17 February 2016

Doings in English Harbour

Sunset from our helm
Peter and I spent a week in English Harbour - actually, Freeman's Bay anchorage, a mere dinghy ride to English Harbour of Horatio Nelson fame.
English Harbour is made up of many of the original buildings beautifully refurbished into restaurants, a couple of hotels, a bakery, some stores etc.  It services a rarified group of elite sailors and the tourists from cruise ships landing in St. John plus us cruisers.
Lovely but crowded anchorage with boats going every which way with odd currents and swirling wind.  We were okay and entertained by boats anchoring and reanchoring and reanchoring again as they came too close to others.  Cruisers are territorial about anchorage space.  When a new boat comes into a harbour and looks to be anchoring close to others, the crew on nearby boats come out and watch intently.  Unlike other situations when passing cruising boats wave and smile, when anchoring the interloping boat gets none of that until they are safely anchoring with all territories intact.
Milly sidling up to a super yacht.

Hiking views.
We snorkelled, took three amazing hikes with scenic views and explored the English Harbour historical site.  All fun and very worthwhile.
Super yachts beside landing for rowboat finish.
Beyond the usual though, English Harbour is a very happening place.  It is the chosen dock of many spectacular "super yachts" from all over the world.  These are super in every sense of the word - length of more than 100 feet, many young crew swabbing decks and polishing stainless steel so every inch is gleaming, worth millions and takes millions to sail/dock/equip.  The masts of these boats stand very tall, lit at night with floodlights at every spreader of which there are many.
The dock

We happened to be in the harbour during the "SuperYacht Regatta".  Milly only qualified in our hearts  as super so we did not take part but we did watch the yachts leave the harbour.   Wow!  Quite a parade!  One day we hiked to the headland to watch the race committee running the race and the boats/ships start.  Beautiful sight with lots of commentary from the avid sailors watching.
The yachts from afar elegantly racing.

Even more exciting than the exclusive super yachts, was the reception of another race at the English Harbour finish line.  This was a transAtlantic Race, The Atlantic Challenge, of 4-, 2-person or single rowers!  The first day we went into the harbour, they were setting up to receive the first over the finish - a team of four young men from Great Britain who crossed the big ocean from the Canary Islands in 36 days!
First place finishers in their missile rowboat, solar panels and all.

The racing rowboats were apparently scattered mid ocean by a very unusual January hurricane.
When they rowed into the harbour, the super yacht horns blared, people lining the shore cheered and clapped, flags were waved.  It was all very moving.  And the young men looked great.  I expected emaciated but they looked like they had just been to the gym.  They dined on lobster and drank copious bottles of water within the first hour of arrival.

Four days later when we were on the headlands watching the super yachts, a team of four girls arrives surrounded by boats of all sizes who had come out of harbour to greet them.  Forty days and second place by a team called "Row like a girl".  Got to love the name!  Same reception, same celebratory meal.  Reportedly the girls' boat smelled less offensive than the boys.  No surprise.

The girls from on high.  Their boat is the little green one below the white motorboat.  Second hand info says that the girls were surfing too fast in a storm.  They threw out an anchor to slow themselves down.  Unfortunately, a whale got caught in the line and started dragging them in the wrong direction.  They had to cut the line.  You go, girls!
The last night we were in harbour, the first 2-person boat came in at midnight.  Horns blared, boats greeted, people cheered and I could see two young men standing in their wee rowboat after accomplishing an amazing feat in 41 days.

Sure wouldn't want to do it but gave me the shivers to watch the exuberance of the crew when these three boats finished!
Even the emergency vehicles were characterful and...
necessary for roads like these.

10 February 2016

Guadaloupe in Pictures

We spent two weeks in Guadeloupe in Iles des Saintes and on Basse Terre, two of the four main island groups.  We hiked, snorkeled and swam, met a few cruisers and entertained ourselves watching boats and crew.  Our hikes usually took us to bird’s eye views, best explained in pictures.

