It’s all about location, location, location.

Well, here we are in Fort de France, Martinique, the furthest south that we have been yet.   It’s wonderful to be in a big city for a change and to be anchored literally a few hundred feet from the city streets is unique in our experience.  However, with convenience comes some discomfort as we hear music blaring each evening and there is a constant parade of ferry boats rocking us, sometimes violently, as the come by from 08:00 to 16:00.

However, we are well protected from the strong winds, tucked below a ovely historic French fort.Of course, as the bottom drops off quickly as you get further from shore, the anchorage is tight, and yes, we are as close to the other boats as this photo appears.   However, tight anchoring works here as the wind is so consistent with the easterly prevailing winds.  The catamaran just in front of us is Raven, with our friends Barbara and Ted aboard.   They are from Austin TX and have been living aboard for the last two years.  We arrived here a few days ago after an overnight stop in Dominica, a very rural island that was trashed during last seasons hurricanes.   We only stayed there and didn’t even clear in, to break up the trip to Martinique.  It was sad to see the devastation that they have endured.    Leaves had been stripped from the rain forest.  When we were here last winter it was a dark green and very lush.  We were told that this is much improved compared to a few months ago when the hillside was completely barren. This closeup really gives a feel for how barren the trees are.
While a good deal of cleanup has been done, there is still a lot to be done to get things back in shape ashore.   There are signs of damaged boats and buildings everywhere. What’s remarkable is that just 30 miles south, as you approach Martinique, the forest is lush and untouched.    And, speaking of lush, we rented a car with Ted and Barbara yesterday to tour some of the rum distilleries and countryside as we drove around much of the island.  It was really beautiful.  Details to come on that in my next post. Anyway, we have also explored the city near the waterfront and it’s a unique mixture of old and modern.    There are many lovely streets in the historic district. With colorful shops selling most anything from marine supplies to island themed fabric. And, stirred into the mix are some really modern buildings.  Somehow it all works.  There are a few real standout buildings including the Schoelcher Library designed buy a disciple of Gustave Eiffel, that guy that brought you the Eiffel Tower in Paris.   Like the famous tower, the library was also built for the 1889 worlds fair, disassembled, shipped here to Fort de France and reassembled.    See what others have said about the building.

Bibliothèque Schoelcher

The gorgeous Bibliothèque Schoelcher is a soaring late-19th-century library built of wrought iron, concrete, wood and glass. The building was designed by Pierre-Henri Picq, a disciple of Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame), and built in Paris for the 1889 World’s Fair. It was later disassembled and shipped in pieces to Martinique. Picq was also responsible for the nearby St. Louis Cathedral, another handsome example of eclectic cast-iron architecture. Travelers interested in the island’s literature will also want to visit the Aimé Césaire Museum, located just two blocks away in Fort-de-France’s old city hall. A small collection of manuscripts and artifacts provides an introduction to the life and works of one of the Caribbean’s premier intellectuals. Césaire, a poet and playwright born on Martinique, served as the longtime mayor of Fort-de-France and was a founder of the Martinican Progressive Party.”

Inside is impressive with a soaring ceiling. And an impressive collection of old books and manuscripts.   Remarkably, this is open to the street so the books are not being stored in a climate controlled environment.    Wonder how they will do over time exposed to the humidity.  Nearby the St Louis Cathedral also by the same designer in perfect condition. There’s lots more to tell but too much for a single post so you’ll have to stay tuned.    Fort de France is a remarkable spot and I expect that we will stay here for a while before heading further south.

Along with the remarkable architecture the difference in the condition of the island compared to nearby Dominica just serves to reinforce the point that real estate agents always say “location, location, location” and in this case how things change only a few miles apart.

To see the near total devastation on an island so nearby is certainly sobering.

Where the French and English duked it out.

We are here in Iles de Saintes, a small archipelago here just south of  Guadeloupe.   It’s fascinating to visit some of these islands where countries battled it out years ago to control those islands that were valuable, mostly because of sugar production, and because they had good ports where ships could call home.

Les Saintes are such a group of islands.   As they are low lying and dry, I expect that the appeal wasn’t agriculture but as a place to control shipping.   And, as is so often the case in these parts, this island saw much action as the English and French fought for control time and time again.

