Thursday, June 28, 2012

THE 500 MILE DASH: St Martin to Grenada in 8 days
6th – 14th April 2012
The idea of sailing from St Martin to Trinidad in one big hit was never going to get up, well not with this brown duck. We can sail hard all day long from from dawn to dusk, but if there’s a decent anchorage within cooee at the end of the day then it has our name on it. So we earmarked the next 8 anchorages and off we went.
After an easy 66 mile sail from St Martin we pulled into White House Bay at the bottom of the island of St Kitts. Five other catamarans were also anchored in the bay but we never saw a human on board any of them. It had been a pleasant day’s sailing passing the playground of the rich and famous, St Barts, the soaring volcanic peaks on the diving mecca of Saba and the lush rolling green hills of northern St Kitts. Arriving just as the sun threatened to kiss the horizon we were glad to stop for the night.
Day two and we were up with the sparrows at 5am and on our way to Dominica, 120 miles to the south east. Taking the passage between St Kitts and it’s neighboring island Nevis seemed the sensible thing to do as we wanted to take advantage of the early morning breeze on the island’s windward side. A clear but chilly morning had greeted us and heading east the rising sun reflected on the water ahead. Watching the local fisherman pull in their traps had us on the lookout for any stray floats in our path. And then it happened. A strange clunk under the hull, the rev of the engine and sure enough we were hitched. Liam pulled the throttles back to neutral and the telltale float reared its’ ugly head from under our port transom. No amount of persuasion with the boathook could dislodge the offending rope, so an early morning dip for the skipper was no longer an option. The current was running at a fair clip and he had a hard time hanging on to the hull to cut the rope free, but after a couple of attempts was back on board with his trophy. Warming up with a hot shower and a steaming cuppa he soon felt brand new and we were on our way once again.
By 2pm the light breeze started to die. The island of Dominica, our planned overnight stop, was still 7 hours away so on went the motors. A couple of miles further ahead lay the the island of Montserrat. Devastated by volcanic eruptions in the mid 90’s which obliterated the hills, towns, homes and 8000 inhabitants of the island’s south west, the ash covered landscape was an eerie reminder of the forces of mother nature.
As we motored past the exclusion zone, acrid smoke from the still belching volcano filled the air. Not only was the smell of sulphur in the air but the waters surrounding the island were affected as well. Earlier, as we neared the area we had turned off our watermaker but all too late to save our precious filters.They instantly turned black and were bin bound shortly there after.
   Theses pictures show the massive area covered with ash & lava.The city of Plymouth gone forever.

Flexible: the capability to adapt to new, different or changing requirements. This little word is one of the most important in a cruiser’s vocabulary. Timing and weather play a major role in our day to day decisions and seeing an approaching line of squalls to the south of us we abruptly scratched Dominica, still 70 miles away, from our anchoring list for the night. The town of Deshaies on Guadeloupe was a mere 30 miles so plan B was put into action and we made a bee line to our revised destination. It was a good decision.
The next few days all rolled into one with us usually covering anywhere between 40 to 70 miles each day. Easter Sunday had crept up on us this year and we celebrated with a lobster dinner while tied to a mooring ball at the south end of Dominica and sadly, the Easter Bunny didn’t find us. Usually we’re not ones for picking up balls but by the time we arrived it was getting late, a bit of a reoccurring pattern there, and checking our depth sounder the sea floor just disappeared into the abyss. From a narrow band of 20 feet deep at the waters edge the bottom fell away to well over 100 feet within a boat length of the shore. After a few circuits of the bay we gave up on the idea of anchoring. Sometimes you just have to bight the bullet and part with a few dollars in the interest of a good night’s sleep.
As we hadn’t checked in to anywhere since leaving St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands 2 weeks ago, we figured that it might be a good idea to put some sort of paper trail in place. Once we got to Martinique, we paid a visit to the Douane (customs) office, filled out the computerised form, printed it off, showed it to the nice officer behind the desk and voila, another speed record was set, in and out in less than ten minutes! You can always trust the French not to beat around the bush.They really do have a great system for their check-ins.

Over the next couple of days we had some fabulous sailing conditions  and with speeds averaging 10kts the old girl really kicked up her skirt. Overnight stops included St Lucia, Bequia and we had considered stopping in Tyrell bay on Canouan  but we found the holding to be very poor so we pushed on to the  the north coast of Grenada.

