This much-delayed entry is a simple travelogue of the highlights of the first three months in the Caribbean. It’s long … but there was a lot of territory to cover! Hope you enjoy it!
BVIs: We arrived in Tortola the first week in March, and took a few days to do boat repairs and then to scout the islands for our upcoming Captains Courageous adventure.We’d never sailed the BVIs before, so there was a lot to discover about routes, available activities, locations, and so on. When our crew arrived, we started in Soper’s Hole, on Tortola and then visited Jost van Dyke, Norman Island, Virgin Gorda, Cooper Island and Beef Island. After crossing the wide open seas from Miami to the BVI’s, sailing around the closely-clustered islands seemed almost like lake sailing. We were very happy to be in warm tropical waters and to be surrounded with the verticality of the islands. More photos here: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/CaptainsCourageousBVI032011?feat=directlink
After Captains Courageous, Peter and I spent a few more days in the BVIs waiting for a weather window to make our way south. The next logical stop is St. Martin, but under most conditions it is a hard-on-the-nose overnight crossing through the Anegada Passage (often referred to as the “ohmygodda passage”). So we headed off south, having decided that we would take the easiest point of sail that was available to us through the night – and then decide the next day whether to land at St. Martin or elsewhere. We had a beautiful sail, and morning found us midway between St. Eustatius and Saba. Saba has an almost mystical appeal to it, rising as it does as a singular rock almost straight up out of the ocean; so we made a left turn, delightfully accompanied by a pod of whales, and sailed over to Saba.
SABA:Saba was as magical as we hoped. Very vertical, super clean, with friendly folk and amazing views. It so reminded me of some mountain villages I’ve visited in Europe, that I found the tropical overlay almost incongruous. The people, mostly of Dutch descent, are very self-reliant and industrious and have famously built themselves a road over the island that the Dutch government told them couldn’t be done (so an islander took a correspondence course in engineering, and designed the road which then his fellow islanders jumped in and built over a course of 15 or 20 years). A similar process happened with construction of their tiny airport, which is said to be more like landing on an aircraft carrier than on land. We were enchanted with Saba, but the only way to “be there” on a boat is to be on a mooring in very deep water, on a very long mooring pennant, and with intense catabatic blasts coming down the mountainside. After a couple of days of 20-30-knot gusts from every direction, Peter discovered that the mooring lines had wrapped around our keel and started sawing through it, so we took that as a sign that it was time to leave. More pictures here: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/Saba?feat=directlink
ST. MARTIN: We headed north on a bounding reach to St. Martin (how lovely to be having such easy sails!), and rounded the southwestern end to make our way into Marigot Bay. St. Martin is half French, half Dutch, and is a wonderful example of cooperation and sharing resources. When crossing the island by land, the only way you know you’ve crossed an international border is seeing a small decorative sign that either bids you “bienvenue” or “wilkommen.” Marigot is on the French side, and Francophile that I am, I was immediately swept into bliss as we entered the harbor and I could see the typically French architecture on the waterfront. I almost cried tears of joy when I first stepped into a French supermarket. Almost every day found me contentedly munching croissants and good French coffee as I practiced my French and used the café’s wifi. It was a wonderful place to be. More St. Martin photos here: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/WeddingWeekStMartinVol1?feat=directlink
St. Martin was also wonderful because it was our wedding location. We rented a villa up in the hills overlooking Baie Rouge, and 14 wonderful friends and family members joined us for the festivities. It was an amazing week of loving, sharing, playing, exploring and celebrating. Our “guests” turned out to be our angels, who took charge of the event by “giving” us our wedding as their gifts to us. We had insisted that their coming to St. Martin was gift enough, but everyone seemed to want to do more – so they bought groceries, they cooked meals, they found wedding cakes, they made bouquets, they took photos and videos, they counseled and held our hands, they prepared an amazing wedding feast, they officiated the wedding ceremony and “facilitated” the whole celebration. That wedding gift process had started even before the wedding with a friend in Miami making me a fabulous beach-y wedding dress as a gift; and just as we arrived at the villa, a gorgeous arrangement of white tropical flowers arrived as a gift from other friends back in the states. One of the greatest gifts during the wedding week was how our friends and family bonded together to create such a sense of community and friendship – folks easily joined together to play cards,lie around the pool, go to the beaches, explore the islands, go sailing, explore the local market, and so on. The connectedness was gorgeous. Peter and I just basked in their generosity, their goodness and their friendship. AND we had the most wonderful wedding anyone could dream of. Thank you, thank you, a million thank-you’s to you who made it all happen.
