Archive for February, 2010

A short word about our editorial schedule

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Yes, I know our postings are becoming more delayed in their publication…

Sometimes we just don’t have great internet connections and sometimes, well, there’s just too much going on in a day in order for us to sit down and document it.

Rest assured though, we will catch up.

Until we do though, you should know that we had a great week in Dominica, followed by a nice visit to Martinique for Carnival, a few days in St. Lucia to get some boat work done, and then we sailed down to Bequia in the Grenadines – where we are now (Feb 26).

We’ll shortly move on to Mustique, Canouan, Mayreau, Tobago Cays, Union Island, Carriacou and Grenada before we hit the limit of our southing and begin to head back north.

Watch these pages for further updates.


Guadeloupe (why doesn’t it rhyme with canteloupe?)

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Pulling out of St Kitts at “O dark hundred” was actually quite fun. The sky was clear and the moon was out so there was lots of visibility. The wind was fairly light, so we hoisted main and mizzen whilst still anchored and then only ran the engine for a minute or so while we hoisted anchor. As soon as the anchor was secured on deck, we immediately bore off, shut down the engine, and quietly sailed off into the night. This allowed the kids, who inevitably wake up when the big diesel starts and 100 feet of chain gets piled up at the end of their bed, to get back to sleep quickly.

We had a nice night sail down the leeward side of Nevis before the wind died when we got a little too close to the island and lost our air. Once we cleared Nevis however, the wind returned and we had a nice close reach toward Montserrat.

Now, most smart folks, when sailing past Montserrat, the home of an active volcano, will pass to windward of the island so that volcanic ash doesn’t cover them and their boat. We might have done this as well. Except that Bojangles couldn’t point high enough to sail to weather of the island and I didn’t feel like using the motor to help her get there. Also, as dawn had now broken, it didn’t look like there was too much air pollution to leeward of Montserrat, so maybe all this talk about volcanic ash was just hype to scare away tourists.

So, against conventional wisdom, we decided to sail to leeward of an active volcano. We may be silly, but it was a shorter distance and a favourable point of sail. As a racer, I know that those are at least two reasons for risking the ash storm.

As it turns out, the ash wasn’t that bad. We kept a couple miles offshore and enjoyed great views of the island and the decimation that has occurred there in recent years. It’s quite hard to describe, but hopefully our pictures capture it. Additionally, we could see the smoke and steam rising out of the crater like nothing we’d ever seen before. And yes, there was ash. When we were immediately downwind of the crater, we got hit by little bits of ash that were basically invisible, but you could feel them on your skin and also in your eyes. Additionally, the boat received a light dusting of ash that rinsed away with the next rainfall.

We continued on sailing, now in about 20 knots of true wind, and made Deshaies, Guadeloupe by mid afternoon. We anchored in 30 feet of incredibly clear blue water amidst our friends Safari Tu, Stolen Hour, and Shining Time who arrived a day earlier.

Deshaies is a sleepy little French town that is quite pleasant, if not overly exciting. We spent a couple of days here enjoying the local botanical gardens (which were amazing) as well some of the local conveniences. Specifically, there’s a man who comes by the boats every evening to accept pastry and baguette orders for the following morning. Then, as if by magic, he shows up at your boat again at 0700 armed with fresh baguettes, croissants, and pains aux chocolat. What a place!

Our waistlines couldn’t take much more of the Deshaies baguettes, so we sailed down the Guadeloupe coast to Pigeon Island, which is home to the Jacques Cousteau National Park (keep in mind that Guadeloupe is part of France, so when you’re in Guadeloupe, you’re IN France). While the shoreside amenities didn’t really appeal to us, and the beach was blackish sand, we spent a really nice afternoon snorkelling there. The coral was vibrant, the water was crystal clear, and there was a good variety of fishes there. Additionally, on the seabed in about 30 feet of water was a bust of Jacques himself. I couldn’t help but free dive down to have a look.

Ashore there wasn’t much on offer and the beach was a thin strip of blackish sand populated by pasty white French folks on winter holiday. This wouldn’t have been an issue except that it was Robbie Burns’ day and we intended to shoot a video skit to send back to our friends in Stratford who would be celebrating Burns that night. Unfortunately, we could find anything remotely close to the quintessential Caribbean setting that have been so numerous up until now. How could we make folks jealous if we couldn’t have a decent backdrop? Anyway, after some help from Joseph on Shining Time (who happens to be a professional cinematographer) we managed to shoot our video. Unfortunately, there was basically no Internet access available here from where could upload the video. So… after all that work, we were unable to get our skit to the Burns party.

