentally conscious (as well as safety aware for health reasons) boats kept in saltwater endured applications of arsenic, tar, sulfur, tin and pesticides! As time and awareness have evolved they have found newer compounds of copper that work as a biocide to prevent heavy marine growth. (OK…boring I know, just one more thing…there are so many paints for the hulls of saltwater boats its incredible. So what’s different? The concentration of copper mainly and how fast the paint wears away to reveal “another layer” of copper to work. And you don’t have to pain the bottom every year!) Just so you know that we don’t needlessly spend hundreds of dollars just to have a “nice looking bottom”.
In hauling Lost Loon out of the water, we would also realize a benefit on our insurance. Additionally she needs to stay above or close to the 31st parallel to stay within the provisions of our insurance policy. So, the closest location to Brunswick Harbor Marina would be St Mary’s Boat Services, a marina that would allow us to have the boat “on the hard” (a nautical term use when you don’t have the boat in the water) in order get some work done and be safe for the summer. The location is just about 40 nautical miles south of where we were currently located. But before we just loose the dock lines and motor off to St Mary’s, we were obliged to get permission from the insurance company as this was at 30 .44 degrees north latitude (every so slightly south of the 31 degree line in the sand we are held to). It took a few days of emails, phone calls, and of course an additional $50. added to our policy (there’s always a hand waiting for money) to get the insurance company to “OK “ the new location just south of 31N.
Once we knew we were clear to make the move we had to decide on a route. We would have 2 choices : #1- intercoastal waterway all the way: full day of motoring basically down a “riverway”, this would require us to leave early in the morning and anchor close to the marina overnight to make the final approach up the creek early morning so we have good light in narrow waters navigating to the marina. (This could also prove to be a VERY LONG HOT trip) and #2- an overnight ocean passage out St Simons inlet south along the Atlantic coast about 20 miles and back into St Mary’s Inlet with arrival early AM at the St Marys inlet for a daylight creek approach early AM for a mid day hauling. Technically, either way this is a 2-day event. We made the decision early on to take the outside journey.
We knew we needed to leave by 12AM to arrive at St Mary’s by 7or 8 AM , (given good weather). As usual we watched the weather for days prior to our arrival in Brunswick, with the hope we had that 7 or 8 hour window to make the run. We had noted a very clear weather window to St. Mary’s on Friday night and that our chances of running into storms increased Saturday and Sunday.
To add to (or complicate, depending on your view of the yin and yang of things) the decision making process, we had reservations to meet up with friends in Marathon for some snorkeling, spearfishing and diving Monday night .
We planned our arrival in Jacksonville early afternoon Friday, and we would drive to Brunswick , replace a fuel filter (critical), uncover Lost Loon, obtain some meager provisions and head off into the night. Sounds good on paper (or the Excel spreadsheet) but in reality flights get delayed, it takes 2+ hours to replace the fuel filter, and we find that some of our navigations lights are not working.
Yes, we arrive in Charlotte, NC and our flight is delayed by almost 2 hours. We have our sweet daughter, Kelsey, now waiting patiently at the airport in Jacksonville for us. She has kindly driven down from NC to help us with transportation, join us on this overnight journey and the rest of the week in “the Keys”.
A Plan in Action
We retrieve our baggage on arrival at the Jacksonville airport, head out with haste in a very full vehicle (with just enough room left for people), and make our first stop in St Mary’s to inspect the marina. We quickly depart after meeting the owner finding this marina very sufficient for storing Lost Loon for the Summer, making tracks north to Brunswick Landing as planned to begin our ship preparations. After removing the trusty canvas that has protected Lost Loon from tons of bird doo-doo in the last 2 months, we debated about who might jump overboard and check the prop. (This wasn’t the Bahamas, Dorothy, it was late in the day with sun approaching the horizon and water that is brackish..i.e., salt and freshwater combined that moves very slowly through the marina.)….Luckily (for me and Kelsey), Mike made a quick decision to snorkel down 3-4 ft from the surface to check on the aquatic growth. We knew this was of primary importance as on a previous trip we had tried to maneuver with a prop that was so full of growth we were moving out of control. That was before we realized the amount of growth that can accumulate on a boat sitting at the dock. We had tried to get our “dive-guy” to make a visit, but in all the preparations to get away we had not called him in enough time to get it done. But…Viola! The report came back with very few barnacles and little to no cleaning needed! Job 1….check!