As you’d expect wherever there is warfare, there are forts and this place has a number of them with the largest, now a terrific museum.  It would be tough to sneak up on a garrison with such a commanding view. And, with such a large harbor, comes the need to control it and at least once a large battle with dozens of ships fought for control in what is known as the
“battle of the Saintes”.   This diorama showed all the ships that fought.  This is only a detail shot but it’s sufficient to say that there were a lot of ships banging away at each other.    The museum has a number of very nice large scale models including this one of the 90 gun flagship, The Formidable, launched in England in 1777 after a ten year build.  Interestingly, it wasn’t dismantled until the early 1800s.   That’s a long career for a wooden fighting ship.  The model is nearly 5′ long.   Impressive.
Interestingly, there was also a model of the Santa Maria, Columbus’s ship.   Oops, the description of why it was in the museum was in French.  And, speaking of nice views, which I was earlier in the post.  Nice spot to have our picture taken.
The fort is in amazing shape after all these years.   It’s remarkable to see how flawless the walls are.  Not a wave or ripple.   Perfect construction. These large iguanas were in the nearby trees everywhere.  They are very territorial and this big guy was standing his ground in spite of our invasion of his space.
Another bit of local fauna, a kestrel, I think. And, of course, goats.  Always lots of goats.  In this case, baby goats, goatettes, or goatees.   Hmm…Down in the main town there was a great little parade.   Drums and all sorts of percussion.  All the marchers were probably nearly deaf after the event was over.  Brenda and I loved this little household garden.  I also enjoyed watching these guys “launch” a boat, freshly painted.  They walked briskly along, stopping every 100′ or so for a break.   “Stop, stop Francois, time for a cigarette break.  We are French after all.”  Looks heavy. Along the way (we rented a golf cart for the day) we stopped at a “beach bar” for lunch.   How about tuna ceviche and wine at a lowly beach bar?  Only in a French Island!  Bon appetite!  Indeed.
So, there you have it.  Another post of random thoughts from the Caribbean.

Great food, lovely Caribbean breezes.     I have to say that I am glad that the French persevered here as somehow I don’t think that the food would be quite as good if the English had won.

And, on top of that, clearing in would be ten times harder and cost more.

Tomorrow, off to Dominica and on to  Martinique.   Yes, more baguettes in Pandora’s future when we get to Martinique.

How not to visit St Kitts.

It’s been a while since my last post and since then we visited Nevis and went to Montserrat again, this time aboard Pandora.

When we were in Antigua we decided, as I reported in an earlier post, that we would visit St Kitts and Nevis which was directly down wind from Antigua.   The plan, after that, was to head to Guadeloupe, a long but, we thought, doable trip.

The run from Antigua to Guadeloupe is an easy reach so it seemed to me that the same, if a bit harder on the wind, would be the case from Nevis to Guadeloupe.   NOT!

Unfortunately, after spending a week of fun in spite of an annoying wrap-around swell in both Nevis and St Kitts, we struck out for Montserrat for an overnight stop as that was about half the way to Guadeloupe.  Unfortunately, with the prevailing easterly, the run was more on the wind than I had realized and it put us hard on the wind motor-sailing in some pretty rough conditions.  Brenda was not pleased.

It was quite a rough day.  It’s always frustrating to try and take photos of waves as it never seems to really show what it was like.  Perhaps these two shots of our friends on Oasis, who sailed with us make the point.   Here they are close by us as we made our way to Guadeloupe.  Looks pretty normal?A few moments later as a 10 second swell was between us.   What boat?  Where dey go?We anchored in the tiny harbor, such as it is, in Montserrat and spent the night pitching back and forth in the swell.  After a day of pounding into the wind and anchoring in a rolly harbor, and all on her birthday, Brenda wasn’t too happy. A close up of Pandora anchored.  If it was a video, you’d see the long swell rolling through the anchorage and her mast swaying back and forth 20 degrees side to side. However, swell or not, we were able to go ashore and visit a weaving studio which made her very happy.  Brenda had heard about the studio a while back and this was a destination worth fighting for and there we were.   We hired a taxi and had a terrific visit.  Two happy weavers and one happy birthday girl. After buying one of just about everything in the studio, we invited the owner and her mother out to Pandora for a glass of wine.   That was fun too, in spite of more rolling around, with our guests, while clutching our wine glasses.  Not a good location for glasses with stems.

Anyway, we slept, sort of, that night and left early the next morning to head the rest of the way to Deshais Guadeloupe, again motorsailing, hard on the wind.

A short distance to the southern end of the island we passed the remains of what was once the capitol of Montserrat before the volcano wiped it out.   Seeing these buildings, once a thriving city, under tons of ash and mud was sobering.   It was hard to see due to the smoke from the still active volcano.  You could see the deep ravines that were carved out when a huge lake that had filled with rainwater for several years following the eruption, finally broke through and thundered to the sea.  I can only imagine what that day must have been like.   Perhaps not as bad as a major volcanic eruption but not fun, even a little bit. It was two long days to Guadeloupe but we made it and that was two rough days more than Brenda needed, especially as one of the days was her birthday.  Thank goodness for the weaving studio we visited.  I was fearful that she’d jump ship and head for the airport.  Fortunately not.