Mother nature had put on a couple of wonderful displays in the sky during the second half of our trip and the halo around the sun, something you don’t see everyday, had even been reported in the local Trinidad papers we later found out.
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Arriving into Prickly bay on Granada's’ southern coast as planned on the eight day we treated ourselves to a night out at our favourite Chinese restaurant, and then collapsed into bed ready to have a well earned day off tomorrow. Trinidad was now just a hop skip and a jump away at last!  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

St Martin/St Maarten : a little piece of Europe
4th-6th April 2012
As the alarm on Liam’s watch broke the silence on GWTW we rolled out of bed and threw the kettle on. It was just before 6am and the first rays of sunlight were poking over the hill. Our day had begun. We needed an early start for the 80 mile trip across to St Martin as we sure didn’t want to arrive there in the dark. Leaving the anchorage at Saba Rock we followed a well marked channel  through the reefs which proved to be a bonus as it cut a good 3 miles off the trip. Tehani Li had left the anchorage earlier than us and after a few hours they went from being a dot on the horizon ahead to being beside us.

With a combination of light air sailing and motoring we arrived at St Martin just on dusk. The highlight of the trip across was spotting a very big whale crossing our path a couple of miles from the anchorage. It was a real shame that he dived and then resurfaced too far away for us to get a photo.
Last year on our way north we stopped in St Martin for a couple of days but this time we’d only be here about 36 hours. Long enough to stock up on some nice French goodies and take a walk up to the remains of Fort Louis that overlooks Marigot bay.
After a good night’s sleep we headed into town before the day got too hot. The hike up to the old fort took about 30 mins and the views from the top were stunning. It was a lovely clear day and we had great views of Simpson Bay lagoon on the Dutch side of the Island, and way off in the distance the outline Saba Island could be seen some 30 miles away. 
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Walking back from the fort the streets were a myriad of colour with brightly coloured  market stalls lining the waterfront and hand-painted murals turning otherwise drab walls into works of art.

The waft of freshly baked baguettes tempted our taste buds and we tossed up where to stop for lunch. There were lots of  options. With the fondness that the French have for food there was definitely no shortage of restaurants in this town, although it was one of the boulangeries (bakeries) that ultimately won our hearts. We even managed to resist the tantalizing assortment of pastries and cakes on offer too.

The rest of our day revolved around a little duty free shopping, picking up a few supplies from the supermarket.and  having a parting sundowner with Phil and Karel from Tehani Li at a pleasant waterfront bar.They too were heading down to Trinidad but at a much more civilized pace.
From now on we would be sailing on our own.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

British Virgin Islands, Good friends and good fun.
31st March –3rd April 2012
Usually, when we sail from one country to the next, there’s a fair amount of planning in the pipeline before we pull up the anchor. There are important factors such as the weather, distance, departure and arrival times to consider. But given the fact that the US Virgin Islands (USVI’s) and the British Virgin Islands (BVI’s) are neighbours and at their closest point lie less than one mile apart, all the usual stuff we worry about went out the window. We were able to go shopping in the USVI’s in the morning and by early afternoon  were anchored in the BVI’s and being greeted by our long time friends Gordon and Ginny from the Canadian yacht Ascension.
For the past 12 months Gordon and Ginny had swapped the cruising lifestyle, and their 37 ft Beneteau yacht, for a far more lucrative one. They had taken on the roles of  captain and crew aboard a charter catamaran. As we pulled into Deadman’s Bay they were a sight for sore eyes,  (and blurry ones due to the tears) when we spotted them waving  from the deck of their shinny new home, a Lagoon 45 catamaran.
Deadman’s Bay is a pretty crescent shaped bay backed by palm trees and lies on the north side of Peter Island. It’s a very popular day stop for charter boats who usually only hang around for a couple of hours and then leave, much to the delight of the cruising fraternity. Now it’s not that we have an aversion to those who holiday afloat, it’s just that they don’t seem to recognise the boundaries of personal space when it comes to anchoring. Even though the bay was cheek- by-jowl when we arrived, we still managed  to find a snug spot  just off the beach and only a couple of freestyle strokes away from our best friends.
Just minutes after setting the hook and with zero time to freshen up, let alone put on some lippy, fellow cruiser,Tony from Tactical Directions, arrived in his dinghy to greet us and whisk us over to Gordon and Ginny’s boat.They were beaming like a pair of kids’ whose Christmas’s had all come at once. Words just can’t describe how we felt seeing everyone again.
Being perfect hosts, well they do do it for a living these days, within what seemed only seconds our wine glasses were filled and platters of food appeared on the table, a pattern that continued throughout an evening filled with much laughter, storytelling and reminiscing.
Over the next few days we also caught up with other friends, Rob and Dee off Ventana, Karel and Phil from Tehani Li all of whom we’d cruised with on and off over the past 6 years.
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The remainder of our time here was filled with   socialising,diving,snorkeling, turtle watching and just lazing about. Ginny and Gordon had planned this week as a mini break as they had no charter guests on board until the following Saturday. We all spent nearly every waking moment together and I’m pretty sure that they were absolutely stuffed after a full on week of partying with the likes of us.It was just so wonderful to chill out in this lovely bay with friends that are so dear to our cruising hearts.
Our final day dawned and it was time to part company.They had to return to their charter base and prepare their boat for their next installment of guests and we had to move on to another bay and catch up with more friends.After a rather teary farewell we  promised to see to see each other in December as we head north from Trinidad.
We now had only one more set of friends to catch up with before we left the BVI’s and that was Aussies Clare and Andy from Eye Candy. We’d arranged to meet them over at Saba Rock in Virgin Gorda Sound just a few miles further to the east. Over the past few months we’d been swapping  emails and info re their upcoming visit to the USA and had bought them an American phone.  In turn we had to pay them for bringing us a couple of items from Australia.
Tehani Li also followed us over to Saba rock and it was great to have the three Australian flagged boats anchored in the  bay.That evening we all   met in the bar for a sundowner and to watch the giant Tarpon fish being hand fed at the dock, and then, rather than spending money in the restaurant, headed  back to GWTW for an impromptu good old Aussie bar-b-que.
We’d had a terrific  couple of days catching up with friends here in the BVI’s, we said goodbye to Eye Candy and the next morning both Tehani Li and us made our way out through the reefs and pointed our bows towards the island of St Martin.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

