Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sint Maarten & St. Croix

Based on the recommendation of a couple of charter captains, we decided to go to Philipsburg in Dutch Sint Maarten rather than Simpson Bay. The primary motivation was to avoid the anchorage fees, but I also wanted to stop in at a Dutch-speaking island. There are Dutch-speaking people in Philipsburg, but the lingua franca is English with French a close second, followed by Spanish. And we spent more in bus and taxi fares getting to the chandleries and visiting friends in Simpson Bay than we saved, so it was a false economy. I can see why charter captains would go there, though: it's one big cruise ship stop. There are stores, bars, and restaurants everywhere along the waterfront and two streets deep in Philipsburg. The water in the bay was clear and nice, so we could do our swim off the boat. Now that we couldn't have done in Simpson Bay, at least not in the lagoon.

The main reason to stop at Sint Maarten was to see our friends Liat and Assaf on Jinja one last time before our tracks diverge, and we had a nice evening with them. I hope they will be able to visit us in San Francisco, or maybe we'll meet again cruising somewhere someday.

We did another night passage to get to St. Croix to clear into the U.S. The seas weren't smooth, but it wasn't too bad, and we had good wind so that we averaged 5 knots on the jib alone. It was pretty much straight downwind. When we arrived, there was a police boat telling us we couldn't anchor in the anchorage and directing us to a mooring buoy. The wind was blowing over 20 knots, and I didn't see how we could get the dinghy back on deck if we got her into the water in that, so I asked the police if there was a water taxi. They said they could give us a ride and pick us up later. Great!

The customs office was friendly and efficient, and we cleared into the U.S. with no problems or fees and headed to town where the police boat said they would meet us. We found the brew pub right by the dinghy landing, where we were supposed to meet the police, and had a nice lunch. The police, however, were no shows. They had suggested that we could hitch a ride with someone else with a dinghy, but most of the dinghies were pretty small. One couple I chatted with barely made it in going downwind with two people. There was no way they could take us back with them. I'd been watching people along the pier and spotted a man who seemed to know everyone and had a good-sized dinghy. The problem was that his boat was in the opposite direction. I finally approached him. His name is Matt, and he and his wife were very, very nice. They needed to take some stuff to their boat, but would be right back to ferry us to ours. So Matt kindly took us on a wet dinghy ride to our boat and wouldn't accept a beer or anything.

Overall, our impression of St. Croix is extremely positive. We only wish we'd been able to go back into town and explore more. There has been no charge for the mooring, but we learned that you can normally anchor here. The restriction on anchoring is only because of a triathlon with a swim through the anchorage this weekend. We don't know if there is normally a charge for the mooring buoys, but we would expect so.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Good-bye, Antigua

And good-bye, Chris. Last night we said farewell to our friend Chris of Avocette of Portsmouth. We've been traveling the same direction with occasional meet-ups since we first met in Gibraltar in October, and it seems strange to think we won't be looking forward to seeing him again at the next port. We've really enjoyed our time with him, and of course, we've exchanged invitations to our respective home ports. We hope to see him in San Francisco sooner than we'll be able to get to England.

We've been in Antigua for nearly three weeks now. Long enough to grow quite a crop of green, stringy stuff on the bottom of the dinghy, the removal of which delayed our departure by a day. We spent yesterday afternoon with the dinghy beached and us scrubbing hard. That gave us the evening free for another tot, and for the first time since his introduction, John wasn't required to drink a full measure. Our friend Moira also showed up to say hello to Chris (she was crewing for Chris when we first met her, also in Gibraltar), and then Chris took us to dinner. Thanks, Chris! Today we'll look for Chris aboard the yacht Sunshine since the Antigua Sailing Week races are going on and our route takes us along the course.

We've met so many people here! The Tot Club is responsible for most of that, of course, but people are really friendly here. We've also fixed or replaced lots of things, so we've met people that way too. The jib halyard and John's glasses needed to be replaced and the jib repaired. But while we were here, my glasses and a tooth broke, so we got those fixed too. I got a haircut, and we had to replace the kill switch on the dinghy.

Chris and John at a Tot Club meeting (one glass holds water)

John and Peter shared their Mismuster, the final step in becoming a member of the Royal Navy Tot Club of Antigua and Barbuda

We've seen a bit of the island since dentists, optometrists, pharmacies, and the like are all in St. John's, about 40 minutes away by bus. The big supermarket there, Epicurean, is amazing. We went with another American couple, and all four of us got pretty excited about the items and brands we found there. (If you haven't spent a length of time away from the U.S. and shopping for food, it must seem strange to be excited about a grocery store.) We also joined the Tot Club on the “rum run,” an expedition to resupply the club with cheap but quite drinkable rum. The source is the village post office at Bolans Corner, nearly an hour away on small roads.

