28 March 2016

Two Months on the Move

Shell Beach, St Bart's.  A whole beach of tiny pink shells replaced sand
Eight weeks since the last post and…
24 anchorages
View of Nonsuch Bay, a large bay on the east side of Antigua, protected from the raucous waves of the Atlantic by a reef.  We anchored within 200 m of the reef and could hear and the great Atlantic waves pounding as we lay at peace in flat water.  We enjoyed our first beach potluck there.  Some crews stayed for months - it is a kite boarding mecca.  Peter was tempted but the wind was negligible for much of our stay.  One of our favourite anchorages.

This was not an anchorage but deserves mention.  As we sailed from Nonsuch to Jolly Harbour, we passed Eric Clapton's estate.  It's on the promontory - a series of buildings (many, many) built on the top and down the cliff and what looked from a distance, like beautiful landscaping.  And a guy in a red shirt, we believe was Eric, waving at Milly.

Jolly Harbour, Antigua.  Not our favourite.  Really a marina and a bunch of hotels and restaurants but we had fun because of the other cruisers we met.  We all burgers at a bar and watched the super bowl.  I dragged Peter away after the half time show.

Jolly Beach.  A lovely beach built up with resorts.
From a hike to the promontory between Deep Bay where we anchored, we could see St. John, the capitol of Antigua.  It's as close as we got.

We met Lee at Parham, a tiny "real" Antiguan town with industry on one side and fishing docks on the other.  We went to find a meeting place and stayed the afternoon.  The fishermen - I would say fisher to be PC but we have not seen one fisherwoman, sadly - and shopkeepers were extremely friendly.  Even the town police officer who happened to be in the grocery store, introduced himself, shook Peter's hand and wished us a good day.  The shop had scanty supplies on the shelf but requested items, like beer, magically appeared from the back.
At the dock, this guy sold us our first lobster.  He and his friend told us how to keep it fresh, cook it and what parts to eat or, more importantly, what parts not to eat.  It was quite an event on Milly.  Luckily for us and also the lobster, he/she was "unconscious"?, at the time of boiling so their was no tail whacking or screaming.  Nonetheless, we still felt badly.  Our pot was not quite big enough and his/her tentacles were sticking out.  Have to admit, delicious.
Instead of spending the night in the industrial port, we anchored off Long Island, a private island with houses, condos, clubhouses, restaurants etc. etc.  Security did not encourage yachties to come ashore so Peter and I enjoyed our lobster party on Milly, just the two of us.
Next day, back to Parham to pick up Lee.  This time we had parrot fish which we often see in the reefs.  This guy cleaned it for us and another, with a sharper knife, filleted it.  Tip offered but not accepted.

Conch was also on the menu.  I had read about the more than messy process of getting this large sea snail out of the shell, cleaning it and tenderizing it and was reluctant to give it a go.  The conch had already been extruded from their homes by the time the boat reached shore so we missed that lesson.  The man who was cleaning made it clear that "you had to know what you were doing with the slimy bits or you'd cut off your finger".  So I watched.  Admitting that I had never cooked it before, the guy above took his two by four block and pounded it on the concrete wall that he had doused with a pail full of water - I hope.  He then pulled out his camper stove and boiled the meat for about 20 minutes, cut off a couple of pieces for sampling and gave us the rest.  Again, no tip accepted, just smiles and thank you's.  These experiences with the locals are what make cruising so great!
Colourful, authentic homes in Parham.
Low Bay in Barbuda.  This beach is eleven miles long with no one on it, only one small hotel that is closed and for sale.  The swells were too large to take TomTom to the beach.  We know from experience that breaking waves can toss the dinghy and barrel us over while trying to pull it up on the sand.  The unpredictable movement of the dinghy and, therefore, the motor, is not fun.  We elected to swim ashore instead.

Beach from Milly.  Barbuda is a coral island and very low lying, unlike it's volcanic sister, Antigua.  The beach is part of a thin strip of land that separates the sea from a huge lagoon.  

Milly, anchored alone among the coral heads at Spanish Point, Barbuda.  Fantastic snorkelling!  You can see the waves breaking on the reef that protected this anchorage from the Atlantic.