As we slogged our way to Deshais we were passed by a large sailing ship.  It was an impressive sight as she passed us in the distance. We were happy to relax in Deshais for the evening.  It’s a beautiful fishing village and we were particularly pleased to be back on a French island.  Bring on the food.   We binged on baguettes and cheese.  Yum.    Ok, we also bought some produce too, local of course. Unlike Antigua and other islands influenced by the UK, the French islands have very easy customs procedures.   Instead of going from window to window or office to office, in Deshais all you had to do was to go to this T shirt shop, fill out a form on a PC, French keyboard of course, and pay four Euros.  Simple.  And you can check in and out at the same time if you know when you are going to depart.  It was very picturesque.   Lots of boats, along with Pandora, out in the harbor.
Outside where we had lunch they had a charming bird feeder that was very popular with the locals. So, now we are here now in Les Saintes, also part of Guadeloupe, where we will stay for a while, perhaps through next week before heading south to Martinique, French again.  There are wonderful places to dine and the food is great.
As I write this post I am sitting in a cafe overlooking the main town square.    A lovely view.
From downstairs, you can look out and see Pandora on her mooring nearby.   that’s her, with the dark hull.  Not the best shot but you get the point, I hope.  Very close. We just love the local architecture, shabby chic. So, here we are for a while and tonight we head to a friend’s boat for cocktails.  It’s amazing that everywhere we go there are always boats that we know.    Could be worse, we could be in sub-zero temps.

I prefer this.   However, all is not always easy as our trip to Nevis showed, there’s a good and bad way to do everything and now we know how NOT to visit St Kitts.

Nevis and the islands that kiss the clouds

I have written about the “islands that kiss the clouds” before and that was mostly in anticipation of visiting those that qualify for that distinction.  In order to be one of “those”, and they are mostly located south of Antigua, and island must have a mountain that is high enough, around 3,000′ tall, so that the trade winds, blowing out of the east, hit the side of the mountain,  rise up, cool the air as it rises and then condense their moisture in the form of rain.

What makes these islands distinctive is that their summits are always crowned with clouds.  It’s beautiful.  This is Nevis, where we stopped today along the way to our planned destination of Montserrat.  The winds are less than they have been for the last week but as we got underway today it turned out that it was still pretty windy, with gusts into the low 20s.

Bill, on Kalunamoo, had spoken to folks earlier in the day on the SSB radio and heard reports that  that it was still pretty bumpy out there, so armed with that knowledge, we decided to just head the short 6 miles to Nevis and pick up a mooring.  As holding can be challenging here, there are plenty of moorings to pickup.

Bill was the first to arrive and picked up a mooring only to have it float away with him attached, somehow no longer connected to the bottom.  Not good.  That doesn’t give me a lot of confidence.   Anyway, after we picked up one ourselves, I dropped the dink and retrieved the “floater” and secured it to another mooring.  I’ll enjoy talking about that when someone comes out later asking for payment for the use of the mooring.   With a smile I’ll say “No problem, I’ll trade you a floating, no longer connected mooring for a free night.  Oh yeah, and that applies to my friend Bill too, you know, the guy who almost floated out to see attached to your mooring”.

Anyway, here’s the view of the highest peak in Nevis, dead ahead, “kissing the clouds”.We enjoyed our visit on St Kitts if you don’t include the relentless wind that we put up with over the last week. However, a tour of the island, trips to the local bars and a few meals out made for a fun visit.

We also enjoyed seeing members of the local monkey population.   They were shy but sometimes we were able to get pretty close.   300mm lens or not, this guy didn’t seem to concerned about us.Last night our group went out for drinks at a nice bar.   The sunset did not disappoint.Yesterday afternoon this lovely little sloop anchored nearby.  It’s home port is Rockport Maine.   That’s a long way from home for a boat that looks like it’s under 30′ long.   Beautiful.  I would have enjoyed talking to the owner to learn more about the boat.  I’ll bet he built it himself.  Of course, with all that “mountains kissing the clouds thing” comes rain and rainbows.  We saw plenty during our visit and again this morning as light showers washed over us.   I guess after posting so many rainbow photos I have to find one that was a bit different.  Looks like someone spray painted it on a cloud. Off of our bow here in Nevis is the Four Seasons Hotel, supposedly a first class spot.    As Brenda’s birthday is tomorrow and we will likely be underway for Montserrat, perhaps we will go out for a drink there this afternoon.It sure looks like a great spot and lush with a perfectly green golf course.  Not many of the dryer islands can support a golf course.   This island is pretty lush. Well, the day is young so I’d better head out and see what’s involved in getting ashore.  Unfortunately, it’s Sunday and most everything is closed in these parts on the Sabbath so we probably won’t have much to choose from.

I wonder if I can track down a birthday cake for you know who?  If I can I’ll bet that the islands that kiss the clouds won’t be the only ones getting kisses.

Pretty clever way to end the post?  Perhaps not but it’s the best I can do on short notice.  Wish me luck.  Cake or die trying…

St Kitts, an island of many faces

It’s been a few days now that we have been here in St Kitts and we are hopeful that we will be able to leave for Guadeloupe over the weekend.  The problem has been the winds, the strong Christmas winds more specifically, that have made sailing south problematic.

For several months during the winter the winds can be pretty stiff, in the high 20s and sometimes gusting into the 30+ range.  Last winter we found ourselves stuck in Antigua for several weeks when the winds picked up and just about everybody sticks in place until the breezes moderate.