Next, I begin to reorganize and Mike started on the fuel pump. We had last left her after the Bahamas we had removed and folded the sails, stored the life raft, removed the solar panels, and stowed the Bimini canvas. So the salon , forward and aft cabins along with the galley were quite full of equipment, in addition to being quite near 100 degrees upon my arrival. The goal that evening was to make enough room for 24 hours of living and resting to make the trip. That process went well (however very warm) and I was able to secure some items on deck and along the starboard and port walkways to make room. We sent Kelsey off for some provisions and cold beverages, enough to help us get through a night while we continued the work. Later in the evening as the sun was actually setting the light available to Mike in the port lazarette, where the fuel pump resides, was getting dark. Like a surgical assistant, I provided light, towels, and precise tools for completing the job. It was hot down there and any hint of a breeze had disappeared with the sun. With the new pump in correct position and all the lines connected…Jobs 2 and 3 were done.
It was dark when we started the engine and found it wouldn’t keep idling. Air. Of course, there was air in the lines..a quick bleeding from the engine side and it was back running like it should. It was after 9 PM and Mike connected the instruments as I made a check of fuel and navigation lights. I found no stern lights and the deck floodlight flashed and wouldn’t come back on. Now, there is a moment in time when you realize that your said plan needs revising or scraping, this was that time. So at roughly 9:30 PM after we had sweat to the bone trying to get the boat in order to leave…we had to scrub Plan A.
Moving on to Plan B
The air hung like the moss from the stately oaks and cypress down the street, it was heavy and still. We were in no position to combat that all night without a bit of air conditioning and so we quickly connected to Hotels.com for a cool and refreshing nights sleep. We knew we had another 24 hours or so before another attempt at leaving Brunswick for Lost Loon’s summer home. If the weather changes…well, there is no Plan C, we would exhaust our window and have to leave the boat at Dock 15, slip 23.
We broke one of the first rules of sailing and that is leave enough time for weather window. We would have to suffer the financial consequences with the insurance company, but knowing safety is first and foremost, that would have to be.
Saturday morning arrived bright and as hot and humid as we left it Friday night. Plan B was hatched before retiring: leave Kelsey in the comforts of the hotel (no use everyone of us baking in the summer sun), shop for replacement lights, attend to a few other small jobs and hopefully spend some time relaxing near a refreshing body of water. By noon we had retrieved Kelsey, stopped for more provisions and lunch and soon found ourselves sitting by a local Jekyll Island resort pool. No harm we borrowed a swim as an escape from the very hot near 100 degree day again, might have shared a cocktail, and checked the weather radar at frequent intervals (like a football coach getting ready for game night we reviewed the game plan, confirming with each other that we were ready to go.)
We had dinner at a very nice Brunswick establishment The Southern Table, where they touted the true southern atmosphere. The waiters and servers wore bowlers and black suits. The crab cake, salads, and blue crab mac and cheese dinner were original and delicious. And the sweet tea was wonderful and obviously brewed to perfection. We sat in conversation about the days events and continued to monitor the radar. The offshore prediction center had increased the possibility of storms from scattered to about 20%. We returned to Lost Loon about 10 PM. We arranged the car that we would have to retrieve the following day via UBER and set to rest an hour or so. We found ourselves lying in the cockpit and across the deck for a whiff of cool air. We watched lightening move from the northwest to the east just north of us. At one point we decided that we would take respite in the community room, where there was AC. In anticipation we couldn’t sleep, but even for the 30 minutes we were still and cool. By 11: 30 PM we were ready to move. We had seen storms pop up on radar and dissipate quickly as they approached the coast.
We eventually were able to confirm that there was nothing approaching on radar that was ominous and decided that since it would be about 1 ½ hours to reach the coastal waters, we had time to watch for “ominous” and turn back. We cast off the lines, had the fenders stowed and were motoring out under the stars and light of a near full moon in leave of Brunswick at 12:15AM.
Up next…..the approach to St Mary’s….the first storm.