North Beach on Great Bird Island, Antigua.  To get into this anchorage we had to dipsy doodle through coral heads, at some points only a boat width apart.  Once in the bay, we seemed to have plenty of room but I had a nagging, unvoiced trepidation that we did not have an easy escape route which according to the wisdom of sea captains before us, one should always have.  Instead, we snorkelled and climbed the island to sea the mighty Atlantic and a couple of cool blowholes from the top.  As the sun began to set, we noted that the wind and currents were making Milly swing so that she was almost doing 360s.  We moved her further from a threatening coral head and Peter and I took TomTom out to do some depth soundings.  All seemed well with only a slight chance that we would hit bottom if the wind came out of the west - which would be very strange in the predictable eastern trades.  Just going to bed and a loud crunch got us quickly on deck.  We turned on the engines to keep Milly's keel safe, and prepared our never-before-used stern anchor.  I stayed at the helm while Lee and Peter took the stern anchor in TomTom into the dark night with headlamps blazing.  The anchor was placed to hold Milly off the coral - called kedging. We took turns on watch through the night but the anchor held and all was well.  We moved to the more popular anchorage off the south beach the next day!
Marigot Bay and Simpson Lagoon in Marigot, St Martin.  The Marigot Bay anchorage was busy.  Peter had a wonderful time with binoculars in hand watching all the boats coming and going.  After a couple of days, the swells changed direction and we moved into the lagoon which separates the Dutch Sint Maarten from the French St Martin.  There is everything from super yachts at dock and abandoned, sad, neglected boats at anchor.  The main chandleries are on the Dutch side and, as boat work was our mission while there, we stayed on the free French side and dinghied to the Dutch side to purchase and order boat stuff.

Marigot Bay when our guests, Tom and Connie, arrived.  

First beach walk for Tom and Connie on the beautiful white sand of Prickly Pear Island, Anguilla.

Road Bay, Anguilla.  We had dinner at a beach bar while bathing our feet in the incredibly silky sand.
Anchorage at Ile Fourchue, St. Bart's.  A privately owned island with absolutely no development, now a designated marine park.  To protect the coral and grass beds, boats are not allowed to anchor in particular areas but moor to balls.  It works - the coral is in pretty good shape and the turtles that feed on the grass are abundant.  The water is so clear that we could see the turtles from where we took this picture, high up on one of the peaks.  A beautiful, craggy place.  The goats had eaten all the vegetation until there was no more greenery left.  And then the goats died.  Now the scrub is starting to come back but growth is not lush and gives the place a desolate kind of feeling.

Anse du Colombier, St Bart's.  Our anchorage is in the sensational blue water overlooked by the Rockerfellers (1960's?) mansion.  The bay is another marine park with mooring balls and no anchoring allowed.  The fish were plentiful - all the usual plus flounders, and my first sighting of a lion fish.  These are not good - they are an invasive foreign species that are killing local species.  Many scuba shops run lion fish hunts.  At many island customs offices, we have seen posters encouraging visitors to kill them

Gustavia, St Bart's.  A pretty town that is not as ostentatious as it's reputation suggests.  At least, not at New Year's.

Saba anchorage was not at all protected.  Really just a space on the lee side of the island.  The bottom was so deep that the island maintains a few mooring balls.  No sailboat stays for long here as it's pretty wild and rolly.

Charlestown, Nevis.  Majestic anchorage with this view!  We stayed over a week.  We have friends who winter at their cottage here.  They hosted us for dinner and took us for a island tour.  We hiked, visited the agricultural fair, the Nelson museum -he was married here to a Nevesian - and sat at the baths.  A very nice island.

Basse Terre, St. Kitt's.  Not a great anchorage snugged up to the cruise line dock and shopping extravaganza.  The city was a bit bedraggled.  The island was better.