Additionally, because of the height of the island and the clouds that are there most of the time, our solar panels have been coming up short on recharging the batteries.  The shorter days of winter complicate that as well so we have had to run the generator for more time than we’d like to keep the batteries up to snuff, make water and keep it hot for showers.   This problem will become less of an issue as the days get longer, later in the season.  Also, the islands that aren’t as high will be less inclined to precipitate cloud cover.  Islands, like Antigua, as one example, with less elevation, don’t get the cloud cover that we have here in St Kitts.

It’s tiring to listen to the sound of the wind in the rigging, especially at night when the winds are stronger.   The hum in the rigging punctuated by higher gusts and the boat surging against her anchor can get a bit old.

Don’t get me wrong as it’s not all that bad here in St Kitts, a beautiful island.  As I write this we are sitting in a pavilion in this very high end development overlooking a beautiful pool and beach.  Not a bad view to be doing a post while enjoying.  As an added bonus, as it’s so far from the normal tourist locations, we have the place mostly to ourselves.  No cruise ship tour bus mobs here.

This is the view of the main building known as “the Pavilion”, nestled in an exclusive community.  This place is about a mile of so walk from the marina and along the way we spied a troupe of monkeys.  Last evening we went out for drinks with our friends at yet another lovely spot that’s part of this development.  It’s right on the water with a view of the western horizon, perfect at sunset.   Can you say “happy hour”?  Happy, indeed.   Just love the “turbine lamps”.  Our son Rob would be all over these and want them for his own patio.    The flame swirls in a lovely arc.  Pretty ethereal. We have been spending time ashore each day and the four couples we are here with spent time touring the island together a few days ago.   We hired a driver for the day and drove around the entire island, stopping along the way.

This end, the southern part, of the island is more arid than the higher parts of the northern part, so we were excited to see the rain forest.

Sugarcane production was big business here and it was interesting to see the remnants of an old railroad that runs around most of the island.   This trestle is evidence of what was once a dominant business on the island. We visited the ruins of a water powered “factory” facility that once processed raw sugarcane and produced rum.  It was in a beautiful area complete with some of the old cast iron equipment and the remains of an aqueduct that brought water to the cane crusher from the mountains.  Everything was wet from the near constant rain that comes and goes briefly each day.  The guide told us that this area of the island gets over 150″ of rain a year verses 50″ or less in other areas of the island.    For comparison, the definition, in Wikipedia of a rain forest is one that gets between 98 and 177 inches of rain per year so this clearly qualifies.   It’s remarkably lush with moss and ferns everywhere.After seeing such dry areas it was amazing to see green grass and ferns everywhere. After spending so much time on islands where the primary source of water was through reverse osmosis, it’s a treat to see rivers and streams everywhere.  Here on the other end of the island it’s quite arid and I expect that the primary source of water is RO.   Amazing since the island just isn’t that big.As you’d expect, where there is rain forest there is zip-lining. I would have loved to take a turn at that however, with 8 of us sharing a van and trying to see the island in a single day, there wasn’t much time to dawdle.

Along the way we stopped at a tiny spot for lunch.  I expect that the owners were related to the driver.   Not much to look at, not even a little bit actually, but the food was excellent.  It was interesting to see, all within a few hours, everything from lush forest, open pasture and arid hillsides dominated by cactus on such a small island.  A beautiful church perched near the sea.    Looked pretty exposed but beautiful. Along the way, nestled in the rain forest, was a lovey sort of botanical garden/batik factory.    I had to work hard to get photos that weren’t overrun with cruise ship tours.  However, it was set in a beautiful surrounding. The fabric that they dyed was hung outside to dry in the breeze. They had an area where they demonstrated the technique.  Brenda and I had both done this technique in college I think and the smell of the wax, a mixture of paraffin and beeswax immediatly brought back memories.
The complex patterns of color are built up by sequentially waxing various areas of fabric and then dying in progressively darker colors.   In the end, the wax is taken out of the fabric and it’s sewn into various items for sale.Everywhere you turned the view was charming if a bit crowded with tourists.  Even the entrance to the facility was charming and well thought out.  There are ruins of an old bell tower, once used to signal the slaves when their time in the cane fields began or ended.   This may be the only one left as all the others were torn down after the abolition of slavery as symbols of oppression.    Legend has it that the owner of this particular plantation was a fairly reasonable “owner”, compared to the others, so his bell tower was preserved. St Kitts is a volcanic island, as most are in this area, although this one is not currently active.    A popular spot to visit is on the most northerly end of the island called “black rock” by the locals.   Again, swarmed with tour buses, the view of the volcanic rock was impressive and gives meaning to the term “lee shore”.   Not a great spot to run aground.   Good luck with that.   Of course where their are tourists, there are “entrepreneurs” and in this case, a guy with a monkey.   Before she could say “I hope that monkey doesn’t poop on me”, he climbed all over Brenda for a photo moment and a bit of fruit.    She, Brenda that is, was a very good sport.  St Kitts is a remarkable island tempered by the fact that anchoring is only possible in fairly exposed areas.  However, when conditions are right, it’s a great place to visit.   With everything from arid hillsides with cactus, to lush rain forests, St Kitts is truly an island of many faces.

Hopefully, in the next few days Brenda and I will be able to make our way to Guadalupe.   Don’t forget, Monday is Brenda’s birthday.  I won’t.