You either like the open ocean or you don’t. I’m in love with it. Writing this as we cross Little Bahama Bank for Great Sale Cay (p. “key”) ( April 20). We just completed our first overnight crossing the Gulf Stream ( I think that definitely deserves capital letters!). WE did it…alone… together! It is hard to describe what its like… Solitude? Freedom? Beauty? It is one mysterious, captivating, powerful body of water. Sailors plan for days waiting, as we did, for the winds to be “just right”. A northerly wind of any kind irritates and aggravates the Gulf Stream. She raises her waves and swells in protest. And so, makes it difficult for travelers by boat to cross to other oceans or ports and in particular the Bahamas. But given a gentle East or South breeze and she is a happy as sheets drying on a line. That is what we wait for.
After watching the weather maps, computer wind and wave models, and having a detailed discussion with weather router, Chris Parker, we made the decision leave on a Tuesday night (our Northerly wind was switching to Easterly). Pretty simple, and reassuring.
Cruising travelers spend enormous amounts of money on monitoring equipment, apps, and subscriptions to weather forecasting services, as they should, to get the best guess on what the winds, waves, and weather will be for a passage thru a particular ocean or coastal region. As newbie cruisers, we read about all the well known forecasters and I guess wondered if we would ever get to the place where we needed their service. Why? Well we bought a boat that was already equipped with an ICOM 706 amateur radio, automatic antennae tuner and Pactor modem. What this means is that we can listen around the world to weather broadcasts, or even “hook-up” the laptop and get email or weather fax ! Well, that’s all good until you realize that you need the General Ham license ( which requires passing a test. So, ok I’ve studied for some pretty tough exams in my life but this stuff takes the cake unless your an electrical engineer. Passing the exam, I’m now known as maritime mobile KD9FQW. Feeling pretty good, thinking all I had to do was turn the dial and call my sign and I’m talking and listening to the world. How different could it be from tuning in a great AM station on the radio? I was wrong. I won’t bore you with details about radio wave propagation into the ionosphere, but it can be darn difficult at times. The great thing I found out this week is that if you are licensed amateur operator having difficulty trying to reach your uncle in Kentucky, so that he can communicate to family in Minnesota and North Carolina that you are safe, there are the kindest people that are ready relay your message. Thanks to you all!
We could have bought a satellite phone or marine SSB, which may have been easier to use, and we eventually may, but right now we are not headed off to the Pacific on some 3 week passage….in time.
Back to weather.
Right now the Sun has been up for a few hours, there are high cirrus clouds and the temp is 76, winds 12 from the East, the direction to our next waypoint. We are not sailing but motoring. If we were out for a day sail or didn’t have a Diesel engine, we might decide to raise the sails and do some tacking to get there at the expense of time. We anticipate good weather for the rest of the trip as we have a mostly high pressure settling into the Bahamas region. It is times like this that you realize you are very dependent on which way the wind blows. Back home we comment about the direction of the wind, we complain about the rain or snow, but we are able to navigate to work and play without much other consideration.
The water surrounding Lost Loon has turned a beautiful turquoise. We have gone from well over 2000 ft of water to 15.
Our keel (the big piece of lead weight that keeps us from tipping over ) sits 5 feet below us . So, you can do the math and see that we don’t have much room for things sticking up off the ocean floor. So we keep watch. At night this watch is for ocean traffic and during the day obstructions and ships.
The routine is about every 2-3 hours, sleep -watch-sleep- watch. This also entails managing the autopilot , steering to course, and watching depth. You would think with thousands of miles of open ocean you would only expect to see a few boats. Last night’s crossing the Gulf Stream was like Grand Central Station at quitting time. At one point we had 4 boats on radar, all over 10 football fields in length, within 15 miles. Our closest approach was the Norwegian Getaway at 1 mile. At one point, we were headed for a 300 ft CPA , (closest point of approach- that is near collision in lay terms). I called on the VHF and thanked the captain of that very large and ominous passenger ship, headed for Nassau, for changing his course and speed so we didn’t collide. ( He did because we did not have the capability to increase our speed any further). He did reply back to my contact . I think he said ” no problem” (possibly being cordial). I’m certain he gets tired of 40 ft sailboats meandering their way at 3 AM across his path. The world goes around, and next time my schedule is off because of an unexpected event, I’ll remember the captain of the Norwegian Getaway.