Oh, by the way, all this scrambling around was happing on Jan 23. My birthday. The first in my 43 years that hasn’t been freezing cold. And here I am scrambling around colonial France trying to find an internet connection. So, frustrated, we pulled anchor and sailed to Basseterre, the capital city of Guadeloupe.

Anchoring there late in the afternoon, we saw that there was a bit of a swell that would undoubtedly make the night uncomfortable, so I dug out our second anchor and set it from the stern. This way, I could adjust the anchor rode (lines) so that the bow of the boat would point into the swell rather than the wind. This way the boat may pitch fore and aft a bit, but not side to side – the former being much less significant in overall motion of the boat.

So, finally, around sunset I was able to relax on my birthday in the Caribbean and have a nice night on board.

The following day, we ran some errands in Basseterre, picking up some groceries and diesel fuel, and then sailed the 15 miles or so south to Iles des Saintes, a group of pretty little islands off of Guadeloupe’s south coast.

We spent almost a week in “The Saintes”. It has a nice little town with good bakeries, dress shops (for Kathleen and the girls), and restaurants. It also had a very relaxed vibe about it that allowed you to relax and simply enjoy the place. We worked on our French skills (as well as our pain aux chocolat skills) and explored this small island group, learning about its role in the seemingly never ending naval battles between France and Britain (The Battle of the Saintes – 1782).

It seems these two countries seemed to take great pleasure sailing about the Caribbean in wooden boats taking potshots at each other. Now, the boats are fibreglass and the shots are harmless.

Anyway, after a week or so relaxing and exploring in the Saintes and Guadeloupe, it was time to leave France and head to Dominica.


St. Kitts and Nevis (with text!)

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Leaving St. Martin, we had a very nice sail down the east side of St. Martin, past St Barth’s on our port side and onto Saba.

Saba is a very rugged island that, like St. Maarten, is part of the Dutch Antilles and it is reputed to have great hiking and diving. Unfortunately, the island also has no protected harbours and no marinas that could house a boat like Bojangles. There is, however, a mooring field on the leeward (west) side of the island where one can moor and avoid the prevailing winds but still remain exposed to anything coming from the North, West, or South.

We picked up a mooring in about 200 feet of water beneath a towering 300 foot cliff and prepared to watch the sun go down and perhaps see the green flash as we had a clear view of the western horizon? (Not familiar with the green flash? Click here) Of course, just as the G&T’s are about to be stirred, the Dutch Coast Guard shows up and boards us for a ‘routine’ inspection. While the guys were very professional and only stayed 10 or so minutes, they caused us to miss the sunset and generally ruined our cocktail hour.

Things got worse after dark. The swell came up from the north. And while we remained protected from the east wind, the swell – which is ocean waves not related to local wind conditions – was able to roll on us directly. So you now have a situation where the bow points into the wind (east) as normal, but then the swell hits us beam on from the north. The resulting effect is that the boat rolls back and forth to the rhythm of the swell. This particular night, it was so bad that cupboard doors would fly open and dishes were falling out. Needless to say, no one slept much and poor Mitchell was even launched out of his upper bunk in the middle of the night.

When dawn broke, we all agreed to cancel our planned hike for the day and forget about Saba until some other time in the future. We slipped our mooring line and pointed the bow eastward to St. Kitts (St. Christopher) where hopefully we’d be able to get a decent night’s sleep.

By early afternoon, after about 5 hours of motoring into the light easterly breeze, we reached St. Kitts. After a brief stop to clear customs and immigration in Basse Terre (St. Kitts) we motored 8 miles down to Cockleshell Bay at the south end of the island where we once again met up with our friends on Safari Tu and Stolen Hour. After a good cocktail hour with them, we had a nice evening there which was free from any rolling – so a good night’s sleep was had by all.

The following day, along with Safari Tu and Stolen Hour, we sailed the short few miles over to Nevis where we would spend the next few days. Already there were our friends from Shining Time (whom we hadn’t seen since October in Hampton, VA) and Chasseur (whom we had seen a few days earlier in St. Maarten).

At Nevis, we had a fun, relaxed time. Over the course of a few days, we played on the beach, went to the local markets, and generally slowed down a little. Nevis is a small, quiet island and there isn’t a ton of things to do, so that’s what we did.

One notable exception though, was the hike up to the rainforest that starts from the Golden Rock Hotel. We hired a driver to deliver us to the hotel and then – after Colin spent 90 minutes on what was supposed to be a 20 minute conference call with a client – we began our hike up the mountain. Along the way, we saw the scenery was great with all kinds of cool plants and such. As we ascended, we also came across a family of young piglets in the wild and one wild monkey. After a couple of hours ascending, we were greeted by an opening with beautiful mountain views as well as the sea below and St. Kitts in the near distance.