The bad news, and it’s bad, is that we may find ourselves underway on that special day and not in port as we’d prefer.   However, it’s nice to know that we will soon be in Guadeloupe, with all the fine French food you’d expect.

I guess I’ll just have to make it up to her somehow.    Brenda, would you care for a baguette?

 

Heading out. Nevis to St Kitts

It’s Monday morning and we are anchored in the lee of St Kitts, one of the two islands, including Nevis that make up this island nation.    As these two islands are pretty small and have no natural harbors, all you can do is to pick a spot on the coast that indents somewhat to get you out of the northerly swell.

As we sailed out of Jolly Harbor, Antigua we were greeted to a beautiful rainbow.  As showers come and go most days, rainbows, sometimes double, are common and keep the decks salt free, which I appreciate.On our way here we had the wind directly behind us, not a very efficient point of sail.  However, it gave me an opportunity to try out my new preventer on the headsail.  It involves a line that runs to the aft end of the jib boom and out to the end of the short bowsprit.  The idea is to keep the boom from slamming around when we are running off the wind.  The preventer are the two red lines running to the aft end of the boom, leading back to the cockpit. It worked pretty well, but in the bouncy conditions, with 20-25kts behind us, we did jibe the jib once and the pressure of the preventer, that couldn’t quite “prevent” a jibe,  pushing against the bow pulpit, bend it a little. 

I guess that’s better than a constantly slamming boom.  Not completely sure about that but it did help us move along faster.  The other three boats we were traveling with had to run their engines much of time to keep their speed up so I guess that the trade off was worth it, to be able to sail the entire way.

The distance from Antigua to Nevis was about 40 miles and it was impressive to see the high peaks of Nevis, shrouded in clouds appear out of the haze. Our plan was to round the south end of Nevis and pick up a mooring near the main city.   They have placed quite a few moorings off of the beach to encourage boats to stop and visit as anchoring isn’t recommended with the wind and swell. 

These moorings are needed because it’s pretty deep and there are waves breaking on the beach just a short way off.    After about an hour watching the waves crash high up on the nearby beach, and wondering how we’d ever get ashore, we decided that it was just too rolly and dropped the mooring to try our luck in St. Kitts, where the coastline promised to be a bit more settled.  
The first place we tried, White House Bay, turned out to be particularly windy, with wind funneling between two nearby peaks, and there was an annoying swell coming around the point.  In addition, the bottom was a mess of medium size rocks so anchoring didn’t go well.  I was concerned about dragging and we decided to up-anchor and move to yet another spot.   Fortunately, it turned out to be a bit calmer and had as sandy bottom.   Problem solved, mostly as there still was a bit of a swell, although small one, there as well.

The four couples decided to get a taxi to head the 30 minutes into the city to clear with Customs and Immigration.    We walked around town and went out to lunch.    The clock tower is the centerpiece of the old section of the city.  As it was Sunday, most of the businesses were closed which made the streets look fairly abandoned.  However, the businesses catering to the cruise ships were open with  T shirt shops and duty free jewelry shops dominated the area.   Any interest in a day-glow monkey?  I say that as there are green monkeys that run wild on the island so every shop has stuffed monkey toys for sale.  To be clear, not real stuffed monkeys.

A technicolor riot of brightly colored “St Kitts” items, all promising a “free gift” if you stop by. It wasn’t all tacky as there were some lovely old colonial buildings in the historic area. As we headed back to where we had anchored, we stopped to take in the view.  Pandora is anchored behind that little mountain on the point.   Notice that there are a few massive yachts in the marina to the left of the point.   I was told that the largest, over 300′ long, is owned by a guy that has three other yachts.  Not sure if it’s the largest or the smallest but this one alone has a crew of 40.  It’s hard to believe that any one individual can accumulate enough wealth to afford one yacht of this scale, let alone four.
Not us, that’s for sure.  However, we can afford a glass of wine or a beer at the marina’s bar.   This is the view from our spot in the bar, back toward the overlook where the above shot was taken. And made even more scenic with our drinks in the picture. We were comfortably seated in the “chaise lounge” benches, sort of, out of the wind. The bar was packed by the time sunset arrived.   It was quite dramatic.  No green flash though. All and all, a nice spot but tempered by the fact that it’s been quite windy and a bit rolly.  Unfortunately, many islands down here don’t have good protection from the swells but unlike the Bahamas, where the winds clock regularly as cold fronts push south from the US, here the winds are very consistently out of the east.  The only question is how hard they will blow.

It’s nice to finally head out to explore more of the islands.   In a few days we will head down to Guadaloupe.  For today, off for a walk on the island.

Montserrat: A reminder of the power of nature.

Last season, and again this year, Brenda and I wanted to visit Montserrat, a short 35 mile sail from Antigua.  However, it’s a challenging place to anchor and get ashore as there isn’t a sheltered harbor and the sea drops off very fast near shore.