US Virgin Islands
St Thomas
27th - 30th March 2012
Having spent a rather hectic week in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, it was once again time to get a move on as a brief weather window had opened for us to head east to the Virgin Islands. Leaving port just after 8am, as predicted, there was only a zephyr of wind, a pattern that continued all day.The iron sails got a good workout  motoring most of the 70 miles with the only our washing flapping in the calm conditions.IMG_9043
Approaching the island of St Thomas just on dusk the march of the penguins was clearly visible on the horizon. Yes the other type of cruisers, those who mainly travel during the hours of darkness, had begun the  mass exodus aboard their floating hotels to the next Caribbean island on their itinerary. Lit up like Christmas trees the cruise ships that ply these waters never operate in stealth mode.
Our chosen anchorage for the evening was the calm waters of Honeymoon Bay on the north side  of Water Island,which lies parallel to the island of St Thomas.The United States Virgin Islands (USVI’s) which sit between Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands (BVI’s) is made up of a small group of islands with the larger ones being St Thomas, St John and further to the south, St Croix. St John, whilst it does boast a couple of resorts, is predominately  a national park where hiking trails, unspoiled beaches, clear waters and abundant fish thrive. The National Park Service have installed mooring balls in the more popular bays in order to preserve the coral and the fragile eco systems of this area, and they encourage the boating public to take advantage of their moorings & services, including garbage disposal, for a moderate fee. Although we didn’t stop here this time the bays and beaches certainly looked inviting.
St Thomas, on the other hand, is as full-on as the cruise ships that visit here. Charlotte Amalie, the main town, regularly accommodates between five and seven of these ships-on-steroids and their 3000 or more passengers that pull in to the port on any given day during the high season. Spending just one night anchored close to the port (and the noise) the joint chiefs of staff on GWTW made the unanimous decision that Honeymoon Bay was a much quiter option for we who prefer a good night’s sleep.
The ships usually arrive at dawn and are gone again by dusk.To do Charlotte Amaile justice we spent two days in the town, wandering and wondering what the attraction of this place really was.P3293487

Ok, it is a duty free port so there is that draw card and there are plenty of bars and restaurants, but from our perspective it seemed that it was just one glittering jewellry shop after another, in fact one shop owner told us that there were over 600 jewellry stores in and around the port area. Now, for a small island in the Caribbean that amounts to an awful lot of Rolex watches and Diamonds in one place at one time. So, apart from buying a few things at the supermarket we certainly didn’t boost the economy of St Thomas during our short stay.
Of course there was also the normal array of street markets selling everything from imitation handbags to sarongs as well as the odd historical building dotted around the place including the red bricked Fort Christian which is the oldest building in the USVI’s..
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Strolling to the opposite end of town and away from the glitzy shops and tourists we lunched in Frenchtown, a small area with a couple of  very good restaurants, a French deli and not surprisingly a mini Eiffel Tower.
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The sea plane base is also down this end of the town and along with the inter - island ferries ,the planes do a roaring trade flying tourists and locals across to the islands and over to St Croix. On the north west coast of the island there are many beautiful bays and beaches including Magens bay where most of the cruise ship passengers spend a couple of hours swimming and snorkeling, when they are not hunting for bargains in the retail section of town. Most of the resorts and the trendy nite-spots are found on the eastern tip of the island around Red Hook, which is also home to large marinas and the charter boat fleets.
So, after spending one more night anchored back at Water Island, we headed over to the BVI’s to catch up with our Canadian friends Gordon and Ginny and a few other cruisers who we’d not seen for over a year. This reunion had been a long time coming and we were psyched up for a busy couple of days.
FORMALITIES: US Customs / Immigration are located in the inter - island ferry terminal on Veterans Drive between Kings Wharf and Frenchtown. CURRENCY : US dollar. SUPERMARKETS : Pueblo  is located a 3 min walk from Crown Bay Marina and also near the main cruise ship terminal in Charlotte Amalie.