Pre-wedding photos: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/WeddingTheDayBefore?feat=directlink
Wedding photos: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/MarthaPeterSWedding?feat=directlink
STATIA, ST. KITTS & NEVIS: Our friends Judy and Ken Pendleton from Alaska were among the wedding party in St. Martin and celebrated their 45th anniversary the day before our wedding! They are back on land after having cruised the Sea of Cortez for 4 years. We spent a glorious week aboard their s/v Nellie Juan there a few years ago and were delighted to have the join us for a week of Caribbean cruising right after the wedding. The weather wasn’t cooperating very well, so we didn’t get a lot of sailing done. But we did make it to St. Eustatius for one night – the whole leeward side of the island seems to be nothing but a gigantic fuel terminal, so we headed for more amenable cruising grounds early the next morning. We found ourselves in St. Kitts and Nevis for the rest of their visit – two islands making up a single nation, and we truly enjoyed our time there. On St. Kitts we took an island tour that took us on a hike through the rain forest, on a visit to the formidable restored fort on Mt. Brimstone, and a drive around the beautiful windward side of the island. We had a great time with these two quite extraordinary people!
On Nevis we ran into wonderful acquaintances from the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, Dudley and Becky aboard s/v Altair. They were making their way north back to Miami after several years of sailing the Caribbean, and it was wonderful to reconnect and hang out with them. Dudley was a big help to Peter in repositioning the mast in the step and tuning the rig. We’re learning that cruisers are like that – they just jump in and help wherever help is needed. It’s a wonderful thing! More photos here: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/StKittsNevis?feat=directlink
Peter’s son Tom arrived, and we headed off southeast with plans to stop at Montserrat, the island with the very alive volcano that destroyed the capital and most of the southern half of the islands just a few years ago. Anchoring in Montserrat, however, is a challenge when there’s a northerly swell, and the closer we got, the bigger the swell. So we skirted the southern end of the island and were awestruck by the very visible lava flow that engulfed buildings up to their rooflines. The volcano was emitting sulphurous gasses that day, as I gather it does most days, and we felt happy with our decision to continue on to Guadeloupe. We galloped through a cloud of volcano smoke and then a line of squalls, and got into Deshaies, on the northwest coast, just before sundown.
GUADELOUPE: Guadeloupe is French (bonjour encore!), and it includes the western island of BasseTerre which is separated from its eastern neighbor Grande Terre by a saltwater river. On the map, the two islands look like wings of a butterfly. Despite their names, Basse Terre is very mountainous, and Grande Terre is more low-lying. Guadeloupe also includes a few other islands which I’ll mention later. Deshaies is a lovely little village on Basse Terre in a small, protected harbor. It’s very quaint and picturesque. We made an early morning trip ashore to do our customs/immigration process and of course to find croissants and café au lait. We decided to rent a car to drive up into the rain forest. We weren’t equipped with good maps or information, so we just took off exploring. We stopped first at a rain forest zoo and had a wonderful walk among the tropical animals and plants, some in rather natural settings, and had a great time walking on swinging bridges through the forest canopy.
Afterwards, we decided to drive into The Big City, Pointe-a- Pitre, to find a chandlery. Poor Peter, with not much experience of driving in mountains, and even less of driving among French drivers, found himself constantly frustrated by trying to negotiate the twisty mountain roads, in the rain, while local drivers ran right up his tail impatiently urging him to pull over. He did an amazing job of it. As we neared the city, we found ourselves on a freeway with intense amounts of traffic, and I can’t tell you what a shock it was after our very slow-paced 2 months at sea and on very small islands. We could hardly wait to get out of town! When we did, we drove the road along the northern edge of Basse Terre, and stopped at the Rum Museum for a tour. What a hard life those early sugar plantation workers – slaves – must have had. More Basse Terre photos here: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/GuadeloupeMiscellaneousSpots?feat=directlink
Marie-Galante: I left Peter and Tom on Basse Terre for some one-on-one man-time, and I ferried over to Marie-Galante, another island of Guadeloupe, and one of my favorite places from a prior visit. Unfortunately, the rain was continuing, so I had a very wet tour of the islands in my little rented car. Marie-Galante is unique – it’s fairly low and very agricultural, and in many ways it seems like time has stopped a long time ago. Lots of produce is grown there, but sugar cane is still its main crop and main industry. It’s said to be the island of 100 windmills, and surely that’s true. Most of them are in ruins, and only a couple are still operational, but it’s quite an experience to see so many of them in whatever condition. But Marie-Galante is full of contrast – on one hillside I found a huge array of another type of windmills – spanking new state-of-the-art electricity-producing windmills. On yet another hillside I found a sprawling array of solar panels. It’s surprising to me that more islands haven’t done the same thing.