While we could have continued along this path, we were getting peckish and knew that a tasty lunch awaited us back at the Golden Rock. We descended fairly quickly, disturbing only a herd of goats on the path, and returned to the hotel restaurant where we had pre-ordered our lunch. Frankly, I can’t remember what the others had, but I had a lobster salad sandwich with a salad and fries, accompanied by a glass of pinot grigio. It was outstanding. And, the setting was superlative. We were sitting on a stone terrace some 1000 feet above sea level looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. It was really neat, and if you ever get a chance to go to Nevis, lunch at Golden Rock is not to be missed.

After lunch, we had a nice chat with the hotel owner and then had a dip in the pool there to cool down. Then, as we prepared to meet our taxi to head back to the boat, Gillian discovered a monkey in the parking lot. Then, as we all got closer, we realized that there were monkeys everywhere – including in the tree above us throwing nuts and stuff down at us. While we’d all seen monkeys in the zoo and at African Lion Safari, this was the first time we’d seen them in the wild and it was pretty cool.

For our last day in St Kitts and Nevis, we went back to Nevis and arranged to have a private tour of the Carib brewery. I’m not sure that everyone appreciated it, but it’s always fun for me to see beer being made, and even if you’re not a beer drinker, watching a bottling line in action is pretty neat.

So, after our ill fated trip to Saba and a successful visit to St. Kitts and Nevis we decided to push on to Guadeloupe. We went to bed early, set our alarms for 0230 and prepared ourselves and Bojangles for the 80 mile run past Montserrat and beyond to Guadeloupe.


Onward to St. Martin

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

In St. Martin (or Sint Maarten, on the Dutch side), we anchored in the lagoon, cleared customs (a painful affair as a number of mega yachts with large crews had arrived to clear in immediately before us), and then had our first McDonald’s experience since leaving the US.

For a sailor, the lagoon is quite a neat place. It is a couple of miles across with lots of room to anchor; it is totally surrounded and protected by land but for two small channels; it is half Dutch and half French; and, the neatest thing from a boater’s perspective, is that all services or conveniences that you could require are accessible by dinghy. First, there are all the marine servicers: chandleries, marinas, fuel, water, riggers, sailmakers, welders, fabricators, etc. Then, there are also all the conventional services as well: grocery, bakery, bank, FedEx, post office, car rental, etc. And lastly, there is a good selection of sailor bars that you can dinghy to. In short, the lagoon really functions as a city houses are replaced by boats and the family car is replaced by the yacht’s tender (dinghy). It’s no wonder that there are many cruisers who get as far as St. Martin and then never leave.

The only real downside is that you can’t (or probably shouldn’t) swim in the lagoon as the tidal ‘flush’ wouldn’t be sufficient to keep the water clean.

Anyway, we had a busy and fun time in SXM (as the locals and airport folks call it).

In a little over a week we had all our major boat projects completed:

• we had the cutless bearing replaced by the very efficient folks at Bobby’s Marina;
• we had an out of water marine survey done on the boat (she’s still a gem!);
• we had a new stabilizing bar manufactured for our dinghy davits;
• we bought a whole bunch of important boat stuff at the two major chandleries there.
• We stocked the galley with all kinds of good food, cheeses, UHT milk, Heineken (when in Holland..), French wine (when in France…) , and also stocked the freezer with wholesale quantities of nice steak and pork.

We also had 4 dinner parties on Bojangles:

• Alan from Unabated came over one night. We met Alan back in September on Lake Ontario as we entered the Oswego Canal together and traveled through the canal together for a day. We hadn’t seen him since except for a brief wave in Annapolis in October.
• The Smith family (Greg, Lisa, Evan, Grayson) from Chasseur came over another night. We hadn’t seen them since Vieques prior to Christmas and it was nice to spend some time with them again.
• Alan and Carrie Ann and their children from Stealaway, cruisers from South Africa came over along with Kurt and Kate from Myananda after happy hour at the St. Martin YC threatened to go on too long.
• The Freedman family from Toronto (Steven, Jenny, Time, Mathias, Minaelle, and Tayla) also stayed for dinner after we took them for an afternoon sail on Bojangles.

We didn’t spend all of our time on the boat however. We also went to a number of the beaches, toured the island by rental car, and visited a few restaurants.