Our friends Bill and Maureen on Kulanamoo suggested that a group of us go there by ferry and spend the day.  The cost seemed quite high but Brenda and I decided to do it anyway as we didn’t see a way to visit the island with Pandora.

So, yesterday we boarded a fast ferry in St John, where the cruise ships come into Antigua.   One thing that we hadn’t really thought about was that we’d be clearing out of Antigua, into Montserrat, out of Montserrat and back into Antigua in a single day.   The problem is that clearing in and out of Antigua is a tedious process, much more complex than many of the other islands.   And true to form, it took over two hours for them to clear all the passengers for the ferry to depart.

We left Pandora, at 06:45 to head to the taxi for the 20 minute ride into St John and it wasn’t until after 09:30 that the ferry was able to board it’s passengers and head out for the 90 minute run to Montserrat.    The ferry was powered by water jets and to see the water jetting out behind us as we made our way at better than 20kts hinted at the power of the twin engines.Montserrat is not very large, about 14 miles long and about half that distance wide and has a very steep shoreline that drops to depths of over a mile very close to shore.  In 1995 a powerful volcanic eruption destroyed Plymouth,  the capital of the island on the western end of the island, violently blowing off the entire top of the mountain and displacing much of the island’s population.  Following the eruption, 2/3 of the population left for the UK leaving as few as 1,500 on the island.  Since that time, the population has rebounded but is still under 5,000.  Fortunately, there was good warning that an eruption was eminent and fatalities were minimal with less than 20 killed.  And those were some particularly unlucky individuals that headed back to their homes “one last time” to collect belongings that they had left behind.

When the eruption hit, a massive amount of rock and ash blew some 40,000 feet into the atmosphere, with millions of tons of red hot ash and boulders crashing down on the city.  Within hours the entire city was virtually buried under millions of tons of volcanic debris.   In the days and months following the eruption, nearly  2/3 of the population left Montserrat and most haven’t returned.   To this day, nearly 1/3 of the island is  uninhabitable and that’s, in part the area that we would be touring with our guide.

The island is, in geologic time, quite young and still has an active volcano.  You can see the clouds over the volcano on the left.  It’s hard to distinguish the clouds from the smoke that is constantly coming out from the top of the mountain.As we rounded the western end of the island it was daunting to see the cliffs rise from the sea.  Not a place to be driven onto a lee shore. Overhead the frigate birds circled, looking for fish to catch.  These birds are huge, with a wingspan of more than 6′. A short distance later the “harbor” came into view.  The only way ashore is the ferry dock and that would only be usable in settled conditions with no protection from the seas.   With the swells breaking on the beach, there is no way that we’d be able to land with our dink.  There was a very small spot in front of the ferry dock that had a place to land though and a ramp for pulling the larger fishing boats ashore. The types of conditions that the island must experience was demonstrated by the huge concrete “jacks” lining the shore.  Note the color of the beach, black volcanic sand. Our group boarded a van for a day of touring the island and in particular, the eastern end where the volcano erupted.  We wound our way up impossibly steep switchback turns on our way up the side of the mountain, always with the semi-dormant volcano looming above us.  On the left of the photo you can clearly see the remains of the deep layer of ash and rock that devastated the surrounding mountainside. Everywhere you look there is evidence of volcanic activity, piles of ash pushed to the side of the road and vacant buildings abruptly abandoned.  At an particularly impressive overlook, we entered the ruins of a once grand resort.   The floor had a thick layer of ash.  A calculator on the welcome desk suggested how fast everyone evacuated. Out back was patio with what was once a lovely pool, now full to the brim with ash.  The ash is very fertile though, so nature has quickly taken advantage of the well fertilized soil and turned the pool into marshland. A view back toward the remains of the hotel.
The view of the volcano in the distance from the hotel. In the distance you can see the remains of the city buildings mostly buried in a field of ash. Following the eruption rain filled the vacant crater at the top of the mountain for several years until the waters finally broke free and rushed in a mad fury to the ocean, carving a deep ravine in the landscape.   The round white disks on the pole is part of an island wide early warning system that was put in place after the eruption.   It is still tested at noon every day.  Everywhere you look there is evidence of wonderful homes abandoned.   Most have no roofs as the shear weight of the ash from the eruption caused them to collapse.
However, in spite of all the devastation there is ample evidence that nature is repairing itself with green landscape filling in nearly everywhere.   In the distance there is still smoke mingling with the clouds at the summit, a reminder of what may happen and that the residents of Montserrat should not let their guard down. As we made our way back around the island, there is dense forest with many flowering trees and plants. And this flowering plant clinging to a crack in a whitewashed cement wall of someone’s home is evidence of the power of nature to rebuild in the shadow of unspeakable destruction.  And, it is no wonder that the hearty few that have remained on Montserrat take some comfort in knowing that while the power of nature can destroy, it can also bring life.

To visit Montserrat is a reminder of the power of nature, that we are just temporary visitors and that in the long run she will always have the upper hand.