Iles des Saintes is a lovely archepelago of eight islands, two of which are inhabited.  We stayed in two delightful anchorages - one in the only town, Bourg des Saintes on the largest island, Terre d’en Haut, and the second just around a headland, the Pain de Sucre, at a beach and tiny, empty resort.  Both were fun - the town was decidedly French in feel and look - shuttered houses with red roofs and a shingled church.  We enjoyed provisioning our cupboards with a few delicacies straight from France - at a price.  Baguettes were poking out of everyone's backpacks.

One night was spent at an anchorage just outside the only marina in Basse Terre, the capitol city, on the island of the same name.  We spent a day walking around this rather sad city that seems to be crumbling.  Granted, it is not built for the tourist but the flavour is one of poverty and slow dilapidation which you wouldn't assume in the nations capital. The walkway along the coast, built maybe a decade ago, is completely unused.  The city, however, is built on the slopes of  some stupendous mountains rising from the sea which make a stunning background.

We then spent several days at Deshaies.  Again, a small, low key town with busy comings and goings of boats and lots to do on foot.  An enterprising local woman dinghied around to each boat early a.m. and at dusk with appropriate food offerings - baguettes, croissants and fruit for breakfast or veg, fruit and French red wine in the evening.

We missed a lot of the interior of Guadeloupe but our biggest regret was not being able to climb La Soufriere, the volcano crater on the island which dominates the southern profile.  It gives us an excuse for returning some day.
Bourg des Saintes from near sea level
Bourg des Saintes from a little bit higher.

And Bourg des Saintes from the top, at Fort Napoleon.

La Soufriere on Basse Terre was rarely out of the clouds but still made for a pretty stunning view from Milly.

A hermit crab taking cover from the lens.  He/she was at least 200m above sea level.  We were ascending straight up to the Le Chameau lookout tower on a steep, rocky hike and saw many of these guys, hiding out in their disguises, where it was so dry only cacti and scrub grew.  If they came from the sea, they must have made a mad scramble on those tiny legs.

Milly from on high near the 350m top.

Bourg des Saintes from the top of the island at Le Chameau.

Fort Napoleon - a great museum and arboretum both on a small scale which exactly suited the heat.

Boats are everywhere.  This one was built in the '40's by an eccentric nautical lover.  Since the '50's it has been the home and office of the town doctor, anchor chain and all.

Boats are even in church.  They are sacred, indeed.
We have reached a drier climate where cacti abound.

Bourg des Saintes at sea level.  As you can tell, it's hard to stop taking pictures of this photogenic town.

At this point, we were lost on a path that eventually became one for goats only.  Great views though.

A sample of the sorry state of affairs in Basse Terre.  The detour for this footbridge was either fording the river or a major hike to an unfriendly highway.  We saw a local woman sidestepping across the bridge while clutching the railing and followed suit after she gave mimed directions in French with a serious tone.  Over the hump, I could feel the bridge which had big holes in it, shifting and swaying underfoot.  We were clutching the steel railing, too!
The best view of Base Terre was from our boat.  Classes of laughing and shouting kids took part in kayak lessons all day and a sailing school in the evening.  

La Soufriere gave Basse Terre a stunning backdrop.  

A great hike from Deshaies.  Up a river stepping from boulder to boulder for a couple of hours.  A canopy of trees offered much needed shade and the water was clear and cool on the occasional misstep.

Growth was more lush here along the river.  Epiphytes abound.

After about two and a half hours we reached a cavern with water gushing out of the crevice between high rock cliffs.  There was at least 20 feet of exposed packed earth and root on top.  It looked like a giant had sliced a piece off and made it very clear why vegetation is needed to prevent erosion.  

As we neared the more shaded cavern, several boulders were covered with tiny, delicate ferns.  My favourite.

There is a huge, world-class botanical garden in Deshaies.  The photographer was more interested in the aviary then the plants but the colour on these parrots were pretty astounding and gave us a close up of those we had seen flying through the trees in French Guiana.