Our next stop is Sint Maarten, where we hope to see our friends Liat and Assaf of Jinja. They're the Israeli couple whom we also met in Gibraltar. We won't linger because we've promised to get to St. John by the end of the month to see our land-based friends Blake and Terri before they fly back to Iowa for the christening of their first grandchild. We hope for another meet-up with Moira while we're there. From St. John to Puerto Rico for a week before a week-long passage to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. At Isla Mujeres we'll satisfy our cravings for Mexican food and look for a weather window to Galveston.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More photos posted

I'm all caught up with John on posting photo pages. Check under Latest Additions on our Photos page.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Enjoying the Classics Races

We've been enjoying seeing all of the classic yachts here in Antigua. And in our spare time, we've been working on photo pages for the web site. For the latest, look under Latest Additions on our Photos page.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Life in Antigua, so far

We came into the anchorage with a long list of things to accomplish here: jib repair, halyard replacement, new glasses for John, laundry, water tank fill, Tot Club, and so on. So far, we've managed most of these, or at least gotten them started, but we haven't explored very much, at least not scenic places. There are lots of yacht services where we are in the English Harbour/Falmouth Harbour area of Antigua, as you might expect since it's something of a sailing center. For example, it's easy to find a way to get your laundry done by someone else for only a little more than it costs to do it yourself in a machine. (We were low on water, so that was my excuse for not doing the wash by hand on the boat. I'll be back to that next time.) And there are lots of bars and restaurants. What isn't easy here is provisioning. There are several mini-markets, but they're very mini and fairly expensive. We'll be going to St. John's on Monday, after the rigger comes to the boat, for a major shopping expedition. We found the big supermarket there while we were looking for an optician last week.

Meanwhile, we had our first Tot Club introduction on Friday night. It was at the Copper & Lumber, a hotel and restaurant in the old Nelson's Dockyards complex, which is now a national park. The location no doubt partially accounts for the huge turn-out since the historic building is really lovely. We now fully understand what happens at Tot Club gatherings, which are daily at 1800 but at different locations throughout the week. First, you sign in. Members are allowed two guests, but our friend Chris had three on Friday (I opted out of the official gathering since I prefer punch with my rum). The others were a couple from Finland whom Chris met in La Gomera in the Canary Islands. Each participant gets a glass of water and a tot of rum. (That's a full measure of straight rum, no ice, for men and a half measure for women.) Then they form a circle and guests are introduced. After that are announcements followed by readings from this day in British naval history and a cleansing of the palate (that's what the water was for). Finally, there's the toast, a different one for each day of the week, and bless the Queen, then slam that rum.

Our group during the introductions. Next to John is Chris.

Membership in the Tot Club requires four things: an introduction, a minimum 1,000 non-stop miles under the keel, and attendance at seven meetings. If you want to join after the seventh meeting, you have to buy the tots for all in attendance that night. The huge turn-out Friday night isn't, Chris assures us, usual. I think the trick to joining without taking out a bank loan is to pick a night with a small circle, but I don't know if you have to say in advance that you're going to join that night. Probably. Members can buy a burgee and logo shirt. John wants the burgee and can always use another shirt.

Chris was busy last night, so we didn't go to the tot. I think we're on again for tonight, though. On Saturdays and Sundays it's at Life on the Corner, which is right next to the Mad Mongoose, where we've been going for happy hour and free Wi-Fi.

Friday, April 8, 2011

On to Antigua

Although we anchored at Bourg des Saintes overnight, we found it rough in the anchorage with marginal holding, so we decided to leave without going ashore and try our luck with Deshaies on Guadeloupe proper. We had a great sail across the passage, punctuated by a downpour, and were doing 7 knots easily with only the jib. It was really fun.

The fast sailing continued most of the way along the leeward side of Guadeloupe, much to my surprise. I thought the mountains would block all the wind, but instead they seemed to channel it. We did finally hit a wind shadow and were forced to turn on the engine for awhile, but the wind came back soon. And when it returned, there was even more of it. At one point we reached 9 knots speed over ground. We assume there was favorable current, as well, because that's faster than our maximum hull speed. When the wind started gusting over 30 knots, we decided it was time to bring the sail in (although John was having fun and would have left it longer). So we fell off in order to furl the sail.