Once in a blue moon…

Here we are in Nelson’s Dockyard, 2017 has come and gone and 2018 is only two days old.  As luck would have it, last night was a blue moon.  I just love to watch the moon rise at night and an extra bright and big blue moon, even better.   What a sight as Brenda and I perched up on the bow with a glass of wine. Of course, as it’s only now the 2nd of January, we were in this lovely spot for New Year’s Eve.  New Year’s Eve in the Dockyard lived up to it’s reputation and to see fireworks burst aloft at exactly midnight was a wonderful sight, certainly unique in our experience.   Not a bad view from Pandora’s bow. Really spectacular.Take your pick.  Loved these too. And, of course, the grand finale.  Sure, we have seen fireworks from aboard our boats in the past but never in the “dead of winter” sitting on the bow, cooled by a balmy midnight breeze. If you haven’t experienced it, I heartily recommend that you do.  It’s safe to say that some things are just better with a gentle tropical breeze wafting over you.

And, my New Year’s resolution is to…. Well, Brenda knows but let’s just say that it’s important that I am true to that plan and leave it at that.   Wish me luck.

While it does not qualify as a “resolution” I also decided to join the Ocean Cruising Club and after being encouraged to apply for membership by a number of cruisers over the years, Bill from Toodle-oo, who was tied up next to me in the Dockyard, offered to be my sponsor the other day.  Well, it seemed like the right time and after my friend Mel, also an OCC member, said the same thing when we visited him and Jane the night before flying back to Antigua, I decided that I just had to do it.  To be considered for membership in OCC you must complete a 1,000 voyage without stopping, which I have done, a number of times.

Well, the time was right, Bill offered and I joined.   As an added bonus, the club has an awesome burgee and Bill just happened to have a supply aboard.  I was approved today and voila, near instant gratification after years of delay.  Thanks Bill and of course my old friend Mel for “priming the pump”. Speaking of awesome.  Bolero, circa 1949, arguably one of the most famous ocean racers ever launched, is tied up just a few boats away in the dockyard.  She was designed by Sparkman and Stephens and has an impressive racing pedigree as a successful ocean racer.   She’s in magnificent condition having gone though a major refit in Maine in 2009 at Rockport Marine.

Also nearby along with Elenora a modern reproduction of a classic 1910 Herreshoff yacht Westward, exact in every important detail.  She is a regular here and quite a sight.  Tomorrow we will pick up our anchor, hopefully without a diver to untangle from all the “classic” items on the bottom of the harbor.  Remember that this place has been popular for hundreds of years and a lot of junk has accumulated during that time.

We plan to head over to Jolly Harbor, Antigua to meet up with Bill and Maureen of Kalunamoo and hopefully, in a few days we will head out to explore a few of the nearby smaller islands of Nevis and Montserrat.  Montserrat is one of the few islands in the Caribbean with an active volcano.  Many of the  smaller islands here don’t have protected harbors so their anchorages can be rolly when there’s a north swell running.  Hopefully, it will be calm enough too visit on this trip.

Tied up in a beautiful classic dockyard, fireworks on New Year’s Eve, viewed from Pandora’s bow and a Blue Moon.    Surely, all experiences that are truly only enjoyed, well, “once in a blue moon”.

Editor note:   Brenda immediately caught on that the “blue moon” is the second full moon in the month and that will happen at the end of January.   Oops.  The moon we saw was actually a “super moon”.  Neat but I don’t have the energy to redo the post.  Oh well.  Better to spend time sailing or thinking of my next post, I guess.

 Out with the sub zero, in with the sub tropics.

It’s December 31st, the last day of 2017 and we are back in Antigua to begin our 6th winter afloat.  Tonight we will be celebrating the dawn of the new year with other boats from the Salty Dawg Rally and will have what will surely be a wonderful dinner at perhaps the best restaurant in these parts, the Admiral’s Inn in Nelson’s Dockyard.

We are tied up in the dockyard along with a good number of other Salty Dawg boats, all lined up Mediterranean moored, stern too on the same dock that was once the home to the English Navy.It’s hard to see Pandora in that lineup, all Salty Dawg Boats, but here she is.  Unlike in the days of Lord Nelson, the boats are mostly fiberglass and stainless verses the wood and canvas of so many years ago.

When we left home in the US the weather was just north of single digits and after a few, not so short, hours on a jet from Newark Airport we are once again in the heart of the tropics and enjoying a balmy overcast day here in Antigua.

After five weeks in the north I’ll admit that it was a jolt to be back in the tropical warmth.

The Salty Dawg boats, here on the dock, plans to head to Guadeloupe in a few days and we are currently on the fence about what we will do as our good friends Bill and Maureen on Kalunamoo will be arriving on the 2nd and it would be good to catch up with them too.   Besides, we were hoping to head the short distance to the west to to visit Montserrat and Nevis, some of the smaller island. It’s looking like later in the week the seas may be calm enough to take a mooring and do some exploring.

Montserrat has an active volcano which would be pretty interesting.  I understand that the capitol of the island had to be moved because it was buried under lava and ash following a particularly big eruption not that long ago.    The problem with visiting some of the smaller islands is that there are no harbors so you just anchor or take a mooring in the lee of the island.  If there is a big swell running, conditions in the mooring field can be quite uncomfortable.