Meanwhile, Peter and Tom remained a couple of days in Deshaies and spent time snorkeling, free-diving and beachcombing. On the third day they brought Lightheart around to Pointe-a-Pitre so that Tom could have easy access to the airport for an early morning flight home. I ferried back and met Peter there, and we quickly moved the boat away from the congestion and dirty water to a sweet little anchorage off Islet du Gosier. There we saw the most stunning sunset I’ve ever seen. The photo doesn’t do it justice.
Peter was eager to visit Marie-Galante, and I was more than ready for a return trip in sunshine; so off we went, dodging fish traps every step of the way. We stopped in the sweet little bay of Anse Canot. We anchored and jumped off Lightheart for a long leisurely snorkeling tour of the bay. We’d had really disappointing snorkeling on our trip so far; and although the reef and fish were nothing compared to what we regularly saw last year in the Bahamas, there was still enough to make it interesting and fun. Plus, after two weeks of rain, rain, rain, it was wonderful to be in warm clear water with the sun providing good visibility. As the afternoon drew to a close, we motored south and anchored at Saint Louis, the oldest settlement on Marie-Galante.
St. Louis was home to a big regatta in recent years, and a fabulous dinghy dock was built to accommodate the racers. We took advantage of it as the perfect place (on the perfect island) to bring our bikes ashore; and after of course being duly reinforced by croissants and café au lait at the local patisserie, set off for a bike ride around the leeward coast of the island. It was a magical day, riding along country roads of beautiful pastoral scenery. We stopped to explore the ruins of a couple of old sugar plantations (and to bless the lives of those who’d lived and worked there). We had an amazing fruit and fish salad on the beach at Cappesterre. We said hello to cows and pigs and goats grazing along the roadsides.We rode up and down and up and down, on main roads and country sideroads. A highlight of the day came in the late afternoon. We’d just seen a field worker chopping sugar cane by hand in the old-fashioned way. as we rode on, we were startled by a thunderous clomping sound and looked over to see a team of 2 enormously powerful oxen coming to a sudden halt as they pulled an old-fashioned wooden sugar cane cart, wooden wheels and all, heading back from delivering a load of cane to the processing mill. It was an amazing step back in time, that left us shaking our heads in amazement. We arrived back in St. Louis just about at sundown. Tired and happy, we reloaded our bikes back onto Lightheart and readied ourselves for the next morning’s sail to Iles des Saintes. More Marie-Galante photos here: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/GuadeloupeMarieGalante?feat=directlink
Iles des Saintes: The Saints are a terrific collection of little islands that, unlike the rest of Guadeloupe, never had plantations and therefore never slavery. And unlike many Caribbean islands, it’s been French almost entirely since it was colonized (rather than being violently traded back and forth between the French and English fighting each other for Caribbean dominance). The locals are largely descendants of early fishers and sailors from Brittany, and the heritage is quite present. The main town is on the larger of the two inhabited islands, Terre d’en Haut, and is named, appropriately enough, Bourg des Saintes. It is such a quaint place with clear gorgeous waters, excellent hikes ( and views from high up in the hills), easy access and services for cruisers, and a town center that makes it easy to feel very much like you’re in a French fishing village plopped down into the Caribbean – which in fact you are. The only downside I found was the harsh rolling wakes from fast ferry boats bringing tourists over from the big Guadeloupe islands in the mornings and returning them in the afternoons. We learned to keep everything on Lightheart fastened down (like we do when at sea) so nothing would go airborne when the ferry wakes hit. But to me, it was a small price to pay. We anchored just a few yards from a wreck and we dove on it every day. The water was clean and clear enough that jumping in for a snorkel or swim required no forethought or preparation. It gave Peter the opportunity to work on his freediving skills (he’s amazing at it!) and for me to begin developing some skills (I got down to 30 feet). We hiked up to the top of the island where a fort has been restored (these islands are full of forts, thanks to the aforementioned French/English rivalry that seemed to be all the rage back in the day). The views were astonishing, and I just couldn’t stop snapping shots of the anchorage down below. We had some great food there too, as well as connecting with some old and new cruiser friends. We stayed there almost a week, and then decided it was time to head to the wildest, poorest, arguably most beautiful, and most ecologically protected island: Dominica. More Isles des Saintes photos here: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/LesSaintesGuadeloupe?feat=directlink
DOMINICA: Dominica (pronounced Do-min-EEK-ah, and not to be confused with the Dominican Republic) has very little going for it economically except agriculture and its astonishingly gorgeous environment. Fortunately, it has a government that’s serious about protecting and promoting both. Dominica provides much of the produce for the nearby islands. In fact, the fruit, vegies and flowers that we bought at the market in St. Martin were all brought over by industrious Dominicans who fly their products over every Friday night and set up stalls in the market there on Saturday. I’d visited Dominica with Captains Courageous back in 1990 and had considered it my favorite island, so I was thrilled to be returning on Lightheart.