That's when the not-fun part started. In windy conditions John goes forward to pull the retrieval line because it's easier. But even then, he was having trouble getting it started, so he told me to ease the sheet more. That made it flap around, and it knocked his glasses off despite the keeper on them. Things were happening very quickly and noisily at this point. I could see a gap at the foot of the sail, and then John yelled that the halyard had broken. At that point, the thing to do was to drop the sail, but the bolt line jammed at the bottom of the feed, and John couldn't free it. We furled it as well as possible, which wasn't very well, and raised the staysail to help us against the wind.

We were trying for the anchorage at Deshaies, Guadeloupe, but the entrance was straight into the wind, and we simply couldn't make it in there. So we decided to head for Antigua even though it meant entering and anchoring in the dark. I picked Falmouth Harbour over English Harbour because it looked like a simpler entry and is larger, so it would likely be less crowded. Night entry isn't recommended for either bay because navigation lights are often out, but with GPS and chart plotter, we don't have to depend on the lights. The choice was a good one, and we anchored fairly easily about 10:30 p.m. just past the reef at the entrance to the bay. John took the furler feed apart, so we were finally able to bring the jib down before we went to bed.

In the morning we discovered that we had anchored next to Robert on Silver Harmony, a young Scot whom we met briefly at La Palma in the Canaries. He told us where we could tie the dinghy ashore, and in the evening we had him over for sun-downers to get caught up on stories.

The Maltese Falcon is straight ahead of us at the Antigua Yacht Club.

We've found an optician and a sail maker. New glasses are being made, and the sail is being repaired. The sail maker, Franklyn at A & F Sails, also gave us the name of a rigger. We'll need professional help replacing the jib halyard. The rigger will come to the boat on Monday.

Our friend Chris on Avocette is in English Harbour, as is most of the cruising community, we're told. We haven't actually seen him yet, but we'll be meeting him this evening for our introduction to the Tot Club. We'll probably stay in Falmouth Harbour ourselves. The water out here where we are is nice, and we can easily walk to English Harbour from the dinghy dock at the Antigua Yacht Club.

This cute little place reminded us of our friends Andrew and Caroline Roth. Andrew does a great rendition of “Lime in the Coconut.”

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Indian River and Island Tours

Our Cobra water taxi driver, Jack, picked us up a little after 7 o'clock yesterday morning for our Indian River tour. On the way to the river we picked up another American couple, David and Rorie from Aurora, and two French Canadian couples joined us too. Cobra himself was our guide, and he was very impressive. While rowing us up the river (no motors allowed), he told us stories about the history of the river and island and about the flora and fauna, all in both French and English and including the Latin genus and species for all of the plants and animals. Although I'm sure some of it was standard spiel, we peppered him with enough questions to know that he truly is fluent in both French and English and definitely knows what he's talking about. At $20 US/person, the standard rate, this was money well spent. Because we were on a Cobra tour, we also got discounts at the jungle bar up the river.

Mouth of the river protected by freighter that grounded in a hurricane

Cobra rowing. No motors past the bridge.

Some of Pirates of the Caribbean (the second one) was filmed here

Two kinds of crab. The big one is edible.

National flower

Tree lizard

Wild ginger

Then we negotiated for an island tour by taxi. It ended up being $125 US/couple, not including our no-host lunch at a restaurant on the other side of the island. That seems a little expensive, but we haven't done an island tour since Grenada, so we splurged. It's always nice to see more than you can from the boat, and our guide, Robert, was good. Plus, we got a little exercise when we hiked to a waterfall. With its rugged mountains, Dominica really is very beautiful. And we really lucked out with the weather! There was no rain at all for our tours, but it's been raining off and on all day today.




View from the restaurant where we had lunch

The rugged windward side of the island

Rainbow in the anchorage

We'd like to spend more time here in Dominica, but it's still rolly in the anchorage, so we'll be going on to the Saints tomorrow morning. We decided against attending the PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services) barbecue this evening. It's for a good cause, but we've spent enough here for this trip. Maybe next time.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Martinique to Dominica

It rained every day we were in Martinique, really rained, and not just a little. Oddly, we liked it there anyway, and it's on our list of islands to explore more next time. On our way north to St. Pierre, we passed a lot of little beaches where you could anchor a boat provided the swell was from the east, which it was at the time. And by next time, one of us will have learned more French. That would be useful.