As we haven’t been there yet, we will have to get advice from “someone in the know” and decide if it’s a good time to go.

One way or the other, we will enjoy our time here in Nelson’s Dockyard.  It’s hard not to when you wake up to a view like this. Oh yeah, with all the snow and frigid temperatures in the US, we have had our own “weather” here in the form of very heavy rain that filled the dink nearly half full overnight.  In all the years we have been sailing together, I don’t think that I’ve seen that much water in a dink yet.

I guess that’s about all I can say for now except that we will just have to work hard to adjust to the warmth and to ringing in the new year with palm trees and of course, fireworks.  Yes, there will be fireworks following our 5 course dinner tonight over the fort.

Stay tuned for what will surely be scintillating prose and fab photos of what it’s like to be in Antigua, along with 1,000 of our closes Antiguan “friends” as we enter the new year.  2018?  I still remember when George Orwell and his novel, 1984 seemed a very long way off.

As I think about all those huddled in Times Square tonight, I’ll choose the subtropics over sub zero every time.

Nothing goes to weather like a 737.

It’s Saturday and today we put the finishing touches on getting our (land) home ready for a long winter snooze while we’re south aboard Pandora.  There’s antifreeze in the boiler, I’ll blow out all the domestic water pipes with a compressor, put antifreeze in the toilets and run it through the pumps in the dishwasher and washing machine.  After all of that is done, along with setting more mousetraps, we will jump in the rental car and head to our friend Craig’s home for a visit and a snooze.  Then on to MD on Sunday, Christmas Eve, to see our family for Christmas.

Yes, you go it, we will be driving through NY on Christmas Eve!  Driving through NY on Christmas Eve?  No problem… Brenda would fight her way through the flames of hell to be with our son Rob, his family, our still new granddaughter Tori (still remarkably cute and so smart, BTW) and our son Christopher who is flying in from CA.  It will be a full house and it’s going to be great.

It’s hard to believe that we are about to head south for our 6th winter afloat and second in the eastern Caribbean.  I can hardly believe that I have been retired for six years now.  How’d dat happen?

Perhaps almost as astounding, if a seemingly random addition to this post, is that our monthly healthcare insurance premiums, I am under 65 thank you very much, have gone from $500 to $2,200 a month during that same time frame.  But that’s another story so all I’ll say for now is that the system is clearly broken when any family of two with an income above the $66,000 Obamacare subsidy cutoff, should somehow be able to pay $26,500 a year for healthcare coverage and that’s before they even go to the doctor and begin to work off their $5,000 per person deductible.   So much for the “affordable care act” being affordable.

Anyway, I’ll return to heading south.

Back in the day, when we didn’t sail overnight, we used to say that it took a whole day of motoring/sailing to go the same distance, about 55 miles, that we could cover by car in a single hour.

Fast forward more years than I care to admit, my runs are much longer and involve multiple overnights at sea but the comparison still, sort of, holds.

Let me explain.  This fall it took me a total of nearly 13 days at sea to get to Antigua, including a stop in Hampton VA where I joined the Salty Dawg fleet.  By comparison, a direct flight from Newark NJ to Antigua takes the better part of a day, call it 13 hours if you include the time getting to and from the airport.  So, as a very loose comparison, it takes an hour in a plane, including ground transport, to cover what takes a full 24 hours in a boat.

Ok, perhaps the comparison is a stretch but it seems to me that there is a certain symmetry to the whole thing after all these years.   The point is that many of us, for some reason, still choose to go really, really slowly in a boat in order to spend time on the water.  However, I guess it’s not that odd if you subscribe to the perspective that  “the journey is the destination”.

Of course, there are plenty of times on a long voyage, the journey part, when a loud in-my-head voiced yells, “are we there yet?” or perhaps more to the point, “Bob, will we ever f*&%$#% get there?”

Somehow, after all the days at sea, finally arriving at a spectacular destination, that the “are we there yet” thoughts fade away and are replaced by “wow, this is a beautiful spot” and the “I’ll never do that again” somehow seems worth it.  Inexplicably those annoying days aren’t that bad when the are balanced against the great stories you can tell, again and again.  It seems that the human spirit is really terrific at making lemon-aid out of lemons.

Yes, sometimes being aboard can be tough when things aren’t going well but what makes it worthwhile is moments like first light in a peaceful harbor.Or when a morning shower gives way to a double rainbow.Or ending the day with a beautiful sunset…
Watching a full moon rise over the hills.
Or a full moon in the twilight at sea with a single sailboat on the horizon. Or dropping anchor for the first time in a new harbor.But, perhaps best of all, it’s about slowing down and making new friends or meeting up with old ones that you haven’t seen for months or years for sundowners.However, when you absolutely, positively have to get there to be with family for the holidays, there’s no question that a 737 goes to weather better than a 737.

Enjoy the holidays and, if it floats your particular boat, Merry Christmas!

Editor:  It this post seems a bit more strained than normal, just try writing while blowing out the pipes, setting mouse traps, picking up the rental car….