We sailed through pounding rain to get there, and when we arrived in Portsmouth Harbour, the water was as muddy as any inland lake you can imagine. It seems the rains that morning had pushed the rivers out of their banks, and all of the 5 or so that open into the bay had dumped massive amounts of mud and debris into the bay. You could imagine yourself walking on a floating platform of coconuts! It was still pouring rain as we found a mooring ball and then retreated into the cabin to get dried off. Later the skies cleared and I was able to go ashore with Alexander, a/k/a “Macaroni” to clear customs. He picked a pocketful of fresh guavas for me on the way back, something I’d never had before. Yumm! The next morning, Macaroni took us in his boat up the Indian River. It was still quite murky, but it was an amazing piece of nature. The birdsongs were a constant musical accompaniment to the outrageous colors of flowers and the dances performed by landcrabs and a few freshwater crabs. The trees formed overhead arches, giving a cathedral feel for added drama. We stopped at a rustic little encampment upstream where we could hike around, feed birds and drink passionfruit juice (double yum). We finished the day with a walk through the village during which we stopped to watch a local soccer match. What a beautiful way to start our Dominican adventure!
The next day we hiked up a hilltop and visited yet another fort. I’m not big on forts, but those guys sure knew how to pick real estate with the best views. Later on in the bay, we connected with more cruisers, some we knew, most we didn’t. We found two other couples with whom to do an island tour, so the next day we (along with Ed and Vicki on s/v Boto and Markus and Marta and baby Fox, a young Swedish family aboard s/v Mazarin) piled into a minivan and headed off across the northern part of the island through amazing mountain terrain, with Macaroni giving commentary and repeatedly jumping out of the van to harvest some local something for us to sample. The scenery was so gorgeous that we almost became numb to it. We stopped for walks and hikes and lunch, we hiked through a rainforest to a waterfall, we hiked to another waterfall through some wonderfully rich land that provided us with loads of pineapple, mango, grapefruit, limes, nutmegs, cashew fruit, lemongrass, cinnamon bark and bay leaves. Wow – what a feast for the senses. Our last stop was a national park in a rain forest that was overwhelming in the size and architecture of the trees and other flora. We arrived just at sundown and had the place to ourselves. It was an excellent time to visit, as the treefrogs, crickets and nightbirds were all warming up for their evening concert. What a symphony!
After a bit more time in Portsmouth, we decided to explore the southern part of the island. We sailed down to Roseau, but the anchorage there is quite exposed and the ocean swell was more than we were willing to endure for more than one night. So we decided that for sure we’ll return another time to Dominica to visit the parts we missed, and we sailed south. Dominica is the southernmost of the Leeward Islands, and we headed (back to France!) to Martinique, the northernmost of the Windwards, where our next update will begin. More photos here: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/Dominica?feat=directlink
NATURE: On every island, we have met Nature in so many forms. There’s the water, of course, and the life that inhabits the water. But on land, there is verticality, there’s aridity on the leeward sides and lushness on the windward sides. There are flowering trees, fruits and vegies that we never heard of as well as those that are familiar. There are animals everywhere: goats roam all the mountainsides, roosters and hens are on every road, mongooses (mongeese?) are on some islands, monkeys on others. There are wondrous birds, large and small, that are local to specific islands, and brown boobies seem to be everywhere as are frigate birds. Everyday there’s the bleating of goats, the crowing of roosters and the total absence of the sound of leaf-blowing machines (thank the Lord!). Every night, the melodic sound of tree frogs mingles with the chirping the crickets local to each particular island, and they lull us to sleep. What a wonder it all is.
All we’re missing is fish on the ends of our fishing lines! But we’re sure we’ll have some of those sometime soon, and meanwhile we’ll be putting together a slide show of flora and fauna. We’ll let you know when it’s up.
We are so blessed to be on this journey. Despite how wonderful it is, I will assure you that this is NOT an easy life we’ve chosen. Everything is new, everything requires new skills, new adaptations, new understanding. Peter calculated recently that we spend about 4 hours a day, 4 days a week just working on the boat…at a minimum. But we wouldn’t trade it for anything, and we’re so grateful that we seem to be more and more creating and having just the kind of experiences we were hoping for (as well as those we couldn’t possibly have imagined). We are beyond grateful.
Do let us hear from you! We love having your comments and knowing that you’re sharing our trip with us.