White House Bay, St Kitt's had a fantastic, very elegant beach bar where we had dinner one night.  The anchorage was incredibly windy.  We chose to leave the next bay for Shittin Bay - no kiddin' - around a point from White House but surrounded by very high, steep hills that left the water serene, flat and wind free.  Wind can be exhausting, says the sailor.
14 islands
Saba deserves special mention.  It was the stuff of fairy tales.  A very forbidding coastline with steep jagged rocks and cliffs, plunging into a tumultuous sea.  There are no beaches. The anchorage is not protected in a pleasant bay but just by the body of the island on the leeward shore and so swept by swell, current and wind - and plenty of it.  Most cruisers give it a pass or leave their boat at a more friendly harbour and fly in to an airstrip that is reportedly the length of an aircraft carrier - an experience in itself.  Above the rocky cliffs is thick jungle.

Until the small, single port was built in the early 1940's, the only access to the island was via this staircase cut into the cliff, Ladder Bay.  The small building about half way up was a customs house.  Everything that came or left the island ascended or descended these stairs, including a piano.  Hearty souls!

The Ladder!  Of course, we had to descend to the rocky shore along with the goats who were right at home on these steep slopes.  And then we had to ascend.  The ladder used to have more than 800 steps.  Now it has a measly 507 - Connie and I counted.  They are steep and high.

Once on the island, the fairytale begins.  The towns, The Bottom and Windward Side, are nestled in the mountains which suddenly look friendly.  Each building seems tiny perhaps because of the grand scale of the terrain and is white with green trim and shutters and red roof.  The roads meander.
Sweet church in The Bottom

The island is renowned for it's hiking.  Before "the road that couldn't be built" was designed by a local engineer who to a correspondence course to learn just how to insert a road into the jagged mountains - a feat that European engineers had pronounced was impossible, the villagers visited each other by footpath.  These are now a great trail system and hikers haven.  Just as in a fairytale, the leaves and trees are extra enormous and extra green.

The trail we took partially circumnavigated the highest peak.

Milly from on high.
12 hikes (as opposed to walks which were many.  Hikes require water, toilet paper for the eco-toilet, shorts and t-shirt to be laundered immediately, snack and decent shoes although we have done a few impromptu in flip flops, an added challenge.)
This sign was the only one that marked a trail to the Mt Nevis peak.  The trails are not marked there to assure that guides must be hired.  Peter and I spent one day searching for the trailhead and finally found it on the second day.
A beautiful trail in Deep Bay, Antigua led up to a fort ruin.  There are many forts in Antigua, each at the top of a steep hill.  We climbed many.
Ile Fourchue, St Bart's is a privately owned island with absolutely nothing on it.  Even the original goats ate themselves out of vegetation.  The island is now barren because of those darn goats but because they succumbed to their own gluttony, the island is a little more green.  We were determined to climb three of the several peaks.  The steep routes required all fours and care so as not to send rocks on those below.

On ascent

At the top of the first and highest peak.
Ile Fourchue.  We climbed three of those, including the tallest in the middle.  

An elegant path in St. Bart's

With stupendous views.
At the top of Mt Liamuiga, formerly called Mt Misery!, in St Kitt's.  This was formerly a volcano.  We climbed to the rim of the crater.  The last 400 meters involved climbing up a makeshift ladder, hugging a ledge out to a wider rock and then going down by rump to a series of small rocks all to see the view of the ocean.  It was beautiful, just a little nerve-wracking.

The crater, called the lettuce bowl - perfect name.

The hike down Mt Liamuiga.  You could not look at the view for fear of a misstep.
This is tough to see but we were very taken with giant ferns.  They are similar to the green ferns in Ontario woods but the height of a large tree.  Very cool.  

The ascent up Mt Nevis was the toughest hike to date.  Much of it was vertical with ropes, hauling ourselves up with brute, kind of desperate, strength!  There was no turning back although the two we were with didn't make it.  Mud covered by the end.

Made it!  Top of Mt Nevis.