Our last day in Le Marin we visited the vet. Märzen's ear problem was due to mites, and we're treating her now. The vet, Dr. Fonder, speaks English, and was recommended by cruisers we met in Rodney Bay. She's also listed in Ti' Ponton, the free “Sailor's Guide to Martinique,” which is available everywhere, including in the Custom's office.

Photographic evidence of a reluctant little dog's first trip ashore since Las Palmas in the Canary Islands:

Sort of fun to start out

Are we almost there?

I'm tired, Mom.

Oh, all right. I'll carry you.

Just let me get this on you so we can go back to the boat.

All done and ready to go home.

Clearance into and out of Martinique is simple. The office in Le Marin is open every morning, including Sundays, just like says. (Noonsite is a great online resource, but frequently inaccurate in the details, we've found.) You do the form online and print it out right there for the officer to stamp. They don't stamp your passport. The office is by the dinghy dock where the marina office used to be. That's in the middle of the dock complex to the left as you approach. There's a whole big expansion area to the right that didn't really show up in our cruising guide. The buildings in the expansion are mostly empty, but there are a few shops, and the marina office and, more importantly, their free and open showers are there too.

Dinghy dock

Yole, a traditional sailboat

Internet access was a challenge in Le Marin. In the anchorage I found one pay site, CaptMarin, but I couldn't figure out where to pay for it or how much it cost. Maybe it's from the marina. Mango Bay, which invites you to come in for free Wi-Fi, mostly wasn't working properly. We met the nice family from Windarra while trying to connect to the Internet there, and the next day we met some nice Polish Canadians, but we never did get connected for longer than two minutes there.

We checked out at Le Marin and motor-sailed north to St. Pierre, also on Martinique. There we anchored for the night but didn't go ashore. It looked like a pretty town, very Mediterranean, but we were really fascinated by its history. It was totally destroyed in the 1902 eruption of Mont Pelée, and everyone died except one prisoner in the jail. The bay is still littered with wrecks. Mont Pelée dominates the background, and it's pretty eerie.

On the way to St. Pierre

Once we got clear of the island of Martinique, we turned off the engine and sailed to Dominica (pronounced Domineeka, accent on the third syllable, like the old song). It was a fast sail, and we averaged 5 knots for the whole trip even though we dropped below 3 knots for the first part while we were sheltered by the island north of St. Pierre. It's always fun to be able to sail without the engine.

On the way to Roseau

At Roseau, the capital of Dominica, we took a mooring buoy because we'd read that the steep-to bay doesn't have very good holding. It's only $10 USD/night and worth it not to worry about the anchor holding. The boat boys noted how much we were rolling in the swell right away, but we didn't really notice until later. It was bad enough that we decided to leave for Portsmouth in the morning instead of doing our clearance in Roseau. Too bad because it looked like a nice town.

Now we're anchored in Prince Rupert Bay just north of Portsmouth. As we came into the bay we saw how much all the boats were rolling, and we picked a spot near the one mono-hull that wasn't moving so much. We have some swell, but it isn't as bad as last night. We had planned to use Alexis as our guide here because he was recommended by Chris on Avocette, but he didn't answer our hail on Channel 16 when we wanted a taxi to go clear in (it was blowing too much to get the dinghy in the water). So now we're using Cobra, we think. The boss was supposed to come and give us a price for an Indian River tour tomorrow, but didn't. So we'll see. We're planning to stay a few days, so if it doesn't happen tomorrow, we'll try Alexis again.

Later update: The swell has really increased, and we tried a tactic to point us into it so that it wouldn't feel so bad (front to back rather than side to side). It worked, but, unfortunately, it caused us to drag anchor. So after a little frenzy in the dark during which the boat behind us, who we were trying to avoid drifting into, yelled at us that we were going to be on their anchor. Duh. Well, we're re-anchored, but we'll see in the morning if we can put up with this in order to see some of the island. We've really been looking forward to Dominica, but so far it isn't a comfortable place to be.

Later again (tomorrow actually): Cobra came through on the Indian River tour, plus a tour of the island, so we were gone all day and had a great time. That's for another post later.

Friday, April 1, 2011

“You should write a book.”

When friends tell me this, I say that there are already enough books about sailing. Here's a link to a new one that was written by Larry Jacobson. He's the guy we bought our great dinghy from. We really enjoyed our visits with him, and he has become a friend. (When you're out cruising, you make friends quickly.) Larry has something to add to the cruising genre, and I look forward to reading his book when I get back to land and land a job. Meanwhile, if you're reading this blog for the cruising stories and not just because you're related to us, I bet you'd like this book.