Peter satisfied my gardeners spirit by patiently following on rambling paths and taking some shots.  It took more than two hours to get through the extensive grounds.

We often wander through cemeteries on our hikes.  The variety of style always amazes us.  This one was unique.  Some graves were only marked with conch shells while the tombs were all above ground.  Those for females were decorated with pink tiles and those for males in blue.  

Milly juxtaposed.

Another hike took us to this undeveloped beach.  From there we decided to try a long, steep and rocky ascent over Grande Morne, a very high promontory, back to Milly...in flip flops.  

Enjoying an early morning cruise and cup of tea.

Hello, English Harbour, Antigua!

2 February 2016

On Route to Guadeloupe

Barbados northern shore.  Wild with enormous breaking waves far out to sea.
After almost a month enjoying friends’ and family’s company in Barbados, it was time to depart.  We picked up some diesel at Port St Charles.  Peter Douglas ran down to say farewell just as we cast off.  No time for a hug but a big thank-you, Peter and Dale, for hosting us.  We had a fantastic time.

We set sail at 3:00 p.m. for what we figured, according to wind forecasts, would be a 36 hour trip - 140 NM with light winds.  We could make it on one tack on a close reach (slightly upwind…again).  

The Barbados north shore was awe-inspiring with huge breaking waves far out from the northern point.  We stayed clear but admired the view.  And then another night at sea.  Beautiful sky with some bioluminescence and a very small waxing moon - the night was so dark that it was difficult to distinguish the horizon.
My poor photography technique with blurry eyes or camera.  These are the screens we look at all night when not checking the horizon.  Radar on the left, the chart on the right. 
 During my watch, the wind veered (that is it began to turn from east to south of east ) so much that for a short time we were almost headed back to Barbados.  Navigation corrected, sails trimmed. Then it died - genoa furled, main sail in, motor on.  Then it came on strong and gradually backed.  Back on track and up to 20 knots - genoa out, mainsail trimmed, motors off.  No time to listen to podcasts on this watch and only some deep kneebends for fitness.  I was busy!
Dawn.  As always, beautiful.

Peter’s watch was, of course, completely uneventful.  It’s that 2000 to 2300 watch that sees all the action - I must suggest a switch!)  Because of the higher wind then expected through the night, we had only 78 NM to go at 8 a.m.
Peter going into and under our cockpit sole locker to fix a squeaky autopilot.  As you can see, he loves this stuff.

Lovely sailing through the day.  Dominica was visible - mountainous contours made us look forward to exploring her later in the season.  Just before sunset a pod of dolphins came to dance at Milly’s bow.  This was the best show yet.  The water was so clear that we could see them easily - when underwater, it looked like they had been glazed with aquamarine watercolour.  They scooted back and forth, under and over each other.  We could almost feel the spray from their blowholes and we could definitely smell the fish they had eaten for lunch. 
Sunset over Dominica

Problem was that, again, we would be getting to Marie Gallant, our destination and an island of Guadeloupe, well after sunset.  Instead, of tacking outside the harbour all night on slo-mo as we had done when arriving in Tobago, we decided to attempt anchoring in the dark.  This is contrary to all the best advice of veteran sailors.  According to our cruising guide, there was a wide open anchorage off a beach on the west coast that offered good protection and holding.  We edged in, Peter at the helm, myself on the bow looking for fishing buoys that marked trap locations.  A few were spied which Peter negotiated.  Finally, we dropped anchor in about 7 meters of water.  We held fast and toasted arriving in a new country.

Next morning, we awoke to the lovely, bucolic Marie Gallant off our bow - and to our stern, starboard and port side fishing buoys as far as we could see.  The sea gods had been smiling on us the night before.
Marie Gallant seen from our anchorage - a little far from shore, maybe.

We didn’t even step ashore on Marie Gallant - we’ll have to check it out next time around.  Off to celebrated Iles des Saintes to clear in.