Going down there was a lot of rappelling.
7 countries - Antigua & Barbuda, St Martin, Sint Maarten, Anguilla, St Bartholomew, Saba, St Kitt’s & Nevis
6 new marine sightings with many terrestrial - many upsidedown jellyfish, several rays, 2 schools of sharks - do sharks come in schools?, 1 school of dolphins, 1 whale (I missed it)
On a kayak paddle through Nonsuch Bay we came across a shallow with hundreds of upside down jellyfish hovering on the bottom.  Their tentacle stand up while waiting for nutritious specimens to wander by.  From the surface they look like delicate snowflakes.
This little guy enjoyed watching us drink lemonade at the elegant Harmony Hall in Antigua as much was we enjoyed watching him.
A horse getting a bath in the lagoon at Coddrington, Barbuda.

Goats are everywhere on these rocky islands.  

This little tortoise at the weather station on St Bart's was very friendly.

We spied two tiny eggs in a swirling palms leaves.

Donkeys, goats and chickens roamed freely in Nevis.  They were everywhere, even on the main drag.
3 wonderful guests
Lee joined us for the second time.  This time we explored Antigua and Barbuda.  She take her duties seriously, learning the ropes.

Loved having her!

Connie and Tom, Stony Lake acquaintances became fast friends.  They joined us for a mighty tour of St Martin, Anguilla, St Bart's, Saba and Nevis.  I think they were exhausted when they went home!

A pic before our hike at our anchorage in Anse du Colombier, St Bart's.  They were looking just as happy after the hike.
2 characterful local guides
George Jeffrey took us on a tour of the frigate bird colony, some limestone caves and a sink hole on Barbuda, a desolate island.  He had put several children through university for teaching, law and medicine but had not finished school himself.  He is a lobster fisherman, tour guide and entrepreneur.

One of the caves on Barbuda

The sink hole with George at the bottom.  Barbuda is covered in low lying scrub except in this sink hole which is lush with palms and tons of greenery.  Bats have found their daytime homes in small holes in the limestone walls.
From the top of the caves, the Atlantic with calm waters in front of the reef where you see the waves breaking.

George and the three Milly crew.

Our guide up Mt Liamuiga was Dragon O'Neil.  He had walked up and down that mountain close to every day for the past 35 years and had a lean, sinuous body to show for it.  He went at quite a clip.  Peter and then I were followed by the four others in our group.  He told me that I "kicked ass" - a real compliment, coming from a Dragon.

Dragon standing at the tippy top of the mountain way above the treetops.  Peter sat at the same point and I sat on the slightly wider step below.  Only Dragon braved the pinnacle.
2 lobster dinners on board
Choosing our lobsters for dinner at the Saba port.  The fisherman was a little surly at first but warmed up quickly when we showed such interest in his catch.  He was downright garrulous by the end of our visit, giving us an extra lobster and tips on how to cook it and even running down the dock after us to pass on some details he had forgotten.

Tom did the cooking honours.  I don't think putting them in the pot was his favourite.  Thanks, Tom!

Delicious!  We savoured the tails.  And then we dumped the remains into the ocean.  A few minutes later we were surprised and a little freaked out by the sight of seven or eight shark circling under our swim ladder.  I guess they wanted the lobster tails.

2 night sails - Peter and I did a night sail from Antigua to St Martin where the cargo and cruise line traffic were the only events.  Connie and Tom joined us on a passage from Saba to Nevis.  We all went to bed at 7:00 and got up for an 11:00 pm start.  Connie and Tom took the dawn watch on their own which allowed a six hour sleep for Peter and I.  What a treat!

1 UNESCO World Heritage Site
Fort Brimstone, St Kitt's.  A beautifully restored, huge fort called the Gibraltar of the Caribbean.  

1 cruisers ladies luncheon in Sint Maarten
and many cruising friends made

All interspersed with boat work
In Sint Maarten we replaced our very rusty Argentinian anchor chain with a new, shiny one.  It was a day of heavy labour in the blazing sun but, boy, does that chain ever look good.

Peter is a man prepared.  He has tethered his Allen key to his shorts.  We don't want to lose that overboard.

The baths in Nevis are rumoured to cure all ills.  At 107 degrees  celsius, they were too hot for anything but my feet but Peter submerged.

It’s been a busy time that has flown by!

There were literally hundreds of Land Rovers in St Bart's and, by this sign, they obviously had priority.

A nice Nevisian alternative to "Keep Out" or "Trespassers will be prosecuted."