We also spent some time getting to know the aforementioned Freedman family. I had known Steve a little from our mutual days coaching soccer and hockey back in Swansea (our neighbourhood in Toronto). His family relocated to SXM at the same time as we left Toronto, so I made a mental note to look him up when we got here. They invited us to the beach and their home for dinner and we had a great time. Then, we reciprocated by bringing Bojangles to an anchorage near their house so that we could take them out for a sail. We had a great sail in 15-20 knots of wind followed by dinner on Bojangles. The next day, they invited us to dinner at a very nice restaurant in Orient Bay. It was nice to be so far from home and then to spend time with someone from our own neighbourhood. We all enjoyed visiting with them and look forward to seeing them again when we get back to Toronto.

On our last day in SXM, just before we left on our ill fated trip to Saba, we had a little additional excitement. We were anchored at Ilet Pinel, getting ready to leave for Saba when a 50 foot Sunsail charter boat pull out of the anchorage. At the time, I was working on re-installing my solar panel (after re-installing the new stabilizing bar) when I looked up and saw the charter boat floating abnormally high in the water. A second later, I realized she was hard aground and the surf was pounding her quite violently onto a reef. I jumped in my dinghy, then picked up Reg, a fellow Canadian on a neighbouring boat and we ran over to help.

With Reg in the bow of our dinghy, he grabbed the leeward toerail on the bow of the Sunsail boat whilst I gave full throttle to try to push the bow away from the reef. After a few minutes, we were able to free them and they motored away, no doubt thinking amongst themselves, “Thank goodness, it’s a rental.”


Back in the BVI’s!

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

After Christmas we began our trek eastward again, with the first stop to be the BVI’s (again). Despite the temporary repairs we effected on the cutless bearing in Vieques, we knew we needed to get to a marina to have the boat hauled and have a new bearing installed. Nanny Cay marina on Tortola seemed as good a place as any to have this work done.

So on Boxing Day, we motorsailed the 40 odd miles from Culebra, past St Thomas, around St. John, and back to a dock at Nanny Cay. Along the way, we hooked a medium sized (say 36”) barracuda, but as we got him close to the boat, he lost his tail and a good chunk of his ‘stern’ to a rather aggressive (and rude) shark. So when I pulled the ‘cuda alongside to unhook him, he insisted on repeatedly flapping his stump against the side of the boat and leaving a trail of blood along Bojangles’ topsides. I thought it made us look tough though, so I haven’t yet cleaned it.

At Nanny Cay, we were reunited with our friends on Discovery and had a nice night visiting with them; however we then learned that the boat lift at Nanny Cay was on Christmas vacation until January 5, so the following day, we left the marina in hopes of finding some favourable weather to sail to St. Martin – where there are lots of options for getting this kind of boat work done.

Before leaving the BVI’s though, we spent a few more days exploring Peter Island and Jost van Dyke. Yes, we’d been to all these places previously, but they are all very nice and have multiple anchorages worth visiting.

On the 30th, we hooked up by radio with the Springs on Safari Tu who thought that that would be a good day to head to St. Martin on an overnight 80 mile passage. We decided to join them and sailed over to Gorda Sound to rendezvous for a 5:00pm departure. Shortly after heading out though, it became clear that the there was not enough north in the 25 knot ENE wind to fetch St. Martin under sail. At the same time, it started pouring rain and we were also getting soaked regularly by 8 foot waves coming over the bow. Discretion being the better part of valour, we radioed Safari Tu to let them know we were turning tail and heading back to Virgin Gorda. By 7:30, we were safely anchored back at Gorda Sound and had a good night’s sleep. Safari Tu, on the other hand, kept on sailing and made St. Martin around 10:00 the following morning after a very long and uncomfortable sail.

“Stranded” in Gorda Sound, we enjoyed a quiet New Year’s Eve (in bed by 10:00) but then had a great New Year’s Day by taking in the Friday night party at Leverick Bay Resort – an all you can eat buffet, live entertainment, dancing, and the mocko jumbies show. And of course this was all on the beach on a warm night under a full moon. Overall, a pretty good night.

The next day we had better conditions for heading to St. Martin, so we left in the evening and pulled an overnight passage to St. Martin under clear skies, calm seas, and an almost full moon. What a great night! Also on this run, Mitchell began helping out on watch. When I went off watch, Kathleen and Mitchell took over, with Mitchell doing most of the hand steering (because the auto pilot was having a bad hair day – don’t ask me why). This was a good milestone for Mitchell and hopefully we’ll see more of this on future passages.

Around 0530 on January 3, we pulled into Simpson Bay on St. Martin’s Dutch side and dropped anchor so we could catch a couple hours sleep before the 0930 bridge opening which would allow us to get into the Simpson Lagoon – which would serve as our base for getting our cutless bearing and also for exploring St. Martin.

Overall, the various virgins (British, Spanish, American) were great, but now we are moving onto a new chapter in our trip as St. Martin is the first of the Leeward Islands that we are visiting – and we were